Jersey Shore No Stranger to Legal Disputes During 350-Year History NJICLE seminar hit the beach to examine the legal story of the shore

By NJSBA Staff posted 08-08-2019 09:30


An ocean view, briny air and the sound of seagulls were a fitting backdrop to a recent New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE) seminar on the lore and laws of the Jersey shore, held at McLoone’s on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

The popular seminar featured Dominick Mazzagetti, author of “The Jersey Shore: The Past, Present and Future of a National Treasure,” and elected officials including state Senator Vin Gopal, whose district covers portions of Monmouth County; Amy Quinn, deputy mayor of Asbury Park; Spring Lake Mayor Jennifer Naughton; Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Stephen D. Reid; and Bradley Beach Mayor Gary Engelstad,.

Mazzagetti is a former attorney, banker, and deputy and acting commissioner of banking in New Jersey who has written several history books. As he recounted some of the early history of the Jersey shore—from Henry Hudson’s land claim for the Dutch in 1609, to piracy, shipwrecks and the rise of resort towns for ‘sea bathing’— Mazzagetti examined how disputes over land and property claims helped shape, and continue to shape, the fabled Jersey shore.

“The most famous land deal in New Jersey history was the Quintipartite deed of July 1, 1676,” which forged a settlement between bickering investors and divided the state into East Jersey and West Jersey, Mazzagotti said.

Not all disputes were settled in court, Mazzagetti said. A dust-up between English settlers and Native Americans over a piece of land in what is now Long Branch was settled thanks to a wrestling match on the beach.

“The English took two out of three falls and their claim was sustained,” he said.

Laws were created to control commercial and property interests in the whaling industry and lost cargo from shipwrecks, and to curb piracy along the Jersey coast. Mazzagetti described a case in 1686 involving Caleb Carmen, who claimed he was owed money for a dead whale that washed ashore. A Native American found the whale and sold it to another man. A harpoon that was inscribed with Carmen’s mark was found inside the whale. The case went to court, and Carmen’s case was sustained when the man who bought the whale didn’t show up to court.

Shipwrecks off the Jersey shore were common in the 1600s and 1700s, and so was the plundering by locals of the cargo that washed ashore, leading to the development of laws, Mazzagetti said. Stories spread about the Barnegat Pirates, who were said to walk up and down the beach shining lanterns to lure vessels ashore so they would crash into a sandbar. Officials passed a law that made it a misdemeanor to hinder a sheriff’s efforts to recover the goods or “to put up false lights in order to bring a vessel into danger,” punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to three years in prison.

In 1854, “everything changed,” Mazzagetti said. The year marked the beginning of the development of Atlantic City and the construction of a railroad from Camden to Absecon, and eventually to other shore points. By 1900, the Jersey shore had transformed and dozens of small communities had popped up along the coast.

Then, as now, questions would arise over beach access, one of many topics discussed by the panel of beach town mayors that followed Mazzagetti’s presentation.

In a discussion on the use of eminent domain to obtain property to build dunes and the possibility that another superstorm like Sandy could hit, Naughton said: “The good news, is we live at the beach. The bad news is, we live at the beach. We are so lucky to live here. It is absolutely spectacular, but you need to see it with a clear eye and see that dunes help to protect property. Raising your home out of the flood zone helps to protect your property.”

Discussion also centered on plastic bag ordinances, short-term housing such as Airbnbs, affordable housing and medical marijuana dispensaries.

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