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It Happened in Ocean County, NJ: 7 Little-Known Historical Facts

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If you’re a local history buff, you’ll be interested in finding out more about these seven surprising events that happened in our own backward.

  1. 1. Cornelius Hendrickson explores the “New Netherlands” (1614)

Ocean County was officially founded in 1850, but European settlers began arriving in the early 1600s. Before then, this area was home to the Lenape tribe.

Dutch explorer Cornelius Hendrickson, who dedicated his life to cartography and land surveying, was the first European to set foot here.

Having navigated the Toms River and Barnegat Inlet, Hendrickson ended up sailing and charting a large portion of the American coastline on his yacht, the Onrust, before reaching the land we now call Ocean County and claiming it for Holland in 1614.

  1. 2. Pirates plunder the County’s shoreline (1696)

It was in 1696 that Captain William Kidd decided to leave his law-abiding life behind. He and his crew sailed from New York early that year, determined to become feared pirates. As soon as they reached the Jersey coast, they began attacking and plundering ships.

Captain Kidd was captured in 1700 after wreaking havoc for four years. He was then brought to London, tried for piracy, and hanged.

Kidd had left a treasure worth $1 million in today’s money with Jonathan Gardiner, who at the time was the proprietor of Gardiner’s Island. After Kidd’s capture, Gardiner willingly gave the treasure to the British. However, many believe that Kidd may have also hidden treasure in a second location, somewhere along the New Jersey coastline.

That booty has never been found, but rumors say that it’s buried near Toms River, on Money Island. While some Spanish doubloons have in fact washed up during low tide, the exact location of Kidd’s treasure remains a mystery.

  1. 3. The Affair at Little Egg Harbor (1778)

In the early morning of October 15th, 1778, American Loyalists led by British Army officer Captain Patrick Ferguson attacked and killed some 50 members of a Continental Army outpost on Osborn Island.

When General Casimir Pulaski was alerted to the surprise attack, he quickly led his troops from their nearby encampment to the outpost. It was too late: Ferguson’s men were gone, leaving behind the bodies of the men they had bayoneted in their sleep.

  1. 4. Toms River is burning (1782)

In 1782, an expedition of British fighters and Tories (Americans who remained loyal to the British) led a series of attacks in the Ocean County area.

At the time, the Toms River Blockhouse was staffed by 25 militiamen under the leadership of Captain Joshua Huddy. After attacking the Blockhouse, the British burned the entire village of Toms River, leaving only two structures standing. Captain Huddy was also captured and hanged.

  1. 5. The robber barons arrive (early 1900s)

During the Gilded Age, the robber barons were a group of powerful tycoons and industrialists who monopolized broad segments of the American economy. One of the most notorious was financier and railroad builder Jay Gould. With his family’s riches, Gould created a grand estate in Lakewood that he named Georgian Court.

Other robber barons soon followed suit. In 1900, John D. Rockefeller decided to buy the Hunt and Country Club in Lakewood. He later transformed the spacious property into his summer estate. Following Rockefeller’s death, his family gifted the estate to the county in 1940.

  1. 6. A massive storm destroys local properties (1962)

In March 1962, Ocean County was hit by a terrible storm, leading to millions of dollars in property damage and the death of 40 people.

Known as the Ash Wednesday Storm, this once-in-a-lifetime event is among the largest East Coast winter storms ever recorded in terms of land loss and damage. According to local reports, high tides ripped homes from their foundations, destroyed roadways and created new inlets along Long Beach Island.

  1. 7. The Hindenburg crash (1937)

When the Hindenburg originally took to the skies, it was known as the largest dirigible ever built. Constructed in Nazi Germany, it began its fateful flight on May 3, 1937. After leaving Germany, the Hindenburg flew across the Atlantic Ocean with the goal of landing at the military base in Lakehurst.

On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg burst into flames in Ocean County as it attempted to moor. This was most likely caused by a spark igniting the dirigible’s hydrogen core. Airships quickly lost popularity after the disaster, and by the end of World War II there were no more airships in use.

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