A Brief History of the City of Camden

Sheep employed by the City as grass cutters at the Victor King Park in East Camden. The curly horned gentleman in the inset is the Daddy of the Flock.

The year was 1927 and the future had hardly ever looked brighter for the City of Camden. Times were prosperous, business and industry were booming, and the city was full of recently constructed public buildings, civic improvements, schools, the new Delaware River bridge and its new highway to the suburbs. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed were in the unimagined future.

It was in these times that Camden prepare for its 100th anniversary, and in this spirit of optimism that the city fathers under the direction of Mayor Winfield S. Price commissioned the booklet whose text you will find below.

Read more about the first 100 years of Camden and more articles from the Centennial Mirror

Incorporated in 1828, the progress and possibilities of Camden have far exceeded the expectations of the Founders and Incorporators.

The year 1928 witnessed the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of Camden as a city.

But, the early history of the community dates back to 1631. Camden ante-dates her big neighbor across the Delaware, Philadelphia, when early historic lore is considered.

It was in 1631 that the Dutch Commander, De Vries, while sailing up the “De La Warr” River, discovered a verdant island at the spot where Camden now stands. This he named Jacques Eylandt, and the river afterward was named after Lord De La Warr, its discoverer, the Delaware.

Jacques Eylandt is described by early Dutch and Swedish historians as having been bounded on the West and North by the De La Warr, on the East by the Asorches (Indian name), also known to the Dutch as the Timmerkill and the Swedish as the Hiorte-Kilen, and on the South by Quinquorenning, as the Indians called it. This stream was named Graef Ernest by the Dutch. Today the Asorches is the Cooper River winding around the North and Easterly sections of Camden, and the Graef Ernest is Newton River on the Southerly limits of the city.

Jacques Eylandt was inhabited by the Maeroahkong Tribe of the Delaware Indians. These natives were left unmolested by the Swedish and Dutch explorers and it was not until 1681 that the first white settlers came to occupy that part of the island which to this day is called Cooper’s Point.

William Cooper, descendants of whose family take an active part in the affairs of the modern Camden, is generally accepted as having been the first of the whites to establish a settlement at Camden.

Reference is made in some historical reviews of Richard Arnold, but little is known definitely as to the exact date of his arrival.

William Cooper was an Englishman who came to the “New World” in 1679, making his home at what is now Burlington, a few miles above Camden. He soon moved to Jacques Eylandt where he settled at the point of land where the De La Warr and the Asorches met. This promontory he called Pyne Poynte because of the clump of pine trees which abutted out into the waters.” Many deer running about and sassafras trees and peach trees,” are mentioned in letters of the first Cooper written after he had settled in his new home.

Although the name Pyne Poynte had been given the land by Cooper, his prominence as the settlement grew and prospered, was such that his awn name soon attached itself to the place and the river emptying into the Delaware at the point. Today the name remains as the official designation of the stream and that parcel of land to this day is commonly called Pyne Poynt and Cooper’s Point.

Cooper was a Quaker who had fled to this country from the persecutions to which his sect was being subjected in England. Soon others fallowed and settled with Cooper, until the Friend’s Meeting at Burlington, in the early eighties, ordered that “Friends of Pyne Poynte have a meeting an every fourth day, to begin at the second hour, at the home of Richard Arnold.”

Thomas Sharp, early historian of the Friends, prepared a map of the Camden section in 1700 and this shows the home of Arnold to have been located just above the paint where Newton Creek enters the Delaware.

The meetings held at the Arnold home were the third to be organized in New Jersey. The first having been at Burlington and the second at Salem. These Camden meetings are continued to this day.

In 1682 an Irish group of Friends arrived at Newton Creek and this brought about a change in the place of meeting far the Friends. The change was recorded by the Historian Sharp as follows:

“Immediately there was a meeting sett up and kept at the house of Mark Newbie and in a short time it grew and increased, unto which William Cooper and family which live at the Poynte, resorted, and sometime the meeting was kept at his house, who had been settled there sometime before.”

The section of what now is Southern New Jersey carried great appeal to persons of other parts seeking new settlements, for early documents record the growth of various sections until the original Gloucester County was farmed in 1686. Included in the boundaries were Pennsauken, Red Bank, Woodbury, Arwames (now Gloucester City), Newton and Pyne Poynte.

The inhabitants of the territory drew up the boundaries of their county at a meeting in Arwames and framed a county government structure written in ten brief paragraphs.

