Cumberland County ...NJ


Greenwich is a seaport town along the Cohansey River, within 5 miles of the Delaware Bay. It was planned to be a manor town by John Fenwick, who had already established the town of Salem. Fenwick died before the town was settled. But his plan was followed and the first manor acreage was sold to Mark Reeve in February of 1684 (McMahon 164-165). By the 1690’s a small port community had developed.

Much in keeping with the philosophy of John Fenwick, the settlers were surprisingly religiously diverse including Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. At a time when religion was the central part of most communities, the concept of tolerance was seldom found. It seems to have been more than tolerance, but acceptance, with people willing to sell land and accept church buildings of all the other faiths.

The town was recognized as an important location and from 1695 until 1765 the Annual Fairs authorized by the royal governor were held at Market Square. Greenwich quickly became a thriving port and by 1701, it had become one of only three official ports of entry for New Jersey (The other two were Perth Amboy and Burlington). Foreign ships would unload there cargoes, where they were either taken over land or put on smaller boats to Philadelphia or Burlington. Warehouses and merchants began to converge on the town, which at one time had 7 taverns where they could mingle. Shipbuilding and repair became an industry as well (Pierce 123-124).

In 1725, Zachariah Barrows left money in his estate to found a public school for poor children, to be taught to read, write and figure. The school that was started is perhaps the oldest public school in New Jersey (McMahon 165).

Greenwich was the main center of commerce for the area when Cumberland County was created from Salem County in 1748. County business and courts were held temporarily at a tavern in Greenwich. An election was held to determine the new county seat and mysteriously the small community of Cohansey Bridge was picked over Greenwich. The people of Greenwich were stunned and unhappy, but within two years the construction of the county buildings were begun in Cohansey Bridge, which was later renamed Bridgeton (Pierce 129-131).

The merchants and townspeople of Greenwich were as appalled by the British Tea Acts as their fellow countrymen in Boston, New York, and Annapolis. The Bostonians dressed as Indians and threw tea into their harbor on Dec. 16, 1773. That same month a tea cargo was refused landing in New York. In March 1774 a group known as the "New York Mohawks fell upon tea consigned to merchants and brewed it in salt water." The Boston ‘Indians’ not to be out done heave another dozen tea chests overboard in March 1774. At Annapolis, Maryland on October 18, 1774, a crowd forced a tea importer to burn his own tea laden ship, the Peggy Stewart. A similar protest took place in Greenwich on December 22, 1774 and became known as the Last Tea Party. After that it was war with the British and the British ‘Loyalists’ (Pierce 137-138).

The "Tea Burning at Greenwich" was probably directly inspired by the rebellious, Philip Vickers Fithian who had passed through Annapolis on his way home from Virginia, just a couple days after the tea burning there. About the time of Fithian’s homecoming, the ship, Greyhound, captained by Capt. Allen was bound for Philadelphia with a load of tea. When he stopped at the Cape (Lewes or Henelopen) he was advised of the inflammatory mood. He knew a loyalist in Greenwich, so he decided to put into port and hide the tea shipment in the cellar of Daniel Bowen (Pierce 138-139).

This did not sit well with the locals, who had protested paying taxes in Greenwich as early as 1714. On the night of Dec. 22, 1774 a group of young locals assembled at the home of Richard Howell, near Shiloh, rode the four miles to the home of John Fithian, and emerged dressed as Indians. They went on to Greenwich and broke into the Daniel Bowen’s cellar removed the tea & burned it (Pierce 140).

Naturally, the owners of the shipment were not happy. They appealed to Gov. William Franklin for action. He advised Sheriff Jonathan Elmer to arrest the well known participants, including his relatives. Sheriff Elmer did bring the "fugitives" including his relatives to trial. Then the Sheriff chose the jury, composed of sympathetic Whigs and fore manned, not coincidentally by his nephew, Daniel Elmer (Cunningham 118). The trial ended in a verdict of "No Cause for Action". Highly insulted by the outcome Gov. Franklin removed Elmer as Sheriff and appointed Daniel Bowen (the loyalist who had housed the tea in his basement). Again the 2nd jury found ‘No Cause for Action’. Finally, the owners of the tea, Gov. Franklin and the loyalists gave up (McMahon 168-169).

The participants in the tea burning went on to lead very public lives. Most of those that took part in the burning went on to enlist in the Continental Army, some serving as officers, chaplains and doctors. Four would give their lives in the fight for freedom (Pierce 143). Sheriff Jonathan Elmer was elected as one of the first two Unites States senators from New Jersey. Richard Howell, in whose home the "Indians" had first assembled, was elected Governor of New Jersey 1792. Joseph Bloomfield, who was the defense attorney at both trials, succeeded Howell as Governor of the state. The town of Bloomfield was named after him (Cunningham 118). In September of 1908 a monument was erected to honor the memory of the ‘Greenwich Tea Party’ (McMahon 169)

Greenwich continued to thrive as an important Port of Entry during the revolution, but gradually other towns began to emerge as more important sites. Bridgeton (formerly known as Cohansey Bridge) came to live up to it’s role as the centrally located county seat , once dependable roads and bridges were created. The growth of the railroads bypassed Greenwich, which sounded the death knoll for its commercial life. Today it exists as a small, quiet and quaint bayside town steeped in history, Victorian houses and museums.


Works Cited

Cunningham, John T., The New Jersey Sampler, Upper Montclair, NJ: The New Jersey Almanac, Inc, 1964

Pierce, Arthur D., Smugglers’ Woods, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1960.

McMahon, William, South Jersey Towns, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1973.

copyright Susan Ditmire 5/15/1999

Web Links for More information:

Cumberland County Historic Society 

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