Buzby’s Chatsworth General Store Going Out of Business Sale

On Saturday, June 17, 2017, the iconic Buzby’s General Store in Chatsworth will be closing its doors when proprietor R. Marilyn Schmidt retires. Buzby’s has been a staple of life in Chatsworth since 1865 and hopefully it will re-open again in the future.

The final sale will be cash only, and will not include the original historic Buzby pieces except for a few chairs. Other furniture and chairs will be available. There will be other items such as antiques, paintings and books from Marilyn’s massive library on cooking, gardening, etc. for sale. Hot dogs and light beverages will be available.

3959 County Road 563
Chatsworth, NJ 08019

Album Review – The Pines of My Past by Gabe Coia

Once upon a time in Europe, bards would be employed to document historical events and folklore through verse and music. It was a marriage of culture, history and entertainment. It is much in this same spirit that Gabriel Coia’s The Pines of My Past is presented to us. The Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey are an anomaly in many respects, both culturally and environmentally. It is a region with its own unique folklore and rich in historical significance. Gabriel Coia is no stranger to this culture; he is a part of it. As one listens to The Pines of My Past there is an immediate sense of authenticity. This music is not coming from outside observation of the pinelands; it is coming from within.

Front-Cover-2The opening track, Devil’s Woods, recalls the Barrens’ most popular folklore – the Jersey Devil. Musically, this song features a haunting guitar motif and dark Celtic-inspired melodies that punctuate each verse and chorus. Lyrically, the skeptic is challenged and the Devil’s true lair is revealed. In true bardic fashion, the legend of Jerry Munyon, the wizard of the pines, is retold in “Where did Jerry Munyon Go?”, an up-tempo piece with an alternating bass and an American flavor. The colorful life of Joe Mulliner, the Tory outlaw, is captured in “Joe’s Last Jig“, another up-tempo sing-a-along that Joseph Mulliner himself might have enjoyed while living it up in one of the taverns that used to scatter the pines. “The Ageless River” is a bold undertaking that chronicles the history of the Mullica River – 20,0000 years in just a few minutes. Amazingly, none of the lyrics sound forced but rather flow smoothly like the river itself, and the dramatic accompaniment keeps our attention all the way through. Two songs in particular, “The Lady on the Dam” and “The Light Near Wells’ Mills Pond” depict old Pine Barrens lore previously hidden in oral tradition and fairly obscure print. The introduction of these tales is sure to stir the imagination as one ponders the supernatural qualities of the Pines. Ecological concerns are expressed in “Let the Barrens Burn” and more reflective and personal themes are presented in “The Girl from Hampton Gate” (which is set to a ¾ waltz), “The Lost Mill”, “Batsto Village” and “The Atsion Lock”.

Coia is a professional pianist but proves himself a talented multi-instrumentalist, lyricist, vocalist, arranger and composer as well. Musical instrumentation is extremely diverse with traditional folk instruments intertwined with large orchestral ensembles. Coia plays all of the instruments himself but also utilizes a synthesizer for some of the string arrangements as well as the percussion and wind instruments. Stylistically, Celtic and English folk are married with the polyphonic, large-scale instrumentation that is typical of theatrical scores. Some pieces lean more toward one approach over the other, but there is always a blending of the two. Coia realizes the potential of modern multi-tracking by using varied instruments to recall established melodies in refrains, providing diversity in timbre and ornamentation. Gabriel has clearly put a great deal of effort into this album with an impressive attention to detail. There are a number of different levels on which this album can be appreciated and enjoyed. Ultimately, it is the ever-present romanticism that extends to both lyrics and music equally that makes this album truly unique.

Jeff Larson
Author of Leeds Devil Blues and The Barrens

As of 3/14/2016, “The Pines of My Past” will available for download at https://gabrielcoia.bandcamp.com. For physical copies, send an email to coia.gabe@gmail.com

Famed South Jersey Estate is a Romantic Area

Now that the vast Wharton estate, tri-county treasure trove of many of these stories, is back in the news, I feel impelled to refresh your memory concerning it. I do that knowing that there will be as many exaggerations as there may be fantastic tales concerning its places and people before, if enabling action follows Gov. Driscoll’s budgetary proposal, the area becomes a state park.

It was the governor’s idea that the tract variously estimated upward and downward of 100,000 acres be taken over as a park, water reservation, and wildlife preserve, with $2,000,000 set aside in the 1952 New Jersey budget for that purpose. However, the motive in giving you a clearer picture of what there is and what there was springs from current rumors of what there is to be. Beyond all that, I would eliminate, even before they are re-confected, those silly notions about the people called “Pineys.”

Perhaps it is that I am unduly alarmed by the reports that are already rampant among my Down Jersey friends, some of them those very people. It is common gossip that even before the Legislature can act to preserve this primitive woodland, with a colorful history reaching back to Colonial days, competitive bids are in from government agencies as well as from commercial organizations in search of additional sources of wood pulp. There can be little doubt but what government men are interested in at least an area bordering what always has been familiar to me as the old Washington Turnpike for here, as well as in adjacent lands, test borings and surveys have been made. I would not fear the invasion of these forces as much as I would the pulp people who, even now, on land outside the Wharton estate, have taken what they wanted and left many neighborhoods desolate.

The governor’s proposal seems to be a popular one and even the editorial writers who come equipped with scratchy pens have commended It. One of them waxed unusually poetic in recent days, ruminating with incredible accuracy In this strain:

‘Wild’ territory abounds in area

Those who know this territory can testify to its fascination. Take winding roads north either from Atco or Hammonton, turning off the White Horse Pikes and one soon enters what some would call ‘wild’ territory. For miles there will be only woodland and then, suddenly, lovely lakes and streams. In this region the Mullica begins as a tiny creek to become the broad river along which boats once traveled to Batsto and Pleasant Mills to get cannon bails, made of bog iron, for our Revolutionary armies.

Two other rivers – the Wading and Great Egg Harbor – run through the tract, and it was this broad watershed which led Joseph Wharton, founder of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to begin buying up these tracts about 1876, with the idea of providing potable water for Philadelphia.

I think I know who it was who swerved from the main highway of ordinary commentary to the sequestered byways among some of my favorite forgotten towns. If I am correct in my conclusions, he once was a music critic and so it would be easy for him to drift off into these lyric cadences too often eliminated from pages assigned to commentators. Boiling down the chain of events from 1876 to the present, at least from his point of view, the writer went on:

“It was a great idea. There were two drawbacks: Philadelphia politicians preferred Delaware River water, and the New Jersey Legislature banned piping of water outside the state. The idea died. Before Wharton bought the properties they had known the feudal barony of Jesse Richards, who had mansions In Batsto and Atco and who operated two bog iron furnaces, a glassworks, a paper mill, farms, and minor industries. These had largely gone, leaving ghost towns behind them, by the time Wharton took over. Since then the great tract has known little activity save that of workers on cranberry bogs, cottages dotting the lake at Atsion, explorations of naturalists and historians, and the rustle and tempo of abundant wildlife.”

