Poor Peggy Clevenger: Murder or Just an Accident?

Folks:​
While conducting some research today for an address I am making a week from this Sunday, I discovered these two articles, spaced one week apart in December 1857, about poor Peggy Clevenger. I thought you would enjoy reading them as I did:​
A TERRIBLE AFFAIR.
We learn that the dwelling Mrs. Clevenger, situate on the Old Shore road, about half way between Mount Misery and Cedar Bridge, was destroyed by fire, one night last week, and sad to relate, Mrs. C. perished in the flames. She was a very old lady, lived entirely alone, and was known to travelers as “Old Mother Clevenger.”—Her residence was a one-story Cabin, and was well known to persons in the habit of travelling the road.
Since the above was in type, we learn that it is generally believed the old lady was murdered, and her cabin then set on fire. The Coalings are near her residence, and those employed in them, frequently went there to obtain liquor, she being in the habit of keeping some for travelers.—Several times, recently, upon refusing it to persons who were intoxicated, she has been severely beaten.
She was known to be in possession of some money, and it is though that the desire to get hold of it, in connection with the hatred existing against her, in refusing to supply the drunken brutes at the Coalings with liquor, was the cause of her sad and terrible death. The ruins were examined, but her skull and some few of her bones were found. She was about 80 years old.
A night or two previous to the fire, her hogs were poisoned and her horses throat was cut.
We Trust that the affair may be thoroughly investigated and the villains brought to justice.
(New Jersey Mirror 10 December 1857:3)

THE FIRE IN THE PINES.
We are indebted to our friend, Joseph W. Cox, of Hanover Furnace, for the following correct account of the “Terrible Calamity” in the Pines, mentioned in our paper of last week. It will be seen that the intelligence we received was greatly exaggerated. We gave it as we received it, from persons who passed through the neighborhood, and was believe by them to be as near the truth as could be obtained at the time.
It gives us pleasure to learn that is generally believed no person was implicated in the calamity, but that the fire was entirely an accident:
Mr. Carr—Dear Sir:—Permit me to correct you in some of the statements in your paper with regard to the death of Mrs. Clevenger. The parties to whom you refer being in my employ, on the Hanover Tract, I deem it but justice to them to send you more correct information with reference to the affair.
I have made as thorough an investigation as I could, and from the facts I gather from her children and others who were present, I am fully satisfied that no one was implicated in the matter—but that the fire originated from the chimney or fire-place.
The old lady was in the habit of providing a bountiful supply of fuel, and piling it up near the fire, when about retiring for the night. She was Providentially saved from the same calamity two weeks previous. A person living near, having occasion to apply for her stable to accommodate a friend’s horse, went there after she had retired, and on entering the house, discovered the wood, contiguous to the fire-place, ignited, and in a short time the house would have been in flames.
And again, the old lady had, the day previous to the fire, provided herself with a quantity of opium, to the use of which she was much addicted. When under the influence of opium, she was frequently much deranged. From this cause, most probably, the fire took place.
The persons employed by me, this year, do not make use of liquor in the Coaling. She has not sold any liquor to my hands the present season, nor have they applied for any. The two head colliers do not use it all themselves and they will not employ a drinking man.
Your paper states that the old lady was known to have had some money. The testimony of her son-in law, who brought her from Forked River, the day previous, was that she had no money, or not exceeding two or three cents, which were found with the clasp of her purse, amidst the ruins.
The poisoning of her hogs is misrepresented, also. She had a hog or pig given her last spring, but it died in a short time. Since then she has not had any hogs.—With reference to her horse, no person could inform me whether his throat was cut or not, and he was so decayed when I was there that it could not be ascertained. If it was the case, however, it was done by some one of her own family, to relieve the old horse from his misery, for they had to life him up every morning.
The remains of the old lady, which consisted of the chest and skull, and what bones they could gather from the ruins, were taken charge of by the undertaker from Juliustown, Joel Mount, who accompanied me, and were properly interred at Wrightstown.
Your, &c,. J.W. COX.
Hanover Furnace, Dec. 12, 1857.
(New Jersey Mirror 17 December 1857:3)

Best regards,
Jerseyman
 

Teegate

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Thanks Jerseyman! Those 80 year old drug users are ruining the neighborhood :) I guess Joseph Cox should know if she was on the Hanover tract :D

Guy
 

Ben Ruset

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It's interesting to see that colliers had to travel really far to get charcoal for Hanover Furnace at the time.
 

RancocasRover

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The persons employed by me, this year, do not make use of liquor in the Coaling.
I can't imagine being a sober collier...what else are you supposed to do around a fire in the woods at night? Think Cox is just trying to cover for his hires? Also, does anyone have other stories or evidence of opium use in the Pines at the time? The image of an strung out 80 yo woman living away from town is pretty interesting. Would this have been a difficult habit to keep up with in her perceived situation?
 

