Maurice River Recollections Project
River Reaches

The Maurice River Reaches Project
Ferry Crossings Clue to Reach Names - Part II

In his writings, historian Herbert W. Vanaman referred to a road from Greenwich to Cape May. On the way to Cape May, that road crossed through Fairton and across the Maurice River to Dorchester. (Dorchester was plotted out and named in the 1600's, more than a century before any one settled there.) Vanaman wrote that this 1777 map, based on a survey from 1769, suggested that early travelers would have used one of the first ferry crossings on the Maurice River.

Without more details, or even a name, this obscure ferry crossing simply illustrates that necessity and resource made way for others to journey to these southern regions in what was then the province of West Jersey. But by the late 1700's, travelers were no longer "just passing through" the land we call Cumberland County. (The precinct of Cumberland was actually established in the mid-1700's.)

Families were beginning to settle along the banks of the streams and rivers, taking advantage of the region's natural resources. Some of the earliest maps, surveys and documents indicate that by the middle of the 18th century land ownership and business endeavors were taking root. There was a settlement at Shingle Landing, which, of course, grew to be Millville in the following century. By 1790, Henry Drinker and Joseph Smith had constructed a dam along Sharp Street to power three mills for their company, Union Estates.

Even before 1790, small groups of settlers were making their home along the Prince Maurice River.(Or, more specifically, the Prinz Mauritz Riviere, a name Vanaman surmised may have been the first recorded European name for Cumberland County’s Maurice River.)

In very early records, there is an entry about a miller from Cohansey, Salem County. This man, who signed his name "William Dalles," moved to land along the lower reaches of the Maurice River sometime shortly after 1728. (The spelling of the family surname Dalles was sometimes Dolles and Dollas, and eventually became Dallas.)

There are recorded accounts that give just a glimpse into the lives of these earliest settlers. The accounts come mostly from deeds and wills and church records. Historians like Cushing and Sheppard have culled through these accounts, leaving us with books and articles that help us piece the stories together. What we learn is that William Dallas listed himself as a miller and then a yeoman, or a person who owns and cultivates a small farm. Although by the acreage listed in the deeds he held, William Dallas owned more than a small farm.

In their 1883 History of Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland Counties, NJ, Cushing and Sheppard, wrote that "William Dallas soon after that time (1728) settled at what is now Port Norris, and established a ferry across the (Maurice) river, from which the neighborhood was called Dallas' Ferry for many years." 

 By 1749, there are records showing that a number of families followed Dallas. By 1761, that group "constituted a regular Baptist Church." (History and Genealogy of Fenwick's Colony. 1876.) A ferry would have been useful to them. Perhaps somewhere in the records of Salem County there is a license or document that gives information of this ferry.  It's interesting to note that by 1748, Salem County parceled off 524 square miles, and this region with its rivers and creeks, and the Maurice River flowing centrally through it, came under the jurisdiction of Cumberland County.

The deeds and will of William Dallas do not provide details of the ferry operation that Dallas established, but they do have references to some of the names that are associated with the lands that bordered the Maurice River. Deeds dating back to January 1, 1744 (Cumberland County Deed Book number 1, page 242) refers to "a tract of 200 acres at Yockquack on Morrice's River. This tract "with the housings etc." was sold to Dallas for 110 pounds.

It's also interesting to note that in deeds dated 1756 and later, the spelling of Yockquack became Yockwack, and it was specified that there were cedar swamps on that tract. Two other names that entered on these deeds are the "Great undivided Marsh on the north side of the Morris River in said Cumberland County" and "the Long Reach." The Vineland Historical Magazine (January - April 1948) has a good compilation of these records.

William Dallas, of the township of Downs, Cumberland County, NJ, died in 1784. In his will, he divided up his property among his daughter, sons and grandsons. He left to his son "William Dollas the homestead plantation on which he lives beginning at Morrises River at the upper end of the Long Reach at the mouth of the ditch…" An adjacent section of the homestead plot and other acres was left to his son Samuel Dollas. Whether either of these sons continued the ferry operation is yet to be uncovered.

By 1810, the properties had been sold to Joseph "Coffee" Jones. In a tribute to his own son Norris, Jones renamed Dallas Ferry or, as it was sometimes called, Dallas Landing. The town -from then until today - is known as Port Norris.

As Cumberland County grew and evolved in the nineteenth century, new modes of transportation moved people and goods up, down and along the Maurice River. And place names that the earliest settlers had come to know, even names like Dallas Ferry, were already part of history.

Ferry Crossings
Clue to Reach Names
Part I
Part II
Part III