Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taking a drive on snowy Kings Highway 1/12/11


Kings Highway, I am told, runs from Perth Amboy down to Salem.  It is one of New Jersey's earliest highways and a lot of history has traveled on it.  Yesterday, right after an overnight snowfall of about 6 inches, a friend and I drove down Kings Highway to look at the beauty of the countryside clad in white.

By the time we got started at 11:00 a.m., the morning sun had fled and the wind had blown all the snow off the trees.  Things looked more gray than glorious, but, we were moved by the spirit of adventure!

During the summer, which seems so long ago now, I had driven to Perth Amboy for a Civil War re-enactment. If I had known then that Kings Highway went there, I'd have given it a try just to see how long it would take and what I might find along the way. Actually, I didn't see much on the turnpike or of Perth Amboy as the re-enactment was in Woodbridge, right next door.  However, in the park where the encampment was being held, I discovered the Revolutionary era Parker Press, a charming and original building with the colonial press in it.  I will talk more about the Parker Press when my book on James Parker arrives from amazon.com.   I'm sure I'm one of their best customers, though they have yet to send me a note to say thank you.

Perth Amboy was the first city incorporated in New Jersey in 1718 and James Parker set up the first press in Perth Amboy in 1752, just in time for the Revolution.  

Kings Highway has had some divergences and many names and I'm afraid to even get into that since it seems to cause a storm of controversy.  For more, see Rambles Through Old Highways and Byways of West Jersey, by Charles S. Boyer, published by the Camden County Historical Society.  I'm actually not clear on how the old Kings Hwy. relates to the current one or how either relate to the Old Salem Road and the Salem Turnpike.  Maybe one of the erudite readers who help me out from time to time can clear that up for us.  I can tell you that it was laid out in the late 1680's on an ancient Native American trail.

We decided to drive to Mickleton, and stop at a few of my favorite locations on the way.  Our first stop was the James and Ann Whitall House at Red Bank Battlefield.  If you are new to this blog, let me just say that in October of 1777, a fierce and fast battle took place there.  The apple orchard of this Quaker farm had been confiscated by the Continental army in order to dig a fortification as part of the Delaware River defense.  Fort Billings, Fort Mercer on the New Jersey side of the river and Fort Mifflin on the Pa. side, were keeping the British ships from coming up the river and supplying the British army which had taken Philadelphia.  When the Battle at Red Bank was over, 300 wounded Hessian mercenary soldiers fighting in the Crown's employ, were dragged into the Whitall's house for treatment.

In order to make a surprise attack and to avoid the bridges that had been destroyed by local militia, the Hessians had come from Haddonfield via Clements Bridge Road, not on Kings Highway.

It is worth noting that most colonial homes were not as grand as the Whitall House.  The Whitalls came from old, established and wealthy families.  Most farm families would have lived in two or three room wooden frame dwellings.  Ann Whitall was a descendant of the Cooper family, founders of Camden.  Both Ann and her husband James are buried on the front lawn of the Woodbury Friends Meeting which we passed on our way to Mickleton.

After a parting backward look at the cold gray Delaware River at National Park, we drove back
to Kings Highway and passed the Mount Royal Inn on the corner of the crossroads of what was once called Sandtown.  Over the years this tavern was named Heart in Hand, The Lacy House, the Sickler House and the Blue Anchor.  Taverns were the civic and business headquarters of colonial New Jersey.  Militia units me there, and sometimes after battles and skirmishes, the wounded were taken there.  Most small towns had a tavern and so did most creeks and rivers, since waterways were the highways of the colonial period.

We also passed the Death of the Fox Inn, now a private home.  It is one of my favorite buildings for its simplicity and the beauty of the stone (which was once covered in plaster).  The Death of the Fox was a recruiting headquarters during the Revolution.  The proprietor at the time was William Eldridge, many influential Philadlephia patriots including Samuel Morris and General Robert Wharton were members of the fox hunting club that met there. 

I have read that a Tory traitor was arrested, brought to the Death of the Fox for a barrel top trial and then hanged on the spot.  The commander in charge of the execution threatened that any man who cut the body down would be hanged in its place.  The proprietor's daughter, in defiance of the order, cut the body down in disgust.

Dr. Bodo Otto, Jr. met with his Gloucester County regiment at the Death of the Fox and it is where he died, much later, at the young age of 33, of pneumonia.  He is buried at the graveyard behind Trinity, Old Swedes' Church in Swedesboro. 

Colonel Bodo Otto, Sr. served with his two sons as surgeons with General Washington's forces at Valley Forge.  Dr. Otto, Sr. lived in Reading, Pa., but Dr. Otto, Jr. lived on the Kings Highway in Mickleton.

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