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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.
Wars With Great Britain
How the county swung valiantly into line, and proved itself patriotic to the core “in the brave days of old,” is recorded in a very complete way in the military archives of this section. Who the “embattled farmers and fishermen were, and how they strove for their homes and their freedom is all part of the Revolutionary narrative of the colonies. For Cape May was ready at the call, beforehand, even, both members from the county being present at the Assembly meeting that took place at Burlington, New Jersey, May 15, 1775, and performing their share in such matters as voting to reduce the salaries of the State officers who were adherents of the King. At about this time, the county had some 2,000 inhabitants, and on August 16, the quota from here was raised to one battalion and one company of Minute Men, the battalion officers being: John Mackay, Esq., colonel; Henry
Hand, Esq., lieutenant colonel; Eli Eldredge, major; Thomas Leaming , Jr., adjutant;
Nicholas Stillwell, captain, colonel and lieutenant colonel; Nicholas Hand, lieutenant
colonel; Enoch Stillwell, first major, lieutenant colonel; John Hand , major; Nathan Hand
The Minute Men in spirit, were wholly in agreement with all other Minute Men throughout the colonies, and here they subscribed to the following agreement:
“We, the subscribers, do voluntarily enlist ourselves, a minute man, in the company of ----------- in the county of Cape May, and do promise to hold ourselves in constant readiness, on the shortest notice, to march any place where assistance may be required for the defense of this and any neighboring colony; and also to pay due obedience to the commands of our officers, agreeable to the rules and orders of the continental Congress, or Provincial Congress of New Jersey, or, during its recess, of the committees of safety.”
The men who subscribed to these agreements took precedence over other militia, and were entitled to be relieved at the end of four months, unless in actual service. The local committee of safety consisted of the following named men: John Corson, John McKay, Jose Babcock, John Baker, Sylvanus Townsend, Jr., James Willits, Jr., Jos. Ludlam, Hugh Hagthorn, Elijah Townsend, Joseph Edwards, Christopher Leaming, Zebulon Swain, Jesse Hand, Thomas Leaming, Jr., Aaron Leaming. Jeremiah Ludlam, Jonathan Jenkins, Joseph Savage, Joseph Hildreth, Jonathan Leaming, George Taylor, Henry Hand, Esq., Downs Edmunds, Aaron Eldredge, Abraham Bennett, John Hand, Jr., James Whilldin, Esq., Memucan Hughes, John Newton, Elijah Hughes. Aaron Leaming was the chairman of this committee, and Elijah Hughes was member of the State committee for Cape May. It was announced that Cape May’s quota of the tax to be raised to the support of the war should be 156 pounds 18 shillings 2 pence.
Cape May was brought into the limelight of special needs when, on April 17, 1776, the Continental congress at Philadelphia passed resolutions that the secret committee supply Thomas Leaming with two hundred pounds of powder for the militia of Cape May, that two companies of colonel Dayton’s battalion march to Cape May, here to remain until further notice, and that two companies in the Delaware regiment be sent to this county. In March of the same year, Elijah Hughes, Jesse Hand, Thomas Leaming, Jr., Joseph Savage, and Hugh Hagthorn were elected as delegates to the New Jersey Council of Safety, or Provincial Congress.
Henry Hand and Jonathan Jenkins were appointed, June 5, 1777, as commissioners to seize Tory property; on September 20, James Willets, Jr. and Thomas Ludlam were appointed commissioners for the purchase of naval supplies and stores, and on November 25, Benjamin Stites and Jesse Hand were appointed to purchase army clothing. These men performed their various duties to general public approval. The incident of June 20, when two British agents, Charles Cook and Allen Cameron, were arrested at Cape May, on a charge that they were here to give aid to the troops who might land at Philadelphia, created excitement, though they were subsequently released. All of this, too, the Cape May committee were busy in reporting by pony express the movements of the fleet to the board of war, the Continental Congress and the Council of Safety in Philadelphia. By the act of April 14, 1778, the militia of the southern counties of the State, including those of Cape May, was formed into a brigade.
It should be borne in mind, too, that armed men, and boatmen were continually vigilant for the protection and safety of the bay, men of Cape May in charge of or members of crew of boats being Joseph Edwards, in charge of privateer “Luck and Fortune,” Francis Grice, in charge of all flatboats and artillery scows on the Delaware; Hand in charge of the armed boat “ Enterprise”; Hope willets, in charge of privateers “Blue Jack” and “Luck and Fortune”; Henry Stevens, Enoch Stillwell, Jacob Corson, Eleazer Crawford, John Goldin, -----Steelman, Thomas Abrams, Abram Cox, John Edwards, Darius Corson, Richard Steelman, David Stevens.
