Tuckerton Emporium Mural Honors Revolutionary War Privateers

Jul 02, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson ART HISTORY: Kathleen Francis of The Tuckerton Emporium painted a Revolutionary War-era sloop to commemorate the area’s privateer history.

A year ago in March, Kathleen and Charlie Francis purchased the Tuckerton Emporium, saving the historic building from becoming a Wawa Superstore. The building was built in 1921 and served the community as a dry-goods store selling commodities from shoes to mattresses, clothing and bolts of fabric.

The Tuckerton Emporium, operated for years by Rose Mary and John Kumpel as a cooperative for crafts people and antique dealers, was always a highlight of downtown gift shopping. The Francises are now rehabilitating the building façade and its adjoining warehouse to reflect an 18th century feel.

Charlie, a contractor by trade, first painted the cedar plank warehouse on Water Street a uniform gray and added iron lanterns and hardware. Next the couple painted the Emporium façade, facing Main Street, black with gold trim to reflect a Great Britain heritage. Recently they added gold lettering to the windows. And just a few weeks ago, Kathleen painted a mural of a sailing sloop to pay homage to the Revolutionary War privateers of Little Egg Harbor.

Kathleen is the daughter of the late George Czurlanis, the resident who fought to preserve and protect the 1778 Revolutionary battleground and patriot massacre site located off Radio Road in Little Egg Harbor. He also founded the Affair at Egg Harbor Historical Society, whose mission was to preserve the site with annual remembrance on Memorial Day.

The original Gerbers’ dry goods store closed in 1984. A friend of Kathleen’s recently gave her a printed newspaper story about the event in which a photo of the store included her father trying on hats. “So maybe it was meant to be,” she said of her ownership.

Little Egg Harbor’s

Revolutionary Massacre

The mural is meant to pay homage to the local history of the privateers and the events in 1778 that led to a massacre at a small encampment of troops under command of Count Casimir Pulaski.

According to A Nest Of Rebel Pirates by Franklin W. Kemp, the area called Little Egg Harbor during the Revolutionary War included the waters from Barnegat Inlet to the Little Egg Harbor River – later called the Mullica River – and included the mainland from Tuckerton all the way to Batsto, the iron forge and the Mullica River Forks.

Batsto at the time was owned by Colonel William Cox and was busy turning out munitions for the American forces in Philadelphia. One British military report dated February 11, 1776 said 2,623 pounds of 6- and 9-pound shot (cannonballs) were sent to Philadelphia from Batsto.

Not all residents of New Jersey supported the rebellion against the British. About a third of the population in the colonies were loyal to the English crown, another third were for independence and another third tried to stay neutral, yet often lost property or life to one side or the other.

In 1776, the Continental Congress ordered that colonial ships be outfitted to intercept British merchant ships supplying goods along the busy shipping lanes of New York and Boston. Under their “Letters of Marque,” armed American ships could capture enemy vessels and commit acts that would be deemed piracy during peacetime. Privateering was to prove so lucrative that special prize courts were created to handle the goods purloined from the ships.

One of the areas that were particularly infuriating to the British was Little Egg Harbor. Between June and September of 1778, a dozen British ships were captured by the privateers working out of the Mullica River area. Chestnut Neck (Atlantic County) was the port town where a prize court was set up to distribute the captured goods such as Jamaican rum, coffee, tobacco, molasses, loaf sugar, salt, cloth and manufactured goods. The tackle and even the anchors of the captured ships were often sold.

The British command had had enough. A dispatch went out ordering the fleet to “root out this nest of privateers as effectively as possible.”

Three of His Majesty’s sloops, two galleys, a brigantine and two other armed ships were sent to Little Egg Harbor with an estimated 1,690 men. The HMS Zebra was the flagship of this naval expedition, captained by Patrick Ferguson of the British 70th Regiment.

The Americans had spies as well. It was noted on October 5 that twenty sails were spotted off Sandy Hook and later entering Little Egg Harbor. Luckily, the tides and weather were against the British, giving time for General George Washington to send Polish Count Casimir Pulaski’s Legion of 250 infantry and cavalry to Little Egg Harbor. On Oct. 8, 1778, Pulaski’s Legion entered Middle of the Shore (Tuckerton) and marched down Island Road, reaching the farm of James Willets. Forty-five men were billeted just three miles away at the Jeremiah Ridgeway Farm. From his vantage point, Pulaski could keep tabs on the British ships waiting to enter the Mullica.

But on the night of October 14, two deserters from the legion boarded the Zebra and informed the captain where Pulaski’s Legion was huddled for the night and planned to attack the British and “give them no quarter” (leave none alive). Ferguson took 250 men ashore to Osborn Island and commandeered Richard Osborn’s son to lead them to Pulaski’s men at the Ridgeway Farm. The 45 men, most of them sleeping on the ground, were attacked with bayonets and only two survived. Although Pulaski’s men could hear the cries of the dying, when they gave chase to the British they were thwarted because the British had removed some of the planks of the bridge and the tide was too high to swim their horses across Big Creek.

The tide also helped Ferguson and the other ships to enter the Mullica River, where they leveled the town of Chestnut Neck.

While celebrating this Fourth of July, it’s only fitting to take a moment to ponder the sacrifices that were made to create this country. Kathleen Francis hopes that as visitors admire the mural, they will ponder the little known historic event that happened here.


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