Mulliner the Mariner: The Man Beyond the Myth

Those familiar with the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey may also be familiar with the name Joe Mulliner, the infamous outlaw who, according to legend, is said to have terrorized the inhabitants of the Pines during the American War for Independence. Beyond the myth, there was a real man, but what facts are known about him? What elements of the folklore surrounding him can be dismissed as fictitious?  This article sets out to briefly answer these questions by way of addressing a number of commonly repeated claims about Mulliner.

Tradition: He was lawless and indiscriminately plundered everyone he encountered.

Was Joe Mulliner really a scoundrel who gave allegiance to no one and observed no law, as the story goes?  According to the British, he was not. However, the Whigs painted him in a much different light. In 1781, the Grand Inquest of Burlington County claimed that Mulliner and his gang were “moved by the instigation of the Devil,” that they were “false traitors and rebels against the State of New Jersey,” and that they “captured and held citizens of the state as prisoners of war.”[1] Shortly after Mulliner’s death, the New Jersey Gazette reported: “This fellow had become the terror of the country. He made a practice of burning houses, robbing and plundering all who fell in his way, so that when he came to his trial it appeared that the whole country, both Whigs and Tories, were his enemies.” [2] Such accusations were often leveled against Tories, and this particular case may have merely been an example of wartime rhetoric. John Watson, who was born at Batsto Village in 1778, claimed that Mulliner burned the home of his father, William Watson, who was a patriot and privateer, and took him to New York as a prisoner of war in November 1781.[3] It was common for Tories to kidnap Whigs for ransom or to exchange them for Loyalist prisoners, but Mulliner would have been dead by the date Watson sets for the event, indicating either that Watson simply confused the date or that Mulliner had nothing to do with it.

However, while the Whigs denounced Mulliner as a depraved soul who was guilty of horrendous crimes, the British painted him in a much more favorable light. According to Benjamin Franklin’s son, William, who, unlike his father, remained loyal to the Crown throughout the Revolutionary War, Mulliner was what was known as an Associated Loyalist.[4]  The Associated Loyalists were comprised of willing and able Tories who were hired to disrupt the activities of the Rebels. According to General Henry Clinton, the British Commander-In-Chief in North America, Mulliner worked for the British as a whaleboat privateer.[5] This demonstrates a fact about Mulliner that is absent from the folklore surrounding him: He was a sailor. Beginning in 1779, in an effort to compensate for economic loss caused by the Rebel privateers, the British encouraged Loyalists to engage in privateering, a common wartime occupation for mariners. Mulliner was allegedly one of a number of such anti-insurrectionists and, given the fact that the British went to some lengths in defending him, it may be unlikely that he indiscriminately plundered both patriots and Tories, as charged by his detractors. Ultimately, it is impossible to know whether the British account or the Whig account reflects a greater degree of truth, but it is reasonable to suspect that perhaps both sides were construing Mulliner in such a way as to advance their respective agendas. On the one hand, the Whigs may have been set on demonizing Mulliner in order to foster patriotic sentiments. For certain, they were set on making an example of him in order to deter other Tories from engaging in such “criminal” activities.  On the other hand, it is possible that General Clinton lied about Mulliner’s commission in order to bolster his case that the Rebels were engaging in “acts of cruelty and barbarity” against the Tories.[6]  Clinton’s accusation was not without merit, as it was not unusual for Tories to be tried and executed as prisoners of the state for committing essentially the same offenses as the patriots who were treated as prisoners of war by the British.[7]

Tradition: He was the “Robin Hood of the Pines.”

“The Robin Hood of Pines” is a title often attached to Mulliner’s legacy, but how much similarity actually exists between the legend of Robin Hood and the historical Mulliner?  Not much.  Like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Mulliner and his gang lived in the woods (at least when they weren’t at sea) where they could more easily elude the law. Yet, with the possible exception that Mulliner and his men occasionally robbed people traveling through the woods, the similarities end there.  That said, it is unlikely that Mulliner held up stagecoaches as is traditionally believed.  If he had done so, it certainly wasn’t routine, judging from the utter lack of any record of such events taking place in the region. Moreover, historian David J. Fowler, who devoted an entire chapter of his PhD dissertation (Rutgers) to Mulliner, concluded that the claim that Mulliner’s gang numbered around 40 to 100 men is a gross exaggeration and that, based upon what is known about other Pine Robber and outlaw gangs, the real number would have probably been closer to ten.[8]

