Wildwood, New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites
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REVOLUTIONARY WAR SITES IN WILDWOOD CREST, NEW JERSEY

Revolutionary War Wildwood Crest, New Jersey
TURTLE GUT PARK
BATTLE OF TURTLE GUT INLET MEMORIAL
Wildwood NJ Revolutionary War Sites Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet
Wildwood, New Jersey

The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet Memorial
New Jersey Ave. and East Miami Ave.
Map / Directions to the Turtle Gut Inlet Memorial

Turtle Gut Inlet

The island that now makes up the Wildwoods was once two smaller islands, Two Mile Beach to the south, and Five Mile Beach to the north. A strip of water called Turtle Gut Inlet separated the two islands. Turtle Gut Inlet no longer exists; it was filled in artificially in 1922 to make the one long beach which now runs the length of the Wildwoods and Diamond Beach. [1]

In the era before trains, trucks and modern highways were invented, ships were the main method of transporting goods over distances. The waters around Cape May and the Wildwoods were of strategic importance in the Revolutionary War because they are at the opening of Delaware Bay. In 1776, Philadelphia served as the American capitol, and the only water path to Philadelphia from the Atlantic Ocean is through Delaware Bay into the Delaware River. Because of this, the British set up a naval blockade of Delaware Bay early in the war to prevent ships from sailing to Philadelphia with war supplies.

 

The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet - June 29, 1776 [2]

One of the American ships which attempted to make it past the British naval blockade was called the Nancy. It was a type of two-masted ship called a brigantine. The Nancy arrived in the waters outside Cape May on June 28, 1776. It was returning from St. Croix and St. Thomas in the the Virgin Islands, loaded with gunpowder and weapons, as well as rum and sugar. [3]

Two British warships, the Kingfisher and Orpheus, were blockading the entrance to Delaware Bay. Upon sighting the Nancy on the afternoon of June 28, the two British warships pursued her. Unable to enter Delaware Bay, the Nancy headed towards Turtle Gut Inlet. A fog came in over the water as the sun was setting, and they lost site of the Nancy.

The fog lifted in the morning, and the British warships closed in to attack the Nancy.  The Nancy was anchored a distance from the shoreline of Turtle Gut Inlet. The small eleven-man crew of the Nancy attempted to save the war supplies by carrying them on to the shore, while at the same time returning cannonfire to the attacking British warships. The Nancy's captain, Hugh Montgomery, decided it was best to run the ship into the shoreline of Turtle Gut Inlet. Although this could damage the ship , it would give them some distance from the British ships, and it would also make it easier to carry the supplies to shore.

Three American vessels in the area, the Lexington, the Wasp, and the Reprisal, came to the aid of the Nancy. Some of the crewman of these vessels rowed out to the Nancy on smaller boats, and they assisted with the carrying of supplies and manning the cannons. When about two-thirds of the supplies had been carried ashore, Captain Montgomery determined that the Nancy could no longer hold out against the British vessels, and he had the crew abandon the ship. Montgomery decided to blow up the Nancy and the remaining supplies, rather than allow them to fall into the hands of the British. Before leaving the ship, an improvised fuse was created by wrapping gunpowder in the cloth of one of the sails. The fuse led to the main supply of gunpowder still on the ship. It was lit as the men abandoned the Nancy.

The British were unaware that a fuse had been set. They believed that the crew of the Nancy was simply  abandoning and surrendering the ship. British seamen boarded the Nancy, which soon exploded, killing everyone on board. A contemporary report described the grisly scene: "Eleven dead bodies have since come on shore, with two gold-laced hats, and a leg with a garter. From the great number of limbs floating and driven ashore, it is supposed thirty or forty of them were destroyed by the explosion." [4]

The Americans suffered much fewer casualties: one dead and one wounded. The dead sailor was Lt. Richard Wickes, whose brother was Lambert Wickes, the captain of the Reprisal, one of the ships that had come to the aid of the Nancy. Several days later, Captain Wickes wrote a letter to another brother in the family named Samuel , informing him of the death of their brother Richard:
(Spelling and capitalization has been left uncorrected and unmodernized.)

