Travel down a dirt road, not far from the festivities of the Jersey Shore, and you can find a historical relic: the oldest surviving bar in the United States, located at the site of the last skirmish of the American Revolution.
Cedar Bridge Tavern was probably built sometime in the 1740s. Situated on road connecting Camden, New Jersey, with the Jersey Shore, the tavern served as a hotel and restaurant for travelers, as well as a popular watering hole for locals.
The Siege of Yorktown in 1781, which resulted in the surrender of most British forces in the United States, is commonly regarded as the last major battle of the American Revolution, but there were a number of small-scale engagements and skirmishes in the months that followed. During this phase of the conflict, Loyalist militias were largely unsupported by the government of Great Britain and persisted by operating as bandits and highwaymen.
“Bloody” John Bacon was the leader of one such Loyalist militia that called themselves the Refugees. Bacon and the Refugees were skilled at hiding in the sparsely populated Pine Barrens and only emerged to attack Patriot militias, rob travelers, and retreat back into the dense forests. Bacon’s life is poorly documented, but many of the Refugees were former British soldiers and sailors who either deserted or were left behind in the chaotic retreat from the colonies.
Bacon was locally reviled for his part in the Long Beach Island Massacre. The night of October 25, 1782, Bacon and some of his Refugees sneaked aboard a ship that had run aground. They killed 19 of the crew in their sleep, including the ship’s captain, looted as much as they could carry, and fled back into the Pine Barrens. This was considered an especially notorious affair because the United States and Great Britain had ceased active hostilities and were negotiating a peace treaty. Bacon’s actions were formally disavowed by Great Britain and a bounty was placed on his head.
On December 27, 1782, a local Patriot militia received word that Bacon was near Cedar Bridge Tavern. They seized the rare opportunity to ambush their slippery foe and immediately set out to confront them. The Patriots found Bacon and his men camped out in an area where they could survey the road for travelers. The Refugees realized that they had been found and the two sides exchanged gunfire. When it became clear that the Patriots had the upper hand, Bacon, wounded in the battle, escaped with several of his men.
Word soon reached the colonies that a tentative peace agreement had been reached between the United States and Great Britain. Although it would take nearly another year for the final details to be ironed out and for the opposing governments to ratify the Treaty of Paris, the announcement effectively ceased even the low-level guerrilla skirmishes that had persisted. Because of this timing, the Battle of Cedar Bridge ended up being the last of the American Revolution.
But because “Bloody” Bacon’s conduct was considered especially egregious, the bounty on his head remained. Patriot militias continued hunting for him and he was finally tracked down on March 31, 1783. A group of Patriots surrounded him, wrestled him to the ground, stabbed him with a bayonet, and shot him before he could grab his own gun or call for help. His body was paraded around and locals were preparing to desecrate it further when Bacon’s brother arrived and begged the crowd to give the body to him so it could be properly buried.
Today the Cedar Bridge Tavern is preserved as a historic site, purchased from its last private owner by Ocean County in 2008. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. The county preserved the tavern and the surrounding five acres as a park and trails in the area tell the history of the tavern and the battle.
Know Before You Go
Cedar Bridge Tavern is free to visit. There is a small parking area across from the tavern.