by Howard M. Cooper
A revision and amplification of a paper read before the Camden County Historical Society, June 13, 1899.
With an Introduction by Honorable Charles Van Dyke Joline
Camden, N.J. Horace B. Ketler, 1909
If one were to seek the genesis of Camden he would not find it in the visit of the sturdy Dutchman, DeVries, nor of any explorer who followed, nor in the voyages of those in search of a land where they might increase their worldly possessions, but rather would he find it in the souls devoted to principle, and primed with courage never to yield; in a quiet contest for right and equality, which knew no submission.
In one of his stories Robert Louis Stevenson tells of a rider issuing from a forest upon the high road and gazing upon it as it runs down hill before him, joining road after road, skirting the sea and passing through city after city to the farthest end of Europe. May we nit picture some such person, some one denied that which he conceived to be right and determined to seek a refuge elsewhere, looking upon the high road, and meditating upon where it will lead him. As it reaches from him it skirts the seashore, and suddenly melts away and is lost to sight, for it has taken its course across the “deep, dark, blue ocean” leading to s spot upon the banks of the Delaware, and there ending in the founding of a home in another clime and upon alien soil..
Thus it was that William Cooper, leaving his native land and tarrying for nearly a year at Burlington, came to Camden about 1680, where he built a home at Pyne Point.
Ruskin asserts that ” all the pure and noble arts of peace are founded on war,” and that “it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of man.” This may or may not be true, but it may fairly be said that all great results proceed from contest and struggle, not of deeds of arms, but for the maintenance of rights, may we trace the beginnings of our city. Though this be true, still its inception was as peaceful as is the bosom of the river which flows past its door.
At this point I am tempted, in a few bold strokes, to tell of the evolution of the wilderness into a city, of the felling of primeval forest, of the growth of roads and streets from little pathways, of the founding of new homes, the advent of new faces, and of the innumerable things which gradually but surely alter the face of the land, but were I to attempt it I fear that the good people who have the courage to read this introduction would accuse me of theft of an idea from Hawthorne’s charming story “Main Street”, of the facts from Mr. Cooper’s delightful and instructive sketch.
A descendant of the William Cooper above referred to, Mr. Howard M. Cooper, has given to the citizens of Camden a work of great value, for in it he has recorded many facts known to few besides himself and it suggests the following thought: We now have daily papers giving the current life of our city, but there is much that rests alone in he memory of our citizens that should be saved for the future historian. It surely would be of value for such a depository to be established in one of our public libraries. Encouragement should then be given to our citizens to reduce to writing their recollections of past and present events, and being safely kept where access could be had to them at all times, who can tell but that they might be an inspiration to some one in the future to continue the labor of love and affection so admirably begun by Mr. Cooper.
Honorable Charles Van Dyke Joline – January 22, 1909
In 1618 Lord De La Warr, sailing along the Atlantic coast on his return to Virginia from England, died at sea opposite the mouth of “a goodly and noble river,” which, as a perpetual monument to his memory, forever indicating the place of his death, was thence called the Delaware. Sailing up his wide river in 1631, noting the creeks and estuaries emptying into it, the Dutch commander, De Vries, discovered about one hundred miles from its mouth, on the eastern shore, a large thickly wooded island, which he called Jacques Eylandt. The Swedes, coming some seven or eight years after, observing the same isle,, with much better taste called it by its Indian name, Aquikanasra, an island destined to be, a century and a half later, the site of the town of Camden. By the concurrent testimony of the early Dutch and Swedish writers it was bounded on the west and north by the Delaware; on the east by what the Indians called the Asoroches River, the Dutch the Timmerkill, the Swedes the Hiorte-Kilen- our Cooper’s Creek; and on the south by the Quinbquorenning of the Indians, the Graef Ernest of the Dutch- our Newton Creek.
Whether these early historians were absolutely correct in their geography or not, it will not seem impossible that the waters of Cooper’s Creek once had an outlet into Newton Creek to anyone who will carefully observe the topography of the Haddonfield turnpike (Haddon Avenue) about where the White Horse road branches off, and note on the one hand the ravine across Harleigh Cemetery, that, even now (1909), when its upper end has been filled for a roadway, puts up almost to the turnpike, and a little beyond, on the other hand, winding through the lowland skirting the road, the small rivulet that is the head of the north branch of the Newton Creek. Seeing this, and recollecting how universally the cutting of the forests lessens the rainfall and diminishes the streams, the observer will hesitate before accusing the early Dutch and Swedish discoverers of anticipating Munchausen.
Though they explored, neither the Dutch nor the Swedes settled here where the Maeroahkong tribe of the Delaware Indians lived, as their fathers had before them, undisturbed by the fact that across the great water an humble shepherd, aroused by the light within him to God’s call, was preaching the absolute equality of man, and the entire peaceableness of God’s kingdom, and was drawing down upon himself and upon those whose consciences, awakened by his calls, were in numbers joining him, the oppression and the ire of those who profited by caste and lived by the sword. Until persecution in England drove the Friends to West Jersey for asylum, these Indians, under Arasapha, their king, with their village at Cooper’s Point, were the only inhabitants within our limits.
Who first of the English emigrants made the future Camden his home is uncertain, but it was probably Richard Arnold or William Cooper. Few traces remain of Richard Arnold, who seems to have left no descendants in these parts. William Cooper, ancestor of many families that still cluster about his choice of a home, came from England in 1679 and stopped for about a year at Burlington, before he chose his permanent residence. Passing up and down the Delaware, the bold bluff, heavily wooded with pine timber at the point where the river, sharply curving, receives the stream called by the Swedes the Hiorte-Kilen, or Deer Creek, from the many deer seen along its banks, and along which grew “peach trees and the sweet smelling sassafras tree,” striking his fancy, he fixed upon it as his future abode, and called it “Pyne Poynt.” His name, however, so attached itself permanently to both point and creek. He located at Cooper’s Point in the spring of 1681, building his house well out on the river’s edge, just below the mouth of the creek, a site long years ago washed away by the encroaching tide.
