The Devils Tea Table
By Richard G Smith Jr
© RICHARD G SMITH JR
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED NO RIGHTS GRANTED UNLESS IN WRITING BY RICHARD G SMITH JR
RECKLESS PIXEL & LENZWIZARD ARE REGISTERED TRADE NAMES OF RICHARD G SMITH JR. © COPYRIGHT
So, let’s talk about this curious place called “Devils Tea Table.” Also let’s clarify that we are talking about the tea table located on a ridge above the Delaware River in Kingwood Township Hunterdon County New Jersey. Yes, there is more than one Devils Tea Table and we’ll get to that a little later on. I am writing this article for a few different reasons and there will be a few shorter versions of the article that will focus on specific things such as; How the tea table area transitioned from a hiking destination to a partying hangout and to its current state of an “off limits” area controlled by the state of NJ. There will also be an article about the moronic legend of the Indian chief who was supposedly killed there and I will also write about the settlers who first came to that area and the Lenape who were there before the settlers. At the current time of this writing the State of New Jersey is proposing plans to rework the Devils Tea Table area into a safer place for visitors. While this sounds good on the surface, I personally feel this would certainly ruin the pristine beauty and natural setting that has been there for hundreds if not thousands of years.
I have actually spent a lot of time over the past several months researching the tea table. Being a local and having grown up in the area I have always known about the tea table and as a child in the late 60s and early 70s I would hear adults talk about the place, so I thought I knew a lot about the tea table and really, I did. However, when I dived in to my research I learned so much more than I expected. I must also say that what really lit my fire about doing all this research was when I read about the so-called legend of the Indian chief killed there by other Indians (his enemies).1 As a kid I never heard of this queer legend and then I see that even Kingwood Township had it attached to their municipal website, so I set out to debunk the legend and I just kept digging further and further into everything about the tea table.
The research started with reading countless newspaper articles dating all the way back to the early 1800s. I also read books written about the settlers of the Raven Rock area (located a few miles south of the Tea Table area), I followed family genealogy lines along with stories of wealthy settlers, stories of love and stories of bastard children born out of wedlock. There were also many emails and a few phones calls to various people or organizations. I contacted the Delaware Nation in Oklahoma2 (former Lenape Indians) and they were very helpful with the Indian legend debunking. I contacted the New Jersey State Police and we talked about what happens when trespassers are caught and how the location is patrolled today. I contacted geology professors for proper terminology and clarification about tea tables and I of course captured video and photos of the location. Yes, I must say it has been quite a trip to say the least.
Every aspect of this research was very interesting, however reading countless newspaper articles from almost 200 years ago to the present day is what I think was the most interesting because it really showed a vast change in our society. I’m essentially researching a rock formation and who knew that the research would show how the location went from a wonderful natural landmark (and it still is) that people would hike eleven plus miles to see and cherish the memory of, the day and of the scenery, to a place where people would hide guns, possibly a dead body, paint graffiti, have beer & drug using parties and of course in the end it becomes a place where people either become severely injured or die from falling. And oddly enough not all the fall victims were drunk or high.
Other odd things are; nowhere nearly as many people died there as people think, most all the deaths and sever injuries occurred in the 70s, the name Devils Tea Table is used to raise the value or add prominence to real estate listings, the place caused distress to township road department workers who were constantly replacing “No Parking” signs3 and the list goes on and on of odd little facts associated with a beautifully odd & quirky rock formation located on a ridge next to a river. I even went back as far as to find the life story of the original land owner, from where he grew up and how he met his wife and came to the area to start up his homestead. I also learned a great deal about the area just South of the Tea Table where Byram lies on the Jersey side and Point Pleasant on the PA side and the area further south known today as Raven Rock4.
At this time, I am still researching, however I am coming to the end. I think the most interesting detail in the end is how the tea table became known as “Devils Tea Table” and lost the name “Warford’s Rock.” Even with all my searching there still are a few missing pieces to the puzzle. Some of these missing pieces I am waiting on. They are either people who have info and haven’t found it yet or just haven’t gotten back to me yet. Other pieces are thing I may never find. Interestingly, all along the way I have mentioned this project to many people and I am very surprised by the response I get. Some people have great information and others have personal stories about day trips and the fun they had hiking up there. Then of course I would get the people who wanted to tell me pure BS, most of which is debunked by newspaper articles.