“It is a great preserve which the State of New Jersey would acquire, less some 10,000 acres which the Navy is reported to want for an air training field, and the cottage sites which would be sold to their occupants.”

The writer concluded by commending the purchase so that New Jersey might boast an area comparable to Fairmount Park, as meaningful in other ways to Philadelphia – but I must reassure you quickly, as one who picknicked as a boy in all sections of Fairmount Park, that the comparison is unfortunate. To transform the Wharton tract into another Fairmount Park would be a nightmare to those who love the wilds and, even if it were part of the plan, would require many more dollars than those set aside as presumably sufficient purchase price. However, it is at this point that I catch my breath a little for unless some provision is made for maintenance of the park in the years to come, with guards and caretakers and those who will tell its wonderful story, the dream will indeed be empty. I say this parenthetically with considerable concern in knowing what could have been done long ago in smaller state parks but, as you know, has not been for lack of funds.

Legacies often present problem

Too often an agency, be it, state or a diocese or even a family, accept as a gift or purchase reasonably an estate or a big house only to discover that moving in is one thing and staying on is something else. Even if no major improvements are undertaken for some time to come, guards and guides will have to be provided – guards to prevent ravishment of pulp lands such as has been experienced already even on private property adjacent to the Wharton tract, guides who will know and be able to tell the colorful story of the park in a way that will take history out of its moth balls.

Custodians of historic sites are in most instances earnest people but time and again they affect an air of boredom or show themselves to be annoyed by questions they cannot answer. All of It gets back to the same thing – funds were provided for acquisition of this site and that park but funds for maintenance with suitable personnel have not been forthcoming.

I say this almost in a whisper for I have long advocated the purchase of the Wharton lands by the state, if for no other reason than to preserve what remains as compared to what there used to be when I first began wandering across and through and around the Wharton lands more than 20 years ago. Some of my most memorable adventures have had their background there, along the little rivers – and there are more than the two named in the commendable editorial along the unsung roads that preceded ribbons of concrete in days when shovels and axes were taken along for safe passage, and along the swamps and cedar water that give a strange and clinging perfume to every season of the year.

It has been given to me to talk with men and women who knew Joe Wharton and I have written down recurrently what other men and women have told me about the forges and furnaces of the Richards empire which before that was the empire of Charles Read, intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin, collector of the Port of Burlington, secretary of the province, speaker of the Assembly, member of the council, justice of the Supreme Court, colonel of the militia and commissioner to treat with the Indians – Mrs. Read was a Creole, daughter of a planter in Antigua.

I have listened, time and again, beside the potbellied stoves of country stores where history is passed around verbally, generation to generation, and have heard of Joe Wharton’s fragrant “fish factories” along the coast. And so, in the land of Joe Mulliner, the Refugee who was hanged in Burlington and taken to property of his wife now in the Wharton holdings, I have been steeped in the atmosphere of Atsayunk of the Atsiyonks (now Atsion) and the Mordecai Swamp where a pile of cannon balls are said to have sunk to China by now.

One of the books that ought to be read for greater appreciation of the probable Wharton or Richards or Read state park is Carl Raymond Woodward’s “Ploughs and Politicks: Charles Read of New Jersey and His Notes on Agriculture,” published by the Rutgers University Press In 1941 and never fully appreciated. Charlie Boyer, to whom you have been introduced already, also gives many pages of his “New Jersey Forges and Furnaces,” published by the University of Pennsylvania Press 10 years before, to what he calls the Charles Read Enterprises. Carl Woodward’s book the by-product of a search for Benjamin Franklin’s New Jersey farm near Burlington where both Ben and Read experimented in agriculture and where Read may have taken for his studies in farming which were included in “Ploughs and Politics.”

Burlington had a customs man

The Wharton land, then, covers much of the territory where Charles Read, In the years from 1715 to 1774, spent his youth, became a customs collector when Burlington was a port, speculated in pinelands as did his successors, set up the operation of bog ore furnaces and forges on a chain-store basis, became a leading politician of the Jersey provinces and died in exile in North Carolina. And if you would like to compare what I have called the things that were with the things that are in the area of the proposed park, you have only a glance at some of the illustrations in Carl’s book, then those that appear in “Jersey Genesis and finally, what you will see with your own eyes today.

Reproductions of scenes in the Burlington of Charles Read’s day make me wonder why Burlington, celebrating its anniversary, made little effort to become another Williamsburg, unless It was that the foundations organized for such purposes let officials down. The magnificent old houses assigned to the forge masters at Taunton, Atsion and Batsto, as well as the old store, long closed among its Batsto memories of merchant craft that dared the river, have lost a little more than face. At Atsion the mansion whose portico is supported by pillars of Jersey iron is used for storing materials of the Wharton Estate, inasmuch as the estate manager lives nearby.

The mansion at Pleasant Mills, not far from the little Methodist Church dedicated by Francis Asbury, is maintained in good order inasmuch as the Lippincotts of Philadelphia publishing fame, use it as a sylvan retreat – they, you see, are descendants of the Whartons. If you would concentrate on forges and furnaces, Martha, Taunton, Etna, Batsto and all the rest, you had better pore over Charlie Bowyer’s notes.

The editorial used the word “fasting.” It is wholly accurate. No matter how many times you have wandered through the Wharton estate and it’s wonderful neighborhoods, and no matter how long you have been away, something calls you back to again look upon the unbroken expanse of scrub oak and stunted pines as they can be seen from Jemima Mount or Bear Swamp Hill; to dig into the ruins of a tavern at Washington Field, where Joe Mulliner was caught at a dance; to await the harbingers of spring, herring in the Mullica River whose story took a whole book to tell, and to listen for new stories at Aunt Hattie’s store at Green Bank, now ably carrying on its traditions under the direction of her nephew, Rod Koster. Aunt Hattie, God rest her sweet soul, taught school at Harrisville where there was a town, now recalled in broken walls and cellar holes on the road down from Chatsworth, a road I like to travel late in May or early in June when the Jersey cactus or prickly pear decks the Indian grass with yellow bell like flowers.

I was thinking of that in Aunt Hattie’ store the other day, just after the announcement had been made to buy the Wharton lands. I have thought aloud for Arthur Sooy of Green Bank, spoke up. “I remember Joe Wharton” he said. “I was here in the day he came down this way to buy Harrisville.” I told him that I was old enough to recall a time when the Wharton estate men had to employ a watchman to live beside the Harrisville ruins to prevent theft of the native stone from the crumbling walls.

Roasted oysters on store ledge

“Billy Sooy owned the store, then,” said Rod. ‘He used to roast oysters right there on the ledge that goes all the way around the stove. Once he fell asleep in the chair and some of those who were in the store pried the oyster shells and ate the oysters inside. When Billy woke up and reached for what he thought he was going to enjoy, he found the oyster shells empty. I’m getting worse,’ he said. ‘I open oysters in my sleep and can’t remember eating them.’”

