Mordecai’s Moorings

Mordecai’s Landing [1] was among the oldest wharves along the Mullica or Little Egg Harbor River, dating back to the early 1700s. Located on a bend in the river where the dark water flows deep, the landing saw ships dock and depart and wagons come and go throughout much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This once bustling port recalls the name of Mordecai Andrews, a pioneer of the river, who ran an extensive logging operation based in a nearby swamp also bearing his name. Mordecai’s Landing would become one of the principal ports used by Batsto for nearly a hundred years.

Little is known and little literature exists about this lost landing on the Mullica. Primary sources are scant; the only historic reference to this important early wharf that the author has found comes from an entry in the Batsto Furnace Day Book from March 1828, which documents the arrival of oyster shell shipments there for use as flux in the iron furnace. Henry Charlton Beck reminisced on Mordecai’s Landing, giving passing mention to it in some of his writings. Beck derived his information from the inhabitants along the river who, in turn, relied on generations of oral tradition.

A Quaker Heritage

Mordecai Andrews hailed from a Quaker heritage that extended back nearly to the beginning of the Religious Society of Friends. Both his father’s side of the family (Andrews) and his mother’s side (Wright) were of English descent, offspring of wealthy and influential people. Around 1636, his grandfather, Peter Wright, sailed from Norfolk, England to join his fellow Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Peter and his brothers, Nicholas and Anthony, subsequently made their home at Sandwich, Cape Cod, as parishioners under the Puritan minister Reverend William Leveridge (Leverich). The brothers became active leaders and respected members of the community at Sandwich, but when tensions escalated in the growing settlement, they joined the Reverend in leaving the community (1653) for Long Island, where they became land proprietors and men of considerable influence. The three brothers subsequently made an extreme departure from Puritan theology and joined the Quaker movement, going on to establish the first Friend’s meeting at Oyster Bay. Anthony Wright hosted the meeting at Oyster Bay in his home until Mordecai’s father, Samuel Andrews, constructed the first official meeting house in circa 1672.

It was sometime around 1660 that Mordecai’s mother, Mary Wright, made the long and treacherous trek by foot from Oyster Bay to Boston to openly speak out against Governor Endicott and his Council. She remonstrated on the unremitting persecution of the Quakers in Massachusetts at the hands of the Puritan Clergy and Magistracy. As a result, Mary was met by the Governor’s wrath and she endured a year in prison before being banished to the wilderness with 27 other Quakers. In 1663, Mary Wright married Samuel Andrews, a carpenter and shipwright and an early settler of Long Island. The next year she gave birth to Mordecai, the first of eight children.

By 1677, hundreds of English Quakers began arriving in Burlington County, New Jersey, shortly after the establishment of West New Jersey as a Quaker Colony with the aid of William Penn and others. In 1683, Samuel Andrews, by then one of wealthiest men of his community, purchased 500 acres in Mansfield Township were he built a home for his family, permanently relocating there in 1686. Mordecai had spent three years helping his father construct the home, and his father later rewarded him for his efforts by giving him 140 acres of the new home plantation. When Mordecai reached the age of 27, he married a French woman named Mary and started a family of his own. In 1699, after he had completed a one-year term as the constable in Mansfield, Mordecai moved from there to Little Egg Harbor. However, the Burlington Court Records reveal that he returned to Mansfield in 1701 to assist others in breaking open the Burlington County prison doors, presumably to free a friend who was jailed there.

Little Egg Harbor

The journey on horseback through the woods from Mansfield to Little Egg Harbor was dangerous – panthers and wolves then still roamed the wilderness – but manageable only because the Lenni-Lenape had been making the same trek for centuries via established paths through the Pine Barrens. Much of Mordecai’s route consisted of the trail that would eventually become the Tuckerton Stage Road. Other Quakers soon followed suit in leaving Burlington for Little Egg Harbor, including Mordecai’s younger brother, Edward, and Edward’s brother-in-law, Jacob Ong, whose name still appears on maps marking a forgotten town. For many years to come, many Quakers living in the Delaware Valley took this same route to attend meetings at Little Egg Harbor, or “Middle of the Shore.”

The Andrews brothers were among the first whites to settle the area, which would remain strictly a Quaker settlement until after the Revolutionary War. The Andrews were only preceded by their friend Henry Jacobs Falkinburg, a pioneer of the wilderness of West New Jersey and the most sought-after Lenape interpreter along the Delaware River in that time. Falkinburg moved from his home on Matinicunk Island (present-day Burlington Island) to settle in Little Egg Harbor during 1698. Here he purchased 800 acres of land from one of the first governors of West New Jersey, Samuel Jennings, and he subsequently utilized his knowledge of the Lenape language to acquire a large amount of land from the natives. The Andrews brothers followed suit and acquired land of their own. Edward purchased 567 acres of land on the east side of Tuckerton Creek (called “Pohatcong” in the Lenape tongue) from Jennings, and Mordecai purchased 430 acres on the west side from another West Jersey Proprietor, William Biddle. They cleared extensive farms on their respective properties and each built their homesteads. Mordecai subsequently increased his land holdings, and, at his death, he owned over 900 acres of land in Little Egg Harbor.