Ben Ruset

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Judging by what we know about life in a furnace town (e.g.: the Martha Furnace diaries) we know that alcohol (ab)use was pretty rampant in the furnace towns, but by the mid 19th century the temperance movement was gaining steam and it might have been advantageous for Joseph Cox to actively seek out sober individuals to at least manage the important tasks at the furnace.

That said, I find it unlikely that colliers who are out, miles away from the furnace, tending a charcoal mound wouldn't seek out a "nip" of alcohol somewhere. As you said, what else are you supposed to do around a fire in the woods at night?

As far as opium use, it doesn't surprise me at all. Back then opium was used not only recreationally but as a painkiller. I can easily see an elderly Peggy Clevenger, suffering from some sort of medical ailment, becoming addicted to opium prescribed to her from whomever served as the local doctor. Maybe this is why she had but a few pennies left?
 
Jerseyman,

Thanks for sharing these two interesting 1857 articles that provided me with a little bit more information about the extensive Hanover Furnace tract of the Jones's that extended east to Old Halfway on the edge of the Plains and information relevant to "coaling" during the twilight years of the iron works.

Lost Town Hunter
 

MarkBNJ

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As far as opium use, it doesn't surprise me at all. Back then opium was used not only recreationally but as a painkiller. I can easily see an elderly Peggy Clevenger, suffering from some sort of medical ailment, becoming addicted to opium prescribed to her from whomever served as the local doctor. Maybe this is why she had but a few pennies left?
Certainly it was very popular in the form of Laudanum, although I don't know whether keeping up a habit would have broken her finances.

As for the colliers and others who worked in the barrens, temperance movement aside, I'm convinced they would have been steady drinkers. Life in those circumstances, not to mention the 19th century in general, would have been pretty rough. A tipple and some music or stories around a fire would have been among their very few leisure enjoyments.

Absolutely fascinating post, Jerseyman, as always.
 

imkms

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Whenever I read articles or letters from that era I am always impressed by the authors writing skills. The wording is exact and well written. I've read several Civil War era letters written by soldiers who probably did not attend school beyond 6th grade, yet their writing skills seem better that most college grads today. Thanks for the post
 

Ben Ruset

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I've been poking around some of the historic newspapers I have access to online, and I came across a mention of Peggy in the June 29, 1902 Detroit Free Press, in an article about snake hunting in the Pines, on page D5 entitled "Snake Hunting in the Black Forests of New Jersey." Here the reporter, John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. recounts a conversation he had with the "pine gamin" who picked him up from his debarkation point at the train station at Buckingham to bring him to Bullock. He begins by asking about the Jersey Devil, and his driver, in charge of a "square topped carry-all and a broad-beamed black mare" tells him a little about the legend, and then segues into Peggy's ghost:

"No, I ain't never seen it [The Jersey Devil - BR] yit," said the youthful forester, "but some fellers has. Back of our place there's old Peggy Clevenger's ghost. Right in the spot where her cabin stood a light flickers up on dark nights."

I learned on further inquiry that Peggy was an old crone who twenty years ago kept a little jug tavern fifty feet from the main road, back of Bullock's farm. One night her shanty was seen to be afire and in its ruins she was found murdered, her throat cut from ear to ear with a razor which laid by. Bill Mullen, a Piner of the neighborhood, was suspected of the crime, tried and acquitted."
I wonder if we can find the documentation of that trial - if it ever did happen. Interestingly enough, the author says "Oakley-In-The-Pines, NJ" as the dispatch for the article. I've never heard of such a place.
 

Gibby

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It has probably been discussed many times here, but where exactly was the Buckingham station mentioned in the article? Was it an actual structure or more or less a whistle stop?
 

Ben Ruset

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Buckingham was a platform station along the Philadelphia and Long Branch RR.

http://maps.njpinebarrens.com/#lat=39.93419029723112&lng=-74.44713592529297&z=14&type=hist&gpx=

I believe the primary purpose of the station was for freight, specifically from the sawmill at Buckingham, but it's well documented to also have been a passenger stop as well.

Edit: I just found an announcement in the Trenton State Gazzette on Jan 17, 1882 in the "State News" column:

A new signal station has been established on the Pennsylvania Railroad about midway between Whitings and Brown's Mills and is called "John Buckingham Station."
 

Gibby

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Thanks, Ben. I saw the location on the map, and for some reason, was expecting more to it. I'm finally starting to understand, that life in the Pines, from train stations to furnaces and so on, was much more simple than I sometimes imagine.
 

Ben Ruset

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Well, according to Beck's visit as well as the cellar holes in the area, the "town" was fairly substantial so far as Pine Barrens settlements went.

