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Appendix 1: Jewish Farming Colonies in New Jersey

When the socio-economic convulsions which overtook czarist Russia during the second half of the nineteenth century sparked the pogroms of the 1880s, a mass Jewish emigration of unprecedented size got underway. Most of the immigrants would concentrate in American urban centers like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago and would seek to adapt themselves to the rapidly unfolding urbanization and industrialization of the New World. Exceptions to the norm were those immigrants who allowed themselves utopian dreams of avoiding the city and striking roots in American soil in a more literal way, through cultivation of the soil, often enough communally or collectively. The experience of these dreamers is reflected in Herman Rosenthal’s Yiddish-language journal, The Jewish Farmer, published for only one year, 1891.

Rosenthal (1843–1917), a native Kurlander, had come to the United States in 1881, and became in later years head of the Slavonic Department of the New York Public Library. The increasingly reactionary czarist policies of the 1870s and 1880s made him abandon his Russophilia and work to persuade the Franco-Jewish Alliance Israélite Universelle to assist the Am Olam colonists who were following his lead in 1880. It was with AIU funds that a tract of land was purchased for a colonizing effort in Louisiana.

Though colonizing ventures were organized in various regions of the United States, it was mainly in New Jersey that these efforts achieved a qualified measure of success. Alliance, founded in 1882, and Woodbine, established nine years later, enjoyed the greatest success of all the colonies. What enabled them to overcome the obstacles with greater effectiveness than colonies planted elsewhere in America was their willingness to combine agricultural effort with a degree of industrialism. Their leaders, colonists, and supporters, perhaps because of the colonies’ proximity to Philadelphia and New York, understood that a settlement founded purely on agriculture was unlikely to endure in a country which was rapidly turning to industrialization. They perceived that, if colonization was to sustain itself, it had to be combined with industrial or mechanical pursuits; it had to experiment with agro-industrial patterns. Rosenthal’s reports on the South Jersey ventures amply testify to this understanding.

I translated these passages from the original Yiddish periodical, Der Yudisher Farmer: Monatliche Tsaytschrift fir Landvirtschaftliche Kolonizatsyan, which Rosenthal edited in 1891–92 at 205 Henry Street in New York City. (Copies of Volume I of Rosenthal’s periodical are located at the Hebrew Union College Library, 3101 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45220, and at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1048 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10028.)

My translation was first published in Michael: On the History of the Jews in the Diaspora, vol. III, edited by Lloyd P. Gartner (Tel Aviv: Diaspora Research Institute, Tel Aviv University, 1975) and appears here with the permission of Tel Aviv University.

Excerpts from The Jewish Farmer


The Woodbine Colony

When the great philanthropist Baron [Maurice] de Hirsch gave ten million francs into the hands of several prominent American Jews (Messrs. [Myer S.] Isaacs, [Jacob H.] Schiff, [Jesse] Seligman, [Julius] Goldman, [Oscar S.] Straus, [Henry] Rice and [James H.] Hoffman in New York and Messrs. [Mayer] Sulzberger and [William] Hackenburg in Philadelphia), the interest of which capital was to be used for the training and placement of Jewish emigrants as workers and farmers, not all the members of the committee were agreed that farm colonies should be immediately set up.1 This was because they wanted the emigrants to be spread out evenly across all of America, to procure employment for them in factories and on farms, with the object of enabling them more quickly to become fully productive American citizens. Those members, however, who did indeed think at the outset that colonies could be undertaken, finally prevailed. They convinced the committee to make an effort that a colony be set up, not as a charitable undertaking, but founded on pure business-like commercial principles. It was decided to take into this endeavor also a Russian [i.e., immigrant] help committee.

