Monday, January 1, 1996

Burlington Island

Located in the Delaware River a few hundred feet from the City, 300-acre Burlington Island was formerly known as Matennecunk Island. In 1624, the Dutch established a house and trading post on the island. They were displaced by the Swedish in 1656 and the English in 1664, regained control in 1673, and were displaced by the English again in 1677.

In 1671, two Dutchmen on the island in the employ of the English were murdered by Tashiowycan and Wyannattamo, Lenape braves overcome with vengeful grief at the death of Tashiowycan's sister. Relations between the English and the Lenape were strained briefly, but tribal leaders promised to find and punish the murderers, suggesting that they would have a dance, get the braves drunk, then club them on the head.

The Island was ceded to the City in 1682 by an act of the Provincial government, with all revenue from use of the island to fund education. Thus was established the oldest educational trust in the nation, now overseen by the Board of Island Managers, and the first basis for a free school system in the nation.

Money from the trust was used to provide education for the poor beginning in 1767, and free public schooling in the City dates back to 1805. In the eighteenth century, most of the revenue came from the rental of farmland on the island, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the island was developed extensively as an amusement park. Today it is an uninhabited scenic landmark in the river.

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