The Legend Of Bodine’s Tavern
What’s This Say About Your Second Amendment ?
Reading featherweight histories of the New Jersey Pine Barrens from before the time of the internet, you’ll encounter, over and over, mention of Bodine’s Tavern, usually held up as a paradigm for participatory democracy in the young history of our nation. It was founded by John Bodine shortly after he mustered out of General Washington’s successful Continental Army and run by his family until the mid 18th century. The site was well chosen, close by the bridge over the Wading River, first stop where the stagecoach road from the port of Tuckerton, NJ wandered west toward Camden and Philadelphia. It was also quite close to post colonial industrial settlements at Batsto, Atsion, Martha Furnace and Harrisville. These places were especially important during the War of 1812. They often don’t look like much today, but there’s some great beauty there if you’re open to it.
The easy histories tell of how the tavern was the social center for the not-at-all teetotal folk of the Wading, Bass and Mullica River basins, rather a large catchment. It was the polling place for elections…you’ll remember that the electorate then were only land holding white males…no need to poll them in the school (what school ?) or church (which one ?) to accommodate the bone china teacup ladies. Four times a year at the change of seasons, all males, landed or not, were required to assemble there for military instruction and drill.
The recent middle school versions paint a picture of the guys getting together in the weeks before elections for a tankard of suds and to hear the candidates debate on the issues of the times…? should a harbormaster be appointed to record the location of moorings at “the Landing?”…” ? should the Freeholders contract with George Duneman to haul rubble for fill at that corner of the Calico Road by the bog where everyone’s wagon wheel sinks to the axle ?” “Why bother” says I, according to my first amendment rights…There plenty of room for all to put in moorings…there always will be.” (the joke is on me…go there now and there’s places on the Bass River where you could walk across on the mooring buoys…) “McFee will do it cheaper” says somebody…” and better than a citizens levy.” “I got to be settin’ my traps then,” says another.
So, this is your paradigm of citizens participatory democracy…everyone gets together, puts in their 2 cents worth ( which might have bought you half a pint at the time), listens to the “experts” and if there isn’t a clear agreement about it, you poll ‘em and count them. It sounds like fun and we could do a whole lot worse.
As a patriot after my fashion I decided I’d like to go to Bodine’s Tavern and see what’s shaking there these days. It turns out not so easy to find. I had to read my way through a lot of old stuff, some of it printed with type that Ben Franklin’s print shop discarded as too worn out to legible. Eventually, after half a dozen documents I deduced that it had to once have been a couple hundred yards upstream from a very new bridge between Leektown and Wading River.
On my last trip, a couple of years ago, I actually spied the spot momentarily while driving under pressure to make a reunion date with an old high school gal-buddy. I couldn’t stop for more than a minute, but there it was, for sure, I thought, the site of Bodine’s Tavern.
All that remained visible were very rotten pilings which once held up a wharf at what must have been “the Landing.” The documents never call it Bodine’s Landing…just, “the Landing.” As I turned to get back in my car to sprint away I noticed that I’d pulled off the road in the parking lot of a current bar and grill offering a Friday happy hour special of burger & fries with two Bud or Yuengling 12 0z bottles. Not two hundred yards from Bodine’s is a present day Piney tavern. I decided I HAVE to go there someday and hear what the patriots have to say.
Enter the age of the internet. More than one place is known locally today on-line as “the Landing.” Two are about a mile apart and both could have been landing points. Both show rotten pilings. One is so far upstream you could hardly move a kayak mush less a batteau full of bog iron. The middle site has no current tavern, but is a lovely, restful place at the dead end of the Martha Furnace Rd. in a state park called Bodine’s Field.
I camped there…imagining the 1812 patriots gathered around the fires with their muskets or wonderfully accurate Pennsylvania rifles. Also camped there last week were a patriot couple in full camo. The guy had his Ka-Barr combat knife on his hip. The state park dis-allows alcohol, so we couldn’t hoist a tankard while discussing current politics, but did sit by the fire for a welcome drink of cold spring water. She cooked breakfast.
There’s irony that the Quaker State had a reputation for weapons that could kill Redcoats at three times the Brit’s Brown Bess musket range. (why is this ironic ? Name two WWII “neutral” countries who sold automatic anti aircraft cannon to anyone with Swiss francs…)
So this campground was the spot where the “Well Regulated Militia” met for quarterly muster. Today it’s a government fiefdom with more regulations than you can shake an iron blade gun sight at. In one place was a 4 x 8 foot all weather bulletin board completely covered in fine print prohibitions.
The Pineys, however, are still not so easily regulated.
One of the most enjoyable times on this expedition was a trail bike ride on the land next to Batsto village. The trail was designed by a real trailbike fan and wound through a good variety of terrain where the route was chosen to be challenging but not punishment.
I’d there on a previous trip and heard firearms. On the park map is a restricted area marked “rifle range” and I asked one of the park rangers about it. It seems that it’s available by reservation to supervised groups of general public, but the primary users are the park rangers themselves and several stations of the U.S Coast Guard.
? Are you aware that the Coast Guard, descended from the Dept. Commerce Lifesaving Service is today an administrative division of Homeland Security ? It makes a certain kind of sense.
As I pedaled along the trail on my bike I listened to the sounds from the range. I’m familiar with only a few firearms. I very well know the sound of a .22 long rifle. I can ID by sound a 30-30, a 32 pistol round and have heard, (and smelled,) a .44 Civil War Navy Colt replica and a big ass smooth bore black powder stick that’s supposed to knock down a moose. There’s a special sound made by three blank rounds of .308 fired in the air followed by the chiinngg of the empty clip as it’s ejected from the receiver of an M-1.
I listened attentively as I pedaled along the bike trail. First was what I’m pretty sure was .223…a quick, light sound, but with powder behind it, fired slow enough to be on target for each round. A pause…changing magazines…then the same gun fast and erratic, semi-auto… some threes, some sevens, then two and empty. The next shooter is a pistol, one round at a time, slow and steady…maybe some 9mm…not six shooter. For the next shooter I stopped my bike and just listened…three heavy rounds in burst auto…disciplined shooting of maybe a 7.62-51 NATO or 7.62-39 from an AK-47. Those things don’t come in a semi-auto sportsman version. They may be illegal but I can point you at the door of two places where you can go in with five Ben Franklin’s and come out with an AK, a hundred rounds and change enough for a pizza and six pack. Very interesting…who’s out there on that range ?
Then, something really heavy opens up…something belt fed, vehicle mounted…full auto…long bursts. It sounds almost ‘technical’…heavier than a fifty. Frankly, it frightens me. This is in my home state park. . I’ve heard many dollars worth of brass hit the sand.
I really hope this is my, and your, Coast Guard in training and not some dis-regulated militia wackos insisting on their second amendment right to do whatever they damn well please.
At this point in the story I run into a sticky spot. As I would like others to respect my copyright I try to respect theirs. If you wish an older conclusion of the legend you can link to this document with this URL. The intellectual property situation here becomes very murky.
by Sara W. R. Ewing. Batsto Citizens Gazette, Fall/Winter, 1967
Please ignore the first three paragraphs…they repeat aspects that I’ve come by in other places. Ms. Ewing quotes excerpts from the diary of the Martha Furnace clerk. They paint a most interesting picture of the well regulated militia. All I can say here is that the Legend of Bodine’s Tavern changes a bit when you actually read the primary source documents.
‘Nuff for Now: Next Post: there are at least two more in the pipeline, but I’m unsure when I’ll get along with them. Maybe next time I’ll touch on how delicious is the iron laden water of the pine barrens…I look forward to it every time I’m there.