“Jackie” Ford, who still lives up the road, not far from the banks of the Mullica, is one of many still living in the neighborhood who worked for Joe Wharton when Joe ran a fleet of boats that supplied “fish factories” with mossbunkers, sometimes called greentails as the mainstay of early glue and fertilizer. Jackie told me long ago that Joe, once a mayor of Philadelphia, operated boats that plied from the Virginia Capes to Rhode Island.

“Most people know mossbunkers as menhaden, minnies to you maybe” said Jackie. “Joe Wharton’s factories were at Lewes, Delaware; Tiverton, Rhode Island, and a place called Promised Land which was out at the mouth of the Mullica. Steamers loaded up and brought fish to the factories for whatever factory men were paying. We could bring in about a million in a load,” said Jackie Ford.

Leon Koster, Rod’s father, also worked at the fish factories. Now Leon Is part of the Green Bank tree farm of the state which, already state property, will concentrate its routines nearer Trenton. The nursery once was Sooy land and was taken over by the state in a mixup that involved debts and politics. Joe Wharton bought the vast estate in foreclosure proceedings and, writing “Jersey Genesis” almost 10 years ago, I said, “There are always recurrent expressions of belief that the dreads of the Wharton Estate as a watershed will come true.”

The land is as plentiful in water as it is in legend and history, with the most colorful legends centered at what used to be “The Forks” – now Batsto and Pleasant Mills. “It is surely ironical,” I wrote elsewhere, “that of all the landings up and down the Mullica, The Forks, signally celebrated in every record of the countryside, should have gone so fast asleep, its kings and captains departed for so long.”

Now, quite obviously, the glorious wilderness in which some of the richest lore of New Jersey is concentrated, will awaken and some of us must guard against a rude awakening.

There must be those who will guard the placid lives who always have lived in the woodlands – the mossies who gather sphagnum, the little mills that make shingles in old-fashioned ways, the berry pickers never at a loss to find ways to make a modest living at any season of the year, the men and women and children who gather and color pine-cones, and all the rest. New Jersey, buying a place, cannot, buy a people and beyond the people a way of life that is New Jersey’s own in what I have called a never-never land. Later on, when, more details of the prospective park purchase are more certain, I will tell you of the descendants of titans of early industries who, as resourceful giants of the forest themselves, will he memorialized in a new and seemingly limitless state park.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, Feb. 24, 1952. Reprinted with permission. Transcribed by Ben Ruset. The Star Ledger requests that you do not copy, retransmit, or link directly to this article. Please link to our homepage at http://www.njpinebarrens.com

Mulliner the Mariner: The Man Beyond the Myth

Those familiar with the New Jersey Pine Barrens have probably heard the legend of Joe Mulliner, the infamous outlaw who is said to have terrorized the inhabitants of the Pines during the American War for Independence. Yet, beyond the myth, there was a real man. What facts are known about him? What elements of the folklore 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.

Claim: 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 Tory irregulars, 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]

Claim: 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]

Claim: 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 for patriotic privateers and smugglers 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 that was owned and logged by Mordecai Andrews in the early 1700s.  It is said that they had an encampment on one of a number of island-like areas of high ground 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 patriotic 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 this has yet to be confirmed through historical records. If it is true, then perhaps he would have sometimes traveled under the cover of darkness to visit her when he was nearby.  Local lore holds that the family dog was trained to relay messages between Joe and his wife by means of crossing the river with notes tucked into a special collar.  Another legend holds that Mulliner and his men would cross the river by means of using cedar branches as camouflage.  These stories make for good folklore but can neither be discounted nor proved.

Claim: 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. [9]

Claim: 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.” [10]

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.[11] 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. [12]

Claim: 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.  Everyone sentenced to death by the Burlington Court met his or her fate at Gallows Hill, and Mulliner would not 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.[13]

Claim: 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.[14] 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

  • Burlington County presentment, n.d. (c. 1781). NjMoHP, reel 37.
  • NJA, 2d ser. 5: 282.
  • Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time (Philadelphia, 1898), vol.3, 12.
  • William Franklin to Clinton, 25 April 1782, BHQP, reel 13, no. 4474
  • Clinton to Washington, 1 May 1782, PCC r 171, v10: pp. 543-46
  • Fowler, Egregious Villains, Wood Rangers, and London Traders (Rutgers, 1987), p.224
  • Richard M. Brown, Strain of Violence (New York, 1975), p.75
  • Fowler, p.218
  • Burlington County indictments, November 1780, NjBuHi.
  • The Scots Magazine, Volume 44 (1782), p.491
  • GC-A-216
  • Colonial Conveyances, A-F, p. 526
  • Min. Burl. Co. O & T Ct., July – August, 1781
  • 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 that celebrates the lore of Joe Mulliner, which can be heard here: https://gabrielcoia.bandcamp.com/track/joes-last-jig

Review – The Domestic Life of the Jersey Devil

Bill Sprouse’s book, The Domestic Life of the Jersey Devil, chronicles his investigation into the origins and meaning of the Jersey Devil myth. When Sprouse was young his grandmother, Helen Leeds (lovingly referred to as BeBop throughout the book), told him the story and how he was distantly related to the creature. That was enough to pique his interest and his years of research and investigation ultimately led to this book.

The most commonly told story about the origin of the Jersey Devil is that it was born in 1735 in the backwater village of Leeds Point on the fringes of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. “Mother Leeds”, a Quaker who some whispered about dabbling in witchcraft, was pregnant with her thirteenth child. Exasperated at the prospect of another child to rear she exclaimed, “I am sick of children! Let it be a devil!”

A few months later Mother Leeds and her midwives watched in horror as the features of the baby began to distort into a demonic image minutes after the birth. Bat-like wings emerged from its back as its twisting and writhing body took on a long, serpent-like shape. The head of the child elongated into something not unlike the head of a horse. Mother Leeds’ curse was finally fulfilled as hooves replaced the baby’s hands and feet. Suddenly the creature leapt up from the bed and beat everyone in the room with its long forked tail. The creature unfurled its wings and with a scream shot up the chimney and escaped into the dark night and out into the Pine Barrens, where it continues to live today.

BeBop traced her family line down to Deborah Leeds, wife of Japhet Leeds, who lived in Leeds Point in the 1730s and whose will shows that she had twelve children. Japhet was the son of Daniel Leeds, who was one of the earliest authors in New Jersey. Daniel, calling himself a “Student of Agriculture,” published an almanac in 1687, predating Benjamin Franklin’s famous Poor Richards Almanac by forty-five years. Years later Benjamin Franklin would refer to Leeds as an “astrologer.”

Daniel’s almanac ran afoul of the Quakers who were shocked by the “heathenish” elements in the publication. Like most other publishers of almanacs in the 17th century he included occultist information that the author claims made the almanac an “astrological toolkit.” Various sources claim that the Quakers were so incensed at the publication that they ordered an apologetic Daniel to burn every unsold copy.

