When James B. Duke decided to turn his sprawling farm along the Raritan River in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey into a grand estate and public park, one of the first things he did was to ban hunting. Sure, poaching was always strictly discouraged right from the time the tobacco tycoon began to acquire the lots that would make up Duke Farms in 1893. Now, nine years later, the taking of game was to be outlawed.
|Bronze statue on the estate of James B. Duke in Hillsborough, NJ, circa 1904|
It didn't take New Jersey rabbits very long to learn of the ban. No doubt the furry creatures had already heard about the hundreds of thousands of delicious trees and shrubs being planted on the grounds, now the news that bunnies were permanently "out of season" sent them scurrying by the hundreds across the stone bridges of Duke's Brook into the heart of the estate.
|New York Evening Herald, January 20, 1904|
With no competition at the buffet (New Jersey was in the first year of a nine year program to import deer from Pennsylvania and Michigan because the herd was at zero, if you can imagine that!) the rabbits quickly multiplied and were overrunning the place within two years. After expensive plants were destroyed by the voracious chompers, Duke decided a hunt was in order.
The newspapers had a good laugh when it turned out that Duke was going to be subject to a fine of $20 per rabbit for hunting out of season. The four hired sharpshooters took 37 in less than two hours, resulting in a whopping fine of $740 for the multi-millionaire!
There was no report that Mr. Duke himself joined in the hunt, but he did almost bag an escaped circus tiger on his estate in 1921 - but that's another story.