Cape May County, New Jersey

Cape May Co., NJ

Cape May County, NJ


In 1685, the court of Cape May was split from Burlington. In 1690, a settlement began at Cape Island (now Cape May). As whaling declined due to overpopulation, Town Bank diminished in importance in favor of Cape May, and was largely washed away by 1750. In 1692, Cape May County was designated as one of the original four counties of West Jersey, defined as the land from the most northerly portion of Great Egg Harbor Bay to a point 20 mi (32 km) east of the mouth of the Maurice River (called West Creek), south to the tip of Cape May. The limits of the county were adjusted over the next two centuries, mostly the portion near Maurice River Township. The first water mill in the county was constructed in 1699 in Cold Spring. Nearby, the First Baptist Church was built in 1712, and the first Cold Spring Presbyterian Church was built in 1718. Both churches, as well as nearby private homes, functioned as the center of early county government.

In 1744, the county chose Romney Marsh – later Cape May Court House – near the county's center to become the county seat. The first jail and courthouse were built in 1764. The county's population was around 1,000 in 1750, isolated from the rest of New Jersey by forests. Cape May grew independently as America's oldest bathing resort by 1765, leading to the city's current motto "The Nation's Oldest Seashore Resort". Amid the British blockade of the Delaware Bay in the American Revolutionary War, two British ships pursued and attacked the American brig Nancy, which fled to the coast at Turtle Gut Inlet (located in Wildwood Crest today). The Nancy was abandoned and sabotaged, killing at least 30 British sailors when the brig exploded after they boarded. The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet on June 29, 1776 was the only Revolutionary War battle fought in the county.

Cape May County was split into three townships on February 21, 1798 – Lower, Middle, and Upper. The three townships were previously established as precincts on April 2, 1723. During the War of 1812, British forces raided farms in the county for food and fresh water. In retaliation, residents dug canals to the ocean, making the water no longer drinkable. In 1827, Dennis Township was created from portions of Upper Township, 101 years after its namesake Dennisville was founded in 1726. The oldest independent borough in the county was Cape Island Borough in 1848, which became the city of Cape May in 1869.

Modern Day Adjacent Counties

Atlantic County – north
Cumberland County – northwest
Kent County, Delaware - west
Sussex County, Delaware - southwest

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