Local historian highlights mysterious rocks with carvings in East Brunswick

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EAST BRUNSWICK–Equipped with slides, a board pointer and numerous photos, historian  Ann Alvarez talked about the strange markings on four rocks and one tunnel that pervade the Middlesex County area.

“The mystery began back in 1876 when two young men from New Brunswick traveled down along the Lawerence Brook and Raritan River and carved a mixture of strange symbols, ciphers, words and cryptograms into four rocks and one tunnel along the way,” Alvarez said. “The two young men were Elias Suydam, age 19, and Henry Monroe Danbury, age 18. The question is, what were they trying to say? Their strange carvings artistry is almost 100 years old.” 

More than 20 residents attended Alvarez’s presentation, “The 1876 Mystery of the Inscribed Rocks” on May 19 at the East Brunswick Historical Society’s Farmhouse.

Alvarez said her presentation was based on the research she has conducted over the years. The carvings are within four miles of each other, with four of the sites in New Brunswick and one site in East Brunswick. To protect the sites from being vandalized, the exact location of the rocks will not be disclosed, she said.

Alvarez said the Edgebrook Rock is covered with old carvings, with 40 legible inscriptions on the rock. 

There are at least five carvings of skulls or skulls and crossbones scattered around the rock. I believe that they are pirate symbols because two skulls at the top right sport eye patches,” she said.

Calling a particular carving the “Red Rover Cryptogram,” Alvarez said she discovered that this carving was made by Danbury due to him carving his middle name and last name initials near the cryptogram. She said the carving has a skull and crossbones complete with an eye patch, and under it are the words “Red Rover” with the year, 1876.

“I tried to find out who was Red Rover … because of the pirate theme that was already on the rocks. I found two Red Rovers that were pirates,” Alvarez said. “One was from a book of fiction [titled] ‘Red Rover’ written by James Fenimore Cooper and the real Red Rover who was Sir Thomas of Longueville who was captured during the Battle Farra in 1308.” 

Along with carving his name and other symbols on the Edgeboro Rock, Alvarez said Danbury’s friend Suydam also carved his own cryptogram that contained navigational coordinates.

Following the coordinates left by Suydam, Alvarez said it led her to another rock covered with inscriptions and she named this rock the East Brunswick Rock.

Alvarez said both Suydam and Danbury carved their name at the East Brunswick Rock. A skull and crossbones were also carved into the rock and Suydam carved another cryptogram and a compass.

“I originally wondered if the compass was a clue leading me to treasure, but I could not find a map or directions on the rock to go with it … so as a result, my treasure trail went cold,” Alvarez said. “At this point, I turned my attention away from treasure and towards the other symbols on the rock. What I found took my research into an entirely different direction.”

Alverez said she found that most of the other symbols on the East Brunswick Rock belonged the Fraternal Order of Masons, a secret worldwide organization. Particularly, the symbols belonged to a degree within the Masons called the Royal Arch Degree. She said the symbols she found included a pentagram, a keystone and arches, which are all symbols associated with the organization.

Showcasing a photo of a 19th century Royal Arch Mason, Alvarez said, “Please note that his apron has a skull and crossbones on it. The skull and crossbones are not exclusively used by pirates and that is what happens with symbols can mean different things to different people. The Freemasons used the skull and crossbones and to them it symbolizes transformation.”

Close to Suydam’s cryptogram carving, Alvarez said she also found a carving of what appeared to be a masonic cabletow. In the organization, the cabletow is a symbol of punishment that can come to any Freemason revealing Masonic secrets. Today, the meaning of the cabletow has changed and instead means to bring to any needy brother.

Alvarez said there are 21 legible names, initials and dates that were carved into the East Brunswick Rock.

In 1981, Alvarez said she was informed about the Buccleuch Tunnel that obtained carvings that included Suydam and Danbury’s names. 

At the Buccleuch Tunnel, Alvarez said she found two stone blocks where Danbury and Suydam carved their names and skull and crossbones; however, Danbury’s block had a few extra symbols that included two number nines, which are Royal Arch Mason symbols. There were also “x” marks all over the block, which is another Royal Arch Mason symbol for disapproval.

Alvarez said she discovered a connection between the Buccleuch Mansion and the Fraternal Order of Masons.

“Two of Buccleuch Mansion’s most prominent owners held high positions within that organization. Anthony Walton White, who was the first owner, was called “the worshipful master of the all Washington Lodge 12’ between 1794 and 1796,” Alvarez said, “while its later owner Joseph Warren Scott was a grand master of the masons in the mid-1800s.”

Alvarez said she only got to visit the tunnel one time in 1981 before it was destroyed for the Route 18 widening in New Brunswick; however, Danbury and Suydam’s blocks were saved and are currently at the Buccleuch Mansion.  

Centennial Rock is located along a trail near Lawrence Brook and is located within Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick, according to Alvarez.

Once again, Alvarez said she discovered more skull and crossbones symbols and another cryptogram carved by Suydam and Danbury, which contained four strange ciphers that appeared to be carrying a mysterious message.

After sending the strange ciphers to a cryptologist, Alvarez said she learned that although the cryptologist was not positive, he believed the strange ciphers on the rock could be saying Red Rover.

In 1980, Alvarez said that she learned about the Dock Rock that was located along the Raritan River in New Brunswick. She said she also found Danbury’s initials and another skull carving.

Alvarez said the Dock Rock then was part of Delaware Canal operations in 1850 and in 1836 was part of a steamboat dock. During the American Revolution, infamous Privateer Captain Adam Hyler owned a house near the steamboat dock and his men left in search of British ships to capture in the name of the American cause.

Sailing off into the high seas for his country and for profit, Alvarez said Hyler’s courageous exploits helped put a dent in British shipping. The American government and people were grateful to him, but the British considered Hyler nothing more than a pirate.

Alvarez said that Hyler did, in fact, cross the line into piracy a couple of times, which led her to believe that he might be the Red Rover that Suydam and Danbury carved on the rocks.

“When I looked closer into the background of the fictional Red Rover and the real Red Rover, I found that they had more in common with Hyler than I originally thought,” Alvarez said. “Like Hyler, they both spent time as privateers and like Hyler, the fictional Red Rover even helped the American cause during the Revolutionary War by pursuing and capturing British vessels. It’s an uncanny similarity to me.”  

Given the skull and crossbones, Red Rover references and the dates carved on the rocks, Alvarez said she believes Suydam and Danbury may have been referring to Hyler and that he possibly had a hidden treasure.

Alvarez said Hyler and his men were very good at privateering and that today their treasure would have been worth at least $2 million at least. She said if Hyler had hidden a secret treasure he was going down the Raritan River and Lawrence Brook would have been the last brook he would have gone into before entering New Brunswick. 

Alvarez said, in the end, Hyler died at home in his own bed at age 47 in August 1782. In his will, he wrote that all of his money would go to his wife, but she was left with not enough money to live on.

“Perhaps there is a reason why the vast treasure he had accumulated only weeks before he died was not enough to support his family, but then perhaps there is no legitimate reason. This is how mysteries are born, this is how rumors are started. Rumors that young impressionable teenagers, like Suydam and Danbury, might want to pursue,” Alvarez said.

For more information about the East Brunswick Historical Society, visit www.ebhistoricalsociety.webs.com.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.