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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Expedition to Clark's Landing

Never let it be said that my good friend, Murray Harris, would ever turn down the chance for an adventure. Click on the December 10, 2008 Blog entry "Peaches and a Plane Crash in the Pines" for an example:

Murray Harris on his bike, seeking yet another adventure.

Today's Blog entry is about another of Murray's forays into the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

A few weeks ago John Yates, a history buddy, asked me to take him to Clark's Landing to see the two ancient graves that overlook the Mullica River in Galloway Township. Seems John has embarked on a quest to collect the GPS locations of all the places mentioned in "Absegami Yesteryear", a book that visits historic places in old Gloucester County, now Atlantic County. He wanted to add Clark's Landing to his list of successes.

I had been to see the graves thirty some years ago with Murray as my guide. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember how to get to the remote location, especially since the landscape has changed so drastically with the proliferation of phragmites along the Mullica River bank. Sensing that it was about time for another Murray Harris adventure, I suggested to John that he ask Murray to take him to see the graves at Clark's Landing. I knew that they would ask me to come along, and I was not disappointed.

John and Murray chose a date for their Clark's Landing excursion and invited me along. I agreed. How could I say no with the sense of adventure in the air.

The expedition to the graves at Clark's Landing would start at my house (upper right) in New Gretna and end at the graves (Marked by "G") on the Galloway Township side of the Mullica River. (Map courtesy of Google Maps.)

Murray thoughtfully laid out a plan. Due to the thick phragmites swamps with their tangle of trails surrounding the grave sites from an inland approach, and a suspect, rickety bridge crossing a small stream, an amphibious assault was clearly the answer. We would take a canoe, by car, to the landing at the end of Hay Road and embark upstream to a beachhead within walking distance of the graves. The dangers of becoming lost in the phragmites swamps and the precarious bridge would thus be eliminated. It was a masterful plan. General Harris had clearly risen to the occasion. We would rendezvous at my house at 10 A.M., tie the canoe on Murray's car roof, and head for the Landing at the end of Hay Road.

The plan was to take the water route by canoe and walk up to the graves from the river's edge. (Modified Google Map)

The night before our planned excursion the weather turned for the worst. By morning there was a light rain and near gale winds, certainly not ideal weather for an amphibious landing. I was beginning to sense how Eisenhower must have felt before D Day. About 8:30 A.M., I decided to telephone Murray to reschedule. There was no way I was going to get in a canoe with those winds and the resulting white caps on the river.

Murray's wife, Jean, answered the phone and reported that Murray had already left their home, in Tinton Falls, about 7:30 A.M. I should have known that a little rain and wind would not deter Murray, not while an adventure was a foot.

The first pangs of anxiety began to creep in. The drive from Murray's home to my house was no more than fifty minutes, so I began asking myself, "Where is Murray?" It was a question I would be asking for the next few hours. The adventure had begun!

I telephoned John and told him to sit tight until Murray surfaced. Meanwhile, the clock ticked away throughout the morning . . . 9 AM . . . 10 AM . . . 11 AM . . . and still no word from Murray. The anxiety and tension was building. I was about to call for the blood hounds, when my phone rang around 11:15 am, and a familiar voice called out . . . "Hi. It's Murray!" Boy, was I relieved to finally hear from him.

"Where are you?", I asked. Murray replied, "I'm at the Port Republic Store." He went on to explain that he realized that the weather was not conducive to a canoe trip and the planned water route to the grave site. Not wanting to postpone an exciting trip, he decided to leave home early, drive down to Hay Road in Galloway Township, and see if he could remember the land route to the graves. It was over thirty years since he had been there. If he was able to find the graves, he planned to continue with the 10 AM meeting at my house and proceed with the adventure. Ah, the best laid plans!

Unfortunately, the fickle finger of fate intervened. That was not unusual with Murray involved. He found the graves with little trouble; however, on his way back to the car he got disoriented in the thick, 10 foot tall maze of phragmites. That led to an hour or two of wandering around in the tangled swamp trying to find his way back to the car. Unfortunately, he didn't have his cell phone with him, so couldn't call to let John and I know what was going on.

I arranged to meet Murray at the Port Republic store and called John to inform him of the somewhat altered plan. We rendezvoused at the store some time after noon and drove to Hay Road where we left the car and proceeded into the pine woods on the overland route to the graves.

