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SOURCE: SOUTH JERSEY, A History, 1664-1923; Alfred M. Heston, editor-in-chief.
Volume I, 1924, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., New York and Chicago.
THE COUNTY AS A POLITICAL UNIT
Upon the horizon of our history, with its comparatively distinguishing marks as yet dotting the skyline, appears the county configuration itself. The creation of the county took place November 12, 1685, and it was instituted by act of the Assembly in1692, at the time when other counties in the New World were in the making, when New Plymouth County to the north, for example, was being divided and sub-divided into counties of other names. Cape May at the time possessed its present bounds, together with all that section of the country that was included in a line drawn from a point about twenty miles up the Maurice River to the most northerly point of Great Egg Harbor. Today the county comprises the peninsula, the south projection of the State of New Jersey, Delaware Bay on the west, the Atlantic on the east. The north boundary is marked by Great Egg Harbor. The Cape is thirty-two miles in length and its greatest width is thirteen miles. A level country, with alluvial formation, the land adjacent to the beaches presented to the first settlers prospects for excellent pastures for cattle, while the sounds between the beaches were places in which to fish and to gather the oysters that then abounded. By act of the Assembly, November 12, 1692, Cape May County was regularly instituted as follows:
“Whereas, this province hath formerly been divided into three counties for the better regulation thereof; and whereas Cape May (being a place well situated for trade) begins to increase to a considerable number of families; and there being no greater encouragement to the settlement of a place than that there be established therein an order of government and justice duly administered; be it therefore enacted by the Governor, Council and Representatives in this present Assembly met and assembled, and by the authority of same, that from henceforth Cape May shall be, and is hereby appointed a county, the bounds whereof to begin at the utmost flowing of the tide in Prince Maurice River, being about twenty miles from the mouth of said river, and then by a line running easterly to the most northerly point of the Great Egg Harbor, and from thence southerly along the sea to the point of Cape May, thence around Cape May, and up the Maurice River to the first point mentioned; and that there be nominated and appointed such and so many justices and other officers as at present may be necessary for keeping the peace and trying of similar cases under four shillings. In which circumstances the same county shall remain until it shall appear that they are capable of being erected into a County Court; and in case of any action, whether civil or criminal, the same to be heard and determined at the quarterly sessions in Salem County, with liberty for the Justices of the County of Cape May, in conjunction with the Justices of Salem County, in every such action in judgment to sit, and with them to determine the same.”
At the same time, also, the season and place of holding county elections was directed, Cape May being entitled to have five members until the time of the surrender in 1702, except the year 1697, when the county was reduced to one member. Thereupon, the first town meeting for public business was February 7, 1692, at the house of Benjamin Godfrey, when the commissions for justice and sheriff were proclaimed, and George Taylor was appointed clerk. Another act relating to the county courts in Cape May was that of October 3, 1693, which reads:
“Whereas, it has been found expedient to erect Cape May into a county, he bounds whereof at the last session of this Assembly have been ascertained ; and conceiving it also reasonable the inhabitants thereof shall partake of , with the rest of the inhabitants of this Province, having (upon inquiry) received satisfaction that there is a sufficient number of inhabitants within said county to keep and hold a county Court in smaller matters relating to civil causes; be it enacted by the Governor, Council, and Representatives in Assembly met and assembled, and by authority thereof, the inhabitants of the County of Cape May may keep and hold four County Courts yearly , viz: of the third Tuesday of March, 3rd March, 3rd June, and on 3rd of September; all which courts with Justices commissioned and to be commissioned in said county, shall and may hear and try, according to law, all civil actions within the said county, under the sum of 20 pounds. “
Again, a new boundary line for the county was made by act of the Assembly, May 12, 1694, as the bounds of said county were not distinctly enough described. It was determined that the starting place twenty miles up the Maurice River should remain the same but that the termination was at the “middlemost great river that runneth into the bay of Great Egg Harbor, so far as the tide flows up the same, and thence down the said river into the said bay.” The “middlemost great river” is believed to be the Tuckahoe, and by the act, Egg Harbor residents were put into Gloucester (now Atlantic) County. The Assemble on the same date passed the act that required that the freeholders should meet in the town of Cape May, February 6th, to choose five good and sufficient men to serve in the General Assembly.