Daniel’s very public repudiation by his Quaker peers and the increasing amount of tension with them led him to leave his homestead in Springfield, just outside of Burlington, and move his family across the state to a wilderness that would eventually become known as Leeds Point. Safely out of reach there he continued to write increasingly inflammatory anti-Quaker pamphlets denouncing the Philadelphia Meeting who then returned the favor in kind, labeling him as “Satan’s Harbinger.” Daniel’s almanacs were printed in New York City, and while Leeds Point was far off the beaten path, it was not as cut off from the rest of the world as many would imagine. It’s no stretch to think that news of Leeds’ daughter-in-laws pregnancy would have reached his detractors in Philadelphia, would jump at the chance to invent a story about a demonic child to make a strong case that the Leeds family were being punished for straying from their Quaker ways.

The theory that the schism between Daniel Leeds and the Quakers of Philadelphia is the source of the Jersey Devil myth is not new, although Sprouse – who disclaims that he is not a professional historian – does an exemplary job of researching the facts and providing footnotes to enable the reader to research more on their own. The book reads more like a John McPhee-type essay than a dry history tome as the author mixes history with his own stories of his grandmother and his interactions with various locals as he tries to figure out what the Jersey Devil actually is.

Readers who are looking for a book that will confirm the existence of the Jersey Devil will be disappointed, as the author makes no bones about his disbelief of the creature. Those looking for a well thought out, entertaining look at the origins of the Jersey Devil myth would be happy that they picked this book up. The only one minor drawback to the book is that it can be hard to follow at times as the narrative jumps around, often back and forth in time, quite a bit between chapters. Several times a chapter will end, the next chapter will go on about something else entirely, and the chapter after that will pick up where the first left off. Those are minor annoyances and shouldn’t take away from the otherwise excellent writing and research found throughout the book.

Review – Batsto Village: Jewel of the Pines

Between the 18th and 19th centuries the Pine Barrens were home to a number of industrial ventures. Iron furnaces, forges, glass, and paper factories dotted the landscape, springing up wherever abundant water power and natural resources were found. The legacy of those industries and the towns that grew up around them is largely lost to time; the odd scattering of bricks and rubble in a clearing and names marked on old yellowing maps are the only witness to those ventures and the people who lived and worked there.

Batsto Village is one of the few places that managed to avoid that fate. Charles Read established an iron furnace there in 1766. Less than a decade later Batsto’s iron products were considered so important to the Revolutionary War effort that George Washington exempted the furnace workers from military service.

Within a century all of the furnaces in the Pine Barrens had closed down, unable to compete with the Pennsylvania furnaces that were fuelled by less expensive anthracite coal. The owner of Batsto, Jesse Richards, realized that the days of iron production were over but that glass could be profitably made in the Pine Barrens. By 1846 the glassworks at Batsto was producing large amounts of window glass and the town was again bustling with life. The death of Richards in 1854, several fires, and labor unrest marked the beginning of the end of Batsto’s industrial production. In 1874, after years of decline the Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton purchased the Batsto tract.

Barbara Solem’s new book Batsto Village: Jewel of the Pines takes a deep dive into all of the phases of Batsto’s history. Solem, author of the successful book Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, weaves a narrative that is both informative and entertaining as she covers the history of the town from pre-European settlement days to the modern day as an open air museum that is the crown jewel of Wharton State Forest.

Renowned Pine Barrens fine art photographer Albert D. Horner supplies beautiful full color photography for the book. Interestingly there are photographs of all of the rooms inside Wharton’s mansion at Batsto. If you have not had the pleasure of a mansion tour yet these photographs will surely get you excited to go on one. There are also a number of beautiful landscape photographs from around the village. Of particular note is a wide-angle shot of the mansion and general store after a fresh snowfall that succinctly captures the feeling of the village being frozen in time.

Working through the book, one might wonder if there will be any mention of what happened with the village after the state purchased. Luckily Solem devotes a chapter going into detail about the various restoration plans for the village as well as the archaeological digs that have been conducted. An interesting fact presented is that the first building to be restored was the sawmill, which was then used to make boards, beams, and shingles that were used to restore the other buildings. There’s no other book that goes into great detail about the post-1955 history of the village. That chapter alone makes this a valuable reference book.

Batsto Village: Jewel of the Pines is well written, fascinating, and is of interest to people who are interested in a casual history of Batsto. This is a book that I am proud to have on my shelf and I’m hopeful for another book similar to this from the author in the future.

The Legendary Pine Barrens: New Tales From Old Haunts

Manufacturing stories and tall-tales is an industry linked to South Jersey as much as iron making or growing cranberries has been. For centuries, the folks of Down Jersey have spun fantastic yarns; take, for example, the legend of the Jersey Devil, the White Stag of Shamong, and Peggy Clevenger’s mysterious boiling well to just name just a few. Just like the Pine Barrens furnaces were obsoleted by new technology, you might think that the Internet and cable TV have supplanted the South Jersey storytellers. Everyone’s heard the same tales over and over, and nobody ever seems to have a new story to share – until now.

Paul Evan Pedersen, Jr.’s new book, The Legendary Pine Barrens: New Tales from Old Haunts, changes all of that. The subtitle of the book is a succinct description of what lays in between the covers. As John Bryans, author of the foreword of the book points out, these aren’t your grandfather’s (or grandfather’s grandfather’s) Pine Barrens yarns. From the jump, Pederson wastes no time getting down to business. Leading off with a tale of a mad pirate; a beautiful strawberry-blonde woman; a magical Lenape Indian well; and a night of passion, Peterson weaves a splendid, if not somewhat racy, reboot of the famous Jersey Devil legend.

Not all of the stories in the book are retellings of old legends. Pederson has come up with some winning original tales in this book, one example of which is The Hangin’ Tree, that has an ending that would make O’Henry proud. There’s an element of modern day horror in the legend of The Deadbus, which I found particularly gripping. The same thing goes for Dr. Mason’s Patient, which explains a particularly obscure bit of Jerseyana trivia. Weird NJ fans will love The Goin’s-Ons Out on Purgatory Road, which has always been a perennial favorite for teenagers looking to scare themselves.

I felt as if I might be reading an early Stephen King novella in my favorite story, The Secret of Salamander Pond. Pederson is at his best here, weaving a tale of the friendship of four boys who discover a secret hidden in a pond deep in the Pines. Somebody, or something, isn’t pleased and makes an effort to pursues the boys to ensure that what was taken gets returned. I feel that there’s enough potential in the story that that it could be expanded into a standalone novella, which would please me to no end to read.

Bookstore shelves sag with the weight of New Jersey themed books. This book stands out as a gem since it doesn’t rehash old stories or tries to take itself too seriously. This is entertainment, pure and simple, made all the better by being set in the Pinelands. In all there’s twenty-one stories that will delight just about anybody who even has a casual interest in the Pine Barrens. The characters are interesting and fresh, the stories flow nicely, and the writing is superb. Pederson’s imagination shines behind every word in the book and it may just be that he might be one of the best new storytellers of our times.

Atsion: Part 3 – To the Modern Day

This is the final article in a three part series looking at the history of the ghost town of Atsion. You can find part one of the series at this link, and part two at this link.

In 1862, the future looked bleak for Atsion. Competition from iron furnaces in Pennsylvania, fueled by cheaper and more efficient anthracite coal, meant that furnace towns like Atsion were no longer able to compete. Fleming’s paper mill, the next industrial venture for the town, never got off the ground – the building having been long abandoned by the time Colonel William Patterson purchased the Atsion tract.

