History of Atlantic County
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History of Atlantic County

In 1664, Charles II of England granted his brother, James, Duke of York, the land between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. James presented the land to two favorites: John, Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. He named the new land Nova Caesarea. Today the boundaries of Nova Caesarea (New Jersey) are exactly as set about in the original Duke of York's deed.

Southern New Jersey was the home of the LENNI-LENAPE. It was explored in the 16th century by Dutch, French, Swedish, Finnish and Portuguese sea captains. The first survey was made by Henry Hudson in 1609. Cornelius Jacobsun Mey sailed into Little Egg Harbor in 1614 and later charted the coastline.

Early Settlers

The first settlement in Atlantic County was in Somers Point. In 1693, John Somers, a member of the Quaker Society of Friends, was appointed by the Cape May County Court as supervisor of roads and constable of Great Egg Harbor. The following year, Egg Harbor was made a part of the Old Gloucester County. At that same time, a ferry was established from Beesley's Point to Somers Point. In 1695, John Somers purchased from Thomas Budd, 3000 acres of land around Somers Point. Also purchasing land from Mr. Budd were John Clement, Jonathan Adams, Paul Scull, Jonas Balentine and Peter Conover.

Daniel Leeds, our first surveyor, made extensive surveys of Egg Harbor in 1698, thus founding Leeds Point. A descendant of his, Jeremiah Leeds became the first permanent resident of ABSECON ISLAND and later acquired title to nearly all of Atlantic City. His son, Chalkley Leeds, became the first mayor of Atlantic City. George May settled in Mays Landing in the early eighteenth century. Thus, Mays Landing was named for George May not Cornelius Jacobsun Mey.

Master Commandant RICHARD SOMERS became a naval hero and is buried near the walls of Tripoli. A member of the well-known Lake family of inventors from Pleasantville, U.S. engineer SIMON LAKE invented the first submarine.

Many of the early settlers were whale men. Shipyards, mills, iron furnaces and brick yards were all active in the region. SHIP BUILDING became a major industry. Prior to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, numerous ships reached our beaches. Southern New Jersey was developing a cultural and social life all its own.

A New County

As early New Jersey settlements grew and developed, each had their own unique identities. These settlements included: BRIGANTINE, HAMMONTON, PLEASANTVILLE and EGG HARBOR CITY. In February of 1837, Atlantic County (formerly known as Egg Harbor) was carved from Gloucester County with boundaries that have remained substantially the same to this date. The county is bounded on the north by the Mullica River; on the south by the Great Egg Harbor Bay and the Tuckahoe River; on the west by Camden and Gloucester Counties; and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean.

The County Seat was established in Mays Landing in 1837 and a courthouse built there in 1838 where it remains in use today. The first Board of Freeholders was established in 1837 in Mays Landing with representatives from four townships: Galloway, Hamilton, Egg Harbor and Weymouth. Mrs. Rebecca Estell Winston was the first woman to serve as mayor in Atlantic County and was mayor of Estell Manor in 1925. As townships and municipalities grew, the board grew as well. In 1967, however, the State Legislature changed the size to a seven-person-at-large County Board until 1975 when a new charter came into effect.

The County governmental form changed from Optional County Charter Law to the Executive Form in 1974. The Administrative Code was adopted in May of 1976 and amended in 1992. Today, Atlantic County land area covers 555.70 square miles (third largest in NJ) and is incorporated into 23 municipalities. Estimated county population in the 2010 census was 274,549. The roots of local government in Atlantic County are long-standing. While community sizes and government forms vary, the commitment to citizen-service is well-developed and still a matter of pride.

More on the history of Atlantic County Government

Selected Bibliography

1. Atlantic County Past & Present, [Atlantic County, NJ]: Atlantic County Cultural Heritage Commission, 1976.

2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., "Simon Lake".

3. Nelson, William. The Native Amercans of New Jersey. Paterson, NJ : The Press Publications, 1894.

4. Bock, William Sauts Netamuxwe. The Coloring Book of the First Americans. Wallingford, PA : Middle Atlantic Press, 1974.

5. Penn, William. William Penn's own account of the Leni Lenape or Delaware Native Americans. Revised edition by Albert Cook Myers. Wallingford, PA : Middle Atlantic Press, 1970.

6. Indians of Southern New Jersey. Woodbury, NJ : Gloucester County Historical Society, 1932.

7. Atlantic County, NJ. County of Atlantic Manual (1997).

8. [Atlantic County, NJ]. New Jersey Tercentenary: Historama of Atlantic County ( 1964).

9. [Atlantic County, NJ]. Historic Atlantic County (undated).

10. Blake, Mrs. Georgiana C. "Early Atlantic County". Atlantic City Press, 1934.

11. New Jersey. Atlantic County Division of Economic Development, Atlantic County, NJ (undated).

12. Wilbur, W.H. and Hand, W.B. Illustrated history of the town of Hammonton. [Hammonton, NJ] : Mirror Stream Printing, 1889.

13. Richard Somers 1778-1804" Master Commandant of the US Navy, compiled by Edna Miriam Hoopes. Atlantic City, NJ : [s.n.], 1933.

14. Municipal Databook. Palo Alto, CA : Info Publications, 1997.

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