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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Theophilus Price and the "Tuckerton Meteor"

Last Monday we featured a Little Egg Harbor Civil War roster, which included Bass River residents, compiled by Dr. Theophilus T. Price along with his photo accompanied by a brief bio. He clearly was a prominent citizen in the history of our local area.

Today, we have another article involving the tale of Theophilus Price and the "Tuckerton Meteor". It seems that our area was a buzz with excitement over the Tuesday, November 15, 1859 sightings of a spectacular meteor which appeared to land practically on our doorstep.

It must have been quite an event, as people from all over south Jersey reported seeing the meteor, with many believing that it landed in their area. The following excerpt from an 1860 Journal of the Franklin Institute article presents an interview with Dr. Price about his observations concerning the meteor sightings in the Tuckerton area.

It's not surprising that a scientific journal would pick Dr. Theophilus T. Price to interview regarding the meteor sightings in the Tuckerton area. I can't think of a more observant or creditable witness. (Photo courtesy of the Tuckerton Historical Society.)

Collection of Observations on the Day-light Meteor of Nov. 15, 1859,
with remarks on the same.

for the Journal of the Franklin Institute.

This meteor made its appearance at about half past 9 o'clock, A. M (New York time,) the weather being perfectly clear, and the sun shining brightly.

It was seen at Salem, Boston, and New Bedford, Mass.; Providence, R. L; New Haven, and many other places in Conn.; New York City; Paterson, Medford, and Tuckerton, N. J.; Dover, and other places in Delaware; Washington City ; Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Petersburg, Virginia.

It was heard at Medford, New Jersey, and at all places in that State, south of a line going Tuckerton and Bridgeton, and throughout nearly the whole of Delaware.

With perhaps two or three exceptions, it was not seen by any one in New Jersey, south of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad; that is to my, throughout the very region where the report was loudest.

Many persons there, saw a momentary flash of light "like the reflection of the sun from a looking-glass, but could not tell where it came from.

The appearance of the meteor at different places is described as fol­lows . . .

Tuckerton, N. J.

Theophilus T. Price says, "A few persons in this vicinity saw a ball of fire,' as they express it, pass apparently from a very high region of the heavens, and from nearly overhead, and descend towards the earth in a south-westerly direction, very far off."

“Others saw only a flash of light, while a very large majority of those who heard the rumbling noise, saw nothing unusual previously. The concurrent testimony of those who saw the flash, or the meteor itself, fixes the time that elapsed between the appearance and the report, at between three and four minutes. This would make its distance from this place between forty and fifty miles, which agrees very well with other circumstances known in reference to it.

"At the time the event occurred, a number of workmen were repairing a bridge over Wading River, nine miles westward of this place. The foreman, a man of veracity and intelligence, informed me that himself and those that were with him, had a distinct view of the fall of the meteor. There being very little wind, the surface of the river was smooth, and, while busily engaged above it, they were suddenly startled by a flash of light upon the water beneath them, and looking up, beheld a 'ball of fire' receding and descending in the distant south­west. The foreman looked at his watch, and remarked that it was twenty minutes to ten o'clock. Presently, they were again startled by the roaring, rumbling, or rushing noise, which seemed to jar the air around them, and which so many thousands of persons in Southern New Jersey heard with wonder and even with terror."

The original bridge over the Wading River at Bridgeport was a swing bridge, opened on the above photo, which rotated to allow ships to pass through. It was this bridge that the workmen were repairing when they saw the "Tuckerton Meteor". (Photo courtesy of Steve Eichinger.)

"Either during the continuance of this noise, or at its close (I do not recollect which my informant stated), he looked at his watch again, and found the time sixteen minutes to ten. He says that the meteor exploded and disappeared before it reached the horizon, and that it had a short train or tail. It disappeared perhaps within ten degrees of the horizon.

“This account is concurred in by his workmen, and coincides with another related by a woodman near Tuckerton, who was in the act of felling a tree, a looking up to see which way it would fall, saw, as he says, "a large ball of fire" shoot out of the sky, and sink away in the south-west. He was very much frightened, and spoke of it to a gentleman who came up immediately after, who says that three or four minutes elapsed before the terrible roaring began.

The next week after the phenomenon occurred, I was in the south­ern part of this State, and as far south as Cape Island; and wherever I went, it was the common subject of conversation. At Tuckahoe and Marshallville on Tuckahoe River, the noise was said to proceed from a cloud of smoke, very high, nearly or quite overhead ; while in the middle and lower parts of Cape May County, it was invariably spoken of as being in the north. Several persons in various parts of Cape May County saw the cloud of smoke, but I heard of none who saw the meteor itself."

Mr. Price further says, " I venture the opinion that the meteor came from far beyond our atmosphere, and struck it some distance north­east of the place of its disappearance, passing in a south-west direc­tion towards the earth at an angle of less than forty-five degrees from the perpendicular. If an aerolite, it must have fallen to the earth somewhere in the vicinity or south of Tuckahoe River. I would place its locality somewhere in the forests between Tuckahoe and Maurice Rivers. It is possible that it reached the Delaware Bay in Maurice River Cove, but this I do not think very probable, from the fact that the cloud of smoke seemed nearly or quite vertical at Marshallville."

Again. The sky was perfectly cloudless, and the wind blowing lightly from the south-west. The noise is variously described, as re­sembling the quick and successive discharges of artillery, the rumbling of a train of cars over a wooden bridge, or the prolonged roar of dis­tant thunder. It continued more than a minute. The noise proceeded from the south-west, and appeared to such as were in the open air, to be above the earth."

