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The Long Beach Island Massacre





The Long Beach Island Massacre1
25 October 1782



New Jersey Privateer Galley Alligator was operating in 1782. Alligator was commanded by Timothy Shaler for a time, between May 1782 and June 1782. The galley may have been fifty-one feet, six inches in length and armed with six “25 pound guns and three five pound” guns.2


About October 1782, the British Privateer Ship Virginia captured a cutter, bound from Ostend, Austrian Netherlands, to Virginia, or St. Thomas, Danish West Indies. The cutter had a valuable cargo of Hynson tea, valued at £20000 pounds at Ostend. She was captured and ordered in to New York. Virginia arrived off Sandy Hook on 29 October, but there was no sign of the cutter.3


Map of Barnegat Inlet. The action seems to have taken place about a mile south of the light. Barnegat City is now known as Barnegat Light.

On 25 October 1782 New Jersey Privateer Galley Alligator was sailing off Barnegat Bay, when a vessel was spotted, late in the afternoon, ashore on Barnegat Shoals or Long Beach Island. She was near Spear Point (Barnegat Shoals). Alligator came in to investigate and discovered she was the prize cutter. The cargo was still aboard, but no crew.4

It’s not clear who the captain of the Alligator was: some accounts list the captain as Andrew Steelman [Stillman] of Cape May,5 others make him the Lieutenant; other sources indicate the commander was David Scull. A Captain Joseph Covenhoven was also aboard, with about twenty-two other men. The owner seems to have been Joseph Ball, operator of the Batsto Iron Works.6

Steelman was sent ashore with a detachment to salvage the cargo. He sent to the mainland for assistance and several locals turned out to help. Among those were one Joseph, Hezekiah and Reuben Soper, a father and his two sons. Also among those coming out was one William Wilson, a local Loyalist. After examining the situation Wilson departed.


The Americans set about unloading the cargo with a high sea and cold wind. After a time the work was stopped and a camp was established. Many of the townsmen returned home, but some stayed in the camp. Some of the crew returned to the Alligator, with Scull and Covenhoven still aboard. Reuben, Joseph and Hezekiah Soper remained with the sailors in the camp. Early in the morning five men left the camp to retrieve water, including Hezekiah and Joseph Soper.


While the stranded cutter was being unloaded, Wilson had contacted  a Tory (Refugee), one Captain John Bacon, who operated a band of Tory refugees in the area. Bacon took his whaleboat, the Hero’s Revenge, and another boat and nine of his men and proceeded to Long Beach Island. They beached in a cove on the bay side of the island and approached the camp in the early morning.


Marker in the state park at the lighthouse commemorating the action there.

Seeing the sleeping men in the camp, Bacon’s men attacked with their knives. Several men were killed at the first rush. Others awoke to find themselves at a decided disadvantage. The skirmish was heard on the Alligator and Scull led reinforcements ashore, but was wounded in the thigh. The Refugees withdrew and Scull discovered most of the men were dead including Steelman. Reuben Soper was mortally wounded and was evacuated to the Alligator. The rest were left ashore. The Alligator sailed forth carrying the wounded.7

According to the contemporary British account Steelman was killed, the lieutenant wounded (evidently meaning Scull), and all the rest of the twenty-five men were killed or wounded. The wounded were sent to a doctor, under a flag of truce, and the Alligator was brought in to New York on 30 October.8



1 Alternative names are “Barnegat Massacre,” and, anachronistically, “Barnegat Light Massacre”

2 http://www.njpinelandsanddownjersey.com/open/index.php?module=documents& JAS_DocumentManager_op=viewDocument& JAS_Document_id=205 accessed 25 January 2009

3 The Royal Gazette [New York], Wednesday, October 30, 1782 and Saturday, November 2, 1782

4 Salter, Edwin, and Beekman, George C., Old Times in Old Monmouth Historical Reminiscences of Old Monmouth County, New Jersey, The Monouth Democrat, Freehold, NJ: 1887, 46

5 Salter, Edwin, and Beekman, George C., Old Times in Old Monmouth Historical Reminiscences of Old Monmouth County, New Jersey, The Monouth Democrat, Freehold, NJ: 1887, 46; Somerville, George B., The Lure of Long Beach, Long Beach Board of Trade, Long Beach: 1914, 37-38

6 http://www.njpinelandsanddownjersey.com/open/index.php?module=documents& JAS_DocumentManager_op=viewDocument& JAS_Document_id=205 accessed 25 January 2009

7 http://www.njpinelandsanddownjersey.com/open/index.php?module=documents& JAS_DocumentManager_op=viewDocument& JAS_Document_id=205 accessed 25 January 2009

8  The Royal Gazette [New York], Saturday, November 2, 1782


Posted 30 January 2009 © awiatsea.com