Recognizing the brotherhood of the Indians and their right to the soil that they and their fathers hunted over and possessed undisputed, the commissioners sent over by the proprietors of West Jersey bought of them their right from Oldman’s Creek to Assumpink, securing their title by three deeds, the earliest of which, dated September 10, 1677, covered Camden’s territory, and extended from Timber to Rancocas Creek. William Cooper, further to satisfy the tribe at Cooper’s Point, paid the for the right they still claimed, and received from them a deed executed by Tallacca, their chief, and witnessed by several of their tribe. Returning the red man’s trust with honesty and fair dealing, Camden’s early settlers found them always friends, and no tales of Indian massacre blot her history.
Thus was commenced, at the very outset, that never-varying policy of justness in all her dealings with the Indians that has given to our fair State such enviable and exceptional fame, enabling Samuel L. Southard eloquently to say:
“It is a proud fact in the history of New Jersey, that every part of her soil has been obtained from the Indians by fair and voluntary purchase and transfer, a fact that no other State in the Union, not even the land that bears the name of Penn, can boast of.”
Before the settlement of our overshadowing neighbor of Brotherly Love, a few other scattered Friends, following William Cooper, began to locate in the neighborhood of his home; and as they had braved the perils of the ocean and of the wilderness, and tore themselves away from all ties of home, kindred and early associations, for the boon of worshipping God in the way that to them seemed right, they immediately, though but two or three gathered in his name, opened a meeting for His worship, the first record of which is in this minute of the Monthly Meeting held at Thomas Gardiner’s house, Burlington, Seventh month (September) 5th, 1681: “Ordered that Friends of Pyne Poynte have a meeting on every Fourth day, and to begin at the second hour, at Richard Arnold’s house.” Arnold’s house stood, as shown on Thomas Sharp’s map of A.D. 1700, a short distance above the mouth of Newton Creek, and thus, within its log walls, at the very beginning of the settlement, was the first of Camden’s ever widening circle of churches established. It was the only “meeting” between Salem and Burlington, and the third in priority in West Jersey, and has been kept up by friends without a lapse from that tine to the present.
Shortly afterward the meeting was held at Pyne Poynte, at the house of William Cooper, a minister, and continued there until the arrival of the “Irish Friends,” who settled at Newton in the spring of 1682, when, as Thomas Sharp, their historian, quaintly says,
“Immediately there was a meeting set up and kept at the house of Mark Newbie, and in a short time it grew and increased, unto which William Cooper and family, that live at the Poynte, resorted, and sometimes the meeting was kept at his house, who had been settled sometime before.”
But as the Newton Friends were much more numerous than the few scattered families about the Poynte, it was more convenient to moist of the members for the place of worship to be located at their settlement; and in 1684 the first building devoted to religious meetings in Gloucester County was built on the middle branch of Newton Creek, at what is now West Collingswood Station, on the Reading Railroad to Atlantic City. It, and the graveyard by its side, were place on the bank of the stream, the only available highway in those days of roadless forests, when water bore alike the halcyon voyages of youth, the grave worshippers and the solemn funeral train.
By 1686 quite a number of emigrants had arrived in this part of West Jersey and settled about Red Bank, Woodbury, Arwames or Gloucester, Newton, and the Poynte, and felt strongly the inconvenience of having to go all the way to Salem or Burlington to transact their public business. Accordingly, on the 26th of May, 1686, the proprietors, freeholders, and inhabitants of the “Third and Four Tenths,” that is, the territory between Pennsauken and Oldman’s Creek, acting in the spirit of pure democracy, met at Arwames and formed that quaintly curious frame of county government, having only ten short paragraphs, that is still preserved in the original book of minutes, in the Clerk’s office of Gloucester county, at Woodbury.
“This was the origin of Old Gloucester, the only county in New Jersey that can deduce its existence from a direct sand positive compact between her inhabitants” – Mickle’s Reminiscences.
The action of the people in thus forming heir county organization, without any authority of the legislature, was, after having been indirectly recognized in one or two other laws, directly sanctioned in 1694, by an act of the Legislature, establishing the boundaries that they had chosen for themselves chosen and adopting their title of the County of Gloucester.
The courts of the county so organized met for ten years in taverns or in private houses, sometimes at Red Bank and sometimes at Arwames. At the latter place, on December 2, 1689, they ordered “a goale or logg house for the securing of prisoners,” to be built. On June 1st, 1696 they ordered “a prison twenty foot long and sixteen wide, of a sufficient heighth and strength made of loggs to be erected at Gloucester- with a Court House over ye same of convenient heighth and largeness.”; the first of the series of court houses that has culminated in Camden’s noble one of today.
A vivid reminder that the barbarous criminal punishments of England of the seventeenth century were no left behind them by the emigrants to New Jersey is found in the minutes of that Court, of March 1st, 1691, that a man was found guilty of perjury and sentenced by the jury “to pay twenty pounds fine or stand in ye pillory for one hour. To which ye bench assents, and ye prisoner chusing to stand in ye pillory they award and order the same to be in Gloucester on ye twelfth day of April next, between ye hours of ten in ye morning and four in ye afternoon.” Equally striking is the minutes of a little later date that, “It is agreed by this meeting that a payor of substantial stocks 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 post.“
The necessity of a regular ferry to Philadelphia being very soon felt by the settlers, they applied to their new Court, at Gloucester, to license one, which on the first day of first Month (March) 1687, it did, as appears by this minute: “It is proposed to ye Bench that a ferry is very needful and much wanted from Jersey top Philadelphia and that William Royden’s house is looked upon as a place convenient, and the said William Royden, a person suitable for that employ, and therefore an order desired form ye bench that a ferry may be there fixed, &c., to which ye Bench assents and refer to ye grand jury to methodize ye same and fix ye rates thereof.” This they proceeded to do in a very leisurely manner, for not until one month afterwards, on the first day of the First month, 1688, did they issue their license to William Royden and his assigns, permitting and appointing “that a common passage or ferry for man and beast be provided, fixed, and settled in some convenient and proper place between ye mouths or entrances 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 license also fixed the ferriage at not more than 6d. per head, for each person, and 12d. for man and horse or other beast, except swine calves and sheep, :which shall pay only six pence per head and no more.”
