Tuckerton Historical Society Answers Question What’s So Great About Tuckerton

By PAT JOHNSON | Jun 05, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson A case in the Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum exhibits Port of Entry documents showing the importance of Tuckerton during the coasting trade.

Tuckerton — Tuckerton Historical Society President John Yates answered the question “What’s so great about Tuckerton?” in a program on May 18 to a crowd at the Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum. He gave an overview of the town, which was settled in 1699 as Little Egg Harbor, starting with the first residents, the Lenni Lenape, who settled along Tuckerton Creek during the late woodland period and left shell mounds and artifacts behind as they migrated through the woodlands to their winter haunts.

At their peak there were 12,000 Lenapes living in New Jersey, but by the mid-1700s there were fewer than 200, said Yates. “They were decimated by disease brought by the Europeans, diseases they had no immunity to.”

The museum has a collection of Native American artifacts dug from two sites by archeologist Drew Stanzesky. Most are derived from the Penella site, where the modern-day Ocean County Golf Course at Atlantis and the Atlantis housing development are now. The second is in West Creek. But Yates made the crowd laugh when he said he had recently discovered important artifacts in the museum – in a basket of rocks.

“We were cleaning up the entryway, and there was a basket of what looked like rocks. So I looked through them and found a banner stone, a stone used for throwing spears. And I also found a bola stone that is attached to a rope and is used to bring down animals for food.” The gauchos of South America used such a contraption.

The “Indian mound” of clam and oyster shells is still visible off Great Bay Boulevard. It is a midden or garbage dump from the clam and oyster drying activities of the Lenapes. They would shell the bivalves and then string them to dry for transport and to use in the winter months. Carbon dating of the shells finds the mound was built during 1200 to 1400 Common Time.

The shell mound was much larger in Colonial days and was used as a local navigational aid into Tuckerton Creek, but for centuries, locals took the shells to use as flux in the iron foundry of Batsto as well as for “sweetener” for farm soil. Now the mound is a small hill in the meadows on which a few ancient cedars still stand.

Opposite the Indian mound was the Jillson Farm, off present-day Radio Road. In the late 1800s the Jillson twins dug up skeletons that they believed were 7-foot-tall Indians, said Yates. “It’s been said that the Jillsons liked to string up the skeletons in their barn to scare unwanted salesmen.” Yates said no one knows what happened to the bones; they are not in the New Jersey State Museum or the Smithsonian Institution. It’s possible that the Jillsons gave them away to friends.

In 1759, the Native Americans were removed to the nation’s first reservation in Brotherton, now Indian Mills.

The first European to see Little Egg Harbor from the sea was Henry Hudson, in 1609; he remarked on the number of sea bird eggs his sailors collected as he named the area.

The first European to settle in the area was Henry Jacobs Falkinburg. Born in 1640 in Holstein, Germany, he settled on the Delaware River and later purchased Osborn Island in 1674 from a Lenape chief named “King Charles” for 10 pounds of coats and trinkets.

Edward and Mordecai Andrews followed in 1699. Edward owned the land on the east side of Tuckerton Creek while Mordecai owned the land on the west. Other settlers to the area were Jacob Ong, Richard Osborn, James Pharo, Thomas Ridgeway and Richard Willets.

The Andrews/Bartlett House on the site of the Tuckerton Seaport may contain parts of the original Mordecai Andrews house.

In 1704, Edward Andrews established a Society of Friends meeting in his home. He gave property to build a meetinghouse in 1709. A monthly meeting was established in 1715 and a yearly meeting in 1772. Andrews also established a grist mill on the beaver dam of the lake so he wouldn’t have to take his grains to Mount Holly to be ground.

In 1765, Reuben Tucker created the first seaside resort on Tucker’s Island, which was frequented by Quakers. The museum has Eber Rider’s lighthouse keeper’s log, in which he described the encroaching sea around the lighthouse. In 1927, the lighthouse fell into the bay.

During the Revolutionary War there was a lot of shipping and smuggling through the Mullica River region. The British general in New York was so angry that he directed his navy to get rid of that “Nest of Rebel Pirates” centered in Chestnut Neck (Port Republic). George Washington, upon hearing of these plans, directed Count Casimir Pulaski’s regiment to protect the Tuckerton salt works and the iron foundry at Batsto. The British could not enter Little Egg Harbor because of shoaling, so they continued up the Mullica and destroyed Chestnut Neck.

Pulaski’s regiment was camped at the Ridgeway and Willets farms off Radio Road. During the night, and guided by a turncoat in Pulaski’s regiment, the British surprised part of the sleeping regiment and gave them no quarter. About 40 men were killed in a massacre known as the Affair at Egg Harbor.

