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Ocean County History

Please Note: Effective January 1, 2021, the term Board of Chosen Freeholders will no longer be used due to legislation signed earlier in 2020 by the Governor (S855) formally changing the title of Freeholder to Commissioner. The new title will be Ocean County Board of Commissioners and, Freeholders, effective January 1, 2021, will be referred to as Commissioners.


On Feb. 15, 1850, Ocean County came into being. It was then comprised of the townships of Brick, Toms River, Jackson, Plumsted, Stafford, and Union (Barnegat), which, in the aggregate, had previously been the portion of Monmouth County lying south of the Manasquan River. In 1891, Little Egg Harbor merged into the new political subdivision. Over time, this vast geographic area was carved into the 33 municipalities.

The 1850 census pegged Ocean County''s population at 10,043 residents. One hundred years later it had reached 56,622. Today, as a result of unprecedented growth in the past three decades, more than 580,000 people call Ocean County home.

Ocean County is the second largest county in the state containing 638 square miles of pine barrens and barrier islands and a 45-mile coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.

Toms River was selected as the "seat" of the new County government. On May 8, 1850, the first Board of Chosen Freeholders, consisting of two representatives from each of the six original townships, selected insignia to represent the public officials of the time. The sloop, schooner, and steamboat are still the official seals of the Freeholders, County Clerk, and Surrogate, respectively. The choice of these symbols reflects the rich maritime tradition of the area.


One of the first tasks of the Freeholders was to construct a courthouse and a jail. By September of 1851, the new "Greek Revival" style Courthouse was serving the public’s needs. It contained a large second floor courtroom, with ancillary offices on the first floor. The adjoining County Jail, containing 10 cells, was of compatible architecture. The Sheriff''s residence, built in the courtyard behind the courthouse, remains to this day. Located in the shadow of the present correctional facility, the original jail rarely housed more than two prisoners at a time, with an annual average of 12 prisoners.

Understandably, the Courthouse quickly became a gathering point for social meetings, political rallies and conventions, as well as a mustering center during the Civil War. Members of Company F, #14 New Jersey Volunteers, drilled on the grounds of the Courthouse before marching off to war.


Most historians agree that the Lenni Lenape Indians were the first inhabitants of the Ocean County area. Annually, they migrated from as far away as Delaware to enjoy the shore and its plentiful food supply. During the Dutch explorations off the New Jersey coast by Captain Cornelius Hendrickson (1614-1616), Barnegat Bay was discovered and charted. Captain Hendrickson sailed through Barnegat Inlet into the bay on a small Dutch ship called the "Onrest" from which he charted the Toms River, the forks of Forked River, and Great Bay.

By the end of the 17th century, whalers were at work off the coast. This opened the region to settlement. Soon saw and grist mills flourished along the streams and rivers leading into the bay.

The whalers, turned smugglers in the first half of the 18th century, were the grandfathers and fathers of the privateers during the American Revolution. Ocean County endured 23 Loyalist and British attacks on its saltworks, as well as other skirmishes during the Revolution. There were 77 naval battles off the coast. The largest British naval attack took place in Great Bay in 1778, together with a skirmish against Count Pulaski''s troops east of Tuckerton. This all culminated in an attack on Toms River on March 24, 1782 when the British destroyed the village, and killed or captured defending militiamen, including Captain Joshua Huddy, who was hanged on April 12, 1782.


As seafaring men sought peaceful pursuits after the Revolution, new industries evolved in the Pine Barrens. Forges and furnaces were built to smelt the local bog ore into pig iron. Thousands of acres of trees were cut to produce charcoal. Commercial fishing and boat building along the coastal region became primary industries in this fledgling county. By the mid-1850s, “cranberrying” and farming had expanded in the rural regions of the county.

The heavy loss of life from immigrant ships wrecked along the coast during the 19th century prompted Congress, led by Dr. William Newell of Manahawkin, to appropriate funding for the construction of lifesaving stations. Within a few years, the first station, built in 1849, was joined by many more, every five miles along the shore. This early Lifesaving Service became the forerunner to the United States Coast Guard Service founded in 1915. Ocean County''s extensive water resources, boardwalks, parks, and golf courses offer a special place where recreation and tourism flourish.

More than 160,000 senior citizens, almost one-fourth of the County’s population, call Ocean County home.

This friendly, family-oriented County, located along the beautiful Atlantic coast, continues to be among New Jersey’s fastest growing counties.