“Tea Table” is a term used in geology to describe “A tea table is a type of rock column comprising discrete layers, usually of sedimentary rock, with the top layers being wider than the base due to greater resistance to erosion and weathering.” Tea tables are a “freak of nature” I guess you could say and we have one of them right here in Hunterdon County New Jersey. To be specific it is located on the south end of a ridge overlooking the Delaware River in Kingwood Township. The intersection of state highway route 29 and Warsaw road sit at the base of this ridge. On top of the ridge is moderately dense forest that give way to more open land as you move east away from the river.
I grew up in neighboring Delaware Township (late 60s through the 70s) and can remember my parents occasionally talking about the Devils Tea Table.5 I always loved when we would ride along route 29 because there was always a chance, I would see a train chugging away on the tracks that were located so close to the road. And in some areas the road was above the tracks and you could look down on the top of the train as it cruised along. What could be more enjoyable for a small boy but to see a train so close up and moving at the same time. Sadly, though there was not always a train and we didn’t really travel route 29 that often. However, there was another very interesting thing about the ride along route 29 and that would be to get a glimpse of Devils Tea Table. If we were traveling north and I was on the passenger’s side of the car I would be able to look up and see it. I would see it for about three or four seconds, I had to twist my neck and look almost straight up and there it would be. Unlike the train, the tea table was always there. My father said it was there when the Indians were here and again, to a small boy in 1969 that was the coolest thing. It really is funny how times have changed so much. As a child the word Indians opened up visions in my mind of western movies where cowboys and Indians would fight and there were good Indians like Tonto6 the Lone Ranger’s faithful side kick and Chief Halftown7 the host of a tv show. Just imagine; I am now 54 years old and when I was small kid there were still a few “real live Indians” around, they were far and few between but there were a few.
So yeah as a small boy the Tea Table really etched its self into my little brain. Then there was the fact it was called “Devils Tea Table” and the word “devil,” well that just made a little boy’s ears perk up and cower down all at the same time. I had visons of the Indians sitting up on that rock smoking a pipe and worshiping the devil. After all Indians were savages right? That’s what they called them in the movies when the army or cowboys fought with them. But Chief Halftown seemed cool, I mean he was the host of a children’s tv show. Man, I was really confused as kid, but Indians were cool and the Devils Tea Table was cool.
As time passed and we moved into the 70s I would start to here different things about Devils Tea Table, things about “people going up there to get high.” I heard a friend of my father’s saying about how “the hippies8 go up there to get high” and I was confused because after all the tea table is over 300 feet above the road, so if somebody went up there, they certainly would be “high.” Right? Seriously, I had no idea what he was talking about, all I knew was “if I’m down here and you’re up there, you are higher than me and you would be high. I’m confused again, I was just a young boy.
I knew what hippies were or at least I knew what my father told me hippies were. My father not being of the hippie era would talk about hippies as if they were a blight on society. Any time he talked about hippies it would always start with “ah them damn hippies…” And then there was the local hippie biker (kind of) gang that roamed the roads on their loud motorcycles, but they seemed pretty harmless, actually stupid would be more like it.
All I knew was times were changing and hippies were causing problems at the tea table. Then a hippie fell off the tea table and the cops came and it was the talk of the night as my father and his friends gathered to work on a car and drink beer in our driveway. And then for the next few years (1972-75) I would hear stories about wild parties that took place at the tea table. I was getting a little older and wiser and I now knew what “getting high” was and knew that it wasn’t just hippies that were the problem. Turns out “hippies” was a broad stroke of the brush that was painted to label anyone who smoke pot or marijuana as it was officially known. Beer played an even bigger role I think and I’ll tell you why soon.
So now I find myself in 9th grade at Hunterdon Central High School and until now I have only ever heard stories about the Devils Tea Table and of course those 4 second glimpse of it as I would pass by in a car. However, 9th grade turned out to be a pivotal point because Mr. Ransavage’s science class would take a class trip there every year. It seemed rather odd that we would be going there on a class trip, but hey Mr. Ransavage was a cool teacher or at least I thought so. 9th grade science class was actually very boring to me; I mean all this talk about rocks and dinosaurs did not fit in with my ideas of fun. I was interested in dirt bike motorcycles and BMX racing, rock music and dirt track racecars. But when Mr. R mentioned a class trip to the Devils Tea Table, he had my attention.