These boundaries were recognized by the inhabitants of adjoining settlements and government carried on accordingly although it was not until 1694 that the New Jersey Legislature established the old Gloucester County by an Act. The boundaries as set by the people themselves were recognized in the legislation.

It was in 1689 that the first “gaole or logge house” was ordered built by the county court. Six years later this pioneer structure was ordered enlarged to became a prison sixteen by twenty feet with “a Court House over ye same of convenient heighth and largeness.”

Old records preserved from these early days show that forms of cruelty from which the early settlers had fled, were placed in effect by them when “sinners” were to be punished.

One of these old records tells of a man who had been found guilty of perjury and sentenced by a jury to pay twenty pounds fine or “stand in ye pillory for one hour.”

“To which ye bench assents and the prisoner choosing to’ stand in ye pillory they award and order the same to’ be in Gloucester an ye 12th day of April next between ye hours of ten in ye morning and four in ye afternoon.”

Records of later date show an order for the erecting of another means of cruelty.

“It is agreed by this meeting that a payer of substantial stacks be erected near the prison with a post at each end, well fixed, and fastened with a hand cuff iron att, one of them for a whipping past.”

In 1687 the first regular ferry between Camden and Philadelphia was requested of the court, as recorded in the following extract from the official minutes:

“It is proposed to ye Bench that a ferry is very needful and much wanted from Jersey to Philadelphia, and yet William Royden’s house is looked upon as a place convenient, and the said William Royden, a person suitable far that employ, and therefore an order desired from ye Bench that a ferry may be there fixed, and to which ye Bench assents and refer to ye grand jury to methodize ye same and fix ye rates thereof.”

This was not acted upon until a year later, when a license was issued to William Royden (for whom the present Royden Street was named), setting forth that “a common passage or ferry for man and beast be provided, fixed and settled in some convenient and proper place between ye mouths of Cooper’s Creek and Newton Creek,” within which limits “all other persons are desired and requested to keep no other common or public passage or ferry.”

The ferry charges as fixed by law at that time were 6d. for each person, and 12d. for man and horse or other beast, the only exceptions being swine, sheep and calves, which were charged for at 6d. each.

This original ferry line was purchased by William Cooper a few years later, and for more than a century afterwards Camden was known everywhere as Cooper’s Ferry.

Along about this time it was becoming apparent that the little ten-paragraph governmental structure drawn when Gloucester County first was formed, was not detailed enough to care for the intimate affairs of the growing settlements, with the result that in 1695, the grand jury, the courts and the General Assembly assented to formation of the Township of Newton. Under the Act of Assembly the new township was to extend from the “lowermost branch of Cooper’s Creek, to ye southerly branch of Newton Creek bounding Gloucester.” The easterly boundary of the township was not mentioned.

Meanwhile most of the settlers of Pyne Poynt continued to be relatives and friends of the Coopers. Sometimes new settlers, unrelated, came to make their homes with the small colony but became attracted to the larger settlement of Philadelphia across the Delaware and moved away.

John Kaighn and Archibald Mickle, who came from Ireland and who claimed the Isle of Man as his home, had arrived in Philadelphia to make their homes, but in 1696 they came to the Camden Settlement. Kaighn bought a tract of 455 acres in what now is South Camden and to this day the river front at the foot of Kaighn Avenue, one of Camden’s principal business streets, bears the name of Kaighn’s Point. Mickle also bought large acreage and like Kaighn and the Coopers built the connection with the affairs of the community which was to last until the present and probably will continue for all time.

This condition continued from the beginning of the eighteenth century until along about 1770.

In 1773, Jacob Cooper, a Philadelphia merchant and descendant of William Cooper, proved himself one of the first to see the possibilities for building a town to rank in importance with the growing settlement of Philadelphia. He employed a surveyor named Thompson and had him layout forty acres in what now is the center of the City of Camden.

It was Jacob Cooper who first bestowed the name on Camden, taking it after the popular Lord Camden of England, who had endeared himself to many by the fearless manner to which he stood for the rights of the people in the days of religious persecution.

In the original town thus created, only six north and south streets were plotted — King, Queen, Whitehall, Cherry, Cedar and Pine, with but three intersecting thoroughfares — Cooper, Market and Plum, the latter changed to Arch Street many years afterward. The north and south streets also were renamed in 1832, and since have been known as Front, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth.