Thus was established the original of our present ample ferry facilities. It was located near the foot of Cooper Street, its boats being open flat-boats propelled by oars or sails. A few years afterwards it was purchased by William Cooper, and for more than one hundred years thereafter Camden was everywhere known as Cooper’s Ferries. Today our Royden Street perpetuates the memory of Camden’s first ferryman.
Cooper’s Creek was much to great a river to ford, so that Samuel Spicer, who lived on its east side, near its mouth, established a ferry across it, at what is now Federal Street, that was maintained until the year 1747, when the first bridge was erected. Thus, with ferries across the island of Aquikanasra, its inhabitants were in full touch with their neighbors. From that island today, five steam ferries cross the Delaware to Philadelphia and four bridges span Cooper’s Creek. Who can say that the much-talked-of tunnel under the Delaware may not soon more closely unite the twin cities on its shores.
The establishment of the county only supplied a part of the necessary political machinery, and so on the first day of June, 1695, the Grand jury, with the assent of the bench, and in accordance with an act of the then last Assembly, constituted the constablewick or township of Newton to extend from “the lowermost branch of Cooper’s Creek to ye southerly branch of Newton Creek bounding Gloucester,” but fixing no bounds to the east. With their local government thus completed, the people in these parts remained content for one hundred and thirty three years. Thus was created old Newton Township, which, after having its fairest portion cut off in the creation of Haddon Township, was finally, after a life of one hundred and seventy-six years, swallowed up by its own progeny and obliterated from the map in 1871, when Camden’s revised charter was obtained.
Robert Turner, an Irish Friend, residing in Philadelphia, owned large estates in Pennsylvania and East and West Jersey, among which were some large tracts of land within the present limits of Camden. In 1696 he sold to John Kaighin four hundred and fifty five acres, and the next year five hundred and ten acres, lower down the river, to Archibald Mickle. John Kaighin came originally from the Isle of Man and Archibald Mickle from Ireland. Both settled for a short time in Philadelphia, but each moved to Jersey on making these purchases. John Kaighin chose for the site of his house the Point that bears his name to this day, and shortly afterwards built, with bricks brought from England, a substantial house, modeled after an English farm house which, standing at the southeast corner of Second and Sycamore streets, but so greatly enlarged and changed as to have lost all its original appearance, and now numbered 1128 and 1130 South Second Street, is probably the oldest house in Camden. Its site on the river bank, its front yard extending to the water’s edge, was a beautiful one, with its unobstructed view of the Point up and down the broad Delaware. Elizabeth Haddon, a good friend of John Kaighin, about the year 1704, on her return from one of her visits to her old English home, brought with her some box and yew trees and gave two of each to him, who planted them in front of his house, where they lived and grew for nearly two hundred years, landmarks of Kaighn’s Point. The last of the box trees was blown over during a great storm, on February 2, 1876. The yew trees lived until the winter of 1898-1899 when they died, but one of them yet stands at the corner of the two streets. At Haddonfield, in the yard of Samuel Wood, near his dwelling, which stands on the site of Elizabeth Haddon’s home, yet live yew and box trees which she brought to America with those she gave to John Kaighin.
William Cooper, John Kaighin, and Archibald Mickle soon became prominent men, and their descendants gradually increased their possessions until they owned all the land within the limits of our city before its absorption of the town of Stockton. The Cooper’s land, extending southward to Line Street, so-called because it marked the line between them and the Kaighins; the Kaighins’ land extending southward from Line Street to Little Newton Creek, popularly known as the Line Ditch, because it was the boundary between them and the Mickles’ land extending southward from Line Ditch to Newton Creek, and every title in Camden today, between Cooper’s Creek and the Delaware, can be traced back to a Mickle, A Kaighin, or a Cooper.
At the opening of the Eighteenth century the smoke curling from less than a dozen clearings by the water’s edge pointed out the forerunners more than two centuries ago of our present expanding town. A score of years of hard work had passed since they had landed; they had gathered about them some few of the comforts they had left behind across the seas; they had “sett upp” the meeting for free worship of God that caused them to leave friends and relations and “transport themselves and familys into this wilderness part of America”; they had established ferry communication with their friends across Delaware River and Cooper’s Creek; they had settled their free form of local civil government, and, having recognized the right of the aborigines to the soil and treated them as its owners, they were living in most harmonious relations with them, and, gradually increasing their clearings, they were quietly prospering. Their growth was only the steady increase of an industrious population. For, after the arrival of the Irish Friends at Newton, there was no great influx of emigrants to this part of West Jersey, Philadelphia attracting the greater part of the newcomers. Occasionally a family would move across the river, but down to the time of the Revolution the population was mainly the descendants of those who were swept here on that swell of migration caused by religious persecution in England in the Seventeenth century, so that when the Declaration if Independence had been made, while Philadelphia was the first town in the colonies, our territory was yet largely woodland, dotted by a few farm houses and intersected by but one or two roads.