So, as I remember that day our class trip had several other stops but, one stop was at the Devils Tea Table. I remember the bus stopped right along route 29 and most students disembarked out the back door of the bus. The hike was very steep although the path was well worn and for 14-year-old kids it was pretty much like a hop, skip and a jump to get to the top. And that “hop, skip and a jump” thing changes with age lol. Once at the top we were told not to go on the table it’s self however a few kids did.
At that time, I remember standing there and thinking of all the times I had seen it from the car window and now here I am looking at it close up and it didn’t look like there was any kinship to an “Indian place” at all. There was graffiti painted on almost every part of the rock and the surrounding rocks too. I remember thinking “I guess that is what hippies do.” “They get high and paint on rocks.” Also, there were pieces if broken glass on practically every inch of ground. I remember standing there taking in the whole scene and thinking “I can see how this could be a cool place to come and chill out for a while.” I am standing there with a whole bunch of kids and there is talking and laughing but, imagine this place without all that noise, it would be a really peaceful place and, in my opinion, it would look a whole lot nicer without all the graffiti.
Our trip back to the bus took us down a different direction, instead of going down the steep climbing trail we headed away from the Tea Table following a trail that took us past a cave like formation in the rocks where there was even more evidence of a fire ring, broken beer bottles and beer cans. Perplexing my mind were other things I seen, like broken lawn chairs, a tire, broken badminton racket and other odd things. “Somebody carried a tire up here?” We walked not too far and headed down toward the creek that runs parallel to Warsaw Road, we crossed the creek and walked to the bus and onto the next stop.
After the school trip it would be many years before I would revisit the location. The class trip was in 1979 and I left Hunterdon Central High School after 9th grade and finished out my high school years in Virginia. Upon returning to New Jersey in 1983 and meeting up with old friends everybody pretty much was saying the Devils Tea Table is off limits because too many people had died from falling off the Tea Table and that the police were watching it like a hawk. My friend Dean said “don’t go, you’ll get arrested.” Now aside from the people falling and some being killed, the large 150 person drinking parties where upon kegs of beer9 were carried up to the nearly 350-foot-high Tea Table area, there enters in the search for a dead body. May 5, 1994 New Jersey State police head to the Devils Tea Table and surrounding area to search for Gina Marie Gallo’s body.10 She had went missing in 1981 from a Bordentown motel room, she was 22 years old. In 1993 new leads and information had been uncovered that pointed to her body being somewhere at the Tea Table area. So now this just adds to more mystery about Devils Tea Table as the news of the search makes for a great new headline. However, nothing about Miss Gallo is ever found there and her skull is found by hunters on a trash heap in Hamilton Township Mercer County in December 1997.11
Ten years later in 1993 I was living in a small apartment located in the tiny village of Brookville just south of Stockton about 8 miles south of the Tea Table. One day my girlfriend Sue and I decided to ride our bicycles to the Tea Table. For a few weeks we had been talking about going there. The huge parties seemed to be a thing of the past, although there were still “No Trespassing” signs and people were still being injured. But, one day while I was riding my bike along the river trail, I noticed a few hikers walking along route 29 and they quickly just ducked over the guardrail and headed up the trail to the Tea Table so, I thought “hey, why not.” The next weekend Sue and I rode up, parked the bikes in the drainage tunnel that runs under route 29 right at that location and headed up to the Tea Table.
It was a lot of fun and I had flashbacks to the 1979 class trip. Once at the top things were pretty much the same as I had seen them in 79 with the exception some of the graffiti had been washed away and the broken glass wasn’t as prevalent. The trail was still very well worn and you could tell people were still visiting the place all the time. There were small signs of fresh visitors, signs like fresh cigarette butts, a small camp fire that looked only days old, a few beer cans and food wrappers. But it was nothing like the well-worn days of the 1979 class trip. While we were there a few other hikers came up and stayed a while, then a few more came.