John and Murray at Hay Road, preparing for the overland journey to the Clark's Landing graves. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The hike to the graves started with a walk up a sand road in the pine woods. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The sand road narrowed to a trail through increasingly thicker woods. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The trail in the thick woods eventually turned into a phragmite swamp. We found ourselves in a twisting maze. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Crossing the old rickety bridge was akin to performing a balance beam routine at the Olympics. Here Murray wins a gold medal. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Finally, we were out of the swamp onto higher ground and knew that we were getting near the graves. (May 26, 2009 photo courtesy of Pete Stemmer.)

A shakey, old split rail fence surrounds the two graves. Without the fence they would have been difficult to find. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

The grave stones have been laid flat to the ground and cast in concrete so that they could not be stolen. Unfortunately, they are almost unreadable. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Jack Boucher outlined the words on the two tombstones in 1961 for his book "Absegami Yesteryear".

We are able to read the inscriptions on Tom and Ruth Clark's tombstones due to the 1961 efforts of Jack Boucher for his book, "Absegami Yesteryear". Note the chalk outlines of two footstones in the foreground that had been cast, standing upright, in the concrete and were snapped off and stolen by vandals. They had been intact two years earlier when Jack visited the site. (Photo from page 101 of "Absegami Yesteryear".)

The whereabouts of the missing footstones were known to me through the efforts of John Yates. He noticed them in the basement of the Atlantic County Historical Society a year or so ago and emailed photos to me. Great detective work, John!

Thomas (left) and Ruth Clark's footstones are now resting in the basement of the Atlantic County Historical Society. (Photo by John Yates.)

John told me that vandals had broken off the footstones after they had been cast in the concrete. They were missing for some time when hunters, roaming through the area, noticed them at the bottom of a nearby creek. How they came to be there is not known, but I believe that whoever broke them off had intended to carry them back to their car but were unable to maneuveur the heavy stones over the difficult terrain and the creek. They likely dropped them in the creek and gave up in frustration.

The story of Clark's Landing is sketchy. It was settled in the late 1600's or very early 1700's. By 1718 its 275 plus residents lived in a thrieving community consisting of over forty houses, a church, and store house. Twenty years later, the rough log structures had been replaced by frame buildings cut and sawed from the native Jersey cedar that was prevelent in the area. A saw mill, town hall, trading post, and store had been added to serve the population which had nearly doubled from two decades earlier.

I could find no account of the demise of the once bustling village. The two lone graves of Thomas and Ruth Clark are all that remain to remind us of the ancient settlement overlooking the Mullica River. Sadly, we don't know anything about the two former residents who now rest on the bluff overlooking the Mullica River, other than the brief words inscribed on their tombstones:

  • Here Lyes the Body of Mr. Thomas Clark who died May 17Th A.D. 1752 In the 63rd Year of His Age
  • Here Lyes Body of Mrs Ruth Clark Wife of Mr Thos Clark who Died June 2nd 1749 in the 53rd Year of Her Age

Before we left the grave site, John took a GPS reading of the location of the stones for his collection. The day had been a success.

Now that he had gotten the GPS coordinates for the Clark's Landing graves, John was one happy camper. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

I wish I could say that the return trip to our car was uneventful, but such was not the case. One of us slipped off the shakey, old bridge up to his knees in the creek. I won't mention any names, so as not to embarrass anyone. Thankfully, the camera and GPS unit did not go in the drink.

Just before the fall. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Murray guided us back to the car with determined precision. He had learned his morning lesson well.

"The car's that way!" (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Murray was true to his word. He, indeed, did know the way back to the car. We made it back without a wrong turn in the phragmite swamp and headed to the Port Republic Store for a cup of coffee and to pick up our cars for the journey home.

The Port Republic Store. (May 26, 2009 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

Well, if you thought our adventure was over for the day, you don't know Murray. On the way back to my house, we stopped by the Chestnut Neck Monument and the three old Mathis graves tucked back in the thick, brambled woods just a stone's throw, diagonally across the street from the monument. But those are stories for another time.

Oh, I almost forgot the reason for our expedition - the GPS coordinates for the Clark's Landing graves. John tells me they are 39.57605 -74.54420.

Pete S

PS- Want to learn more about Clark's Landing and Thomas and Ruth Clark? Click on the following links:
  • Clark's Landing video on You Tube. The quality is poor, but it gives you a good feel for the old, rickity bridge that you must cross.

  • The Clarks of Clark's Landing, N.J. gives some family history data for those interested in genealogy.