Since the year 1745, Cape May court House has been the County Seat, Daniel Hand having presented the county with an acre of land as a site for the county buildings that were erected at that time. The members from Cape May objecting to the restriction that was placed in their court by not allowing it to try cases over 20 pounds, and having to take them to Salem, or Burlington, the Assembly passed an act May 12, 1697, placing the courts on the same quality with other county tribunals in the colony. At this date, also, one of the most important matter effecting future generations was the passage of the act for the layout of the road between Cape May and Burlington, though the road was not completed until 1707. Prior to this, the county was completely isolated from the upper districts of the State by the extensive bed of cedar swamps and marshes stretching from the headwaters of Cedar Swamp Creek to the headwaters of Dennis Creek.
Owing to the increase in court business, three new “circular judges” were appointed in December 1699, by the Assembly of the Colony of New Jersey, all of whom were to hold court, with civil and criminal jurisdiction, at Cape May, February 20, and October 20, of each year, and the Assembly then passed an act giving Cape May three representatives in the Assembly, instead of five. In 1705, Cape May was again reduced to one representative in the Assembly, and in the same year, more military officers were appointed for this district. Shamgar Hand and William Golden as commissioners in 1706, laid out the road from Egg Harbor to Cold spring, and thence to Town Bank, and in 1708, Shamgar Hand and John Townsend laid out the road from the head of John Townsend’s Creek to the cedar swamp, and through it to a place called Ludley’s Bridge, “ and toward Maurice River, as far as the goeth.”
Again in 1710, the Cape May boundary lines were changed to conform thus: “Beginning at the mouth of a small creek on the west side of Stipson’s Island, called Jecak’s Creek; thence up to the same as high as the tide floweth; thence along the bounds of Salem County to the southernmost main branch of Great egg Harbor River; thence down the said river to the sea; thence along the seacoast to Delaware Bay, and so up the said bay to the place of beginning.” The line of partition between Cape May and Cumberland and Gloucester (now Atlantic) counties was changed on November 28, 1822, “to begin at the place where the waters of Mill or Hickman’s Creek fall into the channel of the Tuckahoe River, at the boundary line of Gloucester County, and running thence directly into the mouth of said creek, continuing the same course by a line of marked trees, until it strikes Hughes; or the lower mill pond, on West or Jecak’s Creek; thence down the middle of the ancient water course thereof, until it falls into Delaware Bay, thence continuing a due north course until it strikes the line of said counties, at the ship channel of said bay.” Once more in 1891, the legislature passed an act changing Cape May’s boundary line, by adding a portion of Maurice River Township, in Cumberland Township, to Dennis Township.
The total area of the county now is 170,171 acres, with 58,824 acres of tide marsh, including 10,443 acres of sounds, bays, and inlets.
Other Town Builders--Whether as patriots or law-makers, guardians of the county welfare in scores of ways, men in the professions, and others, specific mention has been made of the sterling men of Cape May County thus far throughout our history. In all the round of life from the beginning back there in 1691, have we found them men sufficient for the needs of their times, swift and sure at the call of duty, many of them particularly well qualified as leaders, in peace and in war. In this chapter, let us recall another group of the hardy settlers and their descendants upon whose shoulders has been p;aced the mantle of their leadership adequate to the times and occasions.
