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Long Beach Island, New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites
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Revolutionary War New Jersey
Long Beach Island in the Revolutionary War

Monument at the Entrance to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park

Long Beach Massacre

Sign on Central Avenue, between 18th and 19th Streets

"Massacre at Long Beach" Monument
Monument located at the entrance to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park
208 Broadway, Barnegat Light
Map / Directions to the "Massacre at Long Beach" Monument

The last large-scale battle of the Revolutionary War took place at Yorktown, Virginia, and ended on October 19, 1781. The surrender of British General, Charles Cornwallis, at Yorktown brought about the decisive blow to the British army. However, the war did not officially end for another two years. For the most part, major fighting between the American and British armies was stopped during this period, as both sides waited for treaty negotiations to officially end the war.

However, for the citizens of New Jersey, the violence and bloodshed unfortunately continued during this period. Rather than fighting between large armies, there was mainly fighting between local residents and militia who supported American independence, and those who remained Loyal to Britain (known as Tories or Loyalists). Monmouth County was a particular hotspot for this form of partisan fighting. [1]  Long Beach Island, which is now  part of Ocean County, was then part of Monmouth County, because Ocean County was not formed until 1850 from a portion of Monmouth County. [2] 

Some of the Loyalist attacks in this area were conducted by men known as Pine Robbers. The name derived from the fact that they tended to operate and hide out in the large wilderness section of South Jersey known as the Pine Barrens. One of the most infamous of the Pine Robbers was Captain John Bacon.

Bacon's most notorious action occurred on Long Beach Island in October 1782, when he and a band of Tories killed militia Captain Andrew Steelman. It is known as the "Long Beach Island Massacre." The exact details of what occurred on the beach are unknown. The story has taken on the qualities of myth, with details varying from telling to telling. Most of the details appear to have been based on stories told by local citizens and passed on for generations.[3]

The following description of what occurred is from the 1960 book Smugglers' Woods, by Arthur D. Pierce. [4]

"Monmouth County annals include a long list of Bacon's plunderings and brutalities. His blackest moment, however, was the night of the Long Beach Massacre. On October 25, 1782, Captain Andrew Steelman of Cape May and twenty-five men on the privateer [ship] Alligator captured a British cutter from Ostend headed for St. Thomas. This vessel, apparently far off course, had run aground on Barnegat Shoals. Steelman and his men labored the whole day to unload her cargo on Long Beach. By nightfall all hands were dead-tired and curled up among the dunes to rest. In the dead of night Bacon and his followers sailed over from the mainland, crept up on the Americans, and slew them while they slept. Captain Steelman and a number of his men were killed instantly; those who attempted to rise were hacked with bayonets; and of the twenty-five in Steelman's crew only five managed, somehow, to escape alive."

The public outrage against Bacon intensified after the killings at Long Beach Island, and a serious effort to capture him began. A reward of £50 was offered by the Governor William Livingston for the capture of Bacon. [5] Two months after the killings at Long Beach Island, an attempt to capture John Bacon led to the Affair at Cedar Bridge.

A monument commemorating Steelman and his men killed on the Long Beach Island stands outside the entrance to the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The park's main attraction, Barnegat Lighthouse, dates to a later era. The lighthouse, which is known as "Old Barney," was first lit in 1859, seventy-six years after the end of the Revolutionary War. It was designed by George G. Meade, who was then a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, but is better known to history for his later role as the Union General at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The 172-foot lighthouse is open to the public and offers a fantastic panoramic view of the area. There is also an interpretive center with exhibits about the history of the lighthouse. For more details, see the Long Beach Island website. [6]

Revolutionary War New Jersey

Source Notes:

1. ^ For those interested in a book which focuses on the partisan fighting in Monmouth County during the Revolutionary War, see:
Michael S. Adelberg, The American Revolution in Monmouth County - The Theatre of Spoil and Destruction (Charleston; The History Press, 2010)

2. ^ Regarding Ocean County formed from Monmouth County in 1850, see:

John F. Snyder, The Story of New Jersey's Civil Boundaries: 1606-1968 (Trenton: Bureau of Geology and Topography, 1969) page 201
Available as a PDF on the State of New Jersey website here. (Note that although the information is on the page numbered 201 of the document, it is on page 191 of the PDF file.)

Journal of the Sixth Senate of the State of New Jersey: Being the Seventy-Fourth Session of the Legislature (Somerville, N.J.: Allan N. Wilson, 1850) Pages 161-163, 170, 178-180, 185-186, 194, 206, 209, 212, 215, 217, 219-220, 243, and 277
Available to be read at Google Books here

3. ^ Two short newspaper articles appeared in the Royal Gazette in 1782 which relate to the Long Island Beach Massacre. The Royal Gazette was published in New York City, which was occupied by the British during most of the Revolutionary War. Its articles were therefore written from a British perspective. These appear to be the only known contemporary newspaper accounts.

