IF you enjoy poetry and genealogy — take a look at this! All about the exploits of Augustin Herman, Bohemian.
HERMAN OF BOHEMIA MANOR, by George Alfred Townsend, 1899
(See notes at end of poem.)
“My corn is gathered in the bins,
“The Lord Augustin Herman said; “My wild swine romp in chincapins; Dried are the deer and beaver skins; And on Elk Mountain’s languid head. The autumn woods are red.
“So in my heart an autumn falls; I stand a lonely tree unleaved; And to my hermit manor walls The wild-goose from the water calls, As if to mock a man bereaved: My years are nearly sheaved.
“Go saddle me the Flemish steed. My brother Verlett gave to me, What time his sister did concede. Her dainty hand to hear me plead! Poor soul! She’s mouldering by the sea. And I with misery.”
The slave man brought the wild-maned horse. All wilder that with stags he grazed—Bred from the seed the knightly Norse Rode from Araby. Like remorse The eyes in his gray forehead blazed, As on his lord he gazed.
“Now guard ye well my lands and stock; Slack not the seine, ply well the axe; The eagle circles o’er the flock; The Indian at my gates may knock: The firelock prime for his attacks; I ride the sunrise tracks.”
Swift as a wizard on a broom, The strong gray horse and rider ran, Adown the forest stripped of bloom. By stump and bough that scarce gave room To pass the woodman’s caravan, Rode the Bohemian.
“Lord Herman, stay,” the brewer cried, “And Huddy’s friendly flagon clink !”And martial Hinoyossa spied The horseman, moving with the tide That ebbed from Appoquinimink, Nor stopped to rest or drink.
“Where rides old Herman?” Beekman mused; “That railing wife has turned his head.” “He keeps the saddle as he used, In younger days, when he enthused Three provinces,” Pierre Alricks said, “And mapped their landscapes spread.”
Broad rose Zuydt River as the sail Above his periauger flew; Loud neighed the steed to snuff the gale; But Herman saw not, swift and pale, Two carrier pigeons, winging true North-east, across the blue.
They quit the cage of Stuyvesant’s spy, And lurking Willems’ message bore:(“This morn rode Herman rapid by, Tow’rd Amsterdam, to satisfy Yet wider titles than he tore From shallow Baltimore!”)
The second sunset at his back From Navesink Highlands threw the shade Of horse and Herman, long and black, Across the golden ripples’ track, Where with the Kills the ocean played A measured serenade;
There where to sea a river ran, Between tall hills of brown and sand, A mountain island rose to span The outlet of the Raritan ,And made a world on either hand, Soft as a poet planned:
Fair marshes pierced with brimming creeks, Where wild-fowl dived to oyster caves; And shores that swung to wooded peaks, Where many a falling water seeks. The cascade’s plunge to reach the waves, And greenest farmland laves:
Deep tide to every roadstead slips, And many capes confuse the shore, Yet none do with their forms eclipse Yon ocean, made for royal ships, Whose swells on silver beaches roar And rock forevermore.
Old Herman gazed through lengthening shades. Far up the inland, where the spires, Defined on rocky palisades, Flung sunset from their burnished blades, And with their bells in evening choirs Breathed homesick men’s desires:
“New Amsterdam! ’tis thine or mine—The foreground of this stately plan! To me the Indian did assign Totem on totem, line on line—Both Staten and the groves that ran. Far up the Raritan.
“By spiteful Stuyvesant long restrained, Now, while the English break his power, Be Achter Kill again regained. And Herman’s title entertained, Here float my banner from my tower, Here is my right, my hour!”
He scarce had finished, when a rush, Like partridge through the stubble, broke, And armed men trod down the brush; A harsh voice, trembling in the hush, As it must either stab or choke, Imperiously spoke:
“Ye conquered men of Achter Kill, Whose farms by loyal toil ye got, True Dutchmen! give this traitor will—And he is yours to loose or kill—All that ye have he will allot. Anew—field, cradle, cot.
