Wild Animals, Fish, Etc., Of Delaware County.
pence per dozen for blackbirds and three pence for every crow killed was offered out of the public fund, the party killing the birds being required to produce their heads before the proper officer in each county, and by the act of March 20, 1724/5, the person claiming the reward for killing crows was required to bring not less than six at one time to the nearest justice, who should "see their bill cut off," after which the magistrate was authorized to give an order for the reward on the county treasurer.
In 1748, Peter Kalm, the Swedish naturalist, records that the old residents stated that the number of birds was then diminishing; that in the days of the early settlers the water was covered by all kinds of waterfowl, and that about 1688 it was no unusual thing for a single person to kill seventy or eighty ducks of a morning, while an old Swede, then ninety years old, told Kalm that he had killed thirty-three ducks at one shot. Capt. Heinricks, of the Hessian troops, however, who could see nothing agreeable in our country, says that "like the products of the earth, animals too are only half developed. A hare, a partridge, a peacock, etc., is only half grown. Wild game tastes like ordinary meat."
In early times swans were said to abound on the Delaware, but it is a circumstance to which William Whitehead, in his interesting sketch of Chester, directed general attention, that at that time "we do not hear of the more modern rail- and reed-birds, which now afford profit and pleasure to the sportsman in the fall season." It has always been a question among ornithologists as to the locality where the rail-bird breeds, but in 1876 James Pierce picked up an unfledged rail-bird on Chester Island whose feathers were not sufficiently grown to enable it to fly, which incident furnished strong evidence that the birds breed on the marshes and meadows along the Delaware, a proposition which had been stoutly maintained by some well-informed persons and as earnestly denied by other.
It is worthy of record that a gentleman in Chester in 1851 caught a white blue-bird, an albino, its plumage being of snowy whiteness.
Of our fishes, William Penn, in his "Further Account of the Province of Pennsylvania," published in 1685, refers to the fact that "mighty whales roll upon the coast near the mouth of the Bay of Delaware." A century and a quarter after he wrote this, in 1809, a clever-sized whale was caught in the Delaware, near Chester. Watson informs us that it "became a subject of good speculation," and was exhibited at Philadelphia and elsewhere. "Thomas Pryor, who purchased it, made money by it, and in reference to his gains was called 'Whale Pryor.' The jaws were so distended as to receive therein an arm-chair, in which the visitors sat." In April, 1833, near Chester, three seals were seen, and one of them was caught in a shadseine, and kept on exhibition. Previous to this, on Jan. 21, 1824, a seal was shot in the Delaware, near Repaupo, by Jonas Steelman, a resident of New Jersey, and occasionally sharks of the man-eating species have been seen or caught in the river above Chester. On Aug. 4, 1851, William Haines, Henry Post, and George Ennis caught a shark in a seine while fishing for catfish near the Lazaretto. It measured nine feet in length and five feet across the fins. In August, 1876, Captain Smith, while fishing for herring, saw a shark in the river just above Chester.
William Penn, in the pamphlet mentioned, states that "sturgeons play continually in our rivers in summer," and it is said could be counted by dozens at a time, leaping into the air and endangering the boats, while of shad, which he tells us are called "alloes" in France, by the Jews "allice," and by "our ignorant shad,"1 "are excellent fish, and of the bigness of our largest carp. They are so plentiful that Capt. Smyth's overseer at the Skulkil drew 600 and odd at one draught; 300 is no wonder, 100 familiarly. They are excellent Pickeled or smok'd as well as boyld fresh. They are caught by nets only." He also informs us that six shad or rock were sold for twelve pence, and salt fish at three farthings a pound. The rock-fish Penn stated were somewhat larger and rounder than the shad, while he mentioned a whiter fish, little inferior in relish to the English mullet, which were plentiful, and the herring, he tells us, "swarm in such shoals that it is hardly creditable. In little creeks they almost shovel them up in their tubs." There is among the lesser fry "the catfish or flathead, lamprey eale, trout, perch, black and white smelt, sunfish, etc." The eels in former time must have been monstrously large, for, as late as 1830, one measuring nearly six feet in length and of proportionate girth was reported as having been caught off the mouth of Chester Creek, which was a giant as compared with that captured by Capt. Peter Boon, in June, 1869, which was over three feet in length and weighed ten pounds.
|1 It is stated that the timid nature of these fish gave it the name of shad. The early settlers noticed that the overhanging of trees on the river or streams frequented by this fish, casting a shade upon the water, frightened them, and hence from this peculiarity they were called shadow-fish, or the fish that is frightened at a shadow, and in time the first part of the word alone came to be used as the name of the fish.|
Locusts were known in early days, and in 1749, Kalm alludes to them as returning every seventeen years, showing that even then the peculiar interval of time between their coming in great numbers had been noted. The first mentioned, however, of locusts, so far as I have seen, is recorded in Clay's "Swedish Annals," as follows:
"In May, 1715, a multitude of locusts came out of the ground everywhere, even on the solid roads. They were wholly covered with a shell, and it seemed very wonderful that they could with this penetrate the hard earth. Having come out of the earth, they crept out of the shells, flew away, sat down on the trees, and made a peculiar noise until evening. Being spread over the country in such numbers, the noise they made was so loud that the cow-bells could scarcely be heard in the woods. They pierced the bark on the branches of the trees, and deposited their eggs in the openings. Many apprehended that the trees