It is well known to many that the activities of the colonies were called into life with the help of Messrs. Isaacs and Goldman, and thanks to the efforts of the great scholar-benefactor and most warm-hearted friend of the Jews, Michael Heilprin, who devoted the last years of his useful and work-filled life to bettering the plight of his suffering brothers. His main partner was Mr. Herman Rosenthal, who also after the death of his unforgotten friend M. Heilprin continued the colonies’ activities, and thus it was proposed to him to form a help committee. Although at that time he held an important position at Edison Company [in Summit, New Jersey?], nevertheless, he left this post and gladly took upon himself the hard and thankless task of helping to lead through his beloved colony-idea. He, for his part, proposed two very worthy and experienced people in this area, Messrs. [Paul or Pavel] Kaplan and Joseph Rosenblitt [Rosenblueth?]; and these three formed the Russian Aid Committee.

The first step of this committee was to propose a plan for an industrial-agricultural colony, which was approved by the central committee. The aid committee also had the task of finding land and suitable colonists.

After long and hard inquiries the aid committee found such a piece of suitable land with the help of a knowledgeable chemical agronomist, Prof. H[irsch L.] Sabsovich, who at the bidding of the aid committee was invited to be agricultural advisor to the first colony. 2

The purchased piece of land was 4,824 acres and lay in Cape May County, New Jersey. The climate is very healthy and invigorating, the ground is outstanding; the West Jersey Railroad cuts across the piece of land with two stations: Woodbine and Mount Pleasant. A second railroad is now being built and will also cut through the purchased land, which is very close to Ocean City, Sea-Isle City, Cape May, and other bathing places on the Atlantic Ocean. One and a half English miles from the colony runs the river Dennis Creek, where large ships are built.

Through Delaware Bay the colony is accessible by water to Philadelphia. The city is fifty-seven miles from the colony. It would be impossible to find a better piece of land for a permanent and successful industrial agriculture [colony].

It is called Industrial Agriculture Colony because the committee will build in it factories where the colonists can work when not occupied on the farms, especially in winter. They will be able, by factory work, to get through the bad times till their farms give them the chance to work only on agriculture. The latter will consist in vineyards, berries, garden produce, fruit, etc., which will have a good market in the nearby cities.

The conditions upon which the farms will be given to the colonists, the reader will find in a separate [Yiddish] translation of the contract, which was made between the colonists and the committee (printed in this same issue, below).

[Vol. I, No. 1 (Nov., 1891), p. 5]

Now we will see what has been accomplished in the colony in the short period of two months. Over 1,200 acres have been surveyed, 209 acres on thirty-eight farms have been cleared of bushes and timber; the land is ready for plowing on thirteen farms, twelve farms have already been plowed, ten acres have been harrowed for sowing, five acres are limed and sown with corn, and ten acres are ready for liming. Nearly one hundred thirty cords of wood are ready for market and fifty cords will soon be ready; besides the thirty-eight farms which are partly cleared and partly being cleared, are five farms given for clearing to an experienced man, who will with the help of seven workers, complete the job in five weeks. The remaining farms will be cleared by other contractors.

Seventy-eight Jewish and twenty-five American laborers work on the colony, a portion of whom are future colonists, and some of whom are emigrants, who could not find work in New York. The workers live in nine houses with ovens. Besides these there is a stable for three horses, and another one for four cows. Presently being built is a stable for ten horses and five houses for fifty workers. As soon as the stumppuller (a machine to grub trees) arrives, six roads will be cleared, which will connect each farm to the public road and one of the two railroad stations.

On each parcel we will plant three acres of corn, one for grass, and one for seed. Early in the year (spring) we will sow between the corn such cowpeas as will be harvested in May, and in their place will be planted Indian corn (maize) and potatoes. Through them we will receive two crops during one year; also the earth will be ready for crops which demand well-used earth.

About thirty workers attend the evening school; there would have been more students, but there is very little room right now. We have already erected fifty houses, which will have five rooms, a porch, a cellar, and for convenience, a well with a pump in the kitchen. Ten houses will be ready the first of December, another twenty, the first of January and the remaining ones on the fifteenth of January.

[Vol. I, No. 1 (Nov., 1891), p. 5]

The Contract

The form of a contract between “The Woodbine Land and Improvement Comp.” on one side, and Mr. N. . . . on the other.

As the second party has agreed to become a tenant of the first party, upon the conditions enumerated below, and on the Parcel No. 0, as marked off on the plan of the company’s property in Woodbine, N.J., we agree, after one has paid the other a fee of one dollar.