Patterson envisioned the rebirth of Atsion based around agriculture rather than industry. He planned to clear several large tracts of land to grow crops and bring them to market in New York and Philadelphia via the newly constructed Raritan & Delaware Bay Railroad. He renamed the town “Fruitland” and, according to the F.W. Beers map of 1870, planned to lay out the streets in his new town in a grid pattern.

Fruitland, as it appeared on the 1870 Beers Atlas of Burlington County. Planned, but never built.
Fruitland, as it appeared on the 1870 Beers Atlas of Burlington County. Planned, but never built. (From the Rutgers Historical Map Collection.)

 

The main crop was to be sugar beets, however the experiment ended in failure when the beets would not grow in the sandy, acidic soil. The real estate venture was also a flop – Patterson sold less than a handful of lots across the lake along Atsion Road. Like so many of the town’s previous owners, he overextended his finances and was forced into bankruptcy.

On May 10, 1871 Maurice Raleigh purchased the town. One of his first orders of business was to rename the town back to Atsion. He then rebuilt and enlarged the paper mill building – long abandoned and empty – and converted it to a cotton factory. He also erected a carpenter’s shop, blacksmith, public school, and rebuilt the Richards-era church. He also moved into the Richards’ mansion as it’s last permanent resident.

Under Raleigh’s ownership, Atsion was again a success. The cotton factory was a moneymaker and the promise of steady employment brought people back to the area. By 1882 Atsion boasted over 300 residents – nearly as many as when the iron furnace was in operation.

Public School Number 94, built by Raleigh in 1872. It was rebuilt in 1916 and has fallen into ruin today.
Public School Number 94, built by Raleigh in 1872. It was rebuilt in 1916 and has fallen into ruin today.

 

This newfound prosperity did not last. Raleigh died on January 10, 1882 and ownership passed to his heir, who had a different vision for the town. They formed the Raleigh Land Improvement Company and planned to rename the community “Raleigh.” They offered lots for sale for $25 an acre, but there were few takers. The houses that stand near the intersection of Route 206 and Atsion Road are the only remnants of this real estate venture.  Within a year the cotton factory closed and residents moved away.

Reverting back to a ghost town, Atsion was mostly unoccupied until Joseph Wharton bought it in 1892. Wharton purchased large tracts of land as part of a plan to bring fresh water from the lakes and streams of the Pine Barrens to Philadelphia. When the New Jersey Legislature caught wind of this plan and passed legislation banning the export of water from the state, Wharton turned his attention to agriculture. He built a number of large cranberry bogs near Atsion and entrusted the management of the town to Andrew Etheridge of Batsto.

Wharton did not invest much money in the maintenance of the buildings at Atsion. To him, the Richards’ mansion was superfluous; he was living in the newly renovated mansion at Batsto and had no desire to modernize a second expensive house. He put it to use as a storehouse and erected a large concrete barn nearby. The cotton factory was converted to a packing house for the his cranberry bogs.

The Richards' mansion after the 2009 restoration.
The Richards’ mansion after the 2009 restoration.

 

Wharton died in 1909 but his estate still carried on with the management of his properties. In 1954 the State of New Jersey purchased the Atsion tract along with much of Wharton’s other holdings in the Pine Barrens. One of the first things the state did was a quick exterior restoration on the long neglected Richards’ mansion. Another was to build a recreational facility on the southern shore of Atsion lake.

The stewardship of Atsion under the State of New Jersey has been somewhat controversial. A number of railroad-era buildings near the cotton factory were bulldozed after the state gained ownership. The school, converted into a private residence in 1922, fell into disrepair after the residents were forced to leave. The final ignominy happened in 1977 when the cotton mill building was destroyed in a fire. While officially labeled as arson, there are many who feel that the state was complicit in letting the unsafe and tumbledown building burn down.

This chimney is all that remains of the Fleming paper mill / Raleigh cotton factory / Wharton cranberry packing house.
This chimney is all that remains of the Fleming paper mill / Raleigh cotton factory / Wharton cranberry packing house.

 

Recently, things seem to be turning around. In 2001 a new roof was put on the long empty schoolhouse. Between 2008-2009 the Atsion Mansion was carefully restored after years of neglect at a cost of over one million dollars. The porch on the north side of the mansion was rebuilt, cleverly hiding a handicap access ramp. The interior walls were patched and repainted, with each room having a square or two of wall unrestored so that visitors could see the original state of the plaster and woodwork prior to the restoration. Long shuttered to the public, tours are now held allowing people to view the interior of the impressive old house.

For over two centuries, Atsion has found success and suffered decline. Each time the town bounces back and has a revival. With the newly restored mansion as a centerpiece it’s likely that the village will continue to grow in popularity and remain for future generations to enjoy.

 

For Further Reading:

Atsion: A Town of Four Faces by Sarah W.R. Ewing. Batsto Citizens Committee, 1979.

Ploughs and Politics: Charles Read of New Jersey & His Notes on Agriculture – 1715-1744 by Carl Raymond Woodward. Rutgers University Press, 1941.

Iron in the Pines by Arthur Pierce. Rutgers University Press, 1957.

Family Empire in Jersey Iron: The Richards Enterprises in the Pine Barrens by Arthur Pierce. Rutgers University Press, 1964.

Heart of the Pines: Ghostly Voices of the Pine Barrens by John Pearce. Batsto Citizens Committee, 2000.

 

Many thanks to Jerseyman and Terry Schmidt for their invaluable assistance in this article series.

Atsion: Part 2 – Prosperity and Decline

This is part two of a three part series looking at the history of the ghost town of Atsion. You can find part one at this link.

Samuel Richards, good-looking and enormously successful, was the only member of the family to surpass his father’s success in business. He was born on May 8, 1769 near Warwick Furnace in Pennsylvania where his father was apprenticed into the iron trade. The year prior to Samuel’s birth, William Richards began working at the newly constructed Batsto Furnace.

Samuel was fifteen years old when his father acquired ownership of Batsto. There he quickly learned the iron trade and, in six or seven years, was representing the furnace at the family store in Philadelphia. He often wrote to his father offering advice and making observations about the quality of the iron when it wasn’t up to his standards. In October of 1794 he wrote, “the old Iron that is upon hand is very rusty which hurts the sale… I have mixed a good deal of it with the new and worked it off that way.”

He was to marry twice, both times to attractive, rich widows. His first wife was Mary Smith Morgan. They were married on November 18, 1797 at the home of her father, the wealthy Philadelphia merchant William T. Smith, also known as “Old Silver Heels.” The Richards had four children, all of which died between 1799 and 1803. They had four more children, three of which survived to adulthood: Thomas Smith, Sarah Ball, and Elizabeth Ann Richards. Their mother passed away on May 3, 1820 at the age of 50. The marriage, which lasted 23 years, is said to have been congenial and happy, despite the loss of so many children.