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the video on your Bass River History blog pertaining to the Clark's Landing Cemetery. It seems you need to be Indiana Jones to get there! I have been looking High and Low for local Port Republic, Galloway, and Absecon cemeteries, cataloging every member of the Giberson Family I can find. Obviously there are no Gibersons buried in Clark's Mill, so you saved me from what looks like a very difficult trip. Thank you. The earliest grave I can find of my ancestors is Jesse Giberson in the St. Paul Methodist cemetery. I had been looking for his father, James, my 4th great grandfather, who fought in the Revolutionary war, but have come to the conclusion the early settlers of Port Republic and Chestnut Neck were probably planted on their farmsteads rather in a proper community burial ground. Old James is probably lying somewhere behind Mayor Gary's house or in Redwing lakes

    When done with my Giberson genealogy, I will be researching the Leeks, another side of my family. They were from New Gretna, so I suppose I have a Bass River connection!

    Thanks for the blog.

    BK Giberson

  2. Hi, we met the other day at the Atlantic Heritage Center. When you get to the Leek family, be sure to check out the book "The Leek Family of Southern New Jersey" by Helen Leek Mack. It is available at most historical societies and libraries.

    Also, the Clark Burying Ground (Site of the Clark's Mills Meeting House) is not the Clark site in this blog post. I have GPS coordinates for the two cemeteries we mentioned as:

    Clark Burying Ground (Clark's Mills Meeting House): 39.51798 -74.50999
    Church Yard of Smith's Meeting House (Old Union Cemetery): 39.51885 -74.49538

    You can cut and paste these coordinate pairs into address window.

    You might have a look also at: "Churches & Graveyards of the New Jersey Pine Barrens" by R. Marilyn Schmidt. It gives brief descriptions and locations of both of these cemeteries and many more.

    John Yates

  3. wo the last book sounds interesting thanks for sharing john. have to buy it.

  4. Hi John.

    I really had forgotten about this post until you reminded me at the 2010 Battle of Chestnut Neck ceremony. It was good to see you again and to meet the other officers of the Colonel Richard Somers SARS chapter. They all seem like very fine people. It is time that a Giberson was represented in our local SARS chapter, and if the first representative isn't Gary, you'll have to settle for myself; a very poor substitute, but I like to think James would have approved. I'm a farmer and bay-man at heart.

    Yes, I know the featured video wasn't of Clark's Mill Burial ground in Port Republic. I park next to it quite often when fishing at my favourite 'secret' spot. I always remember to greet my 3rd great Aunt Mary Giberson Clark, who was the wife of Thomas Clark, another of our local patriots. Thomas' and her grave are at the very front of the Cemetery facing Indian Cabin road, and I'd feel rude not to acknowledge our kinship.

    Look forward to our next meeting. You seem adventurous. Maybe we can plan a joint excursion into the deepest darkest Pine barrens looking for the fabled 'Giberson's Gold'. I'll bring my metal detector!

    Best regards.


  5. Very glad I found this! I have information from genealogical research on my 7th great-grandfather Thomas Clark and this grave matches the description perfectly.

    Thomas Clark
    Birth 11 Feb 1686 in Killlingworth, Connecticut
    Death 17 May 1752 in Clarks Landing, Atlantic, New Jersey, United States
    Married 20 Aug 1746 in Gloucester, NJ

    Hannah Ruth Norris
    Birth 1683 in Northampton, Burlington, NJ
    Death 2 Jun 1749 in Elizabethtown, Essex, New Jersey, USA

    1. I have genealogical information that indicates that my 6th great grandfather is Thomas Clark who died on 17 May 1752 at age 63. My information said he was married to "Hannah". I now see that Hannah must have been Hannah Ruth Norris. According to my information they had a son, David. David and Elizabeth Betts had a son, Thomas. Thomas and Mary Giberson had a son, James G. James G. and Sarah Hancock Endicott had a son, George Washington Clark. He and Sarah Jane Chamberlain had a daughter, Ellis. G. W. Clark moved to central Illinois. Ellis and several of her sisters homesteaded in Montana after the turn of the 20th Century, but Ellis returned to Illinois to have my mother, Mary Jane Clark. My mother changed the spelling of her name to Clarke and married Gene L. Anderson. I am the oldest of their four sons. Does any of this match the genealogical information you have?

  6. If anyone from this family would like to contact me raytclark at netzero dot net I have done dna testing and would like to share info with other Clarks.

  7. If anyone from this family would like to contact me raytclark at netzero dot net I have done dna testing and would like to share info with other Clarks.