"The Loss sustained on our Side was the Life of our dear Brother who was shott through the Arm and Body by a Cannon Shott 4 or 5 minutes before the Action ended. we have this Consolation that he fought like a brave Man & was fore most in every Transaction of that Day[.]  this is confessed by Captn Barry whome was present all the Time[.]  he is much regreted by all the Officers in our Fleet & particularly Captn Barry who says a braver Man never existed than he was,  in him I have lost a dear brother & a good Officer which I know not where or how to replace... I arrivd just at the Close of the Action[,] Time enough to see him expire [after] a noble Contest in the Arms of Victrtory, he was buried very decently the 30th June in the Meeting House Yard at Cape May when the Clergymen preached a very deacent Sermon." [5]

New Jersey in the Revolutionary War after the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet [6]

The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet took place fifteen months after the first battle of the Revolutionary War had occurred on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. During those fifteen months, New Jersey had not been very affected by the violence of the war on its own soil. The gruesome scene of limbs and dead bodies washing up on the shore at Turtle Gut Inlet was an early look at the horrors of war for the local citizens. Unfortunately for the people of New Jersey, the realities of living in a war zone were soon to become all too familiar.

Six months after the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, the British invaded New Jersey at Alpine, while the Continental (American) Army was at Fort Lee. From that point on, New Jersey would be at the center of many events throughout the rest of the war. Battles, skirmishes, raids, and military encampments would become a regular part of life in the state until the war ended.

Wildwood Crest New Jersey - Revolutionary War Sites

 

Source Notes

1. ^  Robert C. Alexander, "The Battle at Turtle Gut Inlet," Cape May Geographic Society, Seventh Annual Bulletin, June 1953, Pages 5

 ▸ Viewing the following documents will be helpful to give you a visible sense of Turtle Gut Inlet:

A 1777 map of New Jersey titled, The Province of New Jersey, divided into East and West, commonly called the Jerseys
Available on the Library of Congress website here
There are controls on the image to allow you to zoom in. When you zoom in on the Wildwood area, Two Mile Beach, Five Mile Beach and Turtle Gut Inlet are all labeled on the map.

 ▸ "Aspects of New Jersey Geology – 2009 The Jersey Shore"
Available as a PDF on the Geological Association of New Jersey Website website here
Page 2 shows aerial photos from 1920 and 2002 showing Wildwood Crest before and after Turtle Gut Inlet was filled in.

2. ^ Information for this account of the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet was drawn from the following contemporary and secondary sources:

"Extract of a Letter Dated Philadelphia, July 5, 1776," reprinted in:
Peter Force, American Archives - Fifth Series, Volume 1 (Washington D.C.: 1848) Page 14
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

"Extract of a Letter Dated Philadelphia, July 6, 1776," Connecticut Courant, July 15, 1776, reprinted in:
William James Morgan, Editor, Naval Documents of The American Revolution Volume 5 American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970) Page 952
Available as a PDF on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website here

NOTE: The writers of the two above letters are unidentified. It was common for newspapers at the time to print excerpts of letters about newsworthy events without identifying the writer.
In this case, there are enough similarities in the two letters that they appear to have been written by the same person.
While the July 6 letter is listed as appearing in the Connecticut Courant, the American Archives does not identify the newspaper in which the July 5 letter appeared.

Journal of H. M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Captain Alexander Graeme, June 29, 1776, reprinted in:
William James Morgan, Editor, Naval Documents of The American Revolution Volume 5 American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970) Pages 817 - 818
Available as a PDF on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website here

Journal of H. M. S. Orpheus, Captain Charles Hudson, June 29, 1776, reprinted in:
William James Morgan, Editor, Naval Documents of The American Revolution Volume 5 American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970) Page 818
Available as a PDF on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website here

Letter from Captain Lambert Wickes to Samuel Wickes, sent July 2, 1776, reprinted in:
William James Morgan, Editor, Naval Documents of The American Revolution Volume 5 American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970) Page 882-884
Available as a PDF on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website here

