It is difficult to imagine the Rancocas Creek area a vast wilderness
(click for map) with no Mount Holly, Hainesport, Rancocas or Centerton, when Riverside,
or Goat Town was only sandhills and swamps, and with only Indian
Wigwams to mark the sites of unnamed towns. This demands a nimble play
of the imagination. Through the eyes of the first Europeans, the Eastern
Shore of the Delaware from the Falls to the Capes, was a dense primeval
forest. Today, it is difficult for us to picture in our minds
this great expanse of timber that had never known an axe, thick, black
soil, made of rotted leaves that had fallen for thousands of years,
covered with undergrowth and thick with brambles. From this terrain
sprang mighty oaks 60 or 80 feet up to the first limb. Among these great
trees the lesser elbowed each other for living space and everywhere
spreading over shrubs and low growing trees. Climbing in the branches of
the highest, grape vines flung their tangled network. At this time I
believe there was very little foot travel at night, as a person never
knew just when they might meet up with a few hungry wolves, a bear or
wildcat, none of which were friendly.
To back up that statement, I quote
from the Pennsylvania Gazette of May 6, 1731: "There has lately been
killed near Mount Holly in the Jerseys the largest bear that has been
known in these parts. His forehead measured two spans wide. His leg just
above the foot as big as could be grasped with hands after the skin was
removed. Though exceedingly lean, he weighted upwards of 300 pounds.
There has been seen another of the same gigantic size about the same
But the Rancocas began settlement. Through a slash in that primival forest wall, the Rancocas creek entered, and peopled here and there by a small Indian tribes, as it wends its torturous way into the waste lands of the Pines. For several years, no one knows how many, before the settlement of Burlington and Philadelphia, a Water Reeves had a farm and family on the Rancocas between the forks and Mount Holly and from records at Trenton we learn that Walter Reeves exported beef, cheese and flour from his plantation on the Rancocas to Bridgetown in the Barbados in his ship, The Robert and William. John Huling, Master. Reeves died in 1698.
All writers agree that Mount Holly, in the early days, was called Bridgetown because of its many bridges, but I often wonder if the name did not come from Bridgetown in the Barbados as there was very early travel between Mount Holly and that island.