At this time an event which was to develop the world’s greatest Republic halted the growth of the struggling little settlement of Camden.

Hatred of British rule was spreading and soon the War of the Revolution was in effect. Camden, like Philadelphia, was seized by the British and the business of war became the consuming business of the colonists.

General Abercrombie, the British commander, maintained headquarters along the riverfront in Camden and most of the town territory was enclosed in redoubts while Hessian and Scotch troops were quartered at various spots.

Over a period of two years Camden was a military stamping ground, harassed and overrun by the military. In 1777 a force of 2500 Hessians marched through the town on their way to the Battle of Red Bank, down the Delaware below Gloucester, and then they returned through Camden after they had suffered defeat at the hands of loyal colonists. These troops were in command of Captain Donop, who had crossed the Delaware from Philadelphia and landed at Cooper’s Point.

General “Mad” Anthony Wayne and Pulaski figured in two minor engagements which took place on Camden soil, and General George Washington on several occasions crossed the river to the Camden side. Benjamin Franklin, historians record, made a trip to the town and remained over night.

Then came the end of hostilities and Camden, like the rest of the ravaged country, went about its serious task of returning to the peaceful pursuits of business and self-government.

Jacob Cooper devoted himself to the task of building the town of Camden and to this end sought to attract home seekers.

He boomed the location in the advertising columns of the “Pennsylvania Chronicle” as having a “soil fitted for gardening and the raising of earlier fruits than Pennsylvania affords” and as having the advantage of being “near the city of Philadelphia for distilleries, breweries, lumber yards, stores and other offices.” Attention was also directed to the facilities it offered for “the diversion of fishing and fowling” and “the added pleasure of sailing on the water in summer.”

A later advertisement presented possibilities of profit in purchase of the plat, predicting that in a few years it might be “disposed of in lots to great advantage, in erecting a town, as it will suit many persons to reside there and carryon different occupations, as in Philadelphia.”

Two mayors of Philadelphia, Samuel Powel and Samuel Miles, and a score of other notables of the day were listed among the first purchasers. Probably most of them bought the lots as an investment and had no intention of residing in Camden, or, if they had, hesitated to build with the onset of the Revolution.

At any rate, Jacob Cooper lost interest in the town and in 1781, having disposed of 123 of the 167 lots, he sold the remainder to his nephew, William Cooper, son of his brother, Daniel.

The year 1803 saw the establishment of the first post office and the first regular school. Kaighn’s Point ferry started operating in 1809 and in 1812 the National State Bank started business.

The next addition to the town site came in 1803, when Joshua Cooper, another son of Daniel, laid out in lots the adjoining land to the south, extending to the north side of Federal street, between Front and Fifth streets, sometimes called Cooper’s Villa.

Further expansion came in 1820, when Edward Sharp, who had purchased a large tract from Joshua Cooper, subdivided that portion of it lying west of Fifth Street and between the south side of Federal street and an alley 150 feet south of Brideg Avenue, the latter now occupied by the Pennsylvania viaduct.

First purchasers in this section, known as Camden Village,” included Samuel Lanning, the first Mayor; Reuben Ludlam, the first city treasurer, and John D. Wessel, owner of the Federal Street Ferry.

In the meantime, about 1812, there had been some land subdivided at Kaighn’s Point, and in 1825 Richard Fetters placed on the market lots in a tract running from Line to Cherry Street, between Front and Fourth, which became popularly known as “Fettersville.”

All this development was to the south of the original town plat. North of Cooper Street all was farmland, save in the immediate vicinity of the Cooper’s Point Ferry.

Meanwhile the affairs of Newton Township were not progressing to suit the Camdenites. It seems that the seat of government was divided between Haddonfield and Camden and for a time this arrangement was satisfactory to both. But, Haddonfield had the numerical strength and soon became conscious of the fact. Camden felt slighted at its meager representation in the township governmental affairs. There also was a tendency to ignore Camden’s wants.

Probably it would have been content to remain a portion of the township for some years longer, had it not been for a special problem which constituted a growing nuisance.

Like the Gloucester of later years, the region about the ferries was given over to several popular beer gardens, a point of attraction for lawless elements which streamed across the river on Sundays seeking freedom from the restraints of the Philadelphia Sabbath.’ Township authorities being unwilling to provide better police protection, agitation for home rule began.

