Barnegat Shoals, A History (1923)
The following article appeared in the Newark Daily Call, one century ago, written by Charles Macauley, and reprinted by the New Jersey Courier, in a March 1923 edition.
Barnegat Shoal was made known to the world by Henry Hudson's mate, Robert Juett, having been discovered by the crew of the “Half Moon” on September 2, 1609, and set down in his log “The mouth of the lake (Barnegat Bay) has many shoals, and the sea breaks upon them as it is cast out of the mouth of it. And from that lake or bay the land lies north by east, and we had a great stream out of the bay.” Perchance it was sighted before this day by other and earlier European navigators, but they left no identifiable description, and the name applied by Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, in 1614, “Barn-de-gat,” or in plain English, Breakers' Inlet, so awesomely appropriate to this menacing set of bars, still remains in the form of Barnegat, one of the few original place names still pertaining to the coast of New Jersey. From this localized name, also applied to the beaches on the north and south sides of the inlet, the fame, or, more properly, the ill name of this home of the breakers spread among seamen of every flag, and the name was one of terror in every seaport.
No documentary evidence of the traditional disasters on the shoals is known to exist. The first printed record appears in the Boston News Letter of May, 1705:
“New York, April 30.—Yesterday came hither the masters of the three sloops which were castaway near Barnegat by the late easterly storms, viz.: Archibald Morris, who was bound from Pennsylvania for New York and Boston; one Jones who was bound from the Horekill to Boston, and one Saunders, bound from Roanoke to Boston. Saunders had one man drowned and saved nothing at all, and the others saved very little besides lives.”
Nor is much more to be found in the scattered files of colonial newspapers. This is a matter for little wonder, as the outlying beaches of Barnegat attracted no permanent settlers for at least a period of a century and a half after their discovery, being in all this passage of time merely the temporary resort of fishermen, whalemen or explorers.
The inlet and shoals appear on many of our early maps and were undoubtedly familiar to local coasters, the traders with Virginia and North Carolina and the West India Islands, but the first printed description of the inlet and shoal is under date of 1793, and seven years later the third edition of the American Coast Pilot gave the navigators of that day all the warning that could be compassed in print:
“The shoal of Barnegat does not extend beyond three miles from the beach and is very steep too; you may turn this shoal in 6 fathoms of water within pistol shot of the outward breakers. * * * *By passing Barnegat in the daytime it may easily be known, should you be so far off as to not see the breakers; you will see a long grove of wood back in the country, apparently 3 or 4 miles long, known to the coasters by the name of Little Swamp and lies directly in the rear of the inlet of Barnegat.”
For the century, 1750-1850, the local coasters who voyaged between the bay ports of Toms River, Cedar Creek, Forked River, Waretown, Barnegat and Manahawkin to New York, carrying in their sloops and schooners fire wood, charcoal, oysters, produce and the salvaged cargoes out of wrecked vessels, negotiated more or less successfully the shifting channel through the shoals.
This traffic and the loss of many deep water ships bound in or out of the great ports of New York or Philadelphia led to the establishment of Barnegat Light in 1834. This structure was the fourth light placed on the coast of New Jersey and towered over the sand dunes and stunted cedars of the northerly tip of Long Beach keeping watch and ward over the horseshoe shaped shoal, a round towered shaft of one hundred and fifty feet of sturdy brick and honest workmanship but of which no sketch or painting is known to exist. Placed in a grove of large cedars crowning a bold bluff of sand fronting on Barnegat Inlet some three-eighths of a mile north of the present light, a location now covered by the sweeping tides of the inlet, this structure protected by the low tidal beach at the foot of the bluff withstood the battering surf and cutting currents for twenty-four years, but undermined at last fell in November, 1857.
In the spring of 1858 the present tower, the upper half painted red, the lower half white and the lanterns black, was completed. It appears to this day exactly as a sketch made by Harper's famous marine artist, Granville Perkins, in 1868. The character of the light, however, has changed. Originally a fixed light, it is now a white flash every ten seconds visible nineteen miles seaward. In 1920 the gale driven tides once more swept in on the barrier sands and are so close to the famous light that the surrounding quarters, keeper's house, etc., have disappeared.
