The Old Malaga Road


The political rise of the old tavern was a factor in many a man's calculation, and while it never was an established polling place, it was a place to be reckoned with.

Owing to the political system in the days of the Whig and Federal Parties it was the custom for the leaders to meet the lumber and cattle men at this tavern and hold a meeting to discuss the question of the day. As Coney and Gregory were of influence in politics the barroom was the rallying point, indeed everything from cutting timber to selling timber and cattle was transacted there. School meetings were called and school matters were talked over at the tavern, or at the Black Water Mills farther up the road, and nothing of public interest once started was ever settled or became a law until these hardy men and women decided it to their own satisfaction.

In a spirit of fairness the irons used in branding cattle were placed on exhibition at the tavern, that all could see the cattle were duly marked and registered.

Millville, after it was fairly established as a rival to Bridgeton, rose to the dignity of a voting place, and we had to go there to vote at the Mexican Dollar Election, as it was called, and it was rightly named, for each and every man had to be paid a Mexican silver dollar. They met at Coney's tavern and got their dollar before starting. The big ox teams would go loaded with twenty or thirty men each with his dollar and election ticket. Sometimes voters for both parties were on the same wagon, but it made no difference. Each man had his big, round Mexican dollar; for, let it be remembered, Uncle Sam was slow in getting his own money into circulation, the common unit was the Mexican dollar, levy, fifpenny bit and English shillings. The copper coins were the English and American penny, and that kind of legal tender was the money of our Republic until 1851, when American gold and silver began to crowd out the foreign coinage. When women voted prior to 1817, they took a shilling with their ballot, or a pound of blue yarn. We think strange of it now, but none of them thought of selling their principle for a dollar. The political principle was settled around the backroom fireplace, but voting had to be paid for the simple reason that in those days people worked hard (there were no easy jobs), and for one to stop his ax or leave his plow in the field and with his wife go to Millville to vote took time, and he honestly thought it the just and right thing to do. While his wife went too, she only got a shilling, because she could take her knitting and work as she went. This is the explanation given by these people sixty or more years ago. At a later date a glass of beer and a cigar takes the place of the dollar.

It was during the Gregory's lifetime that the famous Sons of Temperance came into this section. A lodge was formed by a few men at Malaga and at Fork Bridge, now Willow Grove. The Camp Meeting leaders got together and commenced to eradicate drunkenness, which was then so common. Acting on the advice of Billy Taylor, the young Irish schoolmaster, who declared the time had come, John Nichols, of Cross Roads ; Wesley and John Cawman, Gideon Watkins and young Squire Potter decided to carry their camp-meeting methods into the lodge and hold meetings just the same as church people held meetings, the religious element working for redemption as now.

The cause the Sons of Temperance represented met with much opposition from the cattle men and wood choppers, who defied these young men who were making trouble in all the countryside by taking away their dram. The first meeting outside of their lodge room was at Black Water Chapel and Schoolhouse, where the first convert to the cause was made who became famous in South Jersey. It was here, also, the champion fighter, William Hartman swore unending war against the applejack robbers, and he well nigh carried it into the very camp-meeting ground near the bridge. The strength of the movement was led by Gregory, husband of Coney's widow, for when she married Gregory for her second husband, she found she had not only the smartest man in all the countryside, but also a confirmed drunkard.

The Sons of Temperance persuaded her she was doing wrong in selling rum, and she was willing and ready to quit the business. But Gregory was up in arms against such a crazy notion, and he used to sit on the bar and talk to his customers, saying his wife's objections only made men more eager to drink. He did a rushing business until Mrs. Gregory, in her sorrow over the loss of her baby boy, called on the Sons of Temperance to help her, and offered them the barroom to hold their meetings in, thinking it would end her troubles.

The brave little band set the time and came to pray with their new-found friends. Gregory called in big Bill Hartman, and he called in his gang. Mrs. Gregory called the women to her aid, and every one expected a rough-and-tumble battle, but young Billy Taylor, who did not weigh more than one hundred pounds, stood up beside Mrs. Gregory, and being a man of unusual influence, was able to pass off the battle by proposing to vote if the "Sons" should hold a meeting to pray for the dram drinkers.

Gregory, right before the big crowd, agreed to it, knowing he had two on his side to one of the "Sons." The votes to be white and black beans and the ballot box a quart cup. Mrs. Gregory said the women outside should vote, but Gregory and Hartman yelled "No!"