The little that we know of the life of john Yownsend, the ancestor of the large family of that name here, causes us to entertain a great desire to know more of him and of his times and neighborhood. He is to be numbered among those indomitable Quaker folk who were fitted spiritually and physically to be the founders of our towns. Froend Townsend was a belligerent Quaker, so far as defying the Long Island officials and even the Governor of the State himself was concerned, in the matter of harboring Quakers. He not only allowed the sect to hold meetings at his own house, but he went around with his horse, and gave notice to others of the meetings to be held. For such an expression of his defiance , he had been fined, jailed, and banished from Long Island, and that was the main cause of his coming here, to settle in Cape May, where Friends might came and hold their meetings in peace. Historian Stevens relates for us an incident that recalls kindred recollections of strong men who were numbered among the builders of our towns. It is related of John Townsend that when he built his cabin he traveled a great distance, and found two other settlers to help him raise it. While they were doing this some Indians came around and added their help. The three white men, who wanted to impress upon the Indians something of their superior strength, decided to make a demonstration of it. One of the three white men was a very strong man, and a good wrestler, and the two who were not so strong proposed a wrestling match that had been previously planned. So the wrestling began, and the strong man allowing himself to be easily thrown by the two ordinary men, the Indians then decided that they would like to wrestle with the supposed weaker man. They began tugging at one another, when suddenly the first and only Indian that tried to wrestle was tossed into the crotch of a tree, and the Indians assumed that if the weaker man could do such an act so easily, the others could not be moved at all. This little incident , concludes the narrator, served to prevent any trouble between the whites and the natives. He does not state whether or no the successful wrestler was John Townsend, but in all probability he was the man.
Thomas Leaming was another strict Quaker of the day, and one of the most noteworthy of town builders. He was a voluminous writer, and kept a diary that is often quoted from. Therein he states: “ I was born in Southampton, Long Island, in July 1674. When I was eighteen years of age I came to Cape May. The next summer I went to Philadelphia with my father, Christopher, who was lame with a withered hand, which held him till his death. The winter following I went a whaling and we got eight whales, and five of them we drove to Hoarkills, and we went there to cut them up, and stayed a month. The first day of May, we came home to Cape May, and my father was sick, and the third day, departed this life at the house of Shamgar Hand. Then I went to Long Island, stayed that summer, and in the winter I went a whaling again, and got and old cow and calf. In 1696 I went a whaling again, and made a great voyage, and in 1697 I worked for John Reeves all summer, and in the winter went to whaling again. * * * In 1706 I built my house. * * * * In 1707 we made the county road.” Such was the simple, every day life of the whaleman and the pioneer Quaker.
Jacob Spicer who was appointed by the colony its commissioner for purchasing provisions for five hundred troops on the Canadian expedition in 1764, also kept a diary, in the perusal of excerpts from which , as published by Mr. Stevens, we are much enlightened as to the people and events of the period. Spicer was a live merchant of his day, and in 1756 he advertised to barter goods for all kinds of produce and commodities, and he particularly designated wampum. Said he in the course of his advertising: “ I desire to give all due encouragement to the people’s industry, not only by accepting cattle, sheep, and staple commodities in a course of barter, but also a large quantity of mittens will be taken, and indeed a clamshell formed in wampum, a yarn thrum, a goose quill, a horse hair, a hog’s bristle, or a grain of mustard seed, if tendered, shall not escape my reward, being greatly desirous to encourage industry, and it is one of the most principal expedients under the favor of heaven that can revive our drooping circumstances at this time of uncommon but great and general burden.”
His diary also exhibit’s the thrifty way in which his household was conducted, the sons being taught to cobble shoes, and the daughters to make clothing and to knit. He writes: “It is conceived that 14 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence will be adequate to furnish all the boys with leather breeches, a vest for Elisha, a coat and vest for Jack, calico for the long and short gowns for all the girls, striped linen and striped linsey for short gowns and petticoats for the said girls, and a tammy quilt for Judith for defraying of which 14 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence; 220 pairs of mittens at 16 pence per pair, will be needed, which will require 44 pounds of wool, which will take 44 days work of two girls to spin, and I’ll pay for that, or hire equivalent in the knitting, if the girls will do the remainder of the service.”
