Jonas Cattell was born in 1758, on a farm called Lavender Hills. The farm was located just outside of Woodbury in what is now Deptford. He was listed in Ripley's Believe It Or Not for hand delivering a letter from Woodbury to Cape May and back, 160 miles, on foot in two days. At the age of 18, in 1776, Cattell became a hero. The Hessians were camped in Haddonfield. They were planning a surprise, early morning attack against the American troops at Fort Mercer. Jonas Cattell was familiar with all of the back trails in the area. He was known to have created a number of trails. Cattell took all of the back trails from Haddonfield to Ft. Mercer. He arrived well before the Hessians. Because the American troops were able to prepare for the battle against the Hessians, they were able to defeat and almost totally annihilate them.
Jonas Cattell was known to wear a red flannel shirt, a heavy overcoat, fisherman's boots, and canvas leggings. He also carried a gun and a tomahawk. He was also famous for his tall tales. One tall tale involves Jonas sailing a small boat at Big Timber Creek. All of a sudden an eighteen- foot sturgeon jumped on board the boat. The sturgeon sprang overboard; but Jonas was able to grab it. Jonas Cattell rode the fish all the way to the shore. When he was on land, Jonas threw the sturgeon into a creek.
Another tall tale involves a similar story. Jonas and two friends were fishing in the Cohansey River. A shark started to circle their boat. Hoping to get rid of the shark, Jonas and his friends threw flour, sugar, and lemons at the shark. The shark swallowed the items and still circled the boat. The men were desperate. They threw wood, oars and tools at the shark. Again, the shark swallowed the items and still circled the boat. One of the men got really desperate and thought of Jonah and the whale. He threw Cattell overboard. The shark swallowed Cattell in one big gulp. The two remaining men were able to lasso the stuffed shark. They rode the shark to Bridgeton. They were proud of their catch and they hung it upside down. The shark began to stink in the hot sun. The men cut the shark open. Jonas walked out of the shark. While he was inside the shark, Jonas, being ever resourceful, built a refreshment stand with the wood and tools that were thrown overboard. He used the lemons and sugar thrown overboard to make lemonade. He sold the lemonade to people who came from all around to marvel at the huge shark that was caught.
Jonas Cattell died in 1854 at the age of 96. He is buried in a tiny wooded grove in Deptford. The grave is located on Melvin Avenue, one block south of Caulfield Avenue. Jonas loved the woods and trails of the pines and spent hours exploring them as a youth.During the Revolution, when he was only eighteen, Jonas learned about a surprise attack the Hessians were planning against the American troops at Fort Mercer. On foot, he raced through the Pines and slipped through the lines to warn the Continental troops. Jonas’s speed, endurance and knowledge of the back-woods trails enabled him to reach the fort before the Hessians. The Americans were victorious, nearly annihilating the Hessians. After the war, used his woodsman’s skills to work as a hunter and guide. He allegedly outraced horse-mounted hunters and once won a bet by running a 160-mile round trip from Woodbury to Cape May in just two days. When he was fifty he outpaced an Indian in a race from Mount Holly to Woodbury. In that rare old work by Isaac Mickle, “Reminiscences of Old Gloucester” 1843, page 63, we read: “there were many distinguishable men connected with the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, but none is more deserving immortality than Jonas Cattell. For twenty years this worthy fellow was the grand guide and whipper-in to the hunters, always at his post, whether with the setting out of the company, leading off, at fault, or at the death.
While all the rest rode, he traveled on foot with his gun and tomahawk, and was always on hand for any emergency, before half the riders came in sight. His physical strength and activity were almost incredible. When about fifty years of age he ran a foot race from Mt. Holly to Woodbury with an Indian runner of great celebrity and came off victor. About the same time he won in a wager by going on foot from Woodbury to Cape Island, delivering a letter, and returning in the same manner with an answer on the day following. He accomplished this extraordinary feat with ease and was willing to repeat it the same week on the same terms.
The sketch we have of Jonas Cattell upon our blackboard today was copied from an old cut on the same page of “Mickles Reminisces”. Mr. Mickles adds in a foot note, “In 1830, when Mr. Clay drew the likeness of Cattell, from which the above cut is roughly copied, he was engaged in fishing at Clark’s fishery. We saw him at the meeting in Woodbury, in March last, to remonstrate against the settling off of Camden County. He is still alive and hearty and fond of telling stories of h9is hunting days and anecdotes of the leading men in the Gloucester Club. He does not know how old he is, but thinks he is not far from ninety. The author of memoir from which we have drawn most of the facts in this text says he was enlisted by the club in 1796, but does not give his age at that time.
Barber’s New Jersey Historical Collection” published in 1845, says, pages 214, 215, “Among the most valuable members of the Club was Jonas Cattell. This extraordinary hunter was over six feet in height and athletic. Although always on foot, he appeared altogether tireless when the riders and horses were jaded.”
