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From Historic Roadsides of New Jersey by The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New Jersey, 1928
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

CAPE MAY COUNTY

Cape May was discovered by Sir Henry Hudson in The Half Moon August 28, 1609. He entered Delaware Bay, subsequently called South Bay and anchored a few miles north of Cape May Point, spending a day in exploring the Cape. The original Indian Settlers were called Kechemeches. The Delaware River was called Whittuck and what is now New Jersey was Skaakbee or Sheyichbi. Tuckahoe appears to be the only Indian name surviving in the County.

Cape May County and Cape were named from Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, who, in 1621, was sent by the Dutch West India Company in the Good Tidings and explored the coast.

On May 5, 1630, Samuel Godyn and Samuel Blommaert, exploring for the Dutch West India Company, purchased of the Indians a tract of land extending four miles along the Bay from Cape May Point northward and four miles inland. The deed, recorded on June 3, 1631, is still preserved among the Colonial records of the State and is the first in the County.

In 1631 David Pieterson de Vries, an eminent Dutch navigator, became the first resident Patroon owner in Cape May where he engaged in whaling. In 1641, Cape May and nearly all the Bay Shore north of it, were purchased from the Indians by Swedish agents.

The first settlement of importance was at New England Town, also called Town Bank and Cape May Town, about 1685, by whalers from Cape Cod and Southampton, Long Island.

In a letter dated 1688, Dr. Coxe speaks of having helped to plant a town at an expense of three thousand pounds for the development of the whaling industry. This settlement, in addi tion to names given above, is referred to in the early records as Portsmouth and as Falmouth. The New England settlers brought old names with them and it is notable that one of the founders of New England Town was Captain Ezekial Eldridge, who came from Falmouth on Cape Cod.

The site of this village on the Bay Shore about four miles north of the Point, was washed away by the sea prior to the Revolution. Some of the settlers, notably Hannah Gorham Whillden, were children or grandchildren of certain Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth Colony. Their descendants, together with those of Joseph Whillden, Thomas Leaming, Humphrey Hughes, Cornelius Schellinger, Samuel Crowell, Thomas Hand, and Ezekial Eldridge, are still to be found in the County.

New England Town where the first County Court was held in 1693, was abandoned prior to the Revolution because of the cessation of the whaling industry and because of the more permanent settlement, which after 1690 grew up at Cape Island, the present Cape May City. On May 10, 1692, at the house of Benjamin Godfrey was held the first Town Meeting in the County, and the first County Court appears to have been held here June 16, 1694.

An interesting experiment was attempted by Dr. Daniel Coxe, who had been physician to the Queen of Charles II, and to Anne, subsequently Queen. He acquired proprietary rights in 1688 to 95,000 acres, the larger portion of the County, and built Coxehall as a centre for a proprietary or manorial system of government. This existed from 1690 to 1692, when Dr. Coxe broke up his holdings. The first map of the County based on survey, appears to have been made by Lewis Morris in 1706, and the first road giving land connections to the north, through the Cedar Swamps, was completed in 1707.

The County was first organized in 1692 and its limits definitely determined in 1710.

DENNISVILLE
On entering the County, on the south side of Dennis Creek, is Dennisville. Founded in 1726 by Anthony Ludlam.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE
Surveyed and laid out in 1703 by Jeremiah Hand. First called Rumney Marsh and afterward Middleton.

Points of interest:

  1. Site of first Court House and jail. Court first met in private houses and in First Baptist Church. In 1764, Daniel Hand, grandson of Shamgar Hand, one of the pioneer settlers, gave one acre as a site for a Court House and jail, which were built at the cost of three hundred pounds and continued in use until 1849, when it was re, placed by the present structure.
  2. First Baptist Church. Baptist Meetings were held at New England Town and at Coxehall prior to 1690. This de, nomination claims that its first religious meetings were held as early as 1675, disputing priority with Cold Spring Presbyterian Church. It is certain that a nucleus of Baptists associated with the Baptist Church in Philadelphia existed prior to the formal organizing of the present church in 1712.
    In 1741 a brick church was erected on the present site and was used until burned in 1854. The cemetery, which is adja, cent, contains the graves of many original pioneers and of their descendants. The most notable is the grave of Aaron Leaming, who died August 22, 1780, leaving an estate of one hundred and eighty-one thousand pounds. He had served his County thirty years in the Assembly and his diary, together with the diary of Jacob Spicer, is the chief source of Colonial information for the County.
EARLY FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE
On road from Court House to Seaville, just before reaching the latter place. Meeting organized about 1700 by the Leaming and Townsend families. Meeting House built in 1716 is well preserved.

