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Cruising in Cumberland

An 1877 boating excursion along the Maurice River was enjoyed by “a jolly band of excursionists.”

by Vince Farinaccio

For centuries, the Maurice River has served as a means of transportation for sailing vessels carrying passengers and goods to a specified destination, but its use as part of an extended pleasure cruise during the 19th century is something less documented. Yet an account of such a cruise surfaced in 1972 in the Vineland Historical Magazine and provides insight into what a five-day leisurely voyage along the Maurice River to Delaware was like more than 140 years ago.

The publication reports that the first-hand account by an unnamed author was discovered in a collection of papers owned by Mrs. Rachel Richman Moore. Certain references by the author (e.g. “the gents invited us”) indicate that the narrator is a woman, and her journey began on Tuesday August 30, 1877 when she and the other participants, “a jolly party of excursionists” that included “Captain Charlie Clunn, and daughter Laura, Ad, Annie and Lizzie Clunn, Mary Conover, Rufus Lord, Cornelius Chester and myself,” met at the Clunn residence around 1 p.m.

The group was transported to Mr. Burcham’s landing, where the Harry C. was docked. “The mosquitos were thick and seemed so desperate that we concluded that they were in for a good time, as well as ourselves,” the author notes.

With its passengers comfortably aboard, the Harry C. set sail at 2 p.m. “The day was clear and beautiful,” the author observes, “and everything around appeared to be rejoicing with us. There was just enough breeze to make the boat ride on grandly on the waves.” We are told that a musician onboard provided songs and “before we scarcely realized it, we had left the pleasant villages of Mauricetown, Dorchester, Leesburg and Port Norris behind.”

By 7 p.m., the travelers had arrived at the mouth of the Maurice River and it was time for tea and “a lively chat” as nightfall commenced “its noble march through the starry canopy overheard.” The author writes of the ship straddling the waters of the river and the bay, “guarded on the South East by East Point Light, on the opposite side by Egg Island Light and with the moon beams dancing around us on the waves.”

Cornelius, Annie and Lizzie commandeered a rowboat and sailed into the bay, and the author could hear “their merry laughter ring out across the waves.” After returning to the Harry C., they joined in conversation with the others until two of the women decided to retire for the evening, or so they thought. “They were soon both roasting…like crabs in a stone oven.” After an hour of enduring the heat, they returned to the cooler air topside with their pillows and slept.

Modern-day readers will find it interesting that the anchor was lifted and the journey resumed at 3 a.m. when the passengers were awakened by Captain Clunn. Seven-and-a-half hours later, the travelers arrived at Fortescue, where they dropped anchor once again and “bathed, swam, splashed and dashed around in the water for some time…” Then, resuming their voyage, they crossed over to Delaware and anchored at the mouth of Little Creek.

The author and Rufus took a rowboat for a short trip up the creek at sunset and, upon returning, joined another expedition inland in a search for peaches. “Little Creek proved to be a beautiful stream, winding in and out in graceful curves, and all of a sudden bending around in a new direction all together,” the author writes.

But peaches proved elusive. The group grew frustrated in its trek, sailing further along the creek. The idea of returning to the Harry C. was at first dismissed but became more of a consideration as the evening quickly wore on. When a house was sighted five miles inland, the party went ashore only to find that peaches were not available. The passengers had to be content with finding fresh water before returning to the ship.

That night, heat would not be what denied the travelers any sleep. “The mosquitos were very thick,” the author explains, “so much so we found it impossible to sleep after we retired…” She, Annie and Lizzie resolved to while away the night in conversation. n

Next Week: The Return Trip