“Years past, beyond our Southern bounds, On States’ commission sent by me, He mapped the English papists’ grounds, And like a Judas, o’er our wounds, Our raiment parted openly: This is the man ye see!
“Yet followed by my sleepless age, Fast as he rode my pigeons sped—Straight as the ravens from their cage, Straight as the arrows of my rage, Straight as the meteor overhead. That strikes a traitor dead.”
They bound Lord Herman fast as hate, And bore him o’er to Staten Isle; Behind him closed the postern gate, And round him pitiless as fate, Closed moat and palisade and pile: “Thou diest at morn,” they smile.
Morn broke on lofty Staten’s height, O’er low Amboy and Arthur Kill; And ocean dallying with the light, Between the beaches leprous white, And silent hook and headland hill, And Stuyvesant had his will;
One-legged he stood, his sharp mustache Stiff as the sword he slashed in ire; His bald crown, like a calabash, Fringed round with ringlets white as ash, And features scorched with inner fire; Age wore him like a briar.
“Bring the Bohemian forth!” he cried;” Old man, thy moments are but few.” “So much the better, Dutchman! Bide Thy little time of aged pride, Thy poor revenges to pursue—Thy date is hastening, too.
“No crime is mine, save that I sought A refuge past thy jealous ken, And peaceful arts to strangers taught, And mine own title hither brought, Before the laws of Englishmen, A banished denizen.
“Yet that thy churlish soul may plead A favor to a dying foe, I’ll ask thee, Stuyvesant, ere I bleed, Let me once more on my gray steed Thrice round the timbered enceinte go: when I tell thee so!”
“What freak is this?” quoth Stuyvesant grim. Quoth Herman, “‘Twas a charger brave—Like my first bride in eye and limb—A wedding-gift; indulge the whim! And from his back to plunge, I crave, A bridegroom, in her grave.”
Then muttered the uneasy guard: “We rob an old man of his lands, And slay him. Sure his fate is hard, His dying plea to disregard!” “Ride then to death!” Stuyvesant commands; “Unbind his horse, his hands!”
The old steed darted in the fort, And neighed and shook his long gray mane; Then, seeing soldiery, his port Grew savage. With a charger’s snort, Upright he reared, as young again And scenting a campaign.
Hard on his nostrils Herman laid An iron hand and drew him down, Then, mounting in the esplanade, The rude Dutch rustics stared afraid: “By Santa Claus! he needs no crown, To look more proud renown!”
Lame Stuyvesant, also, envious saw How straight he sat in courteous power, Like boldness sanctified by law, And age gave magisterial awe; Though in his last and bitter hour, Of knightliness the flower.
His gray hairs o’er his cassock blew, And in his peak’d hat waved a plume; A horn swung loose and shining through High boots of buckskin, as he drew The rein, a jewel burst to bloom: The signet ring of doom.
‘Thrice round the fort! Then as I raise This hand, aim all and murder well!’ His head bends low; the steed’s eyes blaze, But not less bright do Herman’s gaze, As circling round the citadel, He peers for hope in hell.
Fast were the gates; no crevice showed. The ramparts, spiked with palisades, Grew higher as once round he rode; The arquebusiers prime the load, And drop to aim from ambuscades; No latch, no loophole aids.
But one small hut its chimney thrust Between the timbers, close as they; Twice round and with a desperate trust Lord Herman muttered: “die I must: There, CHARGE!” and spurred through beam and clay—”By heaven! he is away!”
In clouds of dust the muskets fire, And volleying oaths old Stuyvesant from: “Turn out! In yonder Kills he’ll mire, Or drown, unless the fiends conspire. Mount! Follow! Still he must succumb—That tide was never swum.”
Through hut and chimney, down the ditch And up the bank, plunge horse and man; And down the Kills of bramble pitch, Oft-stumbling, those old gray knees which, Hunting the raccoon, led the van; Now, limp yet game he ran.
But cool and supple, Herman sat, His mind at work, his frame the horse’s, And knew with each pulsation, that Past foe and fen, past crag, and flat, And marsh, the steed he nearer forces To the broad sea’s recourses.