At a meeting in the hotel of Ebenezer Toole on November 13, 1826, a tentative charter was drawn up for presentation at Trenton. Ignored by the Legislature of 1827, the petition was renewed in the following year, with the result that the city was created, its bounds running from the Delaware along Little Newton Creek, or Line Ditch, to Broadway, to Newton Avenue, to Federal street, to Cooper’s Creek, and thence to the Delaware.

This charter, and an amendment passed fifteen days later, provided for the popular election of five Councilmen, one of whom was to represent “the village commonly called William Cooper’s Ferry (Cooper’s Point) and one shall always be a representative of Kaighnton (Kaighn’s Point).” Five aldermen were appointed by the Legislature, and while the Mayor was elected by Council, its choice was restricted to one among the aldermen.

Possibly this restricted form of self government accounted for lack of public interest, for at the first election, held on March 10, there were less than fifty votes cast. The successful Councilmanic candidates were: James Duer, Cooper’s Ferry; John Lawrence, Ebenezer Toole and Richard Fetters, Camden, and Joseph Kaighn, Kaighn’s Point.

Lack of interest among the voters was duplicated in the attitude of their elected representatives. Duer, the village shoemaker, refused to serve; Joseph Kaighn never put in an appearance, and according to tradition it took Fetters and Lawrence the greater part of the night preceding the first scheduled meeting of Council to induce Toole to attend, although he had been one of the petitioners for the charter.

With a quorum thus obtained, Council met on March 13th at the hotel kept by John M. Johnson on the site of the old Vauxhall Gardens, west side of Fourth Street, below Market, and elected Samuel Laning as the first Mayor.

The second meeting of the City Council, on March 20th, was held in a second story room of a frame house owned by Richard Fetters on the east side of Third Street, below Market, which was subsequently rented for Twelve Dollars a year.

At this meeting Reuben Ludlam was elected City Treasurer, his salary being fixed at two and a half per cent of monies received from taxes and loans and five per cent of the Ordinary receipts. His compensation for the first year reached $87.50, due to a private loan of $2,500 for the construction of the first City Hall, which was considered entirely too much and the percentage was thereupon cut to one per cent. Under this scale, his successor, Isaac Smith, received $6.75 for a year’s work.

During the first twelve years of its existence as a city, Camden trebled its population, the Census of 1840 recording 3,371 inhabitants.

The next decade witnessed almost like growth, the figures reaching 9,479, due largely to the successful fight for the creation of Camden County and the subsequent maneuvers by which Camden became the county seat.

An idea of the built-up section of the city in 1850 may be gained by a glance at the “Lamp or Watch District” which the City Council established at that time. Beginning at the foot of Cooper Street, it ran easterly to Sixth Street, to Federal, to Broadway, to Kaighn Avenue, to Front, to Mechanic, to the Delaware River.

A check to this phenomenally rapid pace in the next decade is partly attributable to the tragic burning of the ferryboat “New Jersey,” with a loss of sixty lives, on March 15, 1856. Still a gain of 5,000 was registered, which was duplicated between 1860 and 1870, despite the dampening effect of the Civil War.

In 1871 the city bounds were extended north and west to Newton Creek, and its North Branch, Mount Ephraim turnpike, Ferry Avenue and an extension of the same to Cooper’s Creek. Despite the fact that this outlying territory was then but sparsely settled, the population doubled in the ten years preceding 1880, when it reached a mark of 41,659.

Seventeen thousand were added in the next ten years, and the 1900 Census showed like increase, though a part of the latter gain was due to the annexation, 111 1899, of the Town of Stockton, comprising the present Eleventh and Twelfth Wards, north of Cooper’s Creek, and including the sections known as Pavonia, Cramer Hill, Dudley and Rosedale.

The Twentieth Century opened what may be called the modern industrial epoch of Camden, with the rapid growth of such giant concerns as Victor, Campbell, the New York Shipyard, now the Brown-Boveri Corporation, and a host of other manufacturing plants that dot the skyline of the Delaware margin.

The first quarter of the new century added 50,000 to Camden’s population and brought within its limits war-born Yorkship Village. With the impetus imparted by the opening of the Delaware River Bridge and the growing appreciation of the benefits of scientific planning, Camden is building bigger and always better, its citizens ever mindful of the debt they owe to the Coopers, Kaighns, Mickles, and other pioneers who laid the foundations of the Camden of which Camdenites are proud.

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