The first verifiable wreck causing a loss of life, following those of 1705, was that of an unknown West India trader, lost with all hands, seven in number, in the great hurricane of September 8, 1769, the bodies being buried by the crew of the sloop Porgie stranded on Long Beach. In December, 1777, the armed sloop, Two Friends, Captain Bennett, from Hispanola, was totally lost with one seaman, the survivors being saved by coastmen of the bay villages. On the 25th of October, 1782, an unnamed cutter, taken as a prize by the British private armed ship Virginia, was lost on the shoals and the crew of the galley Alligator, of Cape May salvaging cargo, were attacked on Long Beach by the notorious loyalist, John Bacon, and Reuben Soper, private of Randolph's company of militia, and Captain Steelman, of the galley, were killed. The Danish schooner, Ferftier was lost in January 1798, the master, Lufter, and two seamen perishing.
Loss of the Privateer Surprize
The private armed schooner Surpize, of Baltimore, homeward bound from New York, with Colonel Brook, fifteen commissioned, six warrant officers and one hundred and thirty seamen of the U.S. Sloop of War Erie returning from Lake Ontario, struck on the outer shoals on the evening of April 4, 1815. Captain Barstow, eleven officers, two ladies and twenty seamen put off to sea in two boats and were rescued. During the afternoon of the 5th the decks, cabins and spars of the schooner drove within twenty yards of the beach (Island) and the survivors were saved by the coastmen, some thirty of both crews being lost. The Surprize, under the command of Captain Barstow, had the record of having captured five ships, eighteen brigs and eleven schooners.
Puts Into Cape May
In January, 1820, the brig La Tigre, of Cadiz, a prize to the Buenos Ayrean privateer Constitution, put into Cape May and was seized by the collector of customs and sent to New York in charge of Oliver Russell and seven men, all of Cape May. In the gale of the eleventh the brig was lost on the outer shoal with all hands. The schooner Lewis McLane, of Seaford, Del., was lost with one man on May 2, 1827. Survivors rescued by coastmen. On April 2, 1842, the schooner Carolina, of Salem, stranded, the mate, Mr. Nickerson losing his life. In the tremendous gales of September 9 and 10, 1846, two vessels were lost. The sloop Mary Adelaide, of Manahawkin, running in for the inlet, capsized on the bar, and Captain Lamson and three men, all natives of Barnegat, perished. Miss Lamson survived in the cabin and was rescued by Charles Collins and Garret Q. Harring, who cut their way into the wreck. The following morning the spars, sails and stern of the Arabella, of Dennisville, N.J., were discovered, her crew of six and one passenger having perished. A year later the New Orleans packet ship Auburn was destroyed, Captain Hoyt, his mate and seventeen others of the passengers and crew losing their lives. Six men and a female passenger were saved by the lightkeeper, John Allen, Jr., Garret H. Harring and Charles Collins. On February 20, 1854, the schooner George H. Schott, of Fredericksburg, Va., was lost with all hands, supposed eight in all. In November, 1862, the bark James Andrews, of Boston, was also lost with all hands, seven seamen and the master, Hathaway.
On the afternoon of February 12, 1865, the New Jersey pilot boat George Steers, No. 6, stranded inside the bar buoy and it is supposed that the boat keeper, Oscar Beebe, two apprentices, a seaman and the cook tried to gain the beach in their yawl as they were not seen on the vessel as it went to pieces next morning.