After reading Dr. Price's account of the meteor's dramatic appearance at the Wading River bridge, I couldn't help but wonder if Steve Eichinger's ancestors, who lived adjacent to the bridge for a few generations, were witnesses to the historic event. I'll have to ask Steve if he heard any family stories about the meteor sighting the next time I see him.

You can read the entire "Tuckerton Meteor" article, including eyewitness reports from towns throughout South Jersey, in the Journal of the Franklin Institute on our Bass River History Web Site by clicking on the link below:

I was able to find an additional newspaper article documenting the meteor. It was a New York Times reprint of a letter in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. Unfortunately, the letter was not signed, and it only dealt with the Beesley's Point area. Tuckerton was not mentioned. There can be no doubt; however, that the article speaks of the same meteor that was seen by Dr. Price.

November 21, 1859 New York Times

I also came across a transcription of Theophilus T. Price's obituary and thought that some of our Blog readers may be interested in it.


Dr. Theophilus Townsend Price, aged 80 years, died on Monday, April 27. 1908, at the residence of Mrs. Abigail G. Townsend. Cape May. from the effects of paralysis with which he had been afflicted for nearly a year. When stricken he was practicing his profession at Tuckerton, and was taken to Cape May, in the hope of his recovering, but his age, although he was well preserved for his age, was against him. and he succumbed, dying peacefully a Christian death.

Dr. Price was born on the Price homestead plantation at Town Bank, Lower Township, Cape May County, on May 21, 1828, and was the seventh child of John and Keziah (Swain) Price, the latter being a daughter of Daniel Swain. Both the Swain and Price families are of the oldest in Cape May County.

When three years of age his father removed to a farm above Cold Spring, and on this farm the doctor lived until he reached manhood, and attended the common schools and later the Cold Spring academy.

From his twentieth to his twenty-third year he taught Cape May County schools. In 1850 he began the study of medicine under the direction of the late Dr. Virgil M. D. Marcy, of Cape May, who then resided at Cold Spring. In March, 185.1, he was graduated in medicine and the same spring settled at Tuckerton, where he resided until stricken with paralysis.

In November, 1854, he married Eliza, youngest daughter of Timothy Pharo, and by this union he had two children one of whom is living—Rev. Theophilus P. Price, formerly pastor of the First Baptist Church, of Cape May and now State Fire Warden for the New Jersey State Forestry Commission. He married for his second wife about ten years ago, Mrs. Mary E. Williamson, who still survives him.

Soon after his settlement at Tuckerton he became interested in and identified with the public affairs of the communities in which he lived. The township of Little Egg Harbor, in which the village of Tuckerton is located, was at that time a part of Burlington County. He became a member of the Burlington County Medical Society in 1854 and remained a member thereof until the time of his death. He was township superintendent of the public schools of Little Egg Harbor for eight years and until the law was passed abolishing town superintendents and creating county superintendents. Dr. Price was connected with educational matters in Tuckerton for over fifty years. During a greater portion of that time he was President of the Board of Education. He was ever zealous for the best interests of educational matters and possessed a patriotic spirit of remarkable degree. He was a trustee of the South Jersey Institute, at Bridgeton, for nine years.

In 1865 he organized and conducted for fourteen years a union mission Sunday school in a destitute neighborhood near Tuckerton; was instrumental and active in organizing the first Baptist Church at West Creek, Ocean County, in 1876, of which he was chosen deacon, clerk and treasurer for fifteen years. In 1891 he was actively instrumental in organizing and constituting the Baptist Church of Tuckerton. of which he was a licentiate, deacon and clerk.

He was postmaster of Tuckerton during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations; was elected to the New Jersey Legislature in 1868. During this service he obtained a charter to build a railroad from Tuckerton to Egg Harbor City, and a supplement to a charter to build a railroad from Manchester to Tuckerton. The latter road, now the Tuckerton Railroad, was built in 1871, of which he was elected a director and secretary, remaining in that capacity until his death. He was a director of the National Bank of Medford, N. J., for thirty-five years.

He was also a trustee of the New Reform School for Boys at Jamesburg for three years; president of the Board of Trustees of the Camden Baptist Association, president of the Board of Education of Little Egg Harbor, physician and secretary of the Board of Health, director and secretary of the Beach Haven Land Association, life member of the 'New Jersey Historical Society and president of the Board of Trustees of Tuckerton Library Association.

For seventeen years he held the office of United States Marine Hospital surgeon at the port of Tuckerton and until the office was abolished by the government, March, 1896. During this time he examined annually about one hundred and fifty life-saving men before they entered on their duties. He has contributed from time to time articles to the press, both in prose and verse, and has delivered many public addresses and lectures.

In 1877 he wrote the descriptive and historical portions of the New Jersey Coast Atlas, published by Woolman & Rose, covering the first sixty-eight pages of. that work. He was the author "of the popular "Ode to Cape May." which has been sung in old families of Cape May for years, and which is published in full on the first pages of Lewis T. Stevens' "History of Cape May County."

Tuckerton and its progress was ever dear to him, and that town and other towns where his influence has been felt are better to-day from the life and example of this honored arid beloved Christian gentleman.

The funeral services were held April 30. in the First Baptist Church, conducted by Rev. H. P. Crego, the pastor, assisted by Rev. James Burns, pastor of the First M. E. Church, who was a personal friend of the doctor. The interment was made at Cold Spring Presbyterian Church cemetery.

Wow, what an interesting life he led! I hope that you enjoyed learning about this fascinating man as much as I have.

Pete S

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