The full text of these articles appears below:
(Digital copies of these Royal Gazette issues were obtained from the Early American Newspapers Database at Seton Hall University Library.)

       • The Royal Gazette Wednesday, October 30, 1782

"Yesterday the Virginia ship of war, belonging to Messrs. Shedden and Goodrich, came of the Hook; she has taken a Cutter from Ostend bound to Virginia; Her cargo, from best information, cost £20,000 Sterling at Ostend,—And what is very singular in this capture, Messrs. Shedden and Goodrich had intelligence from London, by a late packet, of this vessel's sailing, and their friends mentioning a hope of the Virginia's falling in with her, which has happened as they wished."

       The Royal Gazette Saturday, November 2, 1782
           (The misspellings of Alligator and Steelman appeared in the original article, and have been left uncorrected.)

"The cutter from Ostend, bound to St. Thomas's, mentioned in our last, ran a-ground on Barnegat Shoals the 25th ultimo. The galley Allegator, Captain Stillman, from Cape May, with 25 men, plundered her on Sunday last of a quantity of Hyson tea, and other valuable articles; but was attacked the same night by Captain John Bacon, and nine men, in a small boat called the Hero's Revenge, who killed Stillman, wounded the first Lieutenant, and all the privates (four only excepted) were either killed or wounded; the latter were sent to a Doctor, with a flag of truce, by the captors, and the galley was brought in here on Wednesday last."

The November 2, 1782 description makes no mention of Steelman's men having been killed in their sleep. However, this does not mean that it did not occur that way. As a newspaper published in British-occupied New York City, it is likely that they would leave out such a detail so as not to make Bacon's Loyalists look bad.

Likewise, the article states that Bacon's men took the consideration to deliver the wounded men to a doctor under flag of truce, a detail which puts Bacon in a better light.

To add further confusion, this article states that the killing of Steelman's men did not occur on October 25, when the cutter ran aground, but on the following Sunday (October 27th). This is in contradiction to most later writings (and the monument), which state that the killings occurred on October 25.

Later books and articles add details to the story, including that Steelman's men were sleeping on the beach, and the possibility that one of the men unloading the cargo with Steelman was actually a spy for Bacon who notified Bacon of what was happening. None of the works I saw stated a primary source for these details, so it is hard to determine what actually happened, what information came from local lore, and what was simply added later. The earliest books I located with descriptions of the event are listed below with notations:

Edwin Salter, George C. Beekman, Old Times in Old Monmouth - Historical Reminiscences of Old Monmouth County, New Jersey (Freehold, New Jersey: 1887) Pages 46-47
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
 ▸  Includes a quote of part of the November 2, 1782 Royal Gazette article, but leaves out the part about Bacon's men sending the wounded to a doctor under the flag of truce. (All three other secondary sources listed below also leave out this detail.)
Then adds other details not found in that article. Refers to the event as "the inhuman massacre of sleeping men."

Edwin Salter, A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (Bayonne: E. Gardner & Son, Publishers, 1890) Pages 209-210
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
 ▸  In this work, Salter again partially quotes the November 2, 1782 Royal Gazette article, and again refers to the event as "the inhuman massacre of sleeping men" but does not include the other additional details.

George B. Somerville, The Lure of Long Beach (Long Beach Board of Trade, 1914) 37-38
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
 ▸ Makes reference to the November 2, 1782 Royal Gazette article (without identifying it as such) and has some added details.

Alfred M. Heston, Editor, South Jersey - A History, 1664 - 1924, Volume I (New York and Chicago: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1924 ) Page 240
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
 ▸ This book first quotes part of the November 2, 1782 Royal Gazette article, and goes on to add:
"Local tradition tells the story a little differently. It says that Steelman, and the Stafford Township men, were working all day taking the cargo out of this vessel, and at night, tired out, were sleeping, when they were surrounded by Bacon's men, who poured a volley into the sleepers, killing and wounding a large number of them. This made Bacon still more hated than before."
By stating that the information came from "local tradition," The book was acknowledging that these details were not based on original documentation.

4. ^ Arthur Dudley Pierce, Smugglers' Woods: Jaunts and Journeys in Colonial and Revolutionary New Jersey (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press: 1960) Page 41

5. ^ Votes and Proceedings of the Seventh General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey, at a Session Begun at Trenton on the 22nd Day of October, 1782, and continued by Adjournments (Trenton: Printed by Isaac Collins, 1783) Pages 126 and 132
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
 ▸ Recording of the petition for payment and the decision to pay the £50 for the capture and John Bacon, and £25 for the capture of Ichabod Johnson, one of Bacon's men. Refers to "the Reward offered by His Excellency's Proclamation for securing Ichabod Johnson and John Bacon." (His Excellency refers to the Governor of New Jersey, William Livingston)
 ▸  ▸ The capture and killing of John Bacon are described on the Barnegat page of this website.

6. ^ Long Beach Island Barnegat Lighthouse page of the Long Beach Island website