It’s been said that history is a ribbon – it’s always unfurling. Here are some upcoming ribbons of “This Month In History” columns for 2022. They tell the stories of the struggle for freedom, a declaration of that freedom, and a constitutional framework insuring that freedom – and Ocean County’s role in each of them.
The Struggle For Freedom
When one thinks of the Revolutionary War and the fight for independence, George Washington and the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth come to mind – all land battles. But the war for independence was much more than that – it was also a struggle on the seas. It’s a story involving not a battle worn general, but a bookish, Harvard educated lawyer – John Adams. Adams championed bringing the fight to the British on the seas. In the midst of it was the coast of New Jersey.
This is a story of geography – from New York to Sandy Hook to Cranberry Inlet to Cape May to Philadelphia. It’s a story of a new Continental navy and the work of privately commissioned vessels – “privateering” – which, together, inflicted heavy costs on the British.
For us, here, off the Jersey coast, an incredible 85 maritime battles and skirmishes were fought, including those off of what is today Ortley Beach and the long-closed Cranberry Inlet, and in the bay, inlets, and rivers, here. We’ll learn about this critical struggle on the seas in upcoming columns.
A Declaration Of Freedom
In modern America, we celebrate the Fourth of July with great fanfare – parades, barbecues, fireworks, and more. But this was not always the case. We’ll take a look back at past Fourth of Julys, and see how they were celebrated, or not celebrated, and almost forgotten!
We’ll discover how July 4, 1776 was just another day for everyday people. In 1876, several celebrations were held in Ocean County, including a regatta. In 1926 – the 150th anniversary – Toms River almost forgot to celebrate the anniversary but for the last minute, quick thinking of local ministers. And for the bi-centennial, in 1976, Toms River celebrated 200 years of independence with great fanfare. It was something to remember. I do.
In a few years, we’ll be celebrating 250 years of freedom and plans are already under way in Ocean County to commemorate this milestone.
A Constitutional Framework Ensuring Freedom
To ensure our freedom, there’s not just the United States Constitution. We need to remember that we also have a state Constitution. In 2022, we will end the year marking New Jersey’s adoption 75 years ago of the current state constitution. In New Jersey’s history, it’s our third state charter.
We’ll learn of the long road of constitutions in our history from our first – a hastily written document from June 1776 when the British, literally, were coming. It was meant to last briefly. It governed our state for 68 years.
Our second constitution – the “horse and buggy” constitution – was adopted in 1844. It was a complicated document with numerous overlapping courts and government departments often in conflict with one another. Efforts to alter or replace it would bring it into the 20th century.
A vote to replace it in 1944 failed. Finally, in 1947, a new charter was adopted – our current state constitution. It’s a simple, modern document providing for our current state government and our very own New Jersey Bill of Rights.
Local residents played a leading role in its creation. Those with long memories will remember those in Ocean County involved: Berry, Camp, Ewart, Mathis, Van Camp. They are the local founding fathers of our modern New Jersey constitution.
We’ll see how the document was drafted, who was there, what they did, and how the voters of Toms River, Ocean County, and New Jersey ultimately voted in adopting it.
This Month In History In 2022
From the struggle for freedom, to a declaration of that freedom, to a constitutional framework ensuring that freedom, Ocean County played a leading role in our history. We’ll learn of these stories in 2022 in upcoming columns of This Month In History. Let the ribbons of history unfurl!
J. Mark Mutter is the retired municipal clerk of Toms River. He served on the Dover Township Committee (now Toms River) and was Mayor in 1993 and 2000. He chaired the Township’s 225-year anniversary committee in 1992 and it’s 250-year anniversary committee in 2017, and its Constitution bi-centennial committee in 1987.