He was a wholesale advertiser, as it was stated in 1757 he called for a thousand pounds of woolen stockings to supply the army, then at war with the French. Concerning the stockings which sold the best he wrote, July 5, that year: “Dark blue, light blue and clear white if large and fine, are the stockings that will sell best. Had mine been that color they would have sold, the generality of people preferring a knit stocking to a wove one. They wash stockings in soap lather, and draw them on a stocking board, which gives them that fine proportion and gloss they generally leave.” He wrote concerning spinning in February, 1757, and said: “It seems to be an advantageous way of spinning on our linen wheel, if it be patched over on the back of the hatchel. If spun this way, it will answer for warp, and may be boiled as linen yarn, the twist being harder--but if spun on a great wheel will only answer for filling.” He also wrote concerning the size and cost of the dwellings of those times, thus: “John Mackey’s house is forty by twenty, single story, with a hip, for which Joseph Edwards is to get the timber, frame over, make the window frames, sashes, put the lights in, make outside doors, and lay the floors, for 16 pounds, and find himself the workmen. Mackay to find the lathe sawed and shingle fit for covering.”
In his commissionership for the settlement of Indian claims, the object being to extinguish the Indian title in the State, he helped bring about the release by the Indians of all the Jersey lands claimed by them, excepting the natural right to hunt and fish in the unsettled lands. He had a hard time traveling about from place to place on horseback, as he described it in 1759: “March 2d. Set out from home; lodged at Tarkil; arrived at Philadelphia on the fifth. On the sixth rid to Burlington. 7th, extremely cold; rid to Crosswicks, and joined company with Mr. Miller; rid to Cranberry, where we overtook Messrs. Hancock, Smith, and Clement (of Salem) who had laid up all day by reason of the cold. 8th, got to Amboy. 17th. Had the honor to dine with his excellency, Governor Bernard, with more members of the house. It was a plentiful table, but nothing extraordinary. The cheese he said, was Gloucestershire cheese; was a present to him, and said that it weighed 105 pounds when first he had it. He says it’s the collected milk of a whole village that makes these cheeses, each one measuring in their milk and taking its value in cheese.”
Spicer records the cost of some of the vessels in those days: in his diary in1761: Richard Willard, of Philadelphia, ship carpenter, told me he would build a vessel of 35 foot keel, 16 ½ feet beam, 6 ¼ feet hold, for 70 pounds and find the material. Besides, he would set the mast, make the bulk head, cabin floor and quarter rail, in the bargain.”
Aaron Leaming also kept an interesting and quite instructive diary, throughout the course of which, as copied by Mr. Stevens, we are enabled to gain much information with regard to the times in which he lived. Spicer and Leaming were two rich men of the county, Leaming being worth nearly four times as much as Spicer. Aaron Leaming’s estate was valued at about $900,000. He was a man of great industry and a large landholder, and served the people as their representative for thirty years. As chairman of the county committee, his services were invaluable.
Such men were representative of the foundations upon which Cape May was built and through whose pioneer efforts the community prospered. They have their enduring place in the local history, and their descendants feel highly honored because of such ancestry.
Summer Seasons Long Ago--Cape May, the beautiful, it has always been, from unrecorded time, for its ideally sequestered situation in southward procession with seaboard promontories of the Atlantic; and , Cape May the desirable and wonderfully attractive, it must always be, for that reason. Pretty nearly all, if not all the rest-seeking world, has at one time or another found delight in this Cape and county. Generations of visitors from the States of this country, and from all the countries of the world, sought and experienced this wholesome resort for the possibilities of retirement and retreat always afforded by this sea-girt spot. Like Nahant and Newport, this county has for long years beckoned the summer guests, chiefly because of the ocean lure and the means offered business and professional people for recuperation and a temporary setting aside of the city’s insistent tasks. Long before the steamboat or steam train arrived with their passengers from the outside world, the small sloop and one-hoss shay and stage coach had an era all their own, when they brought to Cape Island those early guests who were want to stop at the homes of the townsmen for memorable days and weeks of isolation; and there are not a few wistfully and retrospective summer folk at this hour who are wont to contend that those must have been the most halcyon times of all, though shorn of all the luxuries of the day.