Sue and I stayed for a few hours and headed back the same way I did in 79, walking away from the Tea Table and heading down the easier trail to the creek, back to the bikes and headed home.
As years passed, I visited the Tea Table as a solo hiker a few times. Usually on a weekday and again riding from Stockton on my bike. It wasn’t until a few years back I got the idea of the Tea Table back in my head however, this time it was about photography, I wanted to capture a nice photo of the Devils Tea Table and then I got to thinking and realized how many people have captured photos of it. But I have a drone now so, why not get a nice drone shot. Then I got interested in the history of the Tea Table, “how many people did die up there?” And “did Indians really go there?” Geez, today we have internet so, I can find the answers to all my wonderments I have had over the years. Also why not write about it? And really the reason for writing about it is to kind of show that not as many people died up there as I was told or lead to believe. I guess it was one of those things where a few true things did happen and soon stories get exaggerated and facts get mixed up or misconstrued and soon the real stories and facts are lost in the mix. Even today I will hear people say “yeah they found a woman’s body up there one time,” certainly a testament to people haphazardly reading paper headlines and not the whole story.
Irony is woven through the fabric of history and Devils Tea Table is no exception. As I was digging into the newspaper articles from the 1970s the running theme is that it was a place where people went to party, drinking beer, smoking pot and using illegal drugs. But this reputation was something new to the Tea Table, for not so long ago it was a very prominent hiking destination.12 13
Remember how I said earlier that I was bothered by the legend that a famous Indian chief was killed at the Tea Table and that this really in my opinion was absurd. So, to debunk this idiodic story I had to dig back further, back to when there were actually Indians roaming this location. As I dig back year by year, I find that during the early to mid-1900s there were many times advertisements in Philadelphia area newspapers inviting day hikers to journey up to the Devils Tea Table.14 Boy scouts, girl scouts and other outdoors and nature groups15,16 frequented the Tea Table on a regular basis and this seems to have continued right up to 1968 or at least that is what newspaper articles show.
The first incident of illicit activity shows up in a Courier-News article dated February 1, 1947, when it was discovered a 16-year-old parolee from the Jamesburg Reformatory broke into a Kingwood Township home and stole guns a flashlight and a piece of salami (really?). New Jersey State Police recovered one of the stolen guns at Devils Tea Table.17 However other that this lone incident no other bad things appear in the newspapers until we get up into the 1970’s.
So, the irony lies in the fact that this once popular hiking destination that seemed to be loved by nature & hiking groups, now becomes a place that is loved by partiers who go there and get arrested. Then in the 90’s it is tagged as a place you could hide a dead body. For what it is worth only two people appeared to have lost their life from falling at the Tea Table however, there were numerous injured and several tactical rescues. For the most part if you fall from the Tea Table or a surrounding rock you will not fall to the highway. Instead you drop about 70+ feet where you land (or bounce off of) trees or more rocks. Needless to say, the result of falling from the tea table is going to; as Tommy Boy would say “leave a mark” if not kill you first. Oddly (or maybe not) in all the stories I read about the (1900s) day hikers I could find nothing about anybody falling or being hurt in anyway while visiting the Tea Table. I even uncovered a photo of boy scouts of long ago standing on the edges of the rocks below the Tea Table where it would be more likely to slip and fall. Did society really get more stupid in the 1970’s?
The only two deaths listed at the Devils Tea Table are December 24/25 1978 when Thomas Dienes fell18 and October 1979 when 17-year-old David Giordano fell.19 Trooper Irving MacConnnell (Flemington State Police Barracks) recalling to the Courier News about Dienes’ fall saying; it took over two hours for rescue to locate him and while still alive at that time but, frozen from the cold he was found lying there staring at the sky and scattered about was debris of beer cans & bottles. The rescue involved a helicopter and grappling irons. He was later pronounced dead upon arriving at Hunterdon Medical Center.20
As for Giordano’s fall his friend John Gale claimed that while they were camping around 3:00am it started to rain and they were looking for a dry place to sit when Giordano slipped in mud and fell.