However, in 1773, Jacob Cooper, a merchant living in Philadelphia, and a lineal descendant of the first William Cooper, foreseeing the future town, employed Thompson, a Philadelphia surveyor, to lay out forty acres into a town plot. A Whig, sympathizing with his fellow Whigs in their struggle to obtain from their mother country that representation which they claimed should ever accompanying taxation, and venerating those Englishmen who, believing in the justness of this demand of the colonies, had the courage to openly avow their belief, Jacob Cooper named his new town Camden, in honor of that great English judge, that wise English statesman, that powerful champion of constitutional liberty and firm advocate of fair dealing with the colonies, who has been called the right arm of Lord Chatham, Charles Pratt, first Earl of Camden, who so endeared himself to our countrymen that twenty-one towns in the United States today bear his name. In the infant town thus christened only six streets ran north and south- King, Queen, Whitehall, Cherry, Cedar, and Pine, intersected at right angles at the Delaware side by Cooper and Market Streets only, but on the eastern side by Plum Street also.
With that same admixture of loyalty and defiance so marked in almost all the earlier steps taken by our Revolutionary forefathers, while naming his town after one of the foremost champions of the American cause in England, Jacob Cooper honored his King and Queen in the naming of his streets, and through all the bitter feeling engendered by our two struggles with the mother country his nomenclature remained unchanged, It was not until May 24th, 1832, that adopting a new system, by ordinance of Council, King, Queen, Whitehall, Cherry, Cedar, and Pine became Front, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Streets. But it was left until the days of pretentious change that, in the very mockery of old associations, on Camden’s one hundredth anniversary, time-honored Plum was dropped for meaningless Arch.
Almost immediately after Camden was planned the Revolution broke out and the struggle for independence and existence as a free people absorbing all other energies, scarcely a thing was done to promote the growth of this little town whose birth was so unheralded.
During the whole of the occupation of Philadelphia by the British, Cooper’s Point was held by them as an outpost, General Abercrombie having his headquarters in the old gambrel-roofed farm house, still standing at the head of Point Street, with the stone in which is cut the date of its erection, 1734, still in place in its gable end, while an English and several Scotch and Hessian regiments were quartered at the old ferry house, at the foot of Cooper Street, torn down in 1882. The British lines extended along the river from Cooper’s Point down nearly to Market Street; thence up to Sixth Street; thence diagonally about northeast to Cooper’s Creek, portions of their redoubts remaining for many years afterwards.
The Hessian’s, under Count Donop, two thousand five hundred strong, crossed at Cooper’s Point late in the afternoon of the 21st of October, 1777, on their way to the battle of Red Bank, and the straggling survivors, after their defeat, returned to Philadelphia the same way. Marching to the battle by way of Haddonfield and Clement’s Bridge, in order to cross the creeks, the Americans having destroyed the bridges lower down the stream to obstruct such an attack, the Hessians, thirsty, stopped to get a drink at the brick farmhouse of Joseph Mickle, that stood until torn down in April, 1908, on Mickle Hill, east of Mount Ephraim Avenue, between Everett and Thurman streets, near the standpipe. Unable to pump water they vented their displeasure in unintelligible Dutch, until Joseph Mickle’s wife came to the pump and by the simple, familiar device of pouring water down it caused its buckets to draw water. Their thirst quenched, the Hessians, without damage to Joseph Mickle’s premises, marched on to their crushing defeat.
Lying directly opposite Philadelphia, Camden’s territory was constantly overrun, and its farming population harassed and alarmed by detached parties of the British soldiery skirmishing and foraging, taking what they wished. When the British fleet arrived at Philadelphia, their men-of-war anchored on the Philadelphia side, while their convoys and tenders, numbering about one hundred, filled the Jersey channel, and cannon balls from their guns are preserved today, as valued relics, by the descendants of those along our shores, whom the wanton firing greatly alarmed if it did not much damage.
Although Camden is not distinguished as one of the battlefields of the Revolution, yet the ground on which the non-resisting followers of Fox have placed their humble meetinghouse was twice the scene of warlike maneuvers. In the early part of 1778, General Anthony Wayne, being sent with a body of soldiers into the lower counties of our State to collect horses ands cattle for the American Army, with his usual force and bold aggressiveness soon made the enemy everywhere dread his onslaught; and Colonel Stirling, with a regiment of the Queen’s Rangers, one of the best in the service, was sent to Haddonfield to watch him. Hearing that he had left Mount Holly to attack them, the British, fully believing discretion to be the better part of valor when “Mad Anthony” was about, hastily retreated, never stopping until they reached, late at night, the shelter of their earthworks at Cooper’s Point, although “the night was uncommonly severe and a cold sleet fell the whole way from Haddonfield to the ferry.” Wayne pursued them with his usual impetuosity. The next morning, march 1st, 1778, the enemy sent out fifty picked men for same remaining forage three or four miles up the Haddonfield road, who were met by Wayne’s advancing cavalry and forced to retreat. The Americans dashed on to the very lines of the British, drawn up between Sixth and Market Streets and Cooper’s Creek Bridge. A sharp and spirited skirmish ensued, heavy firing being kept up by the British, from about where the Friends meetinghouse now stands, on the main body of Americans, stationed in the woods along the Haddonfield road, which then intersected Market Street at Broadway, where the Catholic church now is. The BrItish, outnumbering the Americans ten to one, compelled them to retire to the woods, but without the loss of a man, although the British had several wounded and one sergeant of grenadiers killed. As the patriots retired, an officer reined up his steed and, “facing the Rangers as they dashed on, slowly waved his swords for his attendants to retreat. The English Light Infantry came within fifty yards of him, when one of them called out, ‘You are a brave fellow, but you must go away.’ The undaunted officer, paying no attention to the warning, one McGill, afterwards a quartermaster, was ordered to fire at him. He did so, and wounded the horse, but the rider was unscathed, and so joined his comrades in the woods a little way off.” This daring officer was the Count Pulaski.
