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The area surrounding the Barnegat Bay and Barnegat Inlet was described by Henry Hudson in 1609, as "...a great lake of water, as we could judge it to be ... The mouth of the lake hath many shoals, and the sea breaketh on them as it is cast out of the mouth of it." The name of the existing town was obtained from the Bay and Inlet, which were originally named in 1614 "Barendegat," or "Inlet of the Breakers," by Dutch settlers, referring to the waterway's turbulent channel.

On October 26, 1782, a Belgian cutter traveling southward became stranded near the inlet. The ship was noticed by Captain Andrew Steelman, who recruited local men to unload the cargo. While at rest on the beach, the crews were attacked by Captain John Bacon, who was affiliated with the Loyalists. Almost all of Steelman's men were murdered in what became known as the Barnegat Light Massacre.

Caleb Parker, the first European permanent settler in the area, arrived to the Barnegat Inlet area in 1795. By the 19th century, the northern stretches of Long Beach Island were known among early settlers for the wildlife and subsequent hunting, as well as a tourist destination for vacationing farmers and campers. In 1814, portions of the lowlands and beaches were purchased by settlers Bart and Ruth Slaight, who built a small house and later, in 1825, a larger home to accommodate boarders. The boardinghouse was later sold to Jacob Herring, which prompted the structure to become known as the Herring House. The building lodged many of the visiting hunters, who primarily came from New York City and Philadelphia. Nearly a decade later, in 1834, Slaight sold 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land to the United States Federal Government under the stipulation that no stores or taverns may be built, nor could the lands be used for cattle.

The first lighthouse tower was built in 1835 to coincide with the increased economic dependence on the inlet. Whaling had been permitted in the area in 1678, timber was often freighted through from sawmills on the mainland, and Cranberry Inlet (opened in 1750 to provide a shortcut for cargo ships) had recently been closed. #Wikipedia

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