Aside from those two deaths by falling I could find no other news articles that listed anyone dying for any reason related to the Tea Table. There are numerous listings of arrests and injuries. As I stated earlier; growing up in neighboring Delaware Township the local stories were that “many people died by falling” and there was even a story about a woman’s skeleton found in the early 70’s, although my searches revealed no stories of that. If true I think I would have uncovered that event for sure but, maybe not.
So, let’s talk about Devils Tea Table in real estate listings.21,22 Same as today people will try to embellish a listing as much as they can. Neighbors houses if real close are always cropped out of a photo and location are often times overstated. Such would be the case in real estate listings that would describe property as being “in the Devils Tea Table area” as if this would be a good thing. Of all the listings I read some even claimed to have the Tea Table on the property however the property sizes would ranges from 50 acers to over 100 acers and it is a far stretch of the imagination that one could by the Tea Table property one year and sell it the next year at a different size. Not to mention for the number of listings it would mean the Tea Table property was being bought and sold like kid’s trade baseball cards or comic books. One listing even goes as far as to advertise “Dining at The Devil’s Tea Table”23 visitors will be taken by a van to the location.
Chief Big Mountain is believed to have been killed by his enemies at the Tea Table. His killers supposedly rolled a big rock on his head crushing him to death.24 And to some people; when viewing the profile of the Devils Tea Table from the south side looking north the rock formation is said to have the appearance of an Indian with a crushed head. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good legend, I really do. However, a good legend has to be believable. Let’s take a second here and find out what exactly a legend is.
As per todays listing on Wikipedia; Legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring human actions perceived or believed both by teller and listeners to have taken place within human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human values, and possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants, includes no happenings that are outside the realm of “possibility,” but may include miracles. Legends may be transformed over time, in order to keep them fresh, vital, and realistic. Many legends operate within the realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed by the participants, but also never being resolutely doubted.
Essentially a legend is a story that is somewhat believable and could have possibly have happened, it could be a mix of truth and fiction but, if all fiction it should be able to have realistically have happened.
So, the legend claims an Indian named Chief Big Mountain was killed by his enemies when they rolled a big rock, boulder, stone or whatever on his head (I’m assuming while at or near the Tea Table) and then some renditions claim his spirit lives at Devils Tea Table and blah, blah, blah… So, this whole thing seems so hokey it isn’t even worth discussing but you know I will lol. First question; who the hell is Chief Big Mountain? Second; How do you roll a boulder on someone’s head when they’re at the top of the mountain or in this case a 360-foot ridge? I think the second question answers itself. While researching the first question I was led down a quite interesting rabbit hole. Actually, my research leads me down two rabbit holes. See, I wanted to also know how this rock formation got its name but more about that later.
I was born and raised in this area and while I am no expert on Lenape people, I do know a fair amount of history and Chief Big Mountain does not appear in any of what I know. But, hey maybe there was a Chief Big Mountain who roamed the Delaware River region. Well, who better to ask that the Lenape Indians themselves (or what’s left of them)? The Lenape are now called the Delaware Indians and the Delaware nation is located in Anadarko Oklahoma.25 Upon contacting the Delaware Indians and explaining the legend my query was handed off to the language director who (like me) knew Chief Big Mountain is not a Lenape name. The language director contacted a friend in New Jersey who knew the name right away. Turns out there actually was a Chief Big Mountain and believe it or not he lived right here in New Jersey.26 Matter of fact he is buried in Sparta New Jersey.27 But don’t get your hopes up to quick… He was Comanche and not Lenape although some newspapers call him Navajo and all newspapers say he is from New Mexico. Chief Sabastian Big Mountain was a real person who traveled with (info a little sketchy here) Either Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show or Ringling Brothers Circus or maybe both at different times in his life.
After finding out Chief Big Mountain (born about 1877) was real, I became interested in who he actually was and how he ended up in New Jersey. After the Wild West shows started to lose their appeal, he shows up in a news article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper February 19, 1933 whereupon he walks into a New York City police headquarters in “tribal costume” with his wife and two children and announces he is “destitute” and can no longer pay his rent. Then just before being sent to the municipal shelter he was taken in by a friend, who would try to find help for him and the family.28 He then shows up in many different newspaper advertisements over the next several years. Seems that while the live Wild West shows had lost popularity, people still wanted to see a “real live Indian” and he would appear at grand openings and other like events. He was essentially paid to attract people to events and sometimes his wife and children appeared with him and they would be billed as “come see real life Indian family.”29 Then we find him as a gate keeper at Lake Mohawk where he resided in a “thatched” house with his family.30 He passed away in Newton Memorial hospital in 1954 at the age of 77.