Samuel purchased a half interest in Atsion in 1819. With this purchase he controlled a network of ironworks that would have made Charles Read envious. Besides his interest in Atsion he also owned Weymouth Furnace, Speedwell Furnace, and had a partnership in Martha Furnace with Joseph Ball. On June 19, 1819 the old furnace at Atsion went back into blast under the management of John Richards, Samuel’s cousin, to fill an order for water pipes for the city of Philadelphia. The furnace was allowed to go out of blast after the pipes were finished and Richards put his share of Atsion up for sale shortly afterwards, perhaps due to a lack of orders or difficulties in the partnership with Henry Drinker. The buildings slowly deteriorated as the furnace sat idle and the workmen departed for opportunities elsewhere.

On October 8, 1822 Richards married his second wife, Anna Maria Martin Witherspoon. By all accounts the charming woman was a perfect compliment to her new husband’s personality. They made their home at 347 Arch Street in Philadelphia, just a few blocks away from the house Samuel had shared with his widow. They had three children, two of which survived to adulthood: Maria Lawrence and William Henry.

Perhaps showing his tenacity or business acumen, Richards purchased Drinker’s half share of Atsion in 1824. Now the sole owner, he embarked on a massive project to rebuild the town. One of the first buildings he built was a modern blast furnace that utilized the latest improvements in iron making technology – the hot blast method. By pre-heating the air that would be blasted into the furnace (hence the name) it was found that fuel consumption would be considerably reduced. This led to a reduction in the cost to produce iron as there was less charcoal required per ton of production, as well as a reduction in the number of trees needing to be felled by the colliers.

The Richards' mansion at Atsion, during the 2009 restoration.
The Richards’ mansion at Atsion, during the 2009 restoration.

In 1826 the Richards built a large and expensive mansion at Atsion, replacing the old dilapidated Lawrence Saltar mansion. This fourteen-roomed house, built in the Greek revival style, still stands today as a testament to the past importance of this furnace town. Iron products adorned the exterior of the building: drain spouts, emblazoned 1826, hang at each corner of the building; cast iron windowsills; and thirteen cast iron columns (manufactured at Weymouth Furnace originally as water pipe for the city of Philadelphia) support the roof of the porch that wraps around two sides of the building. Inside there are two main stories, a ground level basement kitchen with a brick stove and oven, and an attic where the domestic servants resided.

The oven and stove fireplace in the ground level basement kitchen.
The oven and stove fireplace in the ground level basement kitchen.

 

A marble mantle surrounds this fireplace featuring a cast iron fireback.
A marble mantle surrounds this fireplace featuring a cast iron fireback.

The first story had four rooms flanking a center hall with doors at each end. Two large parlors are on the west side of the house, facing Atsion Lake, and are connected by a large sliding door that could be opened to create a large ballroom. Contemporaries noted that the Richards held a lavish party to celebrate the construction of the mansion and this ballroom would certainly have been the hub of social activity in the house. Across the hall was a formal dining room and preparation kitchen, with meals being cooked in the stove and ovens in the basement, and brought up by servants via a special staircase. The second floor contained four bedrooms for the Richards family. Special slatted doors offered ventilation – important in the blustery summer months – although the house was built four fireplaces – each with a cast iron fireback and marble mantle – for heat in the colder months.

The next year a company store was built adjacent to the mansion. This store not only offered foodstuffs and other products for Atsion’s employees but also, by 1832, housed the post office that had moved back from Sooy’s Inn at Washington. Samuel Richards himself held the title of postmaster for many years. This store stayed open, through a succession of owners, until 1946. Today it serves as a ranger station for Wharton State Forest. The final building from the Richards era, a church, was erected in 1828. The deed for it states that “Samuel Richards, with a view and desire to promote Christian Knowledge, has erected a house for religious worship at Atsion… and, in order that the said house may at all times hereafter be held for that purpose and the lot of ground on which the same is built and erected may forever be held as a side for a house of religious worship and for a burial place.”

Times were prosperous in Atsion. Thomas Gordon, in his Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, tells of the size and scope of the works at Atsion in 1834:

Atsion, post-town and furnace, on the Atsion River, partly in Galloway Township, Gloucester County, probably in Washington Township, Burlington County, 9 miles above the head of navigation, 12 miles from Medford, 17 from Mount Holly, on the road leading to Tuckerton, and 57 from Trenton. Besides the furnace, there are here, a forge, gristmill, and three sawmills. The furnace makes from 800 to 900 tons of casting, and the forge from 150 to 200 tons of bar iron annually. This estate, belonging to Samuel Richards, Esq., embraces what was formerly called Hampton furnace and forge, and West’s Mills, and contains about 60,000 acres of land. There are about 100 men employed here, and between 6 and 700 persons depending for sustenance upon the works.

Considering that Atsion was nearly in ruins fifteen years earlier, it’s clear that the town prospered under Samuel’s leadership. Compared to Batsto and Martha Furnace that each, according to Gordon, employed 60-70 men and had only 400 people living there, Atsion was one of the largest iron enterprises in South Jersey at the time.

During Samuel’s later years he began to turn the day-to-day operation of Weymouth Furnace to his son-in-law Stephen Colwell, a Philadelphia attorney who married Sarah, his daughter from his first marriage. It appears that Samuel managed Atsion until his death on January 4, 1842. He died an incredibly wealthy man, and his children and widow were well taken care of in his will. Weymouth was divided equally between Sarah and Elizabeth Ann, and Atsion between Maria and William. Martha Furnace was sold to its long time manager Jesse Evans.

Ironworks in Pennsylvania began experimenting with fuelling their furnaces with anthracite coal around the time of Samuel’s death. Anthracite coal was easier to obtain, cheap to purchase, and was located close to the iron mines in Pennsylvania. By the end of the 1840’s the bog iron furnaces in south Jersey were hopelessly outclassed by their Pennsylvanian rivals and it is doubtful that even an ironmaster as skilled as Samuel Richards, much less his inexperienced children, could have kept a charcoal fuelled furnace profitable.

Maria met William Walton Fleming, owner of the W.W. Fleming Cobalt and Nickel Works in Camden, at a party at Weymouth in 1848. On June 14, 1849 they married and took up residence in the Atsion mansion as well as the Richards’ family home on Arch Street in Philadelphia. Perhaps encouraged by the successful paper mill at nearby McCartyville (later known as Harrisville) he and two business partners, Walter Dwight Bell and Albert W. Markley constructed a paper mill at Atsion on or near the site of the furnace. The mill was described in a legal complaint dated April 1855:

The said building is a stone mill erected for the manufacture of paper. The main building is two stories high about sixty feet long by fifty feet deep, and attached thereto and making a part thereof are a boiler and bleach house, forty-two feet by thirty-two, a machine house eighty feet by twenty-four, a water wheel and a wheel house, twenty-eight feet by twenty-four.

