When War Came to Cape May County

The story of the oft-forgotten Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet in June 1776.

Captain John Barry
Captain John Barry led the only American Revolutionary War battle fought in Cape May County. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the early morning hours of June 29, 1776, Captain John Barry, in command of the American frigate Lexington, which was anchored in the waters off Cape May, received a message that the brigantine Nancy was headed his way with two British warships in hot pursuit.

Barry, who was just 31 and new to his command, knew the ship was transporting valuable munitions from the Virgin Islands for George Washington’s rebel army. He couldn’t allow it to fall into British hands.

The victory that followed was an early one for the Continentals—and the only American Revolutionary War battle fought in Cape May County.

The ship ran aground in Turtle Gut Inlet, south of present-day Wildwood. Springing into action, Barry ordered his crew to the imperiled ship, where they helped to unload most of its cargo under bombardment from the British.

Barry’s men lit a fuse to 100 kegs of gunpowder remaining on the Nancy. As the British boarded the doomed ship, an explosion blew the vessel sky high. By noon, the battle was won. Alas, in the waning moments of the clash, Lieutenant Richard Wickes became the first casualty of the war in New Jersey.

Wickes was buried in Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery in Cape May. Barry’s heroics led him to become known as the father of the American Navy.

As for Turtle Gut Inlet, Cape May County filled the shallow creek in 1922; it is now part of Wildwood Crest, where a small marker at Miami and New Jersey avenues makes note of the oft-forgotten clash that raged there.

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