So, yeah, a bit of a rabbit hole I ran down following info about his life however in the end I think (but not positive) that this is where the “Chief Big Mountain” name comes from that got attached to The Devils Tea Table legend. I am thinking because this man lived in New Jersey and he was most likely known for his days with the Wild West or Circus shows and he appeared at grand openings and other events his name would come to mind if you wanted to make up a legend about a rock on a ridge. As time goes by younger generations have no idea what a Wild West show is and I have personally met teens just last year that think “while Indians were once here, it was like two thousand years ago.” (True story right there.) Yes, as time goes by people forget or history gets warped and distorted. Given the fact that the Wild West show era ran from 1870 to about the 1920s and Sabastian Big Mountain being born around 1877 puts a decent time frame for his named to be known enough in the back of peoples minds to be used for this legend.
So, I think it is safe to say “no Indian got his head crushed at Devils Tea Table.
Now that we have put that whole not-so-believable legend out of the way it was time to conquer the Tea Table name. “Devils Tea Table” or “Devil’s Tea Table” or “The Devil’s Tea Table,” which one is the proper and I’m not really sure because depending on how you look at it or how you say it changes things up a little bit. The name appears in most places as being “Devils Tea Table” however, many people refer to it as “The Devil’s Tea Table.” But I wanted to know why? Why Devils Tea Table? Afterall it was known as Warford’s Rock. So, to get a further understanding of where the word “devil fits in and to explore some history of how the location went from a beautiful and wondrous natural rock formation to a party place where people fall to their death, it is worth a side trip back into history.
John Wharford or Warford31 was the man who purchased 204 acres of land June 6, 1734 that was located on a plateau above the Delaware River. At the Southernmost corner of the property is where there was a unique rock formation that stood as a pedestal like stone with a flat wider shaped stone on top giving the appearance of a one-legged table. Given the fact that many settlers where tea drinkers and old English tea tables were often times (but not always) round with a pedestal like base, one can easily see how this rock formation could arrive with “tea table” as a description. However, “Tea Tables” can be referenced in geology, a tea table is a rock formation that is a remnant of newer strata that have eroded away. A tea table is a type of rock column comprising discrete layers, usually of sedimentary rock, with the top layers being wider than the base due to greater resistance to erosion and weathering. Sometimes these occur just beyond bluffs or cliffs at the end of a ridge; sometimes they are the only rock formation remnant on top of a ridge or even in fairly level ground. Tea tables are a variety of hoodoos. This Wikipedia description 100% describes the formation. So, tea table formations can be found elsewhere and amazingly enough there are others that have the word “devil” placed in front of the word’s tea table but, why?
But how did it get the word “devil” added? So, before we get to the devil part let’s first look the time of John Warford’s arrival.
There are very easy tracings of John Warford (Jr) though internet genealogy sites and it is a very interesting little rabbit hole to run down.
We know he was born in Eastchester, NY between 1683 & 1689, at age 19 he is found in Middletown New Jersey and marries Elizabeth Stout in 1708.32 Elizabeth is from a prominent family although she is considered a “tainted” woman for a having a bastard child at age 14 in 1705. Giving birth to a child out of wedlock has serious complications during this period of history. She was sentenced by The Grand Jury of Monmouth County to receive 10 lashes upon her bare back or pay 10 pounds fine. Her father paid the fine and spared her the 10 lashes of the whip.33 Although many internet sites have their marriage listed as Kingwood Township this is 100% incorrect because John & Elizabeth do not arrive in Hunterdon County until 1729 and Kingwood Township did not exist at the time they were married.34 In 1734 John Warford purchases the 204 acers of property overlooking the Delaware River.35 Elizabeth being a Baptist becomes part of the Baptist community of Kingwood/Baptistown and there is much well documented history that can be found about that.
Now back to the matters of the Tea Table rock formation.
