MAYS LANDING — The deed that today hangs outside the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office traveled untold miles and more than 250 years to get there.
Recovered from a Florida trunk last year along with 28 other historic documents, the deed — which corresponds to 100 acres in what is now Mullica Township — will make its debut Thursday after an extensive restoration effort.
“This deed predates the Revolutionary War,” said County Clerk Ed McGettigan on Tuesday. “I don’t think there are too many things around here today that have that kind of history and authenticity.”
On Thursday, the County Clerk’s Office will unveil the deed at an event that will also be broadcast live on WOND radio. McGettigan said he’s encouraging the public to bring their own historic artifacts to display at the event.
Evy Smith signed the now-restored deed on June 13, 1761, transferring 100 acres of land south of the Mullica River to Joseph Johnson for 112 British pounds, or about $22,232 in today’s money. At the time, Atlantic County was a part of Gloucester County known as Egg Harbor Township. In the intervening years, the deed and other documents were passed down through generations, likely between members of the Johnson family.
“The journey of the deed is what intrigued us,” McGettigan said. “The true story we’ll probably never know.”
At some point during the last century, the documents ended up in a Florida-bound antique trunk, where they showed up at a yard sale more than a year ago. By chance, an Egg Harbor Township family vacationing in Florida were shown the deeds by a relative who purchased the trunk.
"They didn't know what to make of it, so (they) sent us home with it,” said that vacationer, Rick Andrews, who in turn brought the deeds to the attention of the Greater Egg Harbor Township Historical Society.
“The whole mystery of the deed is interesting,” said township historian June Sheridan. “Isn’t it amazing that it got back to where it originated?”
After reading about the cache of deeds in The Press of Atlantic City, McGettigan offered to pay the necessary $2,000 for the deed’s restoration and presentation. One other deed, from 1734, was older, but its condition was too poor to properly restore.
“Our primary function is to record all the real estate transactions in the county, most of which are deeds,” McGettigan said. “We have a great emphasis on preservation of records here (and) we thought this would be a great opportunity.”
Earlier this year, the deed was sent away for several months to the Philadelphia-based Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, where technicians painstakingly cleaned dirt and grime from the document and repaired centuries of damage due to exposure to the elements.
McGettigan said the deed’s restoration gives the county an opportunity to emphasize the importance of these documents and to encourage the public to preserve the cultural artifacts that may be collecting dust in their attics, basements and storage units.
“We urge people to bring these to people like June, who have knowledge of history, and to preserve the history of this county for generations to come,” he said.
Sheridan said the deeds serve as an important tool in tracing genealogy, since they often include details about family inheritances. Some of them also describe, in great detail, the land being conveyed.
“This is history you can see,” she said.
Thursday’s event also marks the debut of another county project, the digitalization of the county’s newspaper archives. The first batch of newspapers — for the years 1954 through 1958 — will go live on the County Clerk’s Office website that day, McGettigan said.
“We have archives in our basement and we’ve been going through them several years,” he said. “Now, we have the opportunity to move forward with it.”
Arthur Michael Lucchesi, the deputy county clerk, said scanning the county’s newspaper records, which stretch from 1877 to 1960, will take about a year. The office staff scans, checks and indexes the digital pages in their spare time, he said.
The resulting files can be downloaded, printed or emailed from the website, he said.
“My staff is getting caught up reading the papers and the advertisements,” Lucchesi said, noting that one find included a picture of Atlantic City political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson on his 72nd birthday.
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