Pavonia

The name Pavonia appears throughout eastern Jersey City. Pavonia Avenue runs through the downtown and past the Journal Square section. There is a Pavonia branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library. Most residents associate the name with a robotic voice announcing the Pavonia-Newport stop on the PATH ride from Manhattan into Jersey City. The Pavonia-Newport station was rechristened the Newport station only several years ago. What was Pavonia? A person? A place? Or a thing? Is there still a Pavonia in Jersey City?

Pavonia was the first permanent settlement by a European power in present-day New Jersey. In November 1630, Michael Reyniersz Pauw, a director of the Dutch West India Company (the globe-spanning commercial entity that managed the Netherlands’s colonial enterprise), purchased a tract of land on the western side of the Hudson River from the Lenni Lappe tribe. It remains unknown if Pauw paid more than the price of Manhattan. One would hope that he made a similarly cagey bargain.

Note the Pavonia settlement on the bottom right of the map (Courtesy of the Jersey City Free Public Library).
The Pavonia settlement is on the bottom right of the map (Courtesy of the Jersey City Free Public Library).

Pauw humbly named his personal estate, or his patroonship in the Dutch terminology, after himself. Pavonia is a Latinized form of his name; thus, Pauw might have believed this name carried an air of sophistication and culture. Tack ‘ville onto your last name and you get the point. If you want to follow the fancy example of Pauw, add “ia.”

The history of Pavonia only gets better. Pauw hired Cornelius Van Vorst as the director of Pavonia, which apparently had very few inhabitants. Van Vorst killed a man in a sword fight and later burned down his own house during a rowdy party. Apparently, a drunken Van Vorst hoped to impress his guests, including the director-general of the New Netherland province, by firing his cannon. Yes, his cannon.  Today, there is a Van Vorst Park in Jersey City.

In 1633, Michael Reyniersz Pauw was forced to sell his New Jersey property to the Dutch West India Company, after failing to attract the fifty colonists required by the company’s land grant policy—and after having “conflicts” with the leadership of New Netherland.  Pauw brings to mind an embattled or embarrassed politician who resigns “to spend more time with his family.” By the way, Pauw never set foot in Pavonia. In addition to establishing the first colony in New Jersey, he was the first absentee landlord in the Garden State.

Surprised that Pavonia grew into Jersey City?

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