When the question was referred to the Irish schoolmaster, he said, if it is a question of votes, the women are out, for all women in the Jerseys lost their vote in 1816. Mrs. Gregory then said there is one place where we can go without a vote, and that is out under the stars of heaven, and she shouted, "Come on," and led them across the road, thinking to hold the meeting under the young, sturdy oak (still standing), but as she crossed the road she thought of the barn, and, throwing open the big barn doors, led them in.

It was a large barn, about 40 by 60, standing on stone piers, so that small animals could run under and pick up the grain that fell through the floor at threshing time. Around the barnyard was a stake and rider fence, eight rails high, to keep out the cattle and hogs when they wanted them out, and in when they wanted them home. The company of about fifty went in and found the barn floor half covered with rye half thresned out. They sat on the straw and opened the meeting by singing the hymn, "There is a happy land far, far away."

The dram drinkers followed them to the barn after big Bill Hartman had lifted a barrel of applejack upon the bar and invited the crowd to take a drink in honor of the occasion. After they had taken their dram, they climbed up on the top rail of the fence and began to yell and cheer, until the little Irish schoolmaster came out and talked to them as he talked in school, and they grew quiet. Gregory and his party had no intention of letting the Sons of Temperance hold a meeting, and he or one of his party filled a basket with corn and went out to the edge of the woods where a lot of half-grown pigs were resting after filling up with chestnut oak acorns, and enticed them into the barnyard. Esther Seeds, who was one of the party in the barn, said they were at prayer when the drove of pigs ran in around the barn after the corn scattered there and under the barn, squealing, grunting and fighting. Some of the men shut the barn doors and they went on with their meeting, the singing led by John Cawman. Uriah Ackley, who was just coming into great power as a preacher, tried to preach, but the uproar made by a hundred pigs under the floor fighting for corn was too much for him, and after, in indignation, kneeling down in prayer, they opened the doors and came away. Every face was wet with tears and the sobbing of the women was a sight and sound not to be forgotten. Not one in that company, it is safe to say, had the prophetic vision to see that out of the temperance agitation, such as the attempt of the Sons of Temperance to hold a meeting at the Gregory place, would arise a mighty moral revolution in South Jersey leading to the establishment of one of the most wonderful temperance colonies of modern times, that of Vineland, New Jersey.

Mrs. Gregory went home to her room, and, kneeling in prayer, resolved to close the tavern and banish rum from it forever.

There was no more peace in the Gregory home. Gregory went from bad to worse, and in a fit of delirium tremens hung himself from the gable end of the house. Esther Gregory lost both her sons and her husband, but lived to see the rest of her sons grow up and go out into the world. Only one at this date is living at an advanced age to confirm the story of the Sons of Temperance. After the death of Gregory the property was again known as the Coney place. It continued to be a gathering place for the neighborhood, but there was no more Sunday quoit-pitching nor horse-racing up and down the two roads.

When, in 1854, a company of engineers came down on the stage coach and stayed all night, they caused much excitement when it came out they were looking over a route for a railroad from Glassboro. It was at first thought to run it over the line of Malaga Road, but later they changed the route, running it parallel with the road.

It was a wonder to the people that there was need of a railroad, the timber had been cut, and the old Malaga road, with its three tracks, seemed wide enough for all traffic.

Jedekiah Mayhew was the best stage driver that ever went over the road, and was very popular. Most every one opposed the railroad and took sides with the stage line.

Elias Doughty, who afterwards lived and died in Vineland, and Wescott, from Tuckahoe, met in the old tavern anddiscussed the situation. When they left it was with the understanding that if the railroad was put through "Jed" Mayhew, Wescott, Doughty and Sam Bishop should run the road, and no one else, and so it turned out. Mayhew and Doughty had the first pick on the trains and Wescott passed out of sight.

Esther Ingersoll Coney continued to live on the farm, which was run by her son. It was a fine place when the next excitement came, in 1861. Richard Wood told the people a young Pennsylvania lawyer was buying all his land on which to lay out and build up a place where no rum should ever be sold, every one would plant trees along the roadside and all the people would raise grapes and strawberries.

Then another sensation came and the old dram-drinking crowd got together and decided it was another trick of the Sons of Temperance, and the old law allowing cattle to run at large would be taken from them. Others thought if every one raised grapes, then everybody would make wine, and where would the Sons of Temperance be; but Vineland came, the cattle law was abolished, the old Coney tavern at last was sold by the sons of Esther Ingersoli and Jonathan Coney, and Vineland will go on forever.