Cape men were placed in the second brigade of the Continental troops. April 4, 1778. At which time the State Legislature passed an act for recruiting four regiments of New Jersey men for the United States service; for the purpose of this act was member of the committee chosen to prepare a constitution for the purpose of State government , that constitution being adopted July 2, two days before the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed. As soon as the new Constitution went into effect, Cape May was represented in the Legislature by Jonathan Hand in the Legislative council, and by Eli Eldredge, Joseph Savage and Hugh Hathorn in the Assembly, and all served until 1778. October 4, 1776, Joseph Ludlam and Abraham Bennett were appointed inspectors of gun powder, and early in 1777, the Legislature appointed Jesse Hand a member of the Committee of Public Safety, on which he served until 1781, the duties of this committee being the most arduous of any body in the newly organized State.
While the peninsula was never the scene of any engagement, on account of its isolated position from the central theatre of the war, Cape May folk were proven patriots, and served upon every occasion. On April 16, 1777, the second company of the Cape May battalion of militia appointed their officers as follows: James Willets, Jr. captain; David Edwards, first lieutenant; Joseph Wheaton, second lieutenant; Henry Young, ensign. That the Cape received suitable protection from the ordinance standpoint is seen from the result of the appeal that was made to the Continental Congress by Nathaniel Forster and others, when it was ordered that the marine committee supply the petitioners with six pieces of cannon, and that the board of war supply them with a suitable quantity of ammunition, for the defence of the inhabitants and the protection of vessels that might be driven ashore. The inhabitants were relieved by the fulfilment of the order , as it was at this period that vessels of the British fleet made their appearance about Cape May, on their way to the mouth of the Delaware and to Chesapeake Bay.
Cape May raised its share of 600 pounds and when on December 5, 1778, the Legislature passed an act to raise 100,000 pounds, for discharging the just debts of the State in an assessment of lands. Cape May’s share in the levy was 2,000 pounds. This section made generous and ready reply to all demands for such levies, and supplies for the troops were always bountifully forthcoming. While the states of the Tories all over New Jersey were confiscated by the patriots, the only recorded incident of the kind in Cape May County was that of the property of John Hutton.
Among the patriots from the county who gave their full share of service at this period, were men like Thomas Leaming, Jr., a native of the Cape, and who practiced law in Philadelphia until 1776. He declined to accept from Great Britain the protection offered those who would not bear arms against the mother country, and he became a militia officer and a member of the Provincial Congress. He fought with the First City Troop of Philadelphia in the battle of Germantown and he remained a member of the organization until his death. He was a member of the firm of A. A. Bunner and Company that gave 6,000 pounds towards upholding the Continental Treasury. Elijah Hughes, patriot, was county clerk from 1762 to 1768, and surrogate from 1768 to 1787, as well as a member of the Provincial Congress. He was also a member of the Legislative Council from 1781 to 1782, and from 1785 to 1786. Robert Parsons, Jr. was one of the prominent men of his day; he was captain of the militia company, coroner of Cape May County, and one of the judges of the inferior court of common pleas for Cape May county. Alvah Reeves was a soldier in the Continental Army and in the War of 1812. John Grace took part in all the leading campaigns of the war; Washington appointed him a scout, who could be trusted with any important dispatches. Harry Young Townsend, captain of the Fourth Company of Cape May, was a member of the Legislature and sheriff of the county. Such men as these brought honor to the home town, whose patriotic leadership in the State at this period could have been acknowledged and represented in no better way.
War of 1812
At the outbreak of the War of 1812, an Independent Regiment was the military feature of Cape May County, though previous to the second war with Great Britain the Cape May militia had kept up its training, the military commissions from 1800 to the opening of the war being as follows:
Captains: Uriah Smith, James Ewing, Nicholas Willets. Jonathan Hand, Jr.;
Ensigns: Jeremiah Daniels, Daniel Garretson, Cornelius Bennett;
Lieutenants: Jeremiah Daniels, Enoch Young, George Cresse;
Adjutant: Joseph Hughes;
Paymaster: Abijah Smith;
Colonel: John Dickinson.
Mr. Stevens in this history, lists at length the commission issued to the officers of the Independent Regiment, as well as the membership of Captain George Newton’s company, an organization of four officers and ninety-one men that performed service at Town Bank principally, and at other places along the Delaware Bay shore. Amos C. Moore, the major of the second battalion, rendered efficient service in this war in defence of the coast of Cape May. Captain Norton’s company was first called out in May, 1814, and from time to time until the close of the war, they often were called under arms, and performed several tours of duty away from home during their service.
The Cape being close to any anticipated scene of action on the water, almost continually some British man-o-war was seen, and during the years 1813 and 1814, the Delaware was blockaded a part of the time.
On the shore, the people fared ill in the loss of their cattle and other possessions, the vessels Reuben Foster and Aaron Crowell of fishing Creek were destroyed by the enemy. Captain Humphrey Hughes was commander of a small body of men stationed at Cape Island; And Richard Thompson was captain of the Fishing Creek Artillery. Stevens, the historian, provides the roster of officers of the First Regiment of Cape May, which organization was kept up until 1835.
Once, in 1812, the Poictiers, a British line-of-battle ship, appeared off this place and threatened it with bombardment, unless supplies of water were given, the populace immediately complied, and to their relief, the Poictiers sailed away.