Soon afterwards, in the same month, Pulaski, whilst reconnoitering with a body of horsemen, almost under the fortifications of the British, was only saved from ambush, arranged by Colonel Shaw, on both sides of old Cooper Street, near the Friends meetinghouse, by William West, a patriot, apprised of the danger, who, seeing him riding down the road some distance ahead of his men, leading them into the trap, waved to him to retreat. Taking the hint, Pulaski at once wheeled his men and the ambuscade failed. Not so fortunate, however, was a party of militia that the British surprised about this time, at Cooper’s Creek bridge, many, after a sharp fight, being killed and the rest taken prisoners. Soon afterwards the enemy evacuated Philadelphia, the scene of hostilities shifted, and our immediate neighborhood had little further annoyance from the Red-coats.
In June, 1777, the Trustees of Princeton College met at Cooper’s ferry, where they formally admitted the graduating class of 1776 to their Bachelor’s degree, as of the Commencement in September of that year, a quorum of the Board not having been the present. The announcement of their meeting in Camden, said to have been the only one held outside of Princeton under the stress of war, was made by President Witherspoon in the New Jersey Gazette of September 16th, 1778. Nassau hall was occupied by the British as a barrack prior to January 3rd, 1777, when Washington won the battle of Princeton, and afterwards was used as a hospital and a barrack by the Americans, which may account for the meeting of the College Trustees at Cooper’s ferry.
Long before the Revolution, Franklin spent a night within our present Camden, of which he tells in his famous autobiography. In October, 1723, being a boy of but seventeen, and on his way to Philadelphia to seek employment as a printer, he came across a boat at Burlington. In the evening going to Philadelphia and went aboard it. There being no wind, all, Franklin included, were forced to row the whole way. About midnight, fearing that they had passed the unlighted town, they put ashore, and, building a fire of fence rails, stayed until morning, when they found they were in the mouth of Cooper’s Creek, “a little above Philadelphia”, where they arrived “about eight or nine o’clock on the Sunday morning and landed at the Market Street wharf.” Up which street, having brought “three great puffy rolls,” he walked in his working clothes, “with a roll under each arm and eating the other,” passing his future wife standing in the doorway of her father’s house, who thought that he made “a most awkward, ridiculous appearance,” which, he says, “I certainly did.”
Washington, while President, at times crossed the Delaware to ride out the road from Cooper’s Ferry. He last did so early In 1797, when he nearly frightened out of his wits a Dutchman, a Hessian deserter at the battle of Trenton, who said to him, “I tink I has seen your face before; vat ish your name?” the President reining in his horse and bowing said, “My name is George Washington.” The Dutchman, thunderstruck, cried out, “Oh, mine Gott, I vish I vos under te ice. I vish I was under te ice. Oh, mine Gott.” Washington reassured him and smilingly rode on.
Had Camden the choice of four great Revolutionary names to be associated with her history she could hardly have done better than Washington, Franklin, Wayne and Pulaski.
During the British occupancy of Philadelphia one of their cannon balls pierced the brick wall of the chimney of Joseph Kaighin’s farmhouse, which stood at the southeast corner of Front Street and Kaighn Avenue, and rolled out on the hearth of the open fireplace. As a relic connecting Camden’s history with the sterling men and stirring events of the Revolution it was exhibited at the great Sanitary Fair, held in Logan Square In Philadelphia, in 1864, which realized over $ 1,000,000, in aid of the sick and wounded United States soldiers of the War of the Rebellion.
Paul Jones’ famous warship, Alliance, launched just before the making of the treaty by which France became our ally in the Revolutionary War and named in honor of what event, was laid up shortly after the close of that war, on the east side of Petty’s Island, near its southern end, where her remains yet were when Isaac Mickle published, in 1845, his valuable “Reminiscences of Old Gloucester.” Barber and Howe, in their New Jersey Historical Collections, tell the following anecdote in the career of the Alliance: “in an encounter with a British vessel, a shot entered the corner of the Alliance’s counter, and made its way into a locker, where kept. An African servant of Commodore Barry, a great favorite, ran up to the quarter deck, and called out, ‘Massa dat–Ingresse man broke all de chana!’ ‘You rascal,’ said the Commodore, ‘why did you not stop the ball?’ “Sha, massa, cannonball must hab a room.’”
“How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix,” the lovers of Robert Browning know. How they brought the good news from Ghent to America, of the signing at that town, on December 24th, 1814, of the treaty of peace, ending the war of 1812, the Americans first knew when the British sloop-of-war, Favorite, on February 11th, 1815, cast anchor in New York harbor, the glad tidings being confirmed two weeks later, when the schooner Transit brought the copy of the treaty. Afterwards the Transit, her sea-going days over, was laid up on the northern end of the now removed Windmill Island, opposite Chestnut street, Philadelphia, with her stern toward the river, and on it painted the name “messenger of Peace,” remaining there as a pleasure house, Mickle says, until within a few years of his publication of his reminiscences of Old Gloucester.”
Evidence of the growth of a pine forest over much of Camden’s territory, later, by over a century, than the name Pyne Poynte, is furnished by Hill’s “Map of Ten Miles Around Philadelphia,” published in 1809, whereon all the territory between Broadway and Cooper’s Creek and Federal and line streets I marked “R.M. Cooper’s Pine Field, 300 acres.” Near the center of that field in early days was a lake much frequented by wild geese and ducks which, surrounded by the pine forest, is shown in an oil painting of it by a Philadelphia artist, as a picturesque body of water. So late as 1845, there were, according to Mickle, those remembered when it contained several feet of water throughout the year. The cutting down of the trees surrounding the lake and the general clearing of the land along Cooper’s Creek and Delaware River lowered their waters, causing at that in the lake to be drained.