The comparison of today and yesterday at Cape May is remarkable in every respect, as it includes all the great changes that have been brought about at the typical summer resort, inclusive of what invention and novelty have contributed from decade to decade for the added comforts and luxuries of the guest. Before and during the period of the War of 1812, there was but one hotel at Cape Island--one boarding house for the then small world of comers; but it was commodious enough for the time; its service , though of old style, was ample, and it proved the summer home of rest and content for the prominent folk of the day, who with slow means of travel made such preparations for spending a summer at the Cape as they might for world travel today. Such a story as the registers of that old hotel might relate, not only of the welcome annually given Admiral, or Commodore as he was then called, Decatur, but very likely to many another man as brave and celebrated. But the Atlantic Hotel is only a memory now, hardly that, in the whirl of events of this hour. And the first Congress Hall hotel, built in 1816, one hundred and eighty years ago, that in its generation was the summer-time center of society, wealth, and fashion--that, too, is memorable, at least, amid the crowding memories of the old watering-place, as the shore resort were generally called, both here and abroad.
When Thomas H. Hughes built the first Congress Hall here, he was deemed a man of great courage, and it is stated that many of his friends laughed at him for proposing to erect a hostelry one hundred and fifty in length, at that period. Who would come to fill the rooms? How would such a structure ever pay its builders for the expense and the effort that should be put into the proposition? It was nothing less than folly to build a hotel of such dimensions in such times. It is also said that in reply, Mr. Hughes made a prediction that the time would come when a purchaser of land at Cape May would have to cover each inch of land with a dollar, in order to obtain sufficient space whereon to erect a dwelling, and the prediction has been verified. Visitors and guests came, and the project paid the owner for his trouble and the money expended for the purpose. In the year 1840, a visitor, when voicing what the seashore-going world well knew of Cape May, declared: “In the summer months, the island is thronged with visitors, principally from Philadelphia, with which there is a daily steamboat connection. It is estimated that about 3,000 strangers annually visit the place.” Twenty years later, in 1850, neither the old Atlantic nor the old congress Hall might hold the crowds, since the hotel proprietors with large vision and still more practical qualifications of choosing the right time to built and of building quickly had made ready for the multitudes. It was than a scene that presaged the present was thus described: “ The visitors may be counted not only by the hundreds but by the thousands, and with their help and that of the dozens to twenty imposing hotel edifices, and the infinite number of restaurants, barber shops, ice cream saloons, bowling alleys, billiard rooms, pistol galleries, etc., the little city really grows metropolitan in aspect.” Even more populous eras than that soon followed, and the Cape May lure drew a more extensive world than ever to her doors. Magnificent for their day, the Mansion and Mount Vernon hotels housed the visitors, as did the notable United States Hotel and the American House, and their hospitable story survives their existence, for the fires of 1857, 1858, 1869, and 1878 swept these and others entirely away. But enterprising owners of property and resourceful hotel men have rebuilt and have a thousand times restored, and the Cape May visitor and mine host have risen above all disasters, to share in the unbounded success that the present has brought to pass.