But yes, largely these "forgotten towns" are really quite small and a "town" only in name.
 
Ben,

Good titbit of information about the 1882 station, attesting to John Buckingham's lucrative timbering town and operation. All this changed dramatically when tragedy struck down John's daughter, if we believe Beck's account. Wouldn't it be amazing if a newspaper account came to light verifying his story!

Gibby,

In later, less lucrative years, the station was replaced by a mere shelter. See the 1963 edition of Beck's More Forgotten Towns for a photo on page 101

Lost Town Hunter
 

Ben Ruset

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I've been coming what's available to me online for corroboration of Beck's account and have, thus far, turned up nothing. I am surprised, because the scene that Beck describes would be the exact kind of gory sensationalism that would have been noted in a 19th century newspaper. It would not surprise me at all that the whole story was a fabrication. Why would John Buckingham need to have his own dairy cows when he could easily have procured milk from dairies along the railroad or from Whiting?
 

yonaguni

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Where in wrightstown might this cemetery be?

"The remains of the old lady, which consisted of the chest and skull, and what bones they could gather from the ruins, were taken charge of by the undertaker from Juliustown, Joel Mount, who accompanied me, and were properly interred at Wrightstown"
 
Folks:

With all of the misinformation provided in the other thread regarding Margaret “Peggy” Clevenger, I think it is time that we conduct documentary research with due diligence to find the facts about Mrs. Clevenger. She was born circa 1786 as Margaret Blake, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Blake. Sometime during the first decade of the nineteenth century, she married William Dothey Clevenger. Based on the children that I can identify, it appears the marriage occurred during 1806 or 1807. The oldest surviving child that I can find is John R. Clevenger, born about 1807. Two years later, the couple had Sarah Blake Clevenger, born 27 December 1810. Son Thomas Blake Clevenger was born circa 1818 and son Samuel Clevenger born about 1825. I suspect that William and Margaret had other children, but I have not yet identified them. On 8 October 1830, Sarah B. Clevenger married Reuben Woodmansee Chamberlin at Forked River, Monmouth County, New Jersey. This is the son-in-law mentioned in the Cox letter above, which states, “The testimony of her son-in-law, who brought her from Forked River, the day previous….” The 1849 Otley and Whiteford map of Burlington County properly identifies the house as lying within Pemberton Township at that time:

1849 Clevenger Detail.jpg


A year later, the federal government’s 1850 Seventh Decennial Census enumerates William D. Clevenger and his wife, Margaret, living in Pemberton Township residing near two of their sons (as stated above in the article and letter):

1850 Census, Clevenger.jpg


Sometime between 1850 and 1857, William D. Clevenger died, as the article and the letter above both indicate that she lived alone at the time of her death. She was about 71 years of age at her demise. Peggy’s daughter, Sarah Chamberlin, following her own husband’s death, moved to Port Norris, Cumberland County, New Jersey, where she resided with her daughter, Elizabeth Liber, the wife of oysterman Jacob Liber. Sarah died there on 27 January 1886 and the family interred her remains in the Port Norris Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery.

Most folk tales contain a modicum of truth and I suspect that the derangement she suffered from her addiction to opiates and, perhaps, just the effects of a hard life and old age, made Peggy babble and say things that others thought to be crazy and even exhibiting the behavior of a witch. So, I think that a tall tale arose around Peggy, but, in actuality, I think Mrs. Clevenger was just a woman who married, raised a family, and live out in the woods until her husband died. Then, she continued her life alone in the cabin and used opiates and liquor to numb her grief and the effects of living a hard life in the Pines of Burlington County.

Best regards,
Jerseyman
 
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yonaguni

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that's good stuff i think most witches were the same deal just victims of superstition ...you should put you hand in sorting out the Jackson whites /ramapo mountan people if you ever read the Cohen book the group that now call themselves ramapo dismiss it as false yet the family's named in the book are not among the current ramapo nation..so basically there are several competing groups who all call themselves ramapo and dismiss the other groups as fake... the people from the cohen book make claims of witches and a culture of magic that resembles southern voodoo
 

Ben Ruset

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Excellent researching, Jerseyman. I am constantly amazed at how much information you're able to find. I wish I had 25% of your skill.

Incidentally, I've never heard of Tibb's Watering Place before.
 

Teegate

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Jerseyman,

The information in your post is excellent. Well done!

Now don't take this the wrong way ...... I have issues with the accuracy of the map if it is North up. I have found many of the survey's from that era quite accurate and full of interesting information, and the Cox survey's are no exception. He clearly states the location of her home and that map is quite a ways off. Owens Hill basically is the sand mine at Woodmansie and that map shows her home west of it. That would put her home in the middle of Lebanon which is not accurate.

One day you and I need to meet out there and we can discuss this in more detail.

Guy