COLD SPRING
Cold Spring Presbyterian Church about three miles northeast of Cape May City. A Presbyterian congregation which met at Coxehall was undoubtedly the nucleus of the Presbytery constituted in 1714. The church and locality was named after an icy cold spring near by. First church was a small log building erected in 1718. On July 2, 1723, the first Court in the County, of which records are preserved, was held in this church. The present structure dates from 1823.

The surrounding graveyard is the most interesting in the County. The oldest grave stone is that of Sarah Spicer, 1742, mother of Jacob Spicer, whose wealth, real estate speculations, and political activities are disclosed by an interesting extant diary. Joseph Whillden, died 1748, son of the pioneer of that name and a great grandson of John Howland, the Pilgrim of Plymouth, and his wife, Mary Whillden, 1743, are the next oldest graves.

The most famous ministers of this church were Reverend Daniel Lawrence (died 1766, and buried here), the Reverend Moses Williamson and Reverend Dr. Samuel Finley, who afterward became President of Princeton University. At Cold Spring was erected, in 1699, the earliest water mill in the County. It was owned by John Carman.

SCHELLINGER'S LANDING
On Sewell's Inlet at the northern edge of Cape May City. During the Revolutionary War a base for armed pilot boats and privateers, fitted out in part by Cape May citizens, for protection of shipping entering the Bay.

CAPE MAY CITY
Formerly known as Cape Island. The earliest bathing resort along the Atlantic Coast. Mentioned as such by John Bringhurst in a letter dated 1765 and by numerous advertisements in Philadelphia papers. After boat and rail connections were established with Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, it was the resort of the early Presidents of the United States and members of Congress. The early hotels at which they stopped have been replaced by modern structures. The name Congress Hall is reminiscent of Cape May's having been frequently the summer White House and congressional summer playground.

CAPE MAY POINT
Called Stites Beach until 1876 when the name was changed to Seagrove. Boston, New York and Philadelphia newspapers, between 1712,1748, refer to the land ing and depredations of various Spanish and French privateers at and near Cape May Point. Captain Kidd known to have landed here several times. Old tree known as Kidd's Tree stood near the light-house until about 1893. One of Kidd's landings here is mentioned in a report of the Lords of Trade to the Lords Justices under date of August 10, 1669.

LILLY LAKE
Cape May Point. During the Revolution to prevent use of its fresh water by the British for the supply of their ships, the patriots dug trenches connecting this lake with the Ocean, making it salt. Later the trenches were filled in and in time the water again became fresh.

SITE of COXEHALL
About four miles north of the Point of the Bay Shore Road. Seat of the first proprietary or manorial system of land holding. Built about 1690. The cellar of the old house is still to be seen and it is planned to mark this interesting site. The earliest meetings of Presbyterians and Baptists appear to have been held here.

Vicinity of NEW ENGLAND TOWN, or TOWN BANK, or CAPE MAY TOWN, or , or FALMOUTH (above referred to).
Built on a bluff overlooking Bay about a quarter of a mile north of Coxeliall. The first permanent inhabitants of the County came from Cape Cod and Long Island and settled and conducted their whaling, fishing, and fur industries here. The earliest known burial ground in the County was here. The settlement began before 1685 and continued for about thirty-five years. Due to the encroachment of the sea, the last traces of the first settlement were washed away by about 1750. (The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New Jersey plans to place an appropriate marker at the nearest adjacent point on the Bay Shore Road).

FISHING CREEK or NORBURY LANDING
Site about 1735 of second oldest mill in the County, a fulling mill for manufacture of homespun cloth. It was owned by Captain Richard Downs.

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