Of the oak forest that thickly covered the ground between Market and Main and sixth and Eighth streets, quite a number of trees yet remain. They owe their preservation largely to the fact that in them was established and kept for many years Diamond Cottage Garden, the last of the numerous public pleasure gardens that formerly scattered over Camden. The cottage, with its diamond-paned windows, stood partly across the south sidewalk of Penn street below Seventh street and was torn down in 1891. Several years before that the grounds had bee abandoned as a public garden, but the trees were allowed to stand and their cool shade was freely enjoyed by the public and the place was popularly known as Diamond Cottage Park. The New Jersey State Agricultural Society held its fair has been held in Camden.
The large elm tree standing in Cooper Park, just north of the Public Library, has a history. Richard M. Cooper, who lived in the house, had in his household a child’s nurse whose family lived in Kensington, Philadelphia, near the Treaty Elm. Once on her return from a visit to them she brought with her a young sucker from that tree and planted it in his yard. It grew and flourished, and is the sucker from it is growing on the sidewalk on the north side of Penn street, just below Seventh street. So, Camden has living today both a child and a grandchild of the Penn Treaty elm.
For many years after the Revolution, Camden was a town only in name, and that only on paper, being called Cooper’s Ferries, or simply The Ferries, until after the beginning of this century. A few sales of lots had been made and a few houses began to cluster about the ferries, and a road or two more had been opened, but all else was farm or woodland.
When the Nineteenth century opened not a house of worship stood within the present limits of Camden. In 1801, however, the Friends, having decided to move their place of meeting from their old house on Newton Creek to more central locality, built the brick meeting-house that stands at the corner of Mount Ephraim avenue and Mount Vernon street, the forerunner of Camden’s present ninety churches; and next, in 1810, the Methodists dedicated their first church at the northwest corner of Fourth and Federal Street, long since converted into stores, followed, in 1818, by the First Baptist Church, on Fourth street, and thereafter the churches kept pace with Camden’s growth.
The mode of ferriage across the Delaware in open boats, established as we have seen so early in our history, remained without change or improvement until 1809 or 1810 when a small steamboat, carrying passengers only, was placed on the river. She was named to the lower side of Market street, Philadelphia. In 1809 the ferry at Kaighn’s Point was established by Joseph Kaighn (who dropped the last I in the name Kaighin because it had ceased to be pronounced) and soon a small steamboat, also carrying passengers only, and also, it is believed, called Camden, was placed on the line. Which of the two was the first steamboat is doubtful. After them came one called “The Twins,” because she had two hulls clamped together with the wheel propelling her in the center between them, a type used many years afterwards in the small steamboat, John Smith, which piled for a time between Arch street, Philadelphia, and the northern end of Windmill Island. After The Twins came the steamboat Rebecca, built in 1813, popularly known as “Aunt Becky,” which ran from Cooper’s Point to Arch street, and whose peculiarities were that she had a single propelling wheel astern, causing her to be further nicknamed “The Wheelbarrow,” and had a wooden boiler, hoped like a cask, but, nevertheless, an effective one, since she frequently made her run in five minutes. Crude as were those early steamboats they were marvelous advances over the Primitive wherries, open rowboats built with double keels to enable them, when the river was partly frozen, to be drawn from the water and upon and along the ice until open water was again reached. But the passenger traffic across the river was too inconsiderable to keep up such a stride, and, after a few years, the ferrymen, taking in sail, adopted in summer the team boats, propelled by horses walking round a circle on a tread wheel, and stopping entirely for an our at noon-time to feed the horses; and in the winter, when the ice in the river was not frozen solid, they fell back upon the old wherries. It was not until 1835 that the steam ferryboat, regularly making it trips winter and summer alike, became firmly established as a fixture on the Delaware highway. When it was proposed to build a steamboat powerful enough to break through ice, “many declared it as impossible as it would be to propel a boat up Market street hill.” But the old State Rights, with her eighty horse-powerful boats following her, culminating in those of today, carrying yearly some twelve millions of passenger to and fro across the Delaware without stoppage by the ice, prove the force of Kossuth’s motto, “Nothing is impossible to him that wills.”
In 1812 the village of Camden had become sufficiently important and known throughout the State to be named by the Legislature, in the act of January 12th of that year, establishing State banks, as one of the six towns authorized to do so. Under that act Camden’s first bank was incorporated on June 16th, 1812, as “The President, Directors and Company of the State Bank at Camden.” An unwieldy name which was quickly shortened in common parlance to The State Bank at Camden, and so retained until its conversion to a National bank on June 2d, 1865. after which its present name, The National State Bank of Camden, gradually attached itself. Not until sixty-one years after its start had Camden a trust company, which was incorporated on April 4th, 1873, and began business in July following. Camden’s size and its importance as the financial center of South Jersey has grown until now, 1909, three National banks and five trust companies find in it a good field for wise financial management, profitable to them and beneficial to its citizens, and those of a widely surrounding circle.
Though Camden’s early growth was very slow, and half a century after its birth it was but a small town, yet it had a vigor of self-assertion that compelled its recognition by the people of the country. The annual town meetings of Newton township had been held alternately here and at Haddonfield until 1827, when the Haddonfield people, conscious of their greater voting strength, at the town meeting, held regularly in turn at their place, resolved to shove Camden to the wall and there after to meet only at Haddonfield their superior number carried the question. But he laughs best who laughs last, and they unconsciously aroused the young giant that ever afterward whipped them in many a hard fought battle. The Camdenians left the town meeting very indignant, and Jeremiah Sloan, then a talented young lawyer of great promise, said to the Haddonfielders, “I’ll fix you; I will have Camden incorporated next session of the Legislature the act was passed incorporating the city of Camden.
