Welcome to the “Real” South Jersey – Salem County – The rest of the country, and the world for that matter, have certain pre-concieved notions of what New Jersey is all about. You probably know what they are and you, in fact, may have some them yourself. Don’t feel bad, so did Jules and I not all that long ago as we were comfortably cramped into our town home in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. We were 35 minutes away and to us, as probably to you, New Jersey was, well, mostly a corridor to get someplace else. And that is, in fact, the real shame – that in our own region here in the Delaware Valley, our little corner of New Jersey remains, at best, a secret and, at worst, a thoroughfare connecting Wilmington to Philly and then to New York with a few exits for the beach.
Well, you have just stumbled upon Salem County, part of what we have come to refer to as The “Real” South Jersey. Salem County is small quiet towns, vast expanses of farmland, and pastures dotted with cows and horses, sheep and goats. We are the native home to the Lenni Lenape who have their pow-wow here every year (an amazing experience, believe me) and the current home to the nation’s oldest weekly professional rodeo and the only one on the east coast. We have art studios and galleries, we have history, unique specialty shops, antique stores, farmer’s markets and roadside stands. We have our County Fair every August where tractors pull and pigs race and you can get a prize for the cow you’ve raised from a calf.
When we first found the farm that is now our vineyard and winery, we really thought we were on another planet. But it’s not -it is the garden part of the Garden State, as beautiful and unspoiled as it has been for hundreds of years. And it will change what you think of as New Jersey forever. Visit some of the links below and check out our little corner of the “Real” South Jersey. And come by and see us. I think you will be really glad you did. And see below for a few cool tales from Salem County….
– Cap’t America
TALES FROM SALEM COUNTY, NJ:
1) The Great Cow Chase (the inspiration for Auburn Road’s “Mad Anthony’s Chase” Spiced Apple Wine):
February 1778. Washington and his Army are on the brink of starvation and hypothermia at their camp in Valley Forge, PA. It is a famous story – one of the most inspirational in our nation’s early history. However, the details of how they survived that winter are not as famous – at least not until now…
Washington knew things were desperate. Without food and provisions, his Army would surely collapse and with it, possibly the Colonies’ chances of winning the War for Independence. He called his generals together and singled out one, his finest, for the dangerous and essential mission. That general, “Mad Anthony” Wayne, was to cross the Delaware River into Salem County, New Jersey – the most bountiful region in the Delaware Valley – and retrieve what he could: cattle for food and clothing; provisions; grains and produce stored up for winter. The farmers must all be compensated eventually, Washington insisted, but whatever could be spared must be commandeered. It was truly a matter of life and death.
Mad Anthony accepted the mission and with a small force, he crossed the Delaware River into Salem County and rounded up what he could including over 150 head of cattle. Now to begin the long trip back to Valley Forge. However, since the expidition began, the winter weather had gotten progressively worse which, combined with the problem of transporting 150 head of cattle across a body of water, made return the way they came impossible. To further complicate matters, the British now had intelligence about Mad Anthony’s mission and were now intent to intercepting him before he was able to reach Valley Forge. So began what was to become the first cattle drive in American history. Mad Anthony and his men started in what is now Sharptown (also known, appropriately, as Cowtown) which is only a few minutes south of where Auburn Road Vineyards now stands. From there, he drove the cattle up King’s Highway and north towards Trenton, where he figured he could find a narrow ford across the Delaware river to cross into Pennsylvania and then proceed south to Valley Forge, west of Philadelphia.
Along the way, he ducked and dodged the British. A few skirmishes here and there allowed him to clear his path for his cattle drive. It was slow moving – the cattle could only travel so many hours a day, the weather continued to be a problem and they had to take a winding path to stay one step ahead of the British. Before long, Mad Anthony crossed the cattle successfully into Pennsylvania and reached Valley Forge. The rest, as they say, is history. Now Washington’s Army had meat and leather to make clothes and shoes, grains for bread and other provsions to fortify the men. This cattle drive to save an Army became known to historians as “The Great Cow Chase” and is Salem County’s great contribution to the revolutionary cause.
Flash forward to the Bicentennial year of 1976. To commemorate this great event, “Stoney” Harris, grandfather of Cowtown Rodeo’s proprietor Grant Harris, re-enacted “The Great Cow Chase”. In June, 1976, Stoney and his volunteer cowboys drove 50 head of cattle along the same route followed by Mad Anthony so many years before. Stoney began in Sharptown and proceeded up King’s Highway. The path became a parade route and hundreds came out and cheered the cattle drive as it passed through their town. It is in tribute to Mad Anthony Wayne and Stoney Harris and their contributions to Salem County history and lore that we created “Mad Anthony’s Chase” Spiced Apple Wine in 2010.
(to be continued…)