Robert C. Alexander, "The Battle at Turtle Gut Inlet," Cape May Geographic Society, Seventh Annual Bulletin, June 1953, Pages 5-10

Elizabeth Montgomery, Reminiscences of Wilmington: In Familiar Village Tales, Ancient and New (Philadelphia, T.K. Collins, Jr., 1851) Pages 154 - 158
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
 ▸ Elizabeth Montgomery was the daughter of Captain Hugh Montgomery. In this book, she gives a five-page account of the events related to the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet. She presumably received some of her information from family tradition about the life of her father. It should be noted that Captain Montgomery died in 1780 when Elizabeth was only an infant (see page 158). So Elizabeth was writing seven decades after Captain Montgomery's death, and she could not have heard the stories from him firsthand.
At least some of her information came from the descendants of Joshua Griffin who was wounded in the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet. Griffin and his family were from Wilmington, and she states on page 157 that Griffin's "father was an old and worthy townsman, whose descendants are still here, and remember the circumstances of this narrative."
Elizabeth Montgomery gives an entertaining account of the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, but it does have an ex age rated and dramatized feel at times, which one might expect in a story drawn from family traditions.

3. ^  The "Extract of a Letter Dated Philadelphia, July 5, 1776" describes the cargo of the Nancy as, "three hundred and eighty six barrels of gunpowder, fifty firelocks, one hundred and one hogshead of rum, and and sixty -two hogsheads of sugar, &c."

The "Extract of a Letter Dated Philadelphia, July 6, 1776" describes the cargo of the Nancy as, "400 barrels of powder, 50 or 60 small arms, dry goods, 101 hogshead of rum, and 62 hogsheads of sugar."

Letter from Captain Lambert Wickes to Samuel Wickes states that the cargo consisted "of Powder Arms Rum Sugar & dry Goods."

4. ^ Quote from the "Extract of a Letter Dated Philadelphia, July 5, 1776"
▸ The actual total of British dead from the explosion may have been lower than this letter suggests.
The captains' journal entries for the British warships Kingsfisher and the Orpheus both record the number of British dead as seven.

5. ^ Quote from the Letter from Captain Lambert Wickes to Samuel Wickes, sent July 2, 1776
William James Morgan, Editor, Naval Documents of The American Revolution Volume 5 American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970)
Available as a PDF on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website here
▸ The "Captn Barry" referred to in this letter was John Barry, the captain of the Lexington. Barry would go on to have a lengthy and successful naval career. He is often referred to as the Father of the American Navy, and is recognized as the first flag officer of the United States Navy.
For more information, see:
  ~ Biography of John Barry on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website
  ~ H. J. Res. 38 / 109th Congress of the United States of America. Available as a PDF on the U.S. Government Publishing Office website here.

On page 157 of Reminiscences of Wilmington, Elizabeth Montgomery identifies the American who was wounded in the battle as Joshua Griffin, a native of Wilmington.

6. ^ See the Alpine and Fort Lee pages of this website for more information and accompanying source notes about the November 1776 British invasion of New Jersey

How much of the cargo of the Nancy made it to Philadelphia and when it arrived is unclear. The following documents from the weeks after the Battle of Turtle Gut inlet refer to this:

Minutes of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, Philadelphia, 5th July, 1776, reprinted in:
Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, Vol. X
(Harrisburg, PA: Theo. Fenn & Co. 1852) Pages 632-633
Available to be read at Google Books here

Captain William Hallock letter to the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, July 8, 1776, reprinted in:
William James Morgan, Editor, Naval Documents of The American Revolution Volume 5 American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1970) Pages 817 - 818
Available as a PDF on the U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command website here

Minutes of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, Philadelphia, 12th July, 1776, reprinted in:
Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, Vol. X (Harrisburg, PA: Theo. Fenn & Co. 1852) Pages 632-633
Available to be read at Google Books here

Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet

Revolutionary War New Jersey
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Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet Memorial

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This website, its text and photographs are © 2009 -2017 Al Frazza. All rights reserved.