Visit the Camden
County Historical Society Web Site to learn more...
it be remembered," wrote Thomas Sharp in 1718, "That upon the nineteenth
day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred
and eighty-one, Mark Newby, William Bates, Thomas Thackara, George
Goldsmith and Thomas Sharp set sail from the harbor...of Dublin...We
took our land in tract together...bounding in the forks of Newton
Creek and so over to Cooper's Creek..." Sharp's narrative account
of the first permanent European settlement in what is today West
Collingswood is the most accurate history of the establishment of
of the early settlers in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century
West Jersey (modern-day South Jersey) were like the Newton Colony
people. Quakers, members of the Society of Friends, were persecuted
in England for their religious beliefs and way of life. They came,
lured by the Concessions and Agreements, a document written
in 1677 by proprietors such as William Penn, who owned a large portion
of the land in West Jersey and wished to encourage Quaker settlement
in the area. The settlement offered the promise of religious freedom,
equitable taxation, and representative government.
were not the first people to arrive on New Jersey's shores. Some
13,000-15,000 years earlier, after a long migration eastward beginning
in Asia and leading over the Bering Strait through Alaska and across
the American continent, the Paleo-Indians (Old Stone Age peoples),
whose descendents eventually became known as the Lenape, had arrived.
The Lenape were peace-loving, semi-nomadic people who lived in small
family groups along the banks of waterways, spoke an Algonkian language,
farmed, hunted, and fished.
to Herbert Kraft, author of The Lenape, published in 1986
by the New Jersey Historical Society, "Lenape" in the
Unami dialect meant "our men," "men of the same nation,"
or "common people." Names such as Delaware, Munsi, Lenape,
Unami, etc. are 17th and 18th century appellations that did not
exist at the time of European contact: as a matter of fact, Kraft
states, the Lenape Indians "...were not a tribe in any political
sense." To the explorers who encountered them along the Delaware
River they simply became known as "the Delaware."
Quakers had also been preceded by a small band of Dutch families
sent by the Dutch West India Company to establish a minor trading
and fur post on the Delaware River. Fort Nassau, probably established
in 1626 near today's Gloucester City, continued in use however for
only about 25 years; it was taken over in turn by the English and
the Swedes and again came under the authority of the Dutch. Finally,
it was ordered dismantled by Peter Stuyvesant in 1651. Thirteen
years later the English again triumphed in New Jersey, and the Dutch
were forced to cede the entire colony.
County institutions, municipalities, and streets still bear the
names of many of those who made this area their new home. Elizabeth
Haddon, immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Tales Of
A Wayside Inn, arrived alone in 1701 to look after her father's
land claims and gave the family name to "Haddon's Field." She married
John Estaugh, a Quaker minister with whom she had an acquaintance
in England. Elizabeth herself was much esteemed by the Friends and
was a minister in her own right.
settlers also included William and Benjamin Cooper, whose descendants
founded Cooper Hospital and Coopers Ferry, as well as the Kaighns,
Gills, Stokes, Collings, Coles, Ellises, Zanes, Burroughs, Kays,
Morgans, Matlacks, and many others.
operated as early as 1688 by William Royden, then by William Copper,
and after 1693, by Cooper's son. Daniel provided the earliest means
of communication and transportation between the two colonies on
the Delaware River. For nearly a century, the settlement that grew
up around it was known as Coopers Ferry. It became a center of activity
during the Revolutionary War period (1777-1778) while the British
occupied Philadelphia. British troops often crossed the river, disembarking
at the ferry landing near the Benjamin Cooper House (Point and Erie
Streets) to forage for food supplies in the surrounding countryside.
Quakers opposed war and most would not bear arms for either side,
many of the sect were harassed and imprisoned. Military skirmished
in the area involved such well-known figures as General "Mad" Anthony
Wayne , the young Marquis de Lafayette, who earned a command for
his attack on British forces near today's Gloucester City in November
1777, and the Polish count Casimir Pulaski.
in 1764 William Cooper's great-grandson, Jacob, purchased land for
subdivision in what is today known as Camden, few homes were established
there until well after the Revolutionary War. By the close of that
period only three houses had been erected between Third Street and
the Cooper River, and all belonged to members of the Cooper family.