As did Falkinburg and many of the early settlers of the coastal wilderness, the Andrews brothers first lived in “caves” during their initial winter at Little Egg Harbor. These “caves” were in fact cellars that they dug out of the ground and fortified with cedar timbers and covered with a roof. There they would establish their humble abodes while building more permanent homes. Deeds show that Mordecai’s first house burnt down before 1709, but the fireplace evidently survived the flames, and to this day the furnace remains intact with one of the bricks reading, “1699.” The core of Mordecai’s home still stands and probably represents the oldest house in Ocean County.

In 1704, Mordecai and Edward dammed Tuckerton Creek, although, to the credit of beavers, they had constructed it upon a substantial beaver dam built many years prior. Just below the dam, they excavated some raceways and constructed both a sawmill and a cedar log gristmill, eliminating the need to transport their grain overland to the mill at Mount Holly as they and others had done previously. It was also in 1704 that Edward heard his calling to be a minister. He had been known as a light-hearted and worldly young man whose singing and violin-playing provided regular Sunday entertainment for some of his fellow Little Egg Harbor settlers and the local natives. However, after disturbing the ancient remains of a native while plowing his field one Spring day, thoughts of death haunted Edward’s mind. A solemness overtook him and when his friends paid him a visit during the next Sunday to dance and to be entertained, Edward is said to have recited Scripture to them instead. Thus began his rapid transformation into a stern religious man, and with haste he broke his violin into pieces and chucked them into Tuckerton Creek in an effort to clear his troubled conscience. Edward soon thereafter held many Friends’ Meetings at his home, and he would be instrumental in the construction of the Meeting House at Tuckerton (then known as “Andrews Mills”) in 1709. Once tried in Burlington Court for carrying a gun on the Sabbath, Edward eventually become one of the most respected Quaker ministers in West Jersey. By 1714, Mordecai’s son-in-law, the Great John Mathis, had also moved to Little Egg Harbor. Like Mordecai, Great John eventually made a fortune from cutting down the great cedars of the Mullica Valley.

Mordecai’s Landing

White settlers had only recently discovered the Mullica River – then known by the whites as the Little Egg Harbor River, and by the Lenni-Lenape as “Amintonck” – before Mordecai began harvesting his cedars. Around 1695, just a few years prior to the Andrews brothers’ arrival at Little Egg Harbor, Eric Mullica sailed up the river and established a farm at a place then known in the native tongue as “Takotan” and now known as Lower Bank . In 1700, Thomas Clark, the father of Elijah Clark the Revolutionary, founded the town of Clark’s Landing on the south side of the river just downstream from Eric Mullica’s plantation. By 1718, this community was the largest on the river. In 1707, a group of Scots made their way up to the head of the river and established a small religious settlement in the area that became known as Pleasant Mills. In 1724, Yoos Sooy, the Dutch Sea Captain and progenitor of all South Jersey Sooys, set sail up the river and settled next to Eric Mullica’s old homestead. While Yoos busied himself with exploiting the cedar forests there for shipbuilding purposes, Mordecai already had his lumbering operation underway just several miles upriver. During this time period, the river awoke from its slumber and sounds of saws and falling trees broke the sylvan silence. Thus began a process that within one hundred years would leave the river’s skyline virtually treeless.

Mordecai Andrews was a prolific businessman who pioneered the industrial use of the forests and salt meadows of South Jersey. Aside from logging, he ran a salt-hay business, and he also established a salt works, which depended upon producing charcoal, which he also managed. Sometime in the early eighteenth century, perhaps with the help of Falkinburg, Mordecai purchased a large tract of land near Batsto, most of which comprised a cedar swamp. Now known locally as Mordecai Swamp, this tract of wetlands once housed the gigantic virgin cedars that were characteristic along the Mullica River and its tributaries in those primeval years. Some reaching a height of perhaps two hundred feet and an age of perhaps a thousand years, one can only dream about the majestic sight provided by these ancient giants. To Mordecai, though, their majesty paled in comparison to their monetary value, and they would soon start falling one-by-one.

Mordecai employed woodsmen to log his cedar swamp and they likely worked and lived in the swamp, establishing transient encampments around makeshift lodges. Utilizing primitive methods and crude tools, the logging crews felling the huge cedars faced an effort of no small task. Whether or not Mordecai had the timber cut into lumber prior to shipping is not known, but it is feasible that he dammed the Meekendam Creek – which runs throughout Mordecai Swamp – and built a sawmill in close proximity to the landing. It is also possible that he had the logs rafted downriver with the tide into the bay and up Tuckerton Creek to Andrews Mills or had pit-sawyers hand-cut the soft timber into dimensional lumber at the landing. Eventually, the cedar would be rafted downriver to larger vessels anchored in the bay closer to the Ocean. From there, Mordecai shipped the wood either up the coast to New York City or down the coast and up the Delaware River to Philadelphia and Burlington. He probably also shipped some of the cedar down to the Island of Barbados and perhaps other Caribbean Islands where Mordecai had Quaker ties. The ships would return with produce, rum, and other goods to replenish supplies for the community at Little Egg Harbor.

