Heroism of Jonas Cattell Lives on in 10 Miler

BY JACK HEATH

HADDONFIELD, NJ--When Jonas Cattell ran the nearly ten miles from Haddonfield, New Jersey to Fort Mercer at Red Bank (National Park, New Jersey), he wasn’t thinking about the scenery. He didn’t worry about his mile splits or even how he would get back to his blacksmith apprentice job in Haddonfield. Jonas was thinking about life and death.

Jonas was 18 on October 22, 1777. He was half Lenapi Indian and he loved to run. When he wasn’t working for blacksmith John Middleton as an apprentice in Haddonfield, Jonas was a member of the Gloucester County Fox Hunting Society.
Jonas was a bit different than the other Fox Hunting Society members though. Rather than ride on horseback, he preferred to join the hunts on foot, running alongside the dogs and joining in the pursuit. Records show that he was fast enough to join in the kill more than 50% of the time. Besides gaining great fitness during the hunts, Jonas became an expert on the trails, underbrush, and stream crossings in Gloucester County where the riders could not go. Wanting to test his stamina further Jonas looked for any opportunity to run, once running from his home in Deptford, NJ to Cape May and back—187 miles round trip in three days.

On October 21, 1777 General Karl von Donop and a Hessian force of 2400 men ferried across the Delaware River unseen, camped out, and then began marching up Haddon Avenue (the ferry road) to Haddonfield.

Jonas Cattell and a number of other people the troops encountered along the way were taken prisoner and held overnight in a camp between Haddonfield and Cherry Hill, NJ at Evans Pond. The next day Jonas and the prisoners were released and told they could go home. Jonas knew what he had to do. He immediately started running to Fort Mercer along the roads, paths, and trails he knew so well to warn Colonel Christopher Greene, commander of the American troops at the fort, that the Hessians were on their way.

The advanced warning was enough notice for Colonel Greene to redirect his cannons from the Delaware to the road leading into the fort. The much smaller American force was able to defeat the Hessian troops, inflicting over 500 casualties, including Count von Donop who was wounded and then abandoned by his troops on the battlefield. The British withdrew and decided to set fire to their ships rather than let them fall into the hands of the Americans.
After delivering the message, Jonas had run back to Haddonfield and was resting from his “double” workout when he was captured by the Hessians again. In a state of disarray from the battle, Jonas was soon released. The British withdrew from New Jersey. The following month they returned and captured Fort Mercer under General Cornwallis. The Americans had abandoned their fort after the fall of nearby Fort Mifflin on the Philadelphia side of the river.
Jonas Cattell lived another 72 years, a local hero in South Jersey because of his bravery and the fact that he had run such a long distance to deliver his warning (while Paul Revere had ridden to deliver his similar warning).

In October of 1969 a race was started by the local Kiwanis to honor Jonas Cattell’s run, retracing virtually the same route. While the brush and trails and streams he covered have been replaced by paved South Jersey roads, you can’t help but feel his spirit if you run the race and approach Red Bank Battlefield. Forty years later the race is the oldest in South Jersey and the course has undergone only minor changes to improve safety.
Finishers entering the Battlefield are greeted by Revolutionary War re-enactors, hundreds of spectators, the boom of cannons, and the smell of cannon smoke and funnel cake—but you can still easily imagine yourself feeling about the same level of fatigue that Jonas Cattell felt when he entered Fort Mercer on October 22, 1777.

In 2009, 120 runners finished the 40th annual Jonas Cattell run on a crisp, clear, day ideal for running ten miles. (The days before and after the race were rainy and cold.) The race was held on October 25.

Geoff Shute, Pennsville High School (NJ) Cross-Country coach, won the race in 56:18. Chelsea Ley, the top ranked New Jersey High School Cross-Country runner, from Kingsway High School (Swedesboro), was the first female finisher in 1:07:19.

Joanne Ley, Chelsea’s sister and also a former standout at Kingsway was the second female finisher in 1:09: 34

David Zuzga (1:00:56) was the second male finisher, followed by Jim Sery (1:01:10).

There were a number of other notable finishes: Rowan Professor and Running Legend Tom Osler placed third in the 60-and-over category in 1:32:31.
Thirteen-year-old Billy Simila from St. Marys Grammer School in Gloucester City was the first 14-and-under runner and 40th overall in 1:20:24. Former Rowan University Cross-Country ace Bob Pyott was 21st in 1:12:53.

Danny Wheeler was the first wheelchair finisher in 1:33:06, and he was warmly greeted by his service dog at the finish, drawing heartfelt applause from the many spectators. Wayne Keane, a blind distance runner, won the Jonas Cattell Special Achievement award running the hilly ten-mile distance in an impressive 2:10:47.

1758--Jonas Cattell--1849

“With four cannon and 1600 Hessian troops, Count Van Donop camped 300 yards east of here en route to Fort Mercer at Red Bank. A prisoner that night, Jonas Cattell, 18 years old, was released when the enemy moved out before daylight. He ran to warn the fort ten miles distant. Col. Christopher Greene ordered that the cannon commanding the Delaware be repositioned to meet the landward attack. Thanks to the timely warning that day, Oct. 22, 1777, three hundred Colonials defeated the Hessian forces. Count von Donop was mortally wounded in the attack.”--From Cattell’s historic marker