The namesake of the new settlement was Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden,
an English nobleman who supported the American cause in Parliament.
1803 additional lots were laid out north and south of Arch Street
between Front and Fifth Streets. In 1820, Edward Sharp, envisioning
a bridge and ferry system between Camden and Philadelphia, broadened
the enclosure from the south side of Federal Street to just beyond
today's Mickle Boulevard, from the river to Fifth Street and called
it Camden Village.
the City did not really begin to grow until 1834. The coming of
Camden and Amboy Railroad helped spur its population growth to 9,500
by mid-century. In 1838, a canal had been cut through Windmill Island
in the middle of the Delaware River, making ferry travel easier
under all weather conditions. The shortened commuter time combined
with an increasing number of businesses and services made Camden
an attractive place to live.
the period following Camden County's separation from Gloucester
County in 1844, the county population, having expanded greatly,
exceeded 25,000. In 1853 a new county courthouse designed by noted
architect Samuel Sloan was erected halfway between Market and Federal
Streets. That same year the Camden and Atlantic Railroad (later
the Pennsylvania Railroad) began its first run from Camden to Haddonfield.
The following year, it was extended to almost Atlantic City.
during the Civil War, many Camden residents supported and fought
for the Union cause. The Zouaves, a volunteer company, was the first
to apply for service in state regiments. They fought at Antietam,
Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania,
and in the Wilderness Campaign. They marched with Sherman, fought
in the Shenandoah Valley, and served under courageous officers such
as General William Joyce Sewell. Those who died are memorialized
at the Gettysburg Battlefield and by the Soldiers Monument at Haddon
Avenue and Mickle Boulevard next to Cooper Hospital.
postwar period brought the poet Walt Whitman to Camden, where he
first lived with his brother, George, on Stevens Street and later
at 330 Mickle Street, today a National Historic Landmark maintained
by the State of New Jersey. Whitman prepared the final or "deathbed
edition" of Leaves of Grass in the Mickle Street house.
of Specimen Days, a long essay on nature in diary form, was
written during the summer months Whitman spent convalescing at Laurel
Springs. The poet's remains rest in a mausoleum of his own design
in Camden's Harleigh Cemetery, a late-Victorian burial ground in
the park-lawn style.
end of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of Camden's emergence
as an industrial and commercial leader. Eldridge Johnson's machine
shop gave way to the Victor Talking Machine Company, predecessor
of RCA, which ended its presence in the city in 1988.
1869 Joseph Campbell and Abram Anderson founded a preserving company
that eventually became known as The Campbell Soup Company. The company
flourished in the city of Camden during the next century. Although
the company relocated its processing facilities, the corporate headquarters
is still located in the city.
Esterbrook Pen and New York Ship Building companies had established
themselves in Camden before World War I. By then a popular saying
was, "On Camden's supplies, the world relies." Immigrant labor seeking
economic opportunity helped increase the city population, providing
a welcome source of abundant and cheap labor for the many industries
that sprung up. Cigars, sausages, patent drugs, leather goods, iron
products, ships, linoleum, carriage bodies, gas mantles, and terra
cotta items were among the hundreds of products manufactured in
1926, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the Delaware River Bridge,
later renamed for Benjamin Franklin. It opened the way for commuters
to work in Philadelphia and live in the Camden suburbs. A second
bridge, the Walt Whitman, opened 31 years later, connecting Philadelphia
and Gloucester City. In 1976, the Betsy Ross Bridge, linking Philadelphia
and Pennsauken, opened to traffic.
routes and the development of high-speed rail transportation between
Camden and Philadelphia helped to push the county's population over
the half-million mark. This, combined with a broad economic and
industrial base, several centers for higher education, three major
hospitals, and an excellent interstate road system and connections,
offer a bright future for the county.
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