The Stillwell Sisters

Two stories are told of the Stillwell sisters, Rebecca and Sarah, daughters of Captain Nicholas Stillwell of Beesley's Point, Cape May County, New Jersey. Rebecca prevented a British raiding party from landing at Beesley's Point in the Upper Precinct by firing a cannon filled with grapeshot at an approaching British sloop. Sarah was successful in enlisting General Washington's aid in an exchange of prisoners, in order to rescue her husband from a prisoner ship anchored at New York.

At the time of the Revolutionary War, Rebecca Stillwell Willets, the wife of James Willets, lived at her fathers's Ferry House at Beesley's Point. The privateers had captured British supplies which they had stored near the Ferry House for the Continental Soldiers which consisted of mostly food and clothing. All men and boys of 15 years or older had been ordered into the Army and the women were alone. The Tories had learned about the supplies, where they were stored and that the Ferry House was unguarded and had notified the British. The British decided to raid this storehouse.

One day, looking across the bay through her spy glass toward Somers Point, Rebecca saw a British ship approaching. It anchored not far away and lowered a boat filled with sailors who began to row toward the Ferry House. Rebecca knew that they were up to no good and that she must act to protect the others. A cannon was standing in the front yard, loaded and ready for action. The loaded boat came closer and closer. When she thought they were within range she fired the cannon and the load of grapeshot went its way just above the heads of the Redcoats. The sailors stopped rowing. The leaders decided that they must be mistaken, the Ferry House was not deserted. They turned around, rowed back to their ship and sailed away. The store house was saved.

Capt. Moses Griffing was the husband of Sarah Stillwell. He and other Cape May County maritime raiders fell into the hands of the British during the Revolutionary War. Many of them, including Moses, were taken on board the prison ship Jersey, anchored on the East River in New York. When Sally heard of his imprisonment, she reportedly journeyed alone from Cape May County to Sir Henry Clinton's headquarters in New York to win the release of her husband Moses Griffing. On the way to New York, Sally visited General Washington's encampment and obtained from him the control of a British officer of equal rank with her husband and proceeding in person to New York, she exchanged him for her husband.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter of Ocean City, NJ, is named "Sarah Stillwell" in her honor. The children's chapter, the C.A.R. of Cape May, NJ, is named for Rebecca Stillwell.

 

Sources:

  • Corson, Mary Jane, "History of The Beesley's Point Hotels", in A History of Upper Township and Its Villages. Published by the Historical Preservation Society of Upper Township, Township of Upper Cape May County, New Jersey, 1989.

  • Dickinson, Karl, "Rebecca Stillwell Willets" in The Cape May County Magazine of History and Genealogy, Volume VII, Number 4. Published by Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society, Cape May Court House, New Jersey, June 1976.

  • Dorwart, Jeffery M., Cape May County, New Jersey, The Making of An American Resort Community. Published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1992.

  • "Reuben Willets' Journal" in Stewart's Genealogical and Historical Miscellany, No. 2. Published by Frank H. Stewart, President of the Gloucester County Historical Society, Woodbury, NJ, Philadelphia, 1918.

  • Stevens, Lewis Townsend, The History of Cape May County, New Jersey, From the Aboriginal Times to the Present Day. Originally published Cape May City, New Jersey, 1897. Reprinted for Clearfield Company, Inc. by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, 1997. 

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