Personal Traditions of Jonas Cattell
One of the earliest memories of my childhood is that of hearing my mother tells this story of Jonas Cattell: “He was a wonderful hunter who kept up with the dogs, and got most of the game. He had good dogs himself, and knowing the woods, the best places for game, and just when to go, his neighbors were glad to have him as their guide, although envious of his skill.”
“Once, however, his fellow huntsmen made a plot to steal Jona’s dogs and get away without him to go on a deer hunt up towards Coles Mill, east of Squankum, agreeing to start at midnight.
“But in some way ‘Old Jonas got wind of it’ and outwitted them. He afoot, dogs along, two hours earlier than they, and when his neighbors arrived at Hospitality Mill, about sunrise, Jonas had a deer killed and hung up.”
Forty years later the writer, when collecting material for local history, had an interview with Mrs. Joshua Tomlin, former Miss Millicent Steelman, who was born at Hospitality Mill, 1824, and now April 1905, lives in Gibbsboro.
She remembered the incident; saw the deer that hung up in the mill, scarcely a dozen yards from her childhood home, her father, William Steelman, being the sawyer there. She recollects, also, some members of the belated party, including Thomas W. Hurff, and Henry Firth, both long since deceased.
The opening scenes of my passing life drama contained an interesting character, “Old Black Joe,” a gentle mulatto with kindly instincts and a Quaker bringing up. In the evenings in the old homestead in the woods, my youthful years heard tales of “Black Joe’s personal knowledge of Jonas Cattell – how he was half Indian – ate dried snake meat and other unmentionable offal, and that the present members of the Cattell family repudiated Jonas’ Indian blood.
Late, from a man yet living, who is proud of his Indian descent, Nathaniel C. Sneathen, Hurffville, New Jersey. I heard the same stories, and who, no doubt, would be able to give more interesting traditions of the notable Jonas Cattell.
Williamstown, formerly Squankum, has a special interest in Jonas Cattell, from the fact that this area was a favorite hunting ground of his not only for foxes, but also for deer. Washington A Sickler, now past 75 years of age, tells me that Jonas used to in his older days come to Blue Anchor and stay two or three weeks at a time on hunting trips. Jonas’ Brother, Nathan Cattell, the original discoverer of glass sand in this vicinity, lived at Loggerhead Branch, Hospitality Mills, Brooklyn and Blue Anchor, having in common with his brother Jonas many Indian traits and habits, including the inordinate use of “Fire Water,” but Jonas is never spoken of as a drinking man.
Of the men living today who remember Jonas Cattell I would mention Washington A. Sickler and Jacob Jennings, Sicklerville; Clayton B. Tice and Charles Alexander of Williamstown.
Descended from Henry Jennings of Colonial note, Jacob Jennings was born in 1823, and spent about 20 years of his early life a near neighbor to Jonas Cattell. He says there were three Jonas Cattells, “Revolutionary Jonas,” “Lavender Jonas,” his son, and “young Jonas,” son of Lavender, living between Woodbury and Almonesson, and were all three buried in the Cattell burying ground within Mr. Jenning’s Recollection.
Of the eldest, “Revolutionary Jonas” Mr. Jennings says “Jonas Cattell certainly was a half-bred Indian and looked like a full blood.” He also states that “Lavender Jonas” had children besides “Young Jonas”, Robert, Jacob, Charles, Mary and Rachel, the last marrying Clayton Shuster.
The Cattell homestead joined the James Davis farm, about ½ mile to the right, going west of the Woodbury and Almonesson road, directly on the road from “The Buck Pike” to Almonesson, when Mr. Jennings lived there.
The bodies of two Hessians were found along James Davis’ fence and a musket picked up, shortly after the Red Bank Battle, that is still in the family. Here too was cut an immense cherry tree from the lumber of which was made a table and cradle by old Jonas, both still in use, not far from Williamstown, among James Davis’s descendents.
While Clayton B. Tice does not remember that Jonas Cattell was half Indian, Charles Alexander, who in company with his mother, Elizabeth Alexander, (nee McCully), often visited Jonas when he was nearly a century old, says that Jonas was half Indian and that he lived later than 1850, though in his last years was unable to go out from his home.
Miss Ellen Leaming Matlock, of Woodbury, librarian of the Gloucester County Historical Society, by an interesting coincidence, visited the grave of Jonas Cattell the same day that the writer interviewed Jacob Jennings. She says in a letter of March 26th, 1905:
“Today I made a search for the burial place of Jonas Cattell. He lies, so the neighbors say, in a little plot of ground, fenced from the farm on the left hand side of the road going east (from Woodbury) toward Almonesson, possibly a half mile beyond the road leading to Westville, and almost bordering on the road leading into Woodbury under the West Jersey Railroad in a little wood not visible from the road.
I stopped at a farmhouse on the Cooper street road leading to Almonesson and they directed me to the place saying that I would find the Cattell plot.
There were quite a number of the conventional white marble slabs bearing that name, but only a few little worn grave stones without any lettering on them such as were used a century since.