“Old friend,” he thought, “thou art too weak To try the Kills and drown, or falter, The while from shore their marksmen seek My heart. (Once o’er the Chesapeake I paddled oarless.) Lest the halter Be mine, I must not palter—
“Thou diest, though my marriage-gift: I still can swim. Poor Joost, adieu! “Ere ceased the heartfelt sigh he lift, The prospect widened: all adrift, The salty sluice burst into view, Where grappling tides fought through,
And sucked to doom the venturous bear, And from his ferry swept the rower—How wide, how terrible, how fair! Yet how inspiriting the air—How tempts the long salt grass the mower! How treacherous the shore!
Far up the right spread Newark Bay, To lone Secaucus wooded rock; Nor could the Kill von Kull convey Passaic’s mountain flood away: In Arthur Kill the surges choke, The wild tides interlock.
O’er Arthur Kill the Holland farms Their gambril roofs, red painted, show; Beyond the newer Yankee swarms—His cider-presses spread their arms. Before, the squatter; back, the foe; And the dark waters flow.
As that salt air the stallion felt, He whimpers gayly, as if still is Upon his sight his native Scheldt, Or Skagger Rack, or Little Belt,—Their waving grass and silver lilies, Where browsed the amorous fillies.
And o’er the tide some lady nags Blew back his challenge. Scarce could Herman Hold in his seat. “By John of Prague’s True faith!” he thought, “thy spirit lags Not, Joost! Thy course thyself determine!” And plunges like a merman.
Leander’s spirit in the steed Inspired his stroke, not Herman’s fear; And fast the island shores recede, Fast rise the rider’s spirits freed, The golden mainland draws more near—”O gallant horse! ’tis here!”
Across the Kills the muskets crack—”Ha! ha!” Lord Herman waves his beaver: “Die of thy spleen ere I come back, Old Stuyvesant!” With a noise of wrack The fort blew up of his aggriever!—But not without retriever.
For from the smoke two pigeons fly, One south, one westward, separating, And straight as arrows crossed the sky, With silent orders (“He must die Who comes hereafter. Lie in waiting!”)Their snowy pinions freighting.
They warn the men of Minisink; They warn the Dutchmen of Zuydt River. Now speed to Jersey’s farther brink, Old horse, old master, ere ye shrink!—Or ambushed fall ere moonrise quiver, On paths where ye shall shiver.
On went the twain till past the ford That red-walled Raritan led over, And lonely woodland shades explored. Unarmed with firelock or with sword, Free-hearted rode the forest rover, Of all wild kind the drover:
Fled deer and bear before his coming, The wild-cat glared, the viper hissed; And died the long day’s insect-drumming. Where things of night began their humming, And witchly phantoms went to tryst, Was Herman exorcist.
“No land so tangled but my eye Can map its confines and its courses; Yet on life’s map who can espy Where hides his foe—where he shall die? “So Herman said, and his resources Resigned unto his horse’s.
All night the steed instinctive travelled—His weary rider wept for him—Through unseen gulfs the whirlwind ravelled, Up moonlit beds of streamlets gravelled, Till halting every bleeding limb, He stands by something dim,
And will not stir till morning breaks. “What is’t I see, low clustering there, Beyond those broadening bays and lakes, That yonder point familiar makes?—Is it New Amstel, lowly fair, And this the Delaware?”
Lord Herman hugged his horse with pride; He raised his horn and blew so loudly, That more than echoes back replied: Horns answered louder; horsemen cried, And muskets banged, as if avowedly On Stuyvesant’s errand proudly!
“Die, traitor; fleér! though thou ‘scape Our ambush on thy devil’s racer, Caught here upon this marshy cape, Thy bones the muskrat’s brood shall scrape, The sturgeon suck—Death thy embracer! “So shouts each sanguine chaser.
To die in sight of Amstel’s walls, And gallant Joost to die beside him?—O foolish blast, such fate that calls! O river that the heart appalls! Dear Joost may live. And they bestride him? “By hell! none else shall ride him!