The romanticizing of Mulliner began with Alfred M. Heston in the 1920s and was continued by Henry C. Beck in the 1930s. It is from these authors that we get the portrait of Mulliner as a fun-loving, Robin Hood-like figure. In all likelihood, these writers adapted to Mulliner the legend of James Fitzpatrick, a.k.a., Sandy Flash. Between 1895 and 1910, Sandy Flash was the subject of numerous local newspaper articles [9], and it wasn’t long after that Heston began spinning his yarns about Mulliner. Fabrications aside, the historic parallels between the two men are worth noting. Fitzpatrick led a gang of Loyalist highway robbers in Chester and Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War and was eventually arrested and hung for treason in 1778. In 1866, author Bayard Taylor wrote the novel, “Story of Kennett,” which featured a character by the name of Sandy Flash, who was loosely based on Fitzpatrick. The similarities between Sandy Flash and the legendary Joe Mulliner are hard to miss: Both were depicted as light-hearted bandits akin to Robin Hood who stole only from the rich; both would drink and dance at taverns, the patrons of which would fall into a timid silence upon their arrival. After their execution, the ghosts of both men were said to roam their respective areas in search of loot that they had buried.

Tradition: He hid out on Rabbit Island.

An oft-repeated element of the Mulliner myth is that he and his gang hid out on an island at the Forks of the Mullica River, where the Atsion and Batsto creeks converge.  This island is known as “Rabbit Island”, and oral tradition has it that goods were stored in warehouses here during the Revolutionary War. The island is located right in the middle of what was once one of the hottest centers of privateering and smuggling along any New Jersey river. When one considers also the fact that the island would have lacked sufficient tree cover due to logging, it becomes clear that there is no substance to this particular tradition.

A more feasible tradition holds that Mulliner and his gang hid out in the nearby Mordecai Swamp, a large tract of cedar forest stretching from Batsto to Bulltown.  It is said that they had an encampment on one of a number of islands that are dispersed throughout the swamp.  Mulliner and his men would not have lingered for long, however, and likely made transient encampments throughout the Pines as they moved about carrying out their missions.  It is not unreasonable, however, to surmise that Mulliner would periodically return to Mordecai Swamp or other suitable places in the vicinity. With all of the activity that took place at the Forks and Batsto, and given Mulliner’s supposed familiarity with the area, it would make sense that he would frequently come back to carry out the work that the British government commissioned him to do.  However, it certainly would have been a risky undertaking, considering the presence of armed soldiers, militia and patriots at these locations.

According to oral tradition, Mulliner lived with his wife (whose name is not known) on her property along the Mullica River in present day Sweetwater before he had to flee as an outlaw, but there are no known historical records to confirm this tradition. If it is true, then perhaps he would have sometimes traveled under the cover of darkness to visit her when he was nearby. 

Tradition: He would frequent the tavern at Quaker Bridge.

It is said that Mulliner had a penchant for drinking, singing and dancing and that he and his men would frequent the taverns throughout the Pines. Allegedly, Mulliner had a habit of taking the hand of the prettiest woman in the building and dancing with her. Her significant other, if present, would scarcely protest out of fear of Mulliner and his gang, who apparently were reputed to be prone to violence.  It is often suggested that one such tavern visited by Mulliner was the Quaker Bridge Hotel (or Thompson’s Tavern), but this cannot be true. It wasn’t until 1809, nearly 30 years after Mulliner’s death, that the first application for the tavern license was submitted. However, his reputation as being violent is not without historical support.  In November 1780, he was called to trial for his actions on September 30th of the same year when “Joseph Mulliner, mariner, did beat and ill-treat” a man named John Wood. [10]

Tradition: He was arrested at the Indian Cabin Mill Inn in Nesco.

There is a blue sign in front of an old house along Route 542 in Nesco that reads: “Indian Cabin Mill Inn. Joe Mulliner noted refugee-Tory-outlaw captured here in 1781. Renamed Union Hotel in 1861.”  The sign is incorrect on two levels. Mulliner was probably arrested either in Monmouth County or off the coast of Monmouth County, as indicated by Sir Henry Clinton, who reported that Mulliner was first taken to Freehold and then later transferred to Burlington County. The Scots Magazine (which happens to be the oldest magazine in the world still in publication) echoed Clinton’s report: “Joseph Mullener, an associated Loyalist, and captain of a whale boat privateer, was taken by the rebels in 1781, carried to Freehold, removed to Burlington, tried and executed, not withstanding he produced his commission as Captain of the said privateer at his trial.” [11]

