While preparing the next round of century-past articles for the Seaport, we came across this prize-winning essay on the history of Toms River and the county. With another school year coming to a close, marking fully 100 school years since this essay was written, it felt appropriate to share as an interesting reminder of our past through the work of one of our local scholars. It was originally published in the May 5th, 1922 edition of the New Jersey Courier, Toms River’s then-weekly newspaper of record.
PRIZE ESSAY: 'HISTORY OF TOMS RIVER'
by Miss Charlotte Morris
This essay was voted the first prize in a contest held by the Toms River Chamber of Commerce, in which Toms River school pupils from the sixth grade up were allowed to enter.
All of us study the history of our state and our nation while in school, but how many of us know anything about our own town in which we live? This is not a long, detailed account, but just a story of how Toms River came into existence and its early happenings.
Perhaps the first thing to be considered in telling the history of anything is how it got its name. This town was named for the river on which it is situated. How the river received its name always has been a matter of doubt. One story is that it was named for Indian Tom, who lived at the mouth of the river. The other story, which seems to be more probable, is that it was named after Captain William Tom, who settled here with an English colony in 1665.
The first settlers of this section were a mixture, principally the people driven from other colonies on account of religious ideas. Later, a great many Mormons settled in Toms River. The old Mormon church stood for many years at the fork of the road just across the bridge.
Most of the first settlements were made on Barnegat Bay, because of the fishing and oystering. In 1740 land began to be taken up in and about Toms River and farther south. The settlements grew very fast and at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Toms River was a good-sized town.
Up until this time this country depended upon England for most of her supplies, but when the Revolution broke out, and our trade with that country was cut off, it was necessary for us to manage the best we could alone.
The new government built salt works in Ocean County around Barnegat Bay, because it was midway between the army headquarters at New York and Philadelphia. One of these salt works was located at the mouth of Toms River.
At the outbreak of the Revolution, Toms River held the only garrison in the county, and was, therefore, of great importance. This town was also a center of privateering, which was conducted on a large scale during the war.
The first attack made by the British forces in 1777, on the salt works, was unsuccessful, but on April 1, 1778, another attack was made, and all the salt works, including those of both private and government ownership, were burned to the ground. These, however, were soon rebuilt.
The third attack on Toms River, March 24, 1782, was a great deal more serious than the two previous ones. The British planned to destroy the only defense in Ocean County, and they did so. The alarm had been given by one of our men, and Captain Huddy, who was in charge of the Block House, gathered as many men of the town as possible in addition to the twenty-five men of the militia.
The British, however, numbered five or six to our one, and we soon had to surrender. Many of our men were wounded or killed, a few escaped into the woods, and the rest were taken prisoners, Huddy among them. The prisoners were exchanged or carried off, except Captain Huddy, who was deliberately hung. For this cruel murder, Washington instituted a reprisal, and a young prisoner from Yorktown was sentenced to die. Captain Charles Asgill was of noble family, and a relative of his was a member of the commission to make the treaty of peace. When the treaty was being arranged, Washington held Asgill, and to get him back, the British consented to extend the line of the treaty from the Allegheny Mountains westward to the Mississippi. Thus Huddy was, indirectly, the means of making our boundary the Mississippi River.
To return to Toms River. The British had not only taken and burned the Block House, but the whole town, with the exception of two houses.
After the war, people fell back into their old peaceful life of industry. The salt works were abandoned, as it was cheaper to import the salt than to manufacture it, but other and new industries took its place. Towards the beginning of the nineteenth century the iron industry came into prominence. The first iron works were built in 1789, at what is now Lakehurst, known then as Federal Furnace. Later, one was built at Lakewood, which for many years was called Bergen Iron Works. Others were built around the county, Dover Forge being only six miles from here.
This industry died out after a time and the charcoal and pine-wood industries took its place. Around the early fifties a cranberry growing craze came. This did not last, either, and land that was at one time valued at $100 an acre, dropped to almost nothing after the panic of 1873. Toms River was the chief shipping place for these products. Today, cranberry growing is a leading industry in Ocean County.
Toms River did its share in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Cranberry Inlet, which was open during the Revolution, closed in 1812, and thus kept the British ships out of the river. Afterward, a great deal of money was spent trying to reopen it but the attempts were unsuccessful.
In 1850, when Ocean County was set apart from Monmouth, and Toms River made the county seat, the town took on a new and rapid growth. The first newspaper was started, new churches were organized and built, and new stores set up. The first railroad in the county was built in 1857, and extended from Manchester (Lakehurst) through Toms River and down the shore as far as Barnegat. This added greatly to the growth of the town.
Today, Toms River is a good sized town. There are two newspapers published, five churches, two banks, and the town is on two railroads, the Pennsylvania and the New Jersey Central. Toms River flourishes as a summer resort, and is the chief trading center for the smaller towns around.
In order to keep step with the onward march of things, the residents of Toms River organized a Chamber of Commerce. With this progressive and energetic body of men at the helm, the future of Toms River is assured.
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Stand-Up Paddleboard Raffle
11-foot BRUSURF Stand-Up Paddleboard, Paddle & Leash
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