The Batsto Years

Mordecai Andrews died in 1736 and his heirs buried his remains on a hill nearby Tuckerton Creek, where his wife and his daughter also lie in repose. Whether or not Mordecai Andrews Jr. continued the lumbering operation after his father’s death is unknown, but Mordecai’s Landing would probably have lain abandoned for some years before being given new life during the American Revolution as a wharf for the Batsto furnace during its early years of operation. Batsto continued to use the landing to ship lumber to Philadelphia, New York, and the West Indies, just as Mordecai had done. Also being exported from the docks was cordwood, charcoal, and a variety of iron products (and later glass products). Other ironworks used the landing besides Batsto, including Atsion and Hampton. Today, a walk along the riverbank at low tide will reveal a large quantity of ballast stones that maritime crews on sailing ships discarded while docked there long ago. Perhaps even some of these rocks have been there since Mordecai’s operations some 300 years ago. One will also discover loads of limestone and seashells along the shore, a testament to the fact that boats loaded with flux for the furnace (and later for the glass factory at Batsto) once regularly arrived at Mordecai’s Landing.

Sea shells, because of their sheer abundance along the shores, bays, and river estuaries, served as the first and foremost supply of flux in the early years of South Jersey’s iron industry. However, what was once an abundant commodity quickly became scarce, for shells served many purposes, including: for road surfacing; and burned for slaked lime providing fertilizer for farmers and mortar for builders. Shells were collected wherever they could be found, even if it entailed the pillaging of ancient shell mounds or middens, those relic refuse piles left behind by the Lenape and their predecessors. When the supply of shells had severely dwindled, the ironmasters of the Pines began importing limestone, both crude and refined. In a letter Henry Drinker wrote during 1773, one of the early owners of the Atsion ironworks, he mentions that “lime stone refined is brought from the North River [Hudson River] to Egg Harbour River [Mullica River] and delivered at Batsto Furnace for use thereof for Fluxing Metal.” Limestone was not the only foreign commodity imported for use at the Batsto furnace. In the 1800s, foreign ore such as magnetite began arriving at Batsto, pieces of which can still be found at the landing.

The landing for the most part ceased to be used for exportation during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-1778 . The powerful British Navy established a blockade on the Delaware River during this time, thereby preventing entry for American vessels. As a result, Batsto-produced goods were moved by cart to various landings along some Delaware River tributaries, such as the Lumberton wharves on Rancocas Creek, and then shipped from there to Philadelphia. Yet, no one abandoned Mordecai’s Landing, for during this time, John Cox, then the owner of the Batsto works, became heavily involved in privateering. In this time of rebellion, American ships routinely hijacked British vessels and towed them up the Mullica River to the village of Chestnut Neck, where the cargo was unloaded and sent upriver to the Forks to be auctioned off. Certainly, many pillaged goods arrived at Mordecai’s Landing during this time of American-sanctioned piracy. In the decades to come, Batsto would continue to prosper and the landing remained a bustling place. By the 1850s, however, industry at Batsto entered a period of serious decline and the landing largely fell out of use.

The Lost Landing

By the time the area came under Joseph Wharton’s possession 1876, the landing had been abandoned since 1867, when the glass factory at Batsto burnt to the ground one last time. A century and a half of activity at Mordecai’s Moorings had thus ended. Today, the location of this once busy place is inconspicuous. Boaters and paddlers routinely pass it by unknowingly. There is not much left by way of physical evidence to remind us of the importance that Mordecai’s Landing had in early industrial South Jersey. The docks have long ago vanished and even the pilings have rotted away. Trees have reclaimed the land and their roots have covered the footprints of yesteryear. Foreign rocks, sea shells and charcoal are about all that remains there now to tell the mostly untold story of this lost landing on the Mullica River.

© Gabriel Coia, 4 August 2009.

References:

Batsto Furnace Day Book

Burlington County Court Book

New Jersey Genealogical Magazine Vol. 24

Blackman, Leah History of Little Egg Harbor Township

Prime, Nathaniel S. A History of Long Island: From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time

New York Biographical and Genealogical Record of January 1872

[1] It appears two Mordecai Landings once existed on the Mullica River: Upper Mordecai Landing and Lower Mordecai Landing. The lower landing was evidently situated where Captain Abe Nichols later located his tavern and wharf, while Mordecai located the upper landing two bends upriver. For the purposes of this article, the author will refer to the two landings together as Mordecai’s Landing.

Special thanks is extended to Paul W. Schopp for his invaluable assistance during the research and writing of this article.

About Gabe Coia