During the westward expansion years of the 18th and 19th centuries in America many scouts, hunters and frontiersmen became as widely discussed and as famous as Presidents and statesmen.

Tennessee boasted of Davy Crockett's feats, Kentucky claimed Daniel Boone, and South Jersey thrilled to the exploits of Jonas Cattell.

In addition to his renown as a hunter, sportsman and soldier, Cattell is probably the most famous tall story teller this area has ever produced. Tales of his prowess, both real and imagined, have grown so through the years. It is almost impossible to separate the Cattell of Paul Bunyan heroics from the 19-year old Cattell, whose courage and strong legs helped win the Battle of Red Bank.

Jonas Cattell (first called the Catle family) was born in 1758 on a farm called "Lavender Hill". From the earliest days of his youth until his death at the age of 91, Cattell's intimate knowledge and complete understanding of the forests and wild creatures was extraordinary. He knew every fox and muskrat trail for miles, was able to track animals over any terrain and could even determine whether his hounds were on the scent of a fox or a rabbit. . A power wiry man, over six feet tall, Cattell could cover incredible distances of rough countryside in a short time and was famous for many years as a long distance runner. On one occasion he went by foot from Woodbury to Cape Island (Cape May) on a wager, to deliver a letter in just one day! He returned with an answer to the letter late the following day, completing a journey of 160 miles in two days-and by foot! Another time, when he was about 45 years of age he outran an Indian from Mount Holly to Woodbury, winning the 22-mile race with ease, coming in to Woodbury some 200 yards in front of his competitor.

When the Revolution began Cattell was apprenticed to a blacksmith named Middleton in Haddonfield. According to tradition, he was at his forge when the Hessians camped in and round Haddonfield on October 21st, 1777, prior to their attack on Fort Mercer at Red Bank.

After the enemy�s departure at daybreak the next morning, Cattell also left, beginning his race against time. Loping steadily through familiar woodlands and meadows, fording streams and marshy areas at the most propitious crossing, Cattell reached Red Bank before the Hessians, warning Col. Christopher Greene of their approach. While Greene was undoubtedly expecting an attack before winters onslaught turned the Delaware to ice, Cattel�s information of an imminent attack gave the fort�s commander a decided edge: preparation time to reevaluate his position and redeploy his men to best advantage. The result was sweet victory for the patriots and the most disastrous defeat of the Hessians during the Revolution!

After the Battle of Red Bank, Cattell enlisted and served throughout the war, but his warning carried on foot to the outnumbered troops at Fort Mercer will always be remembered as his greatest service to our country in its first epic struggle for survival. The "Jonas Cattell Run" has commemorated that service every October, when runners from all over compete for prizes as they emulate Jonas Cattell�s run for the fort from Haddonfield.

(From the Gloucester County Heritage Commission-1980)


Back to the Jonas Cattell Home Page