It appears that the mill only operated for a short time, or perhaps not even at all. Fleming, like many other businessmen in the northeast in the mid 1850’s, was in dire financial straits. He lost a considerable amount of money on an investment in the Camden & Atlantic City Railroad, which by virtue of him being a member of the board of directors, allowed him to borrow heavily. On September 11, 1854 he assigned his assets to trustees “for the protection of his creditors.” He named his partners in the paper mill venture, Bell and Markley, as well as his father, Thomas Fleming and brother-in-law Stephen Cowell as his trustees. Interestingly neither the senior Fleming nor Cowell wanted nothing to do with the mess and refused to serve.

Facing a long list of creditors, legal charges filed by his father, and over a half-million dollars in debt, Fleming took a page from Charles Read’s playbook and fled the country. For over a year nobody in the family knew where he had gone. Left alone to face his angry creditors, his wife Maria dipped into her own inheritance to repay Thomas Fleming. Amazingly enough she was able to locate Fleming in Brussels, Belgium where, after a reconciliation, she and their son reunited and made a house at 15 Boulevard du Regent. Shortly thereafter Samuel Richards’ widow Anna Maria joined them. There in Europe they were able to live out their rest of their lives in comfort and happiness, supported by the money left by Samuel Richards.

William Henry Richards, brother of Mary, was fourteen when his father died. Surrounded by so much wealth, he never had to work and never developed any of the business sense that his father and grandfather had been famous for. The Atsion record books show him to have been married to Mary Thorne on April 29, 1850, although other sources show that he was unmarried. The union seemed to be a rocky one and Mary Thorne eventually left and settled in nearby Vincentown. The two had a daughter, Anna Maria, named after William’s mother. By age two she was living with, and being cared for, by her grandmother, eventually moving to Belgium to be with the her grandmother and the Flemings. After the auction of the Atsion property William spent his remaining years tilling soil on a farm he purchased along the Tuckerton Stage Road.

The Atsion property went to auction on April 7, 1859. According to the West Jerseyman, this “was the largest public sale of Real Estate which has probably ever been made in this section of New Jersey.” The account of the auction continued:

The extent and value the property, the widespread and diversified interests involved by the transactions of its late owner, served to draw together a concourse of Brokers, Bankers, Real Estate Operators, Lawyers, Speculators and Capitalists, more in keeping with the Rotunda of the Exchange than the quiet parlors of a Country hotel. [The auction was held at the West Jersey Hotel.] Presently the “frosty pow” of Mr. Thomas, whose head is silvered o’er in the service of the fatal hammer, was observed to ride amid the crowd, and announce that “Atsion”, its mansion, its mills, its buildings and broad acres, were positively to be sold, without reserve, to the highest bidder. The terms of payment were stated, the same to be made subject to a mortgage of seventy-five thousand dollars. An awful pause ensued, during which the good looking company looked around for the brave man who would bventure a bid upon it. He turned up in good time, however, with a bid of $5000, when the bidding went on spiritedly, at $1000 a bid, between two gentlemen only, till it reached the sum of $33,000 when the veteran auctioneer took a breath, and resumed, with a little professional expatiation, which produced another bid, when the property was knocked down to M. NEWKIRK, Esq. for the sum of $33,500 which, including the cost of the mortgage of $75,000, will bring the cost of the whole 28,000 acres to the round sum of $111,500. [The math reported here is obviously wrong – the total cost of the Atsion property would have been $108,500, still not a particular bargain.]

No deed is recorded to Newkirk who likely realized that he had overpaid and found some way to extricate himself from the deal, legally or otherwise. Atsion was unsuccessfully auctioned on January 3, 1860 and again on January 31. Finally, on April 13, 1861, the property was sold to Jarvis Mason, of Philadelphia for $66,000. Mason held the property for one year before selling it to Colonel William Patterson of Philadelphia, for $82,500, on July 11, 1862.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll trace the history of Atsion through a name change, the coming of the railroad, another mill, and on to modern times.

Photographs courtesy of Terry Schmidt. 

 

Atsion: Part 1 – The Charles Read Era

Henry Drinker, a wealthy Quaker merchant in Philadelphia, wrote: “I expect it will be nothing new to hear that we Iron Masters are in general a sett of Hungry, needy beings, frequently bare of Money and straining our credit.” The quote dates from 1790, when Drinker held a majority share of the Atsion works. Drinker likely penned these words after observing the founder of the ironworks and his business partner, Charles Read, rendered financially devastated due to his iron enterprises.

Charles Read III fit the definition of a renaissance man. Born in 1715, Read began his career as a merchant, working as a clerk for his father, before he departed for an education in England. Returning to Philadelphia by way of Antigua, where he had married, he assumed control of the family business left to him by his recently deceased father. He soon developed an interest in the lands of New Jersey, and shortly thereafter moved to Burlington where he soon entered political life. He progressed through a number of posts including: the offices of Deputy Secretary of the Province of East Jersey; Member of the Assembly, later, Member of the Council; Judge, and later Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court . Read acquired several vast tracts of land throughout southern and central New Jersey and became one of the first people to recognize the potential for iron production in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, based on the resources available there.

Iron production started in New Jersey with the construction of the Tinton Falls furnace in 1674. Entrepreneurs subsequently established furnaces in North Jersey, smelting ore mined in nearby mountains. The land in South Jersey, largely pine and cedar forests, could not sustain subsistence agriculture. The trees, however, offered their owners a good return on their investment, and, soon sawmills and sawyers reduced the timber to dimensional lumber and cordwood for market in Philadelphia.

Read realized that the Pine Barrens had the perfect mix of ingredients to produce iron. Bog iron, or iron deposits created by the chemical reaction of bacteria with oxidized iron rich water that flowed through the bogs, was plentiful.  Numerous streams in the Pines could be dammed to provide power to machinery that would operate within the ironworks. The extensive forests seemed to promise a limitless source of wood for charcoal production to fuel the furnaces. The final ingredient— limestone—was available in the form of oyster shells, easily transported in from the bayshore. Read planned to build three iron furnaces: Batsto; Taunton; and Etna; and forges at Atsion and Taunton. The forge at Atsion would further refine pig iron brought in from Batsto—only a few miles away—into bar iron that could be sold or further worked into wrought iron products.

Parliament repealed the Iron Act in 1757 and Read wasted no time engaging in his first transaction for land that would eventually make up the Atsion property on September 10, of that same year when he signed a 999-year lease for 1,128 acres of land in Gloucester County from Thomas Gardiner and Daniel Ellis. Annual rent for this property amounted to four pounds, ten shillings. In 1765 he signed a number of deals in quick succession that would ultimately lead to the founding of Atsion, beginning with an agreement to cut all of the coal wood on John Estell’s land between the Batsto and Atsion rivers on May 23. On June 29 Estell, most likely acting as an agent for Read, obtained permission from the legislature to erect a dam across the Atsion River. On July 19 Read signed an agreement with John Inskeep, owner of the nearby Goshen sawmill, to purchase the 50-acre tract of land on which the Atsion forge would be built, with a restriction on the deed that stated that the land was to be used “for the erecting of an ironworks only and not to erect a saw-mill thereon.” Read also obtained permission to raise all of the ore within a mile and a half of Inskeep’s sawmill.

