Yesterday, Saturday, the first of June, I realized a long held goal and visited both the Somers Mansion, which I have eyed with great curiosity for decades, and the Atlantic County Heritage Center in Somers Point of Shore Road (look for the parking lot driveway just before you see the building).
The Somers name is a very old and venerable one and much connected with the sea. John Somers, the original settler came from Worchestshire, England in the 1680's. Richard Somers, eldest son of John Somers, built the house in 1724. The Somers family had a house on the Egg Harbor side of the bay as well. A later descendant, also named Richard Somers, born in Egg Harbor in 1778 became a Commander in the U.S. Navy and went to school with Stephen Decatur and served under Captain John Barry. He died at sea in a daring assault against the Barbary Pirates holed up in the harbor at Tripoli. The ship he was on was carrying explosives to burn out the nest of thieves when it blew up. His body has never been returned to US soil for burial and the effort to bring home his remains is carried on to this day.
Many ships have been given the Somers name. One such ship, a brig, was being used as a school for seamen, in 1842, when it was discovered that a group of mutineers was planning to take over the ship and turn it to piracy. The plot was discovered and two of the three ring leaders, Spencer, Cromwell, and Small were hanged from the yard arm. As though the ship were cursed as a result of this event, four years later, she foundered and sank in a storm off of Vera Cruz and thirty crewmen drowned. There is a small painting of the ship with the two mutineers haning from the yard arm in the corner of the upstair room of the Atlantic County Heritage Center. I would never have noticed or understood what I was seeing if not for the kind help of the docent who gave us our tour. I strongly recommend a visit to this excellent Heritage Center and, as is always the case, opt for the tour. The docents know all sorts of things you might not notice without them pointing it out. They were very kind to us and it is worth a mention that most docents are volunteers and are worthy of our gratitude for the time they put in to protect and share our historic legacy.
Address 907 Shore Rd., PO Box 301, Somers Point, NJ 08244, phone (609) 927-521www.Atlantic HeritageCenterNJ.org Open Wed. thru Sat. 10:00 to 3:30 and one evening, first Thurs. 6-9.
After our tours of the Center and Mansion, we made our way to Ocean City for the Ocean City Coffee Shop on the board walk.
What a beautiful, breezy and interesting day.
("From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli" - the marines hymn. "The Shores of Tripoli" refers to the first Babary War 1805.)
ps. Personal note: My grandmother, Mabel Wright lived for 40 years in Ocean City, on Asbury Avenue and on Bay. And my hospital roommate, the day I gave birth to my daughter, was a Somers, Donna Somers, now deceased, but always to be remembered with fondness. We spent many happy days visiting at the seashore where she lived as our children grew up. Her son, Christian still lives at the seashore.