Loss of a Life Saving Crew
At 1:30 on the morning of February 11, 1886, during a dense fog, the bark Kraljevica, of Flume, Austria, Sverljuga, master, with a crew of thirteen men, struck on the south side of the shoals and immediately bilged. One hour later the men left the wreck in the long boat and drifted down the coast, coming inshore at 8 o'clock, nine miles below the vessel. The boat capsized on the bar and eight seamen perished, five gaining the beach. At daybreak the wreck was discovered by the Patrol of Life Saving Station No. 17, Barnegat, and the crew of the station. John I. Soper, Solomon Soper, William C. Inman, Samuel F. Perrine, Cornelius D. Thompson and Henry Reeves launched their boat with Keeper Ridgeway at the steering oar. A heavy and dangerous surf was encountered on the shoals and the men were exhausted when the bark submerged, boats gone and fast breaking up, was reached. The surf boat was fought half way in to safety when a tremendous hollow sea fell on the doomed craft, rolling it over and over, Samuel F. Perrine being instantly killed by the impact of an oar. An effort was made to regain and right the boat but this attempt had to be abandoned and the men, supported by their cork jackets, struck out for the beach. Ridgeway and Thompson landed about thirty minutes after the catastrophe, a mile down the coast, being taken from the surf by men of Life Saving Station No. 18. Inman and Reeves were rescued still further down the coast, but the Sopers were dead when taken from the water.
This makes a known total of nineteen disasters with a loss of 184 lives, but all told we have a record of 170 vessels stranded or lost on the shoals between 1762 and 1910, and it is but fair to assume that they carried as passengers and crews upwards of 2000 souls. From the scanty data extant we know that the scattered inhabitants of the beach or bay villages were quick to man a boat if it was humanly possible to save life and their effectiveness under the leadership of “Commissioners of Wrecks” from 1820 to 1854. In this later year a life boat house, old No. 12, new No. 16, Forked River, was erected a mile or more north of the inlet and on the south side No. 13, now 17, Barnegat (under the new Coast Guard establishment these stations are Nos. 112 and 113). These houses had volunteer keepers and crews volunteered without pay until 1871-2, when crews of six men were placed in all the stations. Under the volunteer establishment many lives were saved with inadequate equipment. Joseph Brown and John Ashley Brown, successively in charge of the Barnegat house, directed many rescues. Jeremiah Predmore, Samuel Perrine, Sr., and Edward Jennings, Wreck Commissioners, were vigilant and active. With the placing of crews in the houses, David L. Yarnell, of No. 16, and Samuel Perrine, Jr., and Joel H. Ridgeway, of No. 17, were noted for skill in surfmanship and life-saving. To furnish a list of the volunteers going to these wrecks would require a volume. All the light keepers served as need arose for their services. Isaac Predmore, Fountain Cranmer, Joseph Platt, David Heron, Garret G. Harring, Charles Collins, Richard Brant, Sr., James Cranmer, Stephen Inman, Jesse Sprague were active at wrecks on the shoals.
Of the more noteworthy disasters, the ship Liverpool was lost in 1791. Ship Sally, 1810; ship Andrew Jackson, 1818; crew and fifty passengers rescued by two boats from shore; brig Morgania, 1837, Captain Libby sick with smallpox, sheltered in lighthouse; ship Lord Wellington, 1847; bark Chaires, 1856; schooner Helen Maud, 1854, crew in starving condition found on inner shoal trying to dig clams; brig Konig Thrym, 1856, gold medal of the L.S.S. and B.A. to Israel J. Merritt, for rescue of crew; bark Mary C. Dwyer, 1857, crew rescued by John Ashley Brown and volunteers; bark Aid, 1864; S.S. Idaho, 1865, 100 passengers rescued by John Ashley, George —, Lewis Brown, and other volunteers; S.S. Starlight, 1866; S.S. South Carolina, 1874, passengers and crew saved by men of Life Saving Station Nos. 16 and 17; S.S. Mediator, 1875, crew saved by Life Saving Stations 15, 16, 17 and 18; bark Othere, 1878; brig Albertine Myer, 1884; S.S. Guadelope, 1884; bark Erna 1889. Within recent years most of the wrecks, if such they could be called, have been small schooners or a multitude of gas launches, requiring the constant care and watchfulness of the keepers and crews of the two stations guarding the shoals, the greatest financial loss being that of the United States Army Quartermaster's steamer, General Sumner.
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