In 1614, Captain Cornelius Jacobson Mey, A much-traveled Dutchman, took the first close look at Ocean County's beachfront area. He bestowed two names which have nearly withstood the tides of time--Barende-gat and Eyre Haven (Barnegat and Egg Harbor).
Nomadic fishermen and whalers put in at Barnegat and Egg Harbor bays soon after Mey's visit and mingled with the Native Americans who frequented the shore in summertime looking for seafood and shells. Occasionally a pirate ship dropped anchor off the coast . Some people say that it was to bury treasure.
Edward Andrews built the first gristmill on the Jersey coast in 1704, powering the his millstones with water from a pond created by energetic South Jersey Beavers. Others who came before 1720 represented various nationalities. Most of them were squatters and readily admitted it. They wished to be left alone, and they did not bother others.
Sawmills dotted the county's numerous creeks before 1760. Dozens of sailing vessels set out for distant markets from Toms River to Tuckerton before the Revolution. Steady streams of fish-ladden wagons left the coast to trundle through the Pine Barrens, headed for Mount Holly and Philadelphia, where their fish were prized.
Privateers could get in and out of the Atlantic Ocean through Cranberry Inlet, directly opposite Toms River. The fifteen foot deep channel allowed two and three-masted schooners to maneuver into the upper Barnegat Bay area until a violent stormin 1812 closed the inlet.
At the end of the Revolution, oysters became a chief export from Barnegat Bay, where a provincial law enacted in 1719 forbade gathering the shell fish from May 10 to September 1. This pioneering effort to save the oyster beds kept the trade alive for nearly two centuries.
A cranberry craze swept the county in 1863. Anyone who had money or could borrow it started growing cranberries. Swampland became priceless and even pine barrens brought a hundred dollars an acre. The craze died out as soon as the vastly expanded bogs bore fruit, cranberry prices collapsed. By 1900, Barnegat Bay became a prime hunting and fishing ground for sportmen. Forked River, Waretown, and Barnegat each began vying for the trade of gentlemen gunners and anglers.
Throughout the years of its history, the Barnegat Bay area has had many resources and has been used for many purposes. Each part of the economic growth of the Bay is due to the people who came to the shore to find new ways of living. Each had their own individual skills but when they came together, the Bay was the center of their economic world.
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