Thus it was that Camden, with a population of but 1,143, attained her legal majority with the right to manage her own affairs as she saw fit, free from the tutelage of country town meetings.
This first charter was passed February 13th, 1828, and is entitled “An act to incorporate a part of the township of Newton in the country of Gloucester.” It has only eighteen sections, and, thought but eighty-one years have passed, many of its provisions already sound quaint. It calls Broadway “the public road leading to Woodbury from the Camden Academy,” and Newton avenue “the road leading from Kaighinton to Coopers Creek bridge,” and Petty’s Island “Pethey’s Island.” It provides, in section I, that the new city shall be called “The City of Camden,” and then, in section 2, that the corporate name of the city shall be “The mayor, Aldermen and Common Council of the City of Camden.” The city officials were a Mayor, a Recorder, four Aldermen, five Common Councilmen and a Town Clerk. The Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen and Common Council, or a majority of them, of whom the Mayor or Recorder must be one, were authorized to hold a Common Council and to make ordinances and regulations for the well ordering and governing of the city. The Common Council were be chosen at the annual town meetings on the second Monday I March and within six days thereafter they were to elect the Mayor.
The recorder and Aldermen, as semi-judicial officer, were to be appointed by the Legislature “in joint meeting” in the same manner as justices of the peace were appointed and to continue in office for the same time (i. e. five years). The charter further provided that “one of the Aldermen and one of the Common Council shall always be a resident of elected Samuel Lanning fist Mayor of Camden.
The new municipality, however, had but little of the appearance of a city. The three villages of which it was composed–Camden proper, Cooper’s Point and Kaighn’s Point–remained separated by cultivated farms and by woods and retained their peculiar characteristics for many years. Extending but a short distance from the river, all the territory east of them to Cooper’s Creek was as much country as any other part of the county, and where used for purposes of husbandry only, was, by the charter, exempted from taxation for the support of the city.
I cannot better contrast then and now than by bringing to light from the musty first minutes of Council two transactions. On April 23d, 1828, “The Council rented of Richard Fetters for one year the room over his store for the purpose of a temporary Council and Court hall, for the sum of twenty-five dollars per annum or six dollars per quarter.” And on June 5th, 1829, the committee appointed to make “a fair expose of the receipts and expenditures of the corporation up to this date,” reported to Council that there had c0me into Samuel Lanning’s hands $3,512.49, and paid out by him $3,512.49, leaving a balance due him of $56.26.
The Common Council quickly acted to provide a permanent town hall by passing, on June 12th, 1828, an ordinance appointing Samuel Lanning, John K. Cowperthwaite and Richard Fetters commissioners to buy a lot and build a jail and court house “in the said city, agreeably to their best skill and understanding, and which may be the most judicious plan for our city,” and authorizing them “to borrow from Jacob Evaul” (a farmer living a short distance outside of Camden) “$2,500 at six per cent. Interest” for that purpose. They purchased a lot on the south side of Federal street, below Fifth street, and built thereon a small, baldly plain, unpretentious stone and brick building, having on the ground floor “a jail or lock up” and on the second floor a court room, used also as a council chamber, reached by a wooden stairway on the outside of its Federal Street front. As the only public hall in the city for over a quarter of a century, its courtroom was used for nearly ever meeting of a public nature than held in Camden. On the building of our present City Hall, on Haddon avenue, the old hall was torn down in 1878, and in its place was built a large brick market house, which, in turn, was torn down in 1900 that the present fine office building of the Public Service Corporation might be built on its site.
The town having reached the dignity of a municipality, the name of its post-office, which from 1803 had been Cooper’s Ferry, was changed on June 22d, 1829, to Camden.
About his time the desire for a more speedy conveyance than the old stagecoach was cropping out in many place throughout the country, and very general inquiry was being made into the feasibility of railroads to meet the want. During 1827 the project of a railway to connect Philadelphia and New York began to be talked of in earnest. Meetings wee held the enterprise, preliminary surveys made, and such general interest excited as finally resulted in the legislature granting, on February 4th, 1830, the charter for “The Camden and Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company.” The company was soon organized and the road begun, and in January 1834, the first train ran into Camden. This was a very marked event for the young city. The railroad was the longest then built in this country and its completion a matter of great rejoicing. People kept watch to see the trains arrive, even those as far off as Kaighn’s Point, no houses then intervening, going to the tops of their houses to view the novel sight.
Hardly four years had passed after the incorporation of Camden, when some of her prominent citizens, on March 16, 1832, procured a charter for the incorporation of “The Camden Fire Insurance Company,” a stock company, the preamble of which stated that sundry inhabitants of Camden City and its vicinity had represented to the Legislature that insurance on property in this State is frequently and to a large amount made in Philadelphia, and that an insurance company in Camden “would tend to the great convenience of the inhabitants and would confine at home a source of wealth which is yearly carried into another State.” The company continued in business for some years, but not proving so successful in confining at home the wealth its promoters hoped, an act of the Legislature was passed in 1849 creating Abraham Browning, Thomas H. Dudley and Isaiah Toy trustees to wind up its affairs. In 1841, The Camden Mutual Insurance Association was incorporated, and as the stock company into which it was converted in 1870 under an act of the Legislature, and under the name of The Camden Fire Insurance Association, which in adopted by certificate filed on February 3rd, 1881, continues to-day, after The National State Bank, the oldest business corporation existent in Camden.