Richard Smith Ludlam was yet another of the pioneer hotel builders who foresaw and worked towards the great future of Cape May. It was he who built the Mansion House in 1832, the second large house for summer folk constructed at Cape May, and at that time standing upon four acres of ground. Mr. Ludlam welcomed and entertained Hon. Henry Clay, in 1847, when that statesman remained in his hostelry for a week. When word got abroad that Mr. clay was to appear at Cape May, though he had had much trouble and loss and had intended to remain but a short time for rest, the resort, it is stated, was soon filled to overflowing with visitors, two steamboat loads of people arriving from New York. Horace Greeley came over, and people from all over the country flocked to Cape May in carry-alls to see Harry of the West. Meantime Mr. Clay came both by stage and by rail, a long hard journey in those days. A pen picture of the event is given by Mr. Stevens, as follows: “On the morning of Monday, August 16, 1847, the great statesman with his party left Philadelphia on the steamboat then plying between that place and Cape Island, and arrived at the landing about one o’clock in the afternoon. The party was driven over the turnpike to the Mansion House, where dinner was in waiting for the distinguished guests. The band engagement having expired before the event, Beck’s Philadelphia band was brought down on the boat with Mr. Clay. The old register, which is still preserved, has upon it the names of the following Kentuckians who came that day: Hon. Henry Clay (written in a big round hand by one of the committee), Colonel John Swift, M. White and son, W. S. smith, F. Lennig, Miss Richie, Miss Johns. Mr Clay was allowed to rest upon his arrival, but the following day many more visitors arrived, and the island was filled with country folks anxious to see the great man. Rev. Moses Williamson made an address of welcome, to which Mr. Clay fittingly responded in words that electrified his listeners. . . . The speech-making took place in the old ‘Kersal,’ the music pavilion and ballroom of the hotel that had been built in the spring of that year.” Mr. Clay was received on the part of the country by Dr. Maurice Beesley.
Afterward, in succession from time to time Presidents of the United Ststes. President Franklin Pierce was the first to arrive in 1855, and he, too, was given an elaborate reception by visitors from all parts of the country. General Grant came for four different seasons for short visits, his first being June 13, 1873, and his stop being made at Congress Hall when that hostelry was opening for the summer. He brought with him cabinet officers and prominent officials, among them being: Attorney General George H. Williams; Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin Bristow; Assistant Secretary of the Interior R. B. Cowen; Former Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin, then United States Senator from Maine; General O. E. Hancock, U.S. A. private secretary to the President; Hon. C. A. Cattell, United States Senator from New Jersey; Governor A. R. Sheppard, of the District of Columbia; Assistant Attorney General John Goforth; General Edward McCook, Governor of Colorado; Thomas H. Dudley, Consul to Liverpool, and others. The party was received by Company H, Sixth Regiment, and welcomed to the city by Mayor Waters B. Miller. During the season, Hon. Frederic T. Frelinghuysen, afterwards President Arthur’s Secretary of State, was a guest at the Stockton, with his family. The following season, Governor Thomas A. Hendricks, afterwards Vice-President of the United States, was a guest at the Stockton.
In the summer of 1883, President Chester A. Arthur visited the Cape with his party. Arriving on the Government steamer “Dispatch,” Monday, July 23, he was there received by United States Marshall McMichael, of Washington, Colonel Henry W. Sawyer, and J. Frank Cake, proprietor of the Stockton. While at Cape May, the President was honored with a banquet and a ball. “The President left at about 12 o’clock at night,” says the account, “amid a grand display of fireworks, and was rowed through the billows in the surfboat, by the crew of Live Saving Station No. 39, to the “Dispatch.” It was not long after Cape May Point was established that John Wanamaker became a purchaser of property there, and built his summer home, and during a few weeks in June 1889, President Benjamin Harrison paid a visit with his family. A ten thousand dollar summer cottage was built there by friends of the President, and in the summer of 1890, it was presented to the President. Hon. James G. Blaine, President Garfield and General William Tecumseh Sherman were frequent visitors at this time.
Such is but a very brief portion of the record of the earlier and eminent visitors to Cape May. Military organizations, fraternal societies have come in great numbers and have found room and to spare, welcome in plenty. Now and again disastrous fires have overtaken and momentarily delayed progress, but the city and its hotels have bravely and persistently gone forward unto this present period of eminence among summer resorts of our coast.