Then I went to another farm where the people told me that his grave had never had a stone other than an unshappen bolder though it was well known where his body lay and that the General Howell Post, G. A. R. always brought flowers and a flag each Declaration Day.
I went back and found the spot, with a small rod of iron divided thus: “T” by the side of the white stone.”
Mr. Jennings also says that no regular tomb stone was put up at Jonas’ grave down to the time when he last visited the spot.
Now for the story that makes Jonas a Revolutionary Hero, and the chief factor in the victory at Red Bank where Colonel Christopher Greene with 400 American soldiers defeated an army of from 1200 to 2500 British and Hessians, according to the various authorities sent thither by the English Commander Howe.
Marquis de Chastellux, says in his account of the affair, gotten from M Duplessis Manduit, was an eye witness of the battle and the guide of the Marquis when he visited Red Bank in 1786 or thereabout.
“The 22nd of October in the morning, they received intelligence that a detachment of 2500 Hessians were advancing, who were soon after perceived on the edge of a wood to the north of Red Bank within cannon shot.”
Barber and Howes. “Historical Collections of New Jersey,” a work that was made by men who visited the place described, gives on page 210, a map of Red Bank battlefield that shows the road by which the Hessians approached the Garrison at Ft. Mercer.
Cushin and Shepards “History of Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland Counties,” pages 24-25, gives an account of the Battle of Red Bank taken mainly from Lossing’s “Field Book of the Revolution,” contains this statement: “Count Dunop with four Battalions consisting of 1200 picked Hessians was sent by Howe to take Ft. Mercer at Red Bank. They crossed the Delaware and landed at Coopers Ferry on the 21st of October 1777. The same evening they marched to Haddonfield, in New Jersey, a little above Gloucester. As they approached Timber Creek, on their way down the river, the Americans took up the bridge, and the enemy were obliged to march four miles up the stream to a shallow ford. They arrived at the edge of a wood, within cannon shot of Ft. Mercer on the morning of the 22nd.”
The are minor inaccuracies in the above accounts and the very next sentence to the last I quote from Cushing and Shepard contradicts de Chastellux’s statement that “they received intelligence”, by saying instead “their appearance, full armed for battle, was the first intimation the garrison had of their approach.
Gloucester County’s first Historian Issac Mickle says, in his account of the battle at Red Bank:
“Late in the afternoon of October 21st, 1777, Count Dunop with a detachment of about 2500 Hessians crossed the Delaware at Coopers Point to dislodge Greene and the little handful of Republicans who defended this redoubt. Owing to the precautions of the Americans in destroying the bridges on the intervening streams, the Count Passed through Haddonfield and down the Clements Bridge Road to the attack. He pressed several persons whom he found along the route into his service as pilots. On the morning of the 22nd the Hessians appeared at the edge of the forest north of the Fort, almost within cannon shot thereof.”
The story of Jonas Cattell’s guiding the Hessians was found a few months ago when gathering material for local history, at Williamstown. Michael Young, the last survivor of the older generations of the Nicholson and Young families, who flourished here over one hundred years ago, being the narrator.
“Uncle Mike” neither reads nor writes but remembers minutely many of the stirring old traditions that have circulated orally in this community the past hundred years, his story of Jonas Cattell is briefly this:
They came through Haddonfield one afternoon and told Jonas Cattell who was a boy learning the blacksmith trade, to throw down his hammer and come guide them to Red Bank.
He knew that the bridge at “the Buck” was up but he took them there first to delay them and then up the Timber Creek to Clements Bridge where they encamped because it was dark. In the night Jonas crept out of the camp “still as a black snake” and when he got past the guards he got up and ran to Red Bank, gave the alarm and returned to the Hessian camp getting in again without detection.
In the morning he guided them to their destination and obtaining his dismissal returned to his Haddonfield home.
Now if this story be authentic the our title is justified and to the half breed Indian boy whose sagacity delayed the mercenaries, whose cunning eluded their vigilance and whose run of five miles to Red Bank put the garrison on guard and whose prudence secures his earliest possible dismissal from their hated service, we, today, nearly 128 years after, accord to him his rightful place in American History, and devote our efforts as a society to spread his fame to the ends of the earth and to set his memory upon high where it shall shine with increasing luster while the principles of human freedom shall march on until all the world comes under their sway.
Personal Notes: by Robert Allen
“a boy learning the blacksmith trade” This also confuses me some. He was young and did work as a blacksmith, but he was not a naive “boy.” Jonas had already served a couple of stints in the local militia and also assisted in building the fort at Red Bank.
Other stories place the run at 10 miles, starting in Haddonfield, instead of Clements bridge. Also it is noted that Jonas returned “home to Haddonfield.” I have not found anything yet to suggest where he was living, but he lived out his life just outside of Woodbury, near the Cattell burial ground.
Jonas Cattell died in 1854 at the age of 96. He is buried in a wooded grove in Deptford Township. The local Kiwanis Club keeps his memory alive with an annual long-distance run from Haddonfield to Fort Mercer.