WEST ORANGE, NJ — Seen in the photograph above is the gravesite of West Orange's first historian, Jemima Condict, along with a current photograph showing that the bronze plaque honoring her memory has recently been stolen. In response to this discovery, West Orange Township Historian Joseph Fagan shared the following message:
As the march of time moves forward many changes naturally take place that often affect historical places. It is not always possible to control change as many factors determine the final fate of those items and places lost to history. My contention has always been history in some form lies around every corner just waiting to be rediscovered.
But the unnecessary loss of an historical item with immeasurable and symbolic significance causes me great sadness, which I would like to share. I'm referring to a small bronze plague that has been stolen which commemorates the life of West Orange's first historian Jemima Condict.
She was born August 24, 1754 in what today is the Pleasantdale section of West Orange. At the time it was all part of the Newark settlement and her home was near the intersection of Eagle Rock Avenue and Pleasant Valley Way.
She could be considered the first historian of West Orange because she kept a diary from October 1772 to March of 1774. It survives to this day and tells a vivid story that endures as living testimony to life during the American Revolution for those living on land that eventually became West Orange.
On April 23, 1775 the shot heard around the world at the beginning of the American Revolution was symbolically heard in West Orange when she wrote, "As every day brings new troubles this day brings news they began to fight near Boston."
She passed away on November 14, 1779 at age 25 leaving behind her husband Arron Harrison who fought in the Revolutionary War and their child Ira who died in infancy shortly after her death. She is interred in Orange at the old burying ground on the corner of Main Street and Scotland Road.
I often visit her grave and the other graves of the old burying ground. This cemetery contains the graves of many of West Orange's first settlers such as the Williams and Harrison families. The first interment here was in 1723 and time has not been kind to the hand carved tombstones still standing. The combined elements of weather and neglect are ironically slowing sending them to a final grave as they deteriorate and crumble.
The tombstone of Jemima Condict is badly worn but still legible marking the location of her grave. It likely will not survive another 20 years and may soon be lost forever. Unfortunately there is not much that can be done for a 240-year-old tombstone in a neglected and forgotten cemetery.
In October 1933, the Daughters of the American Revolution recognized her significant contributions to local history. They placed a boulder behind her grave with a bronze plaque to honor her. This plaque would have been poised to commemorate her life long after her tombstone crumbled from age.
It is with deep regret and sadness I write the plaque has been stolen presumably taken by vandals for scrap value. It didn't tell the complete story of her life but it recognized her important contributions aiding researchers at her final resting place. Certainly they are not responsible for her death but they could be charged for killing her memory.
Paraphrasing from the famous New York Sun editorial of 1897 I would like to give Jemima Condict a symbolic message:
"Yes, Jemima, you did exist. You existed certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and please know that they are abound and give life to your life to the end of all history."