Pulaski was roused by the shouts of his dying men and gathered his surviving troops to attack, but the British had retreated over the bridge to Osborn Island and destroyed it.

Yates said through the efforts of Norm Goss and THS member Joe Harness, the location of Fox Burrows Fort was pinpointed as being on the meadows off Great Bay Boulevard. Cannons had been removed from there in advance of the British, said Yates.

After the war, in 1796, then-President George Washington gave Ebenezer Tucker the post of customs officer for the Port of Little Egg Harbor. Tucker had served with Washington during the battle of Long Island.

“There are legends that say Tuckerton was the third port of entry, but what does that mean? We do know that Little Egg Harbor was one of the three original ports in New Jersey. Tuckerton was originally in Burlington County,” explained Yates. Ebenezer was the son of Reuben Tucker, owner of Tucker’s Island. He was named to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Tuckerton is named for him.

In 1880, Leah Mathis Blackman wrote a book describing the history of the area and the customs, and gave the genealogy of most of the families. This later proved invaluable to genealogists as the Quaker meeting house records had been lost, said Yates.

Starting in the 1790s up to the era of steam-powered vessels, Tuckerton families were prospering in the boat building trade, building schooners up to 800 tons. A newspaper of 1800 notes that Tuckerton had five brigantines under construction in the boatyards. The coasting trade gave employment to many in Tuckerton. Baymen made a living from clams, oysters, fowl and fish.

And there were as many as five fish factories along the bay to process the local moss bunker, or menhaden, into oil for lamps and machinery lubricants. Only one survived into the modern age. Its remnants are on Crab Island.

Transportation was originally walking or riding the Indian trails. By the late 1600s, a trail called the Shore Road connected Tuckerton to Cape May. Pre-stagecoach, there were freight wagons called Jersey wagons or oyster wagons traveling the road.

Stagecoaches were established by 1816, and the Tuckerton stage made a round trip to Camden once a week, taking two days to make the trip each way. From Camden, passengers went aboard a ferry to Philadelphia.

A state law required that towns must provide for the care and comfort of travelers, said Yates, so taverns were established along the route.

By 1820, people who came to Tuckerton and wanted to travel to Beach Haven on Long Beach Island could take a steam paddle wheel, the Pohatcong, across the bay for 25 cents.

Three men established the Tuckerton Railroad in 1871: Dr. Samuel Ashhurst, Archelaus Pharo and Dr. Theophilus Price. The Tuckerton Railroad ran north and south along what is today’s Route 9 to Barnegat/Waretown and then west to Whitings, where connections could be made to New York City and Philadelphia. The Tuckerton Railroad was both a passenger line and a freight line, but Yates said it was never very profitable. In 1925, the fright tonnage doubled to provide a tidy profit, but that was because Route 9 was being built to bring cars and trucks to the shore. Because of vehicle traffic, 1930 was the last year the train was profitable, and the Tuckerton Railroad ended its existence in 1936. The Southern New Jersey Railroad Co. took over for a few years using the line for freight, but in 1940, there was an application made for abandonment of the tracks, said Yates.

Other historical snippets: In 1874, opera singer Mathilde Cottrelly bought a house on Tuckerton Creek, and townsfolk could hear her practicing opera as she floated on Tuckerton Creek in an inner tube, said Yates.

Tuckerton had its own Grand Army of the Republic veterans who survived the Civil War, fighting for the North.

Tuckerton had its own gas company in 1905, and street gaslights were lit until electricity came to the town in 1920. The electricity was needed to run power to the Tuckerton Wireless, the newest form of communication; its tower rose 850 feet into the sky over the meadows of Hickory Island (today’s Mystic Island). It was built between 1913 and 1914. The German manager of the wireless, Emile Meyer, was incarcerated during World War I; there are government files on Meyer and a friend named Theodore Lemke, both of whom were suspected of espionage.

There are far more artifacts and papers inside the Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum that are available to genealogists, history buffs and the curious, and Yates made a request of those who were in the audience to consider becoming a Tuckerton Historical Society member and helping run the museum.

Upcoming events include more programs on selected Saturdays during the year and the Clamtown Flea Market in September. The museum is open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. year ’round (closed for lunch from noon to 1 p.m.) and on Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. in the summer. It can also be opened for research by appointment by calling 609-296-1547. The Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum is located at the corner of Leitz Boulevard and Wisteria Lane in Little Egg Harbor.

— Pat Johnson


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