“My steed, thy limbs like mine are sore! Few years are left us ere the billows Roll over both. Come but once more, And to the bottom or the shore, Bear me and thee to happy pillows, Or ‘neath the water willows!”
He strokes old Joost. He bends him low. He winds his horn and laughs derision. One spring!—they’ve cleared the bog and sloe, And down the ebb tide buoyant go—That stately tide. So like a vision Of home, to Norse and Frisian,
Where full a league spread Maas and Rhine, And in the marsh the rice-birds twitter; The long cranes pasture and the kine Loom lofty in the misty shine Of dawn and reedy islands glitter: Yet death all where is bitter.
Ere out of range a volley peals, But greed too great made aye a blunder. His horse Lord Herman’s self conceals,Yet once his horse and he go under, And rise again. No wound he feels. They hold their fire in wonder!
Short of the mark the bullets splash: “Now drown thee, wizard! at thy pleasure, “The Dutchmen hiss through teeth they gnash. He answers not; for o’er the plash Of waves he hears Joost’s gasping measure Of breath’s fast wasting treasure.
The sighs when dying comrades fall, Struck by the foe, are only sad; They leaped the ditch and climbed the wall, And shared the purpose of us all; The fame they have; the joy they had: “Rest in thy tracks, brave lad!”
But thou, poor beast! unknown to fame, Whose heart is reached while ours is bounding, Amidst the victory’s acclaim—By thee we kneel with more of shame, That bore us through the fight resounding, And dumbly took our wounding!
Lord Herman saw the blood drops seethe, The nag’s neck droop, the nostril bubble, And loosed the bridle from his teeth; Yet swam the old legs underneath, Invincibly. The gap they double; But further swim in trouble.
And lovely Nature stretched her aid, Her sympathetic tow and eddy; The oars of air with azure blade, And silent gravities persuade And waft them onward, slow and steady—On duteous deeds aye ready.
High leaped the perch. The hawk screamed joy. Under Joost’s belly musically The ripples broke. Bright clouds convoy The brute that man would but destroy, And all instinctive agents rally Strong and medicinally.
In vain! The gurgling waters suck That old life under. Herman swimming Seized but the horse tail. Like a buck Breasting a lake in wild woods’ pluck, Joost rose, the glaze his bright eyes dimming, And blood his sockets brimming.
Then voices speak and women cry. The treading feet find soil to stand. Above them the green ramparts lie, And twixt their shadows and the sky, The wondering burghers crowd the strand, And Herman help to land:
“Now to Newcastle’s English walls,Hail, Herman! and thy matchless stud!”Joost staggers up the bank and falls, And dying to his master crawls. Yields up his long solicitude, And spills his veins of blood.
In Herman’s arms his neck is prest, With martial pride his dark eye glazes; He feels the hand he loves the best Stroke fondly, and a chill of rest, As if he rolled in pasture daisies And heard in winds his praises:
“O couldst thou speak, what wouldst thou say? I who can speak am dumb before thee. Thine eyes that drink Olympian day Where steeds of wings thy soul convey, With pride of eagles circling o’er thee: Thou seest I adore thee!
“Bound to thy starry home and her Who brought me thee and left earth hollow! An honored grave thy bones inter, And painting shall thy fame confer, Ere in thy shining track I follow, Thou courser of Apollo!”
NOTE TO HERMAN OF BOHEMIA MANOR.
The singular incident of this poem was published in 1862, in Rev. John Lednum’s “Personal Rise of Methodism,” and in the following words:
“It is said that the Dutch had him (Herman) a prisoner of war, at one time, under sentence of death, in New York. A short time before he was to be executed, he feigned himself to be deranged in mind, and requested that his horse should be brought to him in the prison. The horse was brought, finely caparisoned. Herman mounted him, and seemed to be performing military exercises, when, on the first opportunity, he bolted through one of the large windows, that was some fifteen feet above ground, leaped down, swam the North River, ran his horse through Jersey, and alighted on the bank of the Delaware, opposite Newcastle, and thus made his escape from death and the Dutch. This daring feat, tradition says, he had transferred to canvas—himself represented as standing by the side of his charger, from whose nostrils the blood was flowing.”—Page 277.
