Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Bill McMahon's Point - The History & the Legends
William McMahon’s Somers Point
The History & the Legends
Somers Point – The Old Town
SOMERS POINT is so rich in historical lore and legends it is hard to determine where the former terminates and the later begins. Like Salem, New London and Mystic Seaport, its background has the salty taste of the sea. Unlike New England ports it has failed to capitalize on these potentials.
The Point is better known as the birthplace of Lt. Richard Somers, the hero of Tripoli, than as the former haven of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and those other picturesque characters of the Spanish Main. Also lost in history is the name of that daring women who, with the men away in Washington’s Army, saved the Point from shelling by a British frigate through a ruse. Gathering the women and children about her she directed such a commotion and dust storm among the tall weeds of the shore that the British were duped into thinking they were facing a strong shore battery. History tells us the frigate turned tail and was never seen again.
Also lost in history and legend is that other gallant women of the Point, Mrs. William Eldredge, who during the War of 1812 aimed a mounted cannon at a longboat of British raiders and sent them scurrying back to their ship.
Legend or history, who can tell? Are the stories of pirate kings anchoring in the harbor and burying their stolen plunder among the reefs of the bay.
At one time a fort stood on Bay Ave., with cannon pointed seaward from the hillock as warning to all unwanted visitors to the harbor. The hillock was removed to make way for Bay Avenue.
The colony under its first known name Somers Plantation, was founded in March, 1693, by John Somers, whose family was an old and honored one in England. He left that country because of religious sentiments and became a follower of the famed Quaker, George Fox. Somers first settled in Dublin, Pa., later coming to the Point where he purchased 3,000 acres of land. Settling to the life of a country gentleman, he eventually became a representative of the Fourth Assembly of the Providence of Nova Casaria, which met at Pertha Amboy in 1706. He died in 1723 and was buried on the plantation. It was probably his eldest son Richard, who built the original Somers mansion.
Most famous of the clan was Lt. Richard Somers, born at the point in 1775. I n the war with the pirates of Tripoli in 1803 he commanded the Nautilus of Decatur’s fleet (sic. Stephen Decatur commanded the schooner Enterprise). On September 3, 1804 he commanded the ketch Intrepid during the blockade of Tripoli harbor. Commodore Bainbridge’s frigate Philadelphia ran aground and he and his men were taken prisoners. Decatur in a bold stroke destroyed the Philadelphia, and Somers proposed rescue of Bainbridge by exploding a fireboat in the midst of the pirate fleet, to cause enough confusion to accomplish the mission. 1500 pounds of powder were on the deck of the ketch.
Details of the affair were never actually known. It was over in a minute. Flames, bursting shells and reeling ships filled the harbor. It was a death blow to the pirates. Somers and his daring crew sacrificed themselves for the country. All were buried on the beach. A monument to Somers and his men stands in the Navy Yard at Washington. (sic. It is now at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis).
The Point honored its son with a monument in the little burial plot near the New York Avenue school. (sic Actually Richard Somers’ sister Sarah paid for the monument and is buried with it).
Somers Point has three fine waterfronts – Great Egg Harbor Bay, Great Egg Harbor River and Patcong Creek. The early town was inhabited by seafaring men who operated four shipyards along Great Bay. Here they built the famous old Clipper ships. Robert Fulton’s steamboat put an end to the shipbuilding activities at the Point. Larger sips could not enter its inlet.
A ferry between the Point and what is now Cape May County was in operation prior to the Revolution.
When the first public road in Atlantic County was laid out in 1716 from Nacote Creek (Port Republic) the Somers Ferry was its terminus. A customs house stood at this point until quite recent years. It was also the terminus of a spur from the old railroad that ran from Camden to Absecon.
The community dates its founding as Somers Point to the year 1750. It was incorporated as a borough in 1886 with a total voting population of 48. A census taken in 1890 revealed its population at 191; by 1900 it had reached 308. It was finally incorporated as a city July 7, 1902, with George Anderson as the first mayor.