In the 1700s several families, whose large landholdings were known as “plantations,” owned the island. During the American Revolution, American privateers (patriot – pirates) hid in our north and south inlets and would suddenly streak to attack unwary or disabled British ships. Shipbuilding and salt manufacturing (from sea water) became important industries during the war.
Whalers used Brigantine Beach to launch attacks on migrating whales from New England. (Today our Marine Mammal Stranding Center assists sick and injured Whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles. The Brigantine Wildlife Refuge on our north end is a state protected haven for birds, rabbits, and foxes.)
Turn of the 19th Century
Several attempts were made during the late 1800s to develop Brigantine on a significant scale. In connection with one of these attempts, made by the Brigantine Improvement Company, the island’s name was briefly changed to “North Atlantic City.”
During this period, a railroad was built to connect Philadelphia to Brigantine; 16 trolleys ran the length of the island; and steamboats carried people to and from Atlantic City during the “Gay Nineties.” Hotels sprang up and some served as getaways for important people including U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Hard times and harsh storms ended this boom in the early 1900s. In 1917 the City had only 54 full-time residents and an operating budget of $5,400.
During the 1920s, with the advent of automobile access to the island, Brigantine became the object of a large scale development effort by the Island Development Company, which had succeeded to title to most of the island from the Brigantine Land and Transportation Company. In 1924, a bridge was constructed linking Atlantic City and Brigantine, and a land boom ensued. A boardwalk, a school and a golf course became realities. The Brigantine Lighthouse was built as an attraction and landmark, not as a navigational aid.
The City also undertook a variety of infrastructure improvements, such as streets and sewage and water facilities, for which it issued bonds. With the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, the island experienced a cessation of demand for homes and the Island Development Company ceased operating, deeding its remaining properties to the City.
World War II to Present
Brigantine Beach bounced back again and again, and survived major storms in 1944 and 1962. The Brigantine Inn was the site of the Coastal Warning Service of the US Army during World War II when local citizens made extraordinary sacrifices.
After the war our island grew steadily, building up to our present day year-round population of 12,600. The maintenance of controlled, primarily residential, development of the City is mandated by the City’s 1992 Master Plan and by state control of types of development in barrier islands such as Brigantine. The advent of legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City (1978) has caused an increase in certain of these trends, but in the experience of City officials, the basic pattern of orderly growth has continued.
In the late summer of 1698 – according to tradition and scattered evidence available – the barkentine that served as flagship for the notorious Captain William Kidd of Greenock, Scotland, anchored near the mouth of Brigantine Inlet. Kidd and his first mate, Timothy Jones, accompanied by several of his crew came ashore in a long boat, on the bottom of which rested a heavy leather and brass-bound sea chest. This chest was buried among the dunes. The men were sent back to the ship and, according to the story, the chest was dug up by Captain Kidd and his mate and reburied at a new spot… To this day that final burial place has remained hidden and elusive to all. The story also relates that, following the second burial, a fight ensued between Mate Jones and Captain Kidd during which Jones was killed and buried beside the chest of loot. Captain Kidd then sailed away to further adventures.
A more romantic story concerning the famed pirate captain is that he became enamored with an Ocean County lass known only as Amanda. She persuaded Captain Kidd to abandon his uncertain, although colorful, career and settle in the wilds of South Jersey. In preparation for this move he decided to divide much of available loot with the crew and bury the rest on Brigantine. His ship was anchored in the mouth of the Mullica River when he was betrayed by a dissatisfied crew member and had to make a run for it out to sea. Captain Kidd made good his escape, but was captured in the vicinity of Boston in late 1699 and sent to England for trial. Charged with piracy and murder, Captain Kidd was found guilty and hanged in London on May 24, 1701, protesting his innocence to the last. If these additional buried treasures actually existed, Amanda and her captain kept their final resting place an external secret. The cache has never been found.
Another visitor of Brigantine’s pirate days was the legendary Captain Teech, better known as Blackbeard. When things became too dangerous in the Caribbean, he sailed up the coast to the Little Egg Harbor, making one of the small islands to the back of Brigantine his headquarters. It was while there that the British sought his capture, but he escaped by sinking himself in the waters of the meadows, breathing through a thin reed until the searchers had passed. He immediately departed the coast and was finally on the Spanish Main.