Following The Footsteps Of A New Jersey Legend, Jonas Cattell. In The Modern-Day World.
“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”
―Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn.
I have conducted some in-depth research on the South Jersey area and the man who intrigues me most from the Revolutionary time period……is no other than….. Jonas Cattell!
I decided to follow his footsteps around South Jersey from his birth to his death; to where he worked and the route he took to warn the Patriot troops that the Hessians would march against Fort Mercer (in current day National Park) in a surprise attack. Today, Jonas Cattell is revered as a legend and hero.
Here is my modern-day journey in his footsteps of “Old Eagle-Eye, the great…. Jonas Cattell.”
Jonas Cattell was born in the Lavender Hills section of Deptford Township, New Jersey in 1758. This is located near present-day Caulfield Avenue adjacent to Clements Bridge Road. Cattell was reportedly born to mixed-race parents making him half white and half Lenape. When he reached adulthood he was a rather tall fellow for this time period, measuring approximately 6’1″.
Jonas Cattell served as an apprentice blacksmith under John Middleton of Haddonfield, New Jersey. He traveled to work daily from his home in Deptford to Haddonfield by foot. In fact, it is rumored that he hated to ride horses. John Middleton’s home stood at the present location of the Haddonfield Memorial High School.
Cattell was also an avid hunter and knew the trails extremely well. He not only hunted with the Old Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, but he maintained their kennels in Gloucester Town. The hunts often ended at the “Death Of The Fox Tavern” in Mount Royal. His skill as a tracker and hunter warranted folks paying good money to accompany him.
One of Cattell’s favorite hunting locations was in the Monroe Township, Williamstown and Blue Anchor areas, where the deer and fox were plentiful.
On October 21, 1777, about 2,500 Hessians arrived in Haddonfield, New Jersey during the evening via the Old Ferry Road on their way to Red Bank. Totally unexpected, The soldiers pitched their tents in a field owned by John Kay.
The Hessian captured Jonas and a number other men making them prisoner, forcing the Americans to stay all night by the campfire in the middle of the road near Evans Mill Pond (on the border between Haddonfield and Cherry Hill.) Cattell overheard the Hessians talking about the planned attack on Fort Mercer the very next morning.
The following morning, October 22, 1777, the Hessians released Jonas Cattell. He knew he had to arrive at Fort Mercer before the troops did to warn the garrison about the impending attack. Records indicate that Cattell assisted in building Fort Mercer. Even though he was young, Jonas already posessed great skill and solid education.
Jonas ran the entire 10 miles from Haddonfield to Red Bank.
There were only a few routes available to him. I am however, only going to describe one. I’m not stating it is the correct route because other people have speculated on the EXACT journey he took.
We know that the Americans had already destroyed the bridge at Big Timber Creek.
He supposedly traveled from Kings Highway to Warwick Road and then Davis Road.
He then crossed Big Timber Creek just east of Clements Bridge Road.
Cattell reputedly borrowed a boat from Isaiah Marpole’s estate near Timber Creek in the Clements Bridge area. The boat had previously suffered damage and it quickly filled with water, resulting in Jonas getting soaked. The boat all but sank by the time he reached the other side.
He then took Clements Bridge Road to Caulfield Avenue to Deptford Road.
Then he traveled down Hessian Avenue all the way to Fort Mercer, probably arriving about 3 hours ahead of the Hessians. He accomplished his mission and warned Colonel Christopher Green of the pending surprise attack.
Due to Cattell’s warning, the American forces lost only 37 soldiers while the British/Hessians suffered a full defeat with very high casualties. Funny thing was the American soldiers were outnumbered 3-1.
After this battle, Cattell returned home and spent the rest of his days hunting and being an active member of society. Jonas lived to be 91 years old at a time when a long life was unusual.
A commemorative Jonas Cattell Run occurs every year, to honor him starting on Mechanic Street at Kings Highway in Haddonfield.
A man gone, but not forgotten. His patriotic fervor still burns in South Jersey.
With gratitude to my mentor, Jerseyman, for assisting me in this story. ~The Yummygal