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Monday, August 17, 2009

More Oak Island Photos

On last Friday's Blog we took a trip to Oak Island with Phyllis and Connie Sue Briggs. We also met Dewitt Clinton Mathis, the last descendant of the Great John Mathis to live on the island. He was quite a character.

Since that posting, I got a few emails and some people stopping me around town, asking if I had any more photos of Oak Island, particularly the old buildings that existed until recent years. I went through the Oak Island related photos on my computer and came up with the following photos and a 1858 map showing two houses on Oak Island. I hope you enjoy them.

Unfortunately, I don't have the dates the photos were taken or who they were taken by. I believe they may have been taken in the late 1970's. Not properly documenting photos is a poor practice for an historian, even an amateur one like myself, but that's how I received them. If anyone out in the Blog-O-Sphere recognizes the photos as ones you have taken, please drop a comment below, so that you can receive the proper credit. Also, if you have any knowledge or stories regarding any of the buildings in the photos, let's hear from you.

Pete S

This section from the 1858 Kuhn-Janney Map of Burlington County shows Oak Island with two houses, both belonging to a D. Mathis. It's likely that they refer to Daniel Mathis Jr. who occupied the island at that date. The French house along the Bass River was the second house built by the Great John Mathis in the area that is the Viking Boat works today. In 1858, it would have belonged to Thomas French, the oldest son of Francis French who bought the property from the Mathis family. The upper left portion of the map is the intersection of the present day Rt. 9 and Maple Avenues. Notice the Bass River Hotel on the South-East corner. The North-West corner is vacant as the New Gretna House has yet to be built.

The following is what Leah Blackman wrote, in 1880, about Oak Island on page 232 of her book, the "History of Little Egg Harbor Township". It documents how the island became the property of Daniel Mathis, Sr. By 1858, however, the houses would have belonged to his son, Daniel Mathis, Jr., as Daniel, Sr. passed away in 1836.


In the year 1713, John Mathis, William Birdsall and Moses Forman, all of whom then resided on Long Island, purchased of Daniel Leeds, of Springfield, 250 acres ,of land, in which was included this island, which at that time was called Biddle’s Island. Soon after this joint purchase, Birdsall and Forman sold their shares to John Mathis, thus constituting him the sole proprietor of the island. In the year 1716 John Mathis married and settled on this island, which he soon made into a farm. He made extensive banks around the island in order to defend it against the encroachments of the tide, and also built causeways, bridges and other conveniences. This island is noted for it’s valuable fisheries and its extensive salt marshes. After Job Mathis married, his father, John Mathis, deeded him this island farm; and after Job Mathis’ death, the farm came into the possession of his Son Daniel, who spent a long life there, and bequeathed the farm to his sons, Micajah Smith Mathis and Daniel Mathis. Daniel bought his brother’s share of the farm, thus constituting himself the sole proprietor. John Mathis built a bridge across the creek, between the island and the Francis French farm, and thus had a convenient communication between his two farms. The ownership of this island has been in the Mathis name ever since John Mathis purchased it — one hundred and fifty-five years ago.

And now, some photos . . .

Oak Island is the patch of trees seen on the right of this photo taken from the Job's Creek bridge on Route 9. (July 22, 2004 photo by Pete Stemmer.)

PPS- We haven't heard from Clif Brown or Dave Kalm in a while. Hope they are well. They, surely, must have made a visit or two to Oak Island in the 1940's that they could tell us about.


  1. Pete, This is Dave Kalm. I never spent much time on the island, but have heard mamy many stories about it. Get Alston Allen to tell you some of the tales of him and Boot Mathis gunning there over corn and being chashed by game wardens. He can tell you a lot of oak Island stories I do remember Clint Dewitt

  2. Dave,

    Good to hear from you. I'll get in touch with Bussie (Alston Allen) about Boot and gunning on Oak Island. Hopefully, I'll have something to report in a week or so about that.

    Meanwhile, reach back in your memory and give us a few stories about Clint and/or Oak Island. I'm sure you can come up with something.

    Pete S