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’
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
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.
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
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