Welcome to History Notes, our weekly feature that looks at Egg Harbor Township history. Each week we get a chance to learn or reminisce courtesy of Lynn Wood of the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society, who shares early photos of places in Egg Harbor Township with our readers.
Andrew Jackson Somers, born in 1840, made his livelihood as an oysterman, farmer and clammer. He would also cut lumber from trees on his property, haul gravel, make charcoal, cut salt hay and trap muskrats.
This was a way of life for many in the nineteenth century. Shellfishing along the bay in South Jersey goes back to the days of the Lenni-Lenape Indians. Jackson Somers, as he was called, lived on Steelmanville Road in Egg Harbor Township and kept his boat on Patcong Creek which empties into Great Egg Harbor Bay. His shallow skiff allowed him to use long rakes and tongs to bring in clams and oysters. Jackson leased over two acres of oyster beds in Atlantic County in 1912. The shellfish were sold to area hotels and markets. Since refrigeration was not perfected as yet, this was usually done in cooler weather. (The old fashioned rule was to eat oysters and clams in any month that had an R in it.) Jackson sold clams for $1 per thousand! He also owned property on Powell Creek in the English Creek section of the township.
Jackson married Maggie Madara from Estellville. They lived in a home built from lumber from his Powell Creek property, and had the logs cut into boards at Lee’s saw mill on Asbury Road in English Creek. Jackson and Maggie lived in their small home on Steelmanville Road, where they raised four sons, Nicholas, Howard, Andrew and Ben. They farmed many vegetables for their own use and to sell in Atlantic City.
In winter months when it was too cold to fish, Jackson would cut pine logs and take them out to the meadows. He covered the wood with salt hay from the marsh, which allowed the wood to burn slowly, creating charcoal that he would sell. He also cut salt hay and sold it to farmers and local businesses for horse bedding. Always keeping busy, he would haul gravel from pits in Bargaintown for use on the new bridge being built that connected Somers Point and Ocean City in 1914.
His grandson remembers him in his later years with a long white beard sitting by the stove with his pipe. His house was lit by kerosene lamps. It burned down in the late 1970s, long after Maggie and Jackson, at age 94, had died. Their grave can be seen between mighty cedar trees on Zion Road across from the historic Zion Methodist Church.
Information obtained from Jane Sear. Andrew Jackson Somers was her great-grandfather.
Enjoy series one of "A Virtual Tour of the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society Museum" on the Facebook page Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society Museum. Featured in series one: The Shore Mall.
Due to the coronavirus situation, the GEHTHS museum is currently closed, but the society hopes to reopen soon. Also see GEHTHSmuseum.org.