The second problem with the sign is the fact that Indian Cabin Mill Inn was not located at Nesco, but rather just off Indian Cabin Road near what is now known as Egg Harbor City Lake.  The tavern was so named due to its proximity to a saw mill that once operated at the foot of the lake known as Indian Cabin Mill. The earliest owner of the mill that the author is aware of was Timothy Shaler, whose wife and children are buried in marked graves nearby.  It is not known when the mill was first given this name, but it was previously known as Shaler’s Upper Mill.[12] The mill was probably constructed shortly after Shaler, who himself was a prominent patriotic privateer, purchased many acres of land between Pine Creek (a.k.a Newton Creek) and Landing Creek in 1774. [13]

Tradition: He was hung along the Mullica River.

Tradition holds that Mulliner was hung from a tree at a place called “High Bank” on the south side of the Mullica River, but the historical record shows that he was hung at Gallows Hill in Burlington City, where Laurel Hill Cemetery is presently located.  As a rule, those sentenced to death by the Burlington Court met their fate at Gallows Hill, and there is no reason to think that Mulliner would have been an exception. His sentencing resulted in some controversy with General Clinton decrying Mulliner’s hanging as unlawful. Clinton noted that because Mulliner was commissioned by the British government he should have been tried as a prisoner of war. Instead, he was treated as a prisoner of the state and was charged with felony and high treason. Mulliner pleaded not guilty and allegedly presented proof of his commission, but to no avail. The judge sentenced him to death after citing the fact that he owned no property, which must have made him expendable in the eyes of the court.[14]

Tradition: He was buried at High Bank (or at Crowleytown).

Mulliner’s body may have been placed in a common burial ground, as were many who were executed under the law. Alternatively, his body could have been turned over to his wife for burial on her property.  It is not known where her property was, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it was located along High Bank where a recently placed tombstone now purports to mark her husband’s place of repose.  There is a tradition that his original grave was indicated by a small stone at High Bank that read “J.M.”, but the following excerpt of 1765 deed for land near the same location may indicate that the stone in question was merely a property boundary marker:

“Benjamin Brush of Galloway Twp., £90 for 14 acres…in the same place on the west side of Mullacais River just below a certain landing called Reads Landing and on a tongue of land that puts out in a cove, bounded by J. M. (marker), excepting 5 acres lying next to Richard Westcott.”

Read’s Landing (of Charles Read fame) was located on the south (or west) side of the river just below the mouth of Lucas Branch, which flows into the Mullica immediately downstream of High Bank.  The initials are that of John Monrow who had this land surveyed and then conveyed to Benjamin Brush in 1765.[15] We can be certain that it did not signify Mulliner, who owned no land. 

Closing Remarks

The folklore surrounding Joe Mulliner is interesting but can be determined to be largely fictitious.  However, the little that we do know of him through historical records proves to be quite interesting nonetheless.  Extracting the historical Mulliner from the legend proves to be a stimulating albeit difficult task that raises many questions, some which are unanswerable and others that have yet to be answered.

Notes

[1] Burlington County presentment, n.d. (c. 1781). NjMoHP, reel 37.

[2] NJA, 2d ser. 5: 282.

[3] Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time (Philadelphia, 1898), vol.3, 12.

[4] William Franklin to Clinton, 25 April 1782, BHQP, reel 13, no. 4474

[5] Clinton to Washington, 1 May 1782, PCC r 171, v10: pp. 543-46

[6] Fowler, Egregious Villains, Wood Rangers, and London Traders (Rutgers, 1987), p.224

[7] Richard M. Brown, Strain of Violence (New York, 1975), p.75

[8] Fowler, p.218

[9] https://historicnewtownsquare.org/wp-content/uploads/2015-sandy-flash-lear-paper.pdf

[10] Burlington County indictments, November 1780, NjBuHi.

[11] The Scots Magazine, Volume 44 (1782), p.491

[12] GC-A-216

[13] Colonial Conveyances, A-F, p. 526

[14] Min. Burl. Co. O & T Ct., July – August, 1781

[15] SGO Book Y

*For further reading, see Egregious Villains, Wood Rangers, and London Traders by David J. Fowler, which includes a chapter dedicated to unraveling the legend of Joe Mulliner and is the most comprehensive historical work on the subject to date. I am indebted to Fowler for the research behind a significant portion of this article.

**The author has written a song about Mulliner, which can be heard here: https://gabrielcoia.bandcamp.com/track/joes-last-jig-2

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.