William H. Burrell was born about 1822. Census records indicate that he was born in New Jersey and resided in various locations in Pennsylvania before finally settling in Camden, NJ. He joined the ministry at an early age. In 1852, Siloam Methodist Church in Bethel Township, Delaware County, PA was organized and the newly erected church was dedicated in September 1854. The first pastor was Rev. William H. Burrell. In 1879, Burrell along with Ezra Lake, James Lake and S. Wesley Lake, all Methodist ministers, purchased Peck’s Beach, a barrier island on the NJ shore. The area was named after John Peck, a whaler, and until the mid 19th century was used as a fishing camp, for cattle grazing, and occasionally as a picnic area for residents from the mainland. The ministers formed the “Ocean City Association” to establish a Christian retreat and resort. Land was cleared, streets mapped out and lots were sold for cottages and hotels. The town of Ocean City was incorporated on October 20,1879. In 1881, the Ocean City Tabernacle was built. The wooden structure stood until being destroyed by a hurricane in 1944. It was rebuilt in 1957 and, with further renovations and additions, the house of worship continues to provide interdenominational religious services for summer visitors to the shore town to this day.
Rev. Burrell, his wife Elizabeth (Backus) and their children settled into a home on Cooper Street in Camden, NJ, conveniently located near the ferries. It is here that William earned the title of the “marrying parson”. Prior to the passing of the Lloyd Marriage Bill in 1897, couples from other states were not required to obtain a license to marry in New Jersey. Rev. Burrell built a lucrative business marrying these couples in his home with Elizabeth serving as the witness. It is reported that he married thousands, often having several couples waiting in his parlor to tie the knot. In June 1891 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a short article titled “Two Odd Marriages”. One of the marriages, performed by Rev. Burrell united a groom whose age was given as 72 and his bride age 18. The passing of the Lloyd Bill cut into the Reverend’s wedding business, but by that time he had made a substantial living and was able to retire. Rev. Burrell died in Camden on October 14, 1909 and is buried in Mt. Moriah cemetery.
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