It appears that John Warford purchased the land from William Biddle Jr whose father had acquired 43,000 acers in West New Jersey in a deal made with William Penn (and others) in 1676.36 The older Biddle sealed the land tract deal with William Penn prior to setting sail to New Jersey. Once here Biddle Sr made his home in Burlington, NJ. With this being said; it would appear that John Warford was the first long term resident of the property because in due time his name was given to the rock formation and to the creek that runs down from the highlands to the river. The creek is located a little north of the Tea Table location and follows a southwest path to the river. There are no other formal names that I could find for this rock formation prior to it formally being named “Warford’s Rock.” I did however find a few references that the rock was used as a navigational land mark for those traversing up and down the river, both before and after being named Warford’s Rock.
What would life be like in the area of the Tea Table in 1734? Well as for the Lenape; at this time, they would have been very scarce in this area. Most Lenape had started to leave several years earlier and as a note; one has to know there were not as many Indians in this area as one might think, depending on how much you know about Indian history in NJ. Speculation puts Lenape population at around 2000 when the Dutch arrive in the early 1600s. By 1700 is about 500 mostly due to wars, disease from white contact and other problems like alcohol consumption.37
But nonetheless 1734 would have been a very primitive life by today’s standards in this part of New Jersey. At the time the land fell under Bethlehem Township (later to become Kingwood Township). There would have been a settlement and ferry crossing north of Warford’s property where what is now known as Frenchtown,38 although Frenchtown is still 130+ years away. There is no mention of a road leading up river past what would now be Warford Creek however, 3 miles south of his property would lie Bull’s Island and at the time would be known as Saxtonville and or Raven Rock. The area is mentioned by all three names in various writings of that time period. The area had what appears to have been a Lenape name “Mauanissing” and in the book “Stories of Raven Rock” the author speculates this could have meant “Raven Rock” however it appears Mauanissing has no English translation.39 Either way this area 3 miles south of Warford homestead was an up and coming settlement that would soon see a lot of activity in the years ahead.
About a mile north of Raven Rock there would have been a ferry crossing, if not before, then shortly after 1734. Ferry crossings always brought about other businesses like taverns, trading posts and stores. In those days there were two kinds of lifestyle, there were those who stayed close in small communities, villages and growing towns and then there were those who ventured off for the rural farm life. One could only imagine that this Tea Table rock formation back at that time was a place of pure pristine wilderness that saw very few people.
In my research I find no other writings (worth noting) about the Tea Table other than at some point after Warford’s homestead is established and the population is constantly increasing the formation becomes known as Warford’s Rock. Also, his name is given to the creek running from his property to the river. In addition, I find nothing of the era that has a legend of any Indian (Chief or not) being killed at the rock formation.
How did the Devil lay his name to this rock?
As we leave behind the hard-colonial life of John & Elizabeth Warford we move to over 150 years later and things have really changed. Warford’s homestead now lies in the relatively newly founded (1798) Kingwood Township. Frenchtown has been founded and there is a railroad that connects Frenchtown to Phillipsburg & Trenton. Long gone are the days of ferry crossings that have given way to bridges connecting New Jersey to Pennsylvania. At this time lifestyles have advanced from the harsh working life to weekend get-a-ways. Essentially people are more active in the daily and weekly travels. This is also a time when we see the rock formation being called “Devils Tea Table.” The newly formed Boy Scouts camping becomes very active in the area up and down the Delaware River as does other outdoors and nature groups. I could not seem to pin-point an exact year the rock is given the name Devils Tea table but, it seems to have arrived at this calling in the late 1800s.
Seems the Devil had not only stolen Warford’s Rock, actually it appears he had tea tables in many other locations. Various forms of tea table formations can be found in several location throughout Pennsylvania and other states. West Virginia seems to have a lot of these eroding wonders. In my searching I find what seems to be the most likely reason these formations would be some how associated with the Devil and that reason is… superstition. Sure, why not! Superstitions are an amazing thing to me personally and I am not a very superstitious person. They amaze me because for the most part they are not real and like the fake Chief Big Mountain legend; something that is not real just seems so corny. I’ll admit when I was younger, I would somewhat buy into a superstition however as my years have passed I have not much time for fake corny stories. Now don’t get me wrong, I love things like Santa Clause and what it adds to the enjoyment of children and I too love a good Halloween horror story. But when I look back at some of the most idiodic superstitions it really makes me wonder about why people think what they think. The Salem which trails where fueled by superstitious people who burned their own at the stake and this is just one of literally hundreds of times throughout history people were out of there minds because of superstitions. At one time people though tomatoes to be poisonous and wouldn’t eat them. Not due to Superstition but rather to ignorance and look at tomato consumption today. Superstitions are usually spawned from fear of the unknown, lack of understanding (or interpreting) evidence or just pure ignorance.