Sunset over the Atsion Lake. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.
Sunset over the Atsion Lake. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

Having acquired the necessary land, Read found himself in need of money to build the furnaces. He sought financial backers in an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1765:

“Charles Read of Burlington, gives notice to the public, that he is possessed of several tracts of land, having in them streams of water, as constant and governable as can be wished… There is at all these places, plenty of food for the cattle from the middle of May to the middle of October.” The advertisement continued: “As Mr. Read’s situation renders it inconvenient to him to take upon himself the expense or care of works so extensive, he notifies to the public that it will be agreeable to him to let the conveniences to any gentleman of credit reserving a share of the produce, or to enter into a partnership with any persons a good dispositions, fortune and integrity.” The advertisement ended with a tantalizing summary: “The goodness of the iron, the visible quantity of the ore, the extraordinary situation, joined to the very easy land and water carriage, and its vicinity to Philadelphia, and easy carriage from two last mentioned works to New York, give works erected here preference to any on the continent.” 

Read finished the construction of Batsto furnace in 1766. On January 26, 1768 he formed a partnership with David Ogden Jr. and Lawrence Saltar. Ogden purchased a one-quarter share of Atsion, and Saltar obtained a 24.9 percent share, leaving Read as the majority shareholder at 50.1 percent. Flush with cash, construction began on Atsion between 1767 and 1768. At the time of the completion, the forge comprised one of the largest in the area with four fires and two hammers. Read had some ore raised from nearby and sent it out for analysis—a sign that he either intended to construct a blast furnace on the site or ship the ore down the river to Batsto. The ore at Atsion was of exceptionally high quality: most samples contained 45-47 percent metallic iron and some samples contained between 53-56 percent.

Read soon found himself in financial trouble. He became overextended in his finances, his health started to fail, and his creditors began to demand money. In October of 1770, two years after the forge hammers at Atsion began tripping, he advertised his share of the works for sale. No buyers stepped forward. Another three years elapsed before Read got out from under Atsion by selling it to two business acquaintances, Abel James and Henry Drinker. Read signed over his remaining properties to his creditors and, in June or July of 1773, fled New Jersey for Antigua. There he unsuccessfully attempted to settle his late wife’s estate. He eventually settled in Martinburg, North Carolina. He opened a small store and, on December 27, 1774, died penniless and alone.

Back at Atsion, the new partnership flourished. David Ogden sold his share to Lawrence Saltar on April 2, 1773, and the remaining partners—Saltar, James, and Drinker—constructed a blast furnace at Atsion during 1774. This now made the Atsion works a direct competitor of Batsto, which John Cox Jr. had acquired from Read. Tensions ran high between the owners of the competing works as shown by several lawsuits that tied up the courts for years.

Saltar's Ditch, the canal that caused a 7 year long legal battle with the owners of Batsto. Photo courtesy of Guy Thompson.
Saltar’s Ditch, the canal that caused a protracted legal battle with the owners of Batsto. Photo courtesy of Guy Thompson.

Workers dug a canal between the Mechescatauxin Creek and the Atsion River to increase the head of water flowing over the dam to accommodate the forge and new furnace at Atsion. This canal became known as Saltar’s Ditch. When the furnace went out of blast during the winter, workers would open up the floodgates of the dam to lower the level of water in the lake so that ore could be raised. The resulting flow of water flooded the downstream bogs that supplied ore to Batsto, limiting the amount of iron that Batsto could recover preparatory for when their furnace went back into blast. A second suit was filed regarding timber rights for the charcoal hungry furnaces and the use of the Atsion river for transporting material to the furnaces.

The outbreak of the Revolutionary War proved to be an economic boon to many of the furnaces in the Pine Barrens as orders for iron products to support the military increased. The management at Atsion was at odds with what to do, however, since Henry Drinker—a Quaker—was a pacifist while the other partners expressed eagerness to profit from providing iron products for the troops. The partners reached a compromise:  the furnace was allowed to go out of blast while the forge continued to operate under Lawrence Saltar’s management. Atsion forge produced a number of evaporating pans for the Pennsylvania Salt Works in Toms River as well as a quantity of iron— the exact products unknown—for the Pennsylvania Navy.

Saltar died in 1783 and left his share of the works to his heirs. The following year, Abel James declared bankruptcy and sold his shares to Henry Drinker, giving him majority control of the works. Ten years later, a fire broke out, causing extensive damage to the furnace and stopping production until repairs could be completed. Drinker estimated that the losses would be at least £1,000. Disaster struck again when a scow laden with 26 tons of finished iron bound for Philadelphia sank somewhere in the Rancocas during a storm.

In 1805, the now 71-year-old Henry Drinker advertised the Atsion property for sale for £15,000 and asked £12,000 for his share. No purchasers stepped forward. He later auctioned the property at the Merchant Coffee House in Philadelphia. Jacob Downing, Henry Drinker’s son-in-law, proffered the winning bid. It is likely that Drinker either loaned him part of the money to buy the works or only collected a partial payment as Downing related in an agreement dated December 30, 1808:

“notwithstanding the whole of the “Atsion Estate” was conveyed to me… I claim one half of the said estate only, the other half remaining to be the property of Henry Drinker, the elder, and I hereby bind myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators… that whenever I shall be discharged from all responsibility regarding my endorsements… of certain notes negotiated at banks in this city [Philadelphia] and that I will execute a good and sufficient deed, vesting in the aforesaid Henry Drinker… the aforesaid one-half of the premises above described.”

For the next ten years Atsion prospered, but 1815 marked the beginning of trouble for Downing. The post office, established there in 1798, was moved to Sooy’s Inn in Washington, eight miles distant along the Tuckerton Stage road, indicating that the works were either closed or the amount of mail passing through had decreased. Two years later, Downing took out a mortgage on the “West Mills Tract” (southeast of Atsion) from the Bank of North America, but, in 1819, he defaulted on the loan. On July 10, 1822, Samuel Richards purchased the property from the bank. Downing borrowed more money and consequently fell further into debt. By 1823, the ironworks were completely deserted and Downing died within a year.  With Downing’s death, Samuel Richards obtained full ownership of the abandoned ironworks and its village.

A view of Quaker Bridge Road looking towards Atsion. Photo by the author.
A view of Quaker Bridge Road looking towards Atsion. Photo by the author.

John Fanning Watson, the noted antiquarian and historian of Philadelphia passed through the pines on his way to Long Beach Island. He recounts his visit to Atsion in his book, The Annals of Philadelphia:

Was much interested to see the formidable ruins of Atsion iron works… They looked as picturesque as the ruins of abbeys, etc., in pictures. There were dams, forges, furnaces, storehouses, a dozen houses and lots for the men, and the whole comprising a town; a place once overwhelming the ear with the din of unceasing ponderous hammers, or alarming the sight with fire and smoke, and smutty and sweating Vulcans. Now, all is hushed; no wheels turn, no fires blaze, the houses are unroofed, and the frames etc., have fallen down, and not a foot of the busy workmen is seen.

In the next installment, Samuel Richards will breathe new life to Atsion, rebuilding and expanding the works and marking a new era of prosperity to the town.