Such a singular and improbable story attracted great local attention, and in 1870, Francis Vincent, publishing his “History of Delaware,” wrote: “The author found this incident in both Lednum and Foot, and has seen a copy of this painting. It is in the possession of James R. Oldham, Esq., of Christiana Bridge, the only male descendant of Herman in Delaware State. He is the seventh in descent from Augustin Herman.”—Page 469.
In 1875, Rev. Charles P. Mallery, of Chesapeake City, a part of the Bohemia Manor, wrote in the Elkton (Md.) Democrat as follows: “Herman resided on the Manor for more than twenty years, during which time he once rode to New York on the back of his favorite horse, to reclaim his long-neglected possessions there. He found his land occupied by squatters…. They secured him, as they thought, for the night; but he soon found means to escape by leaping his horse through a forced opening, swimming the North River, and continuing his flight through New Jersey until he reached the shore opposite Newcastle, where he swam his horse across the Delaware and was safe…. Dr. Spotswood, of Newcastle, told me that there was a tradition in his town that the horse was buried there.” Augustin Herman made the first drawing of New Amsterdam, and early maps of Maryland and New England. He was the first speculator in city real estate in America.
In 1876 I visited the relics of Herman on the Manor, and observed the topography and foliage. I then undertook to put this legend into verse, but struck a short, ill-accommodating stanza, in which I nevertheless persevered until the tale was told. I found that Herman had bought, in 1652, “the Raritan Great Meadows and the territory along the Staten Island Kills from Ompoge, or Amboy, to the Pechciesse Creek, and a tract on the south side of the Raritan, opposite Staten Island” (see Broadhead, page 537). It at once occurred to me to put the seat of Herman’s capture by squatters on this property, and to take Staten Island’s bold scenery as a contrast to that of the head of the Chesapeake, whence Herman had ridden. He could, besides, more reasonably swim the Kills than the North River with a horse, as a gentle prelude to swimming the Delaware.
One year before buying the above property (see Broadhead’s “History of New York,” page 526), Peter Stuyvesant vindictively persecuted Herman, Lockerman, and others, who retired to Staten Island to brood. These men belonged to “the popular party.” I therefore had a hint to make Stuyvesant himself the incarcerator of Herman in a fort, and the most available period seemed to be subsequent to the capture of Dutch New York by the English, but before the Dutch settlements on the Delaware were yielded. Stuyvesant surrendered New York September 8th, 1664. It was not until October 10th that Newcastle on the Delaware surrendered. The theory of the poem is that Herman, hearing New York to be English, like Maryland where he resided, repaired to his possessions. Stuyvesant rallies the squatters against him and makes use of a fort on Staten Island, not yet noticed by the English, as Herman’s place of punishment. On Herman’s escape this fort is blown up. When Herman returns to Newcastle, it is no longer Dutch, but English. Four days is the time of the action. The device of the carrier pigeons is possibly an anachronism, and also the age of Herman. I have aimed to make the story reasonable, if not creditable.
 The Bohemia Manor is a tract of 18,000 acres of the best land on the Delaware peninsula. It was granted to Augustine Herman, Bohemian, whose tombstone, now lying in the yard of Richard Bayard, on the site of Herman’s park, bears date 1661. He received the manor for making an early map of Maryland, and granted a part of the land to the sect of Labadists. In the course of a century it became the homestead of Senator Richard Bassett, heir of the last lord of the manor, and of his son-in-law, Senator James A. Bayard, the first. Herman was the principal historic personage about the head of the Chesapeake, and was Peter Stuyvesant’s diplomatist to New England as well as Maryland. The argument he made for the priority of the Dutch settlement on the Delaware was the basis of the independence of Delaware State. The legend of his escape from New York is told in several local books and newspapers, and it was the subject of one of his paintings, as he was both draughtsman and designer. G. A. T.