So, while the lonely rock formation standing high upon the ridge remains unchanged through the centuries the names associated with it, just like society they are ever changing. And now we find that for some rather odd reason we need to attach the devil to it. Why? Because it looks different and odd therefore there has to be something spiritual or supernatural about the rock. Right?
While I was digging through search after search I one day come upon this rather odd blog site40 that had photos of Tea Table formations from West Virginia. Amongst the photos was an image of the Tea Table in Kingwood Township New Jersey. In the paragraphs of that page I found the following that more or less hits the nail right smack on the head in regards to the Devil laying claim to Tea Table rock formation.
“People refer to these formations as “The Devil’s Tea Tables” not only because they look like giant stone tables but also because some believe that the devil himself visits them. It is said that when the devil is around a heavy mist will shroud the tea tables and hide him. The stories associated with these rock formations are yet another example of West Virginia’s wild and wonderful folklore.”
The Legend / Folklore
“One day two men were traveling down the Elk River in a boat. It was a beautiful day and they had finished work, so they took their time. A magnificent tea table formation that they had often passed came into view. One of the men wanted to stop and hike up to it. Since they had time, the hiker’s friend was happy to stop. He agreed to sit and wait with the boat.
When they reached the tea table, they saw that it was hidden by an odd mist that clung on it and nothing else. The man’s partner didn’t give the mist a second thought and jumped from the boat as soon as they got to shore. The one started scrambling up the slope, while the other sat back and kicked his feet up. He figured it would take his partner a half an hour or so to get there and back. The man waited and waited and waited.
Hours later his partner stumbled back down the hill, climbing into the boat without a word. His eyes were empty, devoid of life. He never recovered. He spent the rest of his life an empty shell of a man for he had stumbled upon the devil himself.
He’d had the horrible misfortune of interrupting the devil having tea. The devil had loomed before him and looked at the man with cruel and merciless eyes. Then the devil had reached down and, with a mere pinch of his finger, he pulled away the man’s soul. He crumbled it up and sprinkled it into his cup of tea like a bit of sugar. Then the devil waved the man away and returned to his tea. This was not the first time someone unwittingly stumbled upon the devil, and it sure won’t be the last. So, take heed. If you see a devil’s tea table, admire it from afar. If a mist surrounds it, look away and run!”
Huh… who knew the Devil is tea drinker.
Unlike the Chief Big Mountain legend, I rather like this little story about Satan and the Tea Table. There was no author listed. Following that story was also a poem that I will share here.
The Devil’s Tea Tables Poem by James Ball Naylor41
O monster rock! Firm-poised it stands
Upon a base of crumbling shale.
‘Twas shaped by Satan’s cunning hands
In ages past- so runs the tale-
And served Hell’s demons, great and small,
As table to their banquet ball.
Though countless years have rolled away
The Devil’s table stands today
As firm as when, with hellish glee,
The black imps held their revelry.
It seems the feeble flut’ring breath
That issues from the lips of death-
The faint and fickle summer breeze
That stirs the blossoms on the trees
Could shake the great rock’s slender base
And hurl it from its resting place.
And yet the strongest gales that sweep
Across the torrid Indian deep,
The Polar winds- the fierce cyclone-
Are all too weak, combined alone,
To cast the monarch from its throne.
Beyond the blue Muskingum’s bed
It rears its gray and wrinkled head.
Though aged, still erect, sublime
It gazes on the march of time,
And towers above the verdant sod,
A monument to nature’s God.
When years on years have hurried past
Until God’s dial marks the last,
Oh! May the grim old rock still keep
Its vigil on the stony steep.
As always… Thank you so much for reading and have a great day.