Jacob Cooper, in laying out Camden, planned the open square at the intersection of Third and Market streets for a market place similar to those in many towns in England. It was never so used and Camden never so fully adopted the system of open market sheds in the streets, as did Philadelphia. In 1837 City Council caused a small one to build on Third Street immediately south of Market Street, and in 1856 a second one to be erected in the center of Third Street from Arch to Federal Street. The last was removed in 1876 and the first shortly before it, to the great improvement of the street.
Not satisfied with being a city, Camden ere long began to think that there should be a new country created, with it as the shire-town, and actively pushed the project. This excited great opposition throughout the county. Indignation meetings wee held at Woodbury and other places. The Camden people had to fight almost unaided their uphill battle. They claimed it as a necessary measure “to accommodate the fast swelling population of the north and northwester townships, and partly to secure to West Jersey her just share of influence in the State Government.” At last, after a hard fight under the lead of Captain John W. Mickle, an uncompromising Democrat, they won and got the Legislature, which was Democratic, to pass, on March 13, 1844, under the plea that the new county would be Democratic, the act setting it off from Old Gloucester, and had it named after their own city, which was to be the seat of justice for one year and until an election could be had. But the people throughout the county wee so incensed at the city’s again foiling them that at the first election they voted, irrespective of party, against the Democratic nominees, recognizing no other issue than Camden and Anti-Camden, and for fifteen years the Democrats never carried the county. For many years afterwards, whenever Captain Mickle went to Trenton, he was taunted about his Democratic county; and to this day Camden county is politically anti-Democratic.
The same antagonism again cropped out at the permanent fixing of the county seat. The act creating Camden County required that its courts should be held at the Court House in Camden for one year, when, at an election to be fixed by the Freeholders, the location of the county seat was to be determined by a majority vote. Camden, of course, nominated herself and supported her nomination with great unanimity. The rest of the county was divided in its choice. At the election held on August 12th, 1845, to determine the question, Camden received 1,062, Gloucester 822, Haddonfield 422, and Mount Ephraim 33 votes. No place receiving a majority, a statute was approved April 1st, 1846, providing for two elections. At the first a majority of votes was necessary to a choice. If no place received a majority then a second election was to be had at which a plurality would decide the question. No place having received a majority at the first election held under that Act, a second one was had, when the county united on Long-a-Coming (Berlin) and gave it 1,498 votes while Camden received but 1,434 votes. But the Camdenians would not stay down, and in 1848, aided largely by the able pugnacity of the late Abraham Browning, of honored memory, after continued defeats in the courts had a statute passed, directing a new election. The fourth fight was fourfold bitter. Again it was the whole of the country against the city. But Camden had well encased herself in armor against the shafts of her opponents in her unaided tilt against the field, and came out victorious with a vote of 2,444 against 795 for Haddonfield and 705 for Long-a-Coming. This last election definitely settled the contest, the country people submitted to the inevitable, and today admit that, however unfairly it may have been made, the choice was a wise one.
Immediately after the settlement of this location of the court house between John W. Mickle, president of the Federal Street Ferry Company, and Abraham Browning, heavily interested with his brothers in the Market Street Ferry, founded by their father, Abraham Browning, each striving to have it placed on the street leading to the ferry in which he was interested, in the hope of turning to that ferry the trend of travel. The struggle was finally settled by putting the Court House equidistant from each ferry. And that is the reason it was built where it was, on the lot nearest to the ferries that extended from Federal to Market street, and placed exactly midway between the two streets.
The beneficent effect of building and loan associations, the first of which is said to have been created in 1815 by the canny Scotch and the system to have been introduced into our country about the year 1840, was early grasped by the thrifty, intelligent business and working men of Camden. The New Jersey statute authorizing the incorporation on them was approved February 28th, 1849, and two months had hardly passed, when on May 5th, 1849, The Camden Building Association was incorporated under it, followed on March 2d, 1851, by The South Ward Building and Loan Association. And thereafter the associations grew continually until to-day some thirty odd of them in our city flourishingly demonstrate their value in aiding their members to acquire homes, to invest with profit their savings, and to educate themselves in determining the values of real estate, and in safely investing money therein.
Of the two public utilities, water and gas, water was first furnished to Camden by a private corporation. The Camden Water Works Company supplied from its pipes on November 1st, 1846, the first public water to the city, continuing to do so until the city purchased its plant and took possession thereof on July 1, 1870. Somewhat more than six years followed the introduction of public water before gas for lighting was furnished, which has always been supplied by a private corporation. The Camden Gas Light Company [eventually becoming the Public Service Corporation and then PSE&G—ed.] lighted the city in that way for the first time on Christmas night, 1852, a year noted also for the completion on Market street and on Federal Street of the first paving of the roadway of any of any of the city streets, cobble stones being used for the purpose.
In 1850 Camden obtained a new charter with enlarged powers but no increase of territory, divided, however, into three wards, North, Middle and South, and began to grow with considerable energy, until the horrible burning of the ferryboat New Jersey, on the night of March 15th, 1856, with its holocaust of sixty one lives, at once checked migrations from Philadelphia, while the panic of 1857 following completed the blow to its prosperity. Then the doubt and uncertainty of the impending rebellion, and the exhaustion of the struggle when entered upon, protracted the stagnation, and our city lay in a torpor until late after the collapse of the war the prosperous times thawed it into new life, that, bursting the chrysalis of the boundaries of its original incorporation of 1828, reached out and grasped, under its revised charter of1871, new territory, increasing its size three fold. So that it covered all the territory between the Delaware River and Cooper’s Creek on the river front, as far south as the mouth of Newton Creek, up which the boundary ran eastward to its north branch, and up it to the Mount Ephraim road, thence up to Ferry avenue, along which and the continuation thereof in a right line it extended to Cooper’s Creek; very nearly the boundaries of the island Aquikanasra as noted and mapped by both the Dutch and the Swedes in their early surveys of the Delaware.