First:

The company leases Mr. N. the Parcel No. O, as marked off on the map of the company’s property, containing fifteen acres, more or less, for a period of fifteen years from the 27th of October, 1891, to the 27th of October 1906, at four percent of the agreed-upon price together with taxes and assessment. The rent for the first three years shall be . . . dollars annually.

Second:

The company lends the cost of constructing roads around the aforementioned parcel, clears ten acres of it and plows five acres in the course of the first year; the sum of these loans, together with the cost of the land and improvements, shall be the price of the parcel, at . . . dollars an acre.

Third:

Before or during the sealing of this contract Mr. N. shall pay to the company 200 dollars, which will be credited to him toward payment of the loan for soil, plants, seed as well as the remaining [land] when it is available for the aforesaid clearing and plowing. Mr. N. shall pay for the aforesaid land all improvements upon it, incurred in clearing, plowing, etc. in twelve equal payments, which shall begin at the start of the third year, but he has the right to pay the entire sum before it falls due.

Fourth:

When Mr. N. shall pay the company, besides the aforementioned $200, the additional $200, he has the right to terminate this contract with the company and receive from the company a deed, for which Mr. N. must give the company a mortgage on the sum which he still owes.

Fifth:

The company agrees to build upon the aforementioned parcel, as soon as is necessary, a house for the tenants containing not less than four rooms and a cellar, together with a stable, front-hall and well.

Sixth:

Buildings, pasture, seeds, and plants, in such quantity and at such rate as the company finds practical, shall be given the tenant, and the cost, after payment of the 200 dollars, shall be secured through a mortgage and shall be paid out in three equal yearly payments, which shall begin at the end of the first year, but Mr. N. can pay back the sum before the end of three years.

Seventh:

The contract shall have restrictions against disorder, sale or manufacture of alcoholic beverages, abandonment of the property. The house shall stand one hundred fifty feet from the road and the site shall be covered with grass and garden plants.

Eighth:

It is agreed, that when Mr. N. shall receive the deed on the aforementioned parcel, and the same shall be fully developed, Mr. N. shall have the right to receive from the company a contract upon the adjoining fifteen acres of land, which are marked off with the number 0 on the map. This second contract has the same conditions as the first. However, Mr. N. can, before receiving the second parcel, use it as pasture free of all costs, except taxes. He can use this privilege only until the first of January, 1897, if he had not by this time received the second contract.

It is further agreed, that when Mr. N. has received the deed on the first parcel, and has not yet received the right to a contract on the second parcel, and shall at this time sell the first parcel, he shall lose all rights on the second.

[Vol. I, No. 1 (Nov., 1891), p. 5]

On the Colonies

Woodbine. As of the 20th of November [1891] we have cleared the brush on fifty-nine farms, cleared 430 acres, “cleaned it of woods,’ burned 300 acres, turned up 130 acres, and seeded fifty acres. “The early frosts made the soil hard to turn over, so that at this point, no more has been done.” On fifteen farms, three acres apiece have been seeded with rye, and 100 bushels of lime are ready to be put on each three acres of turned-over ground.

At the colony now, over one hundred Russian Jews and fifty Americans are working. The houses are already being built and ten will be ready at the beginning of December, the remaining forty will be ready at the end of January [1892]. As the weather is presently very uncertain (today dry, tomorrow rain and then again more frost), it is very hard to set a definite time when the buildings will be ready, but we think the colonists will move in February. And the factory (40’ x 60’, three stories high), which is being built at the beginning of December, will already at that time (February) have its chimneys blazing, and its whistle will call together all colonists to work at the machines, which will give the colonists a chance to earn their living until they can again bring forth fruit from the earth to sustain themselves.

The chopped-up wood from the farms totals about eight hundred cord. The sum of money which it will bring, when sold, will be credited to each farmer in proportion to how many cord of wood were provided by his farm. “At the site in Woodbine, is kept a special, exact accounting of all income and expenditures.”

Alliance. In order to give a tiny portion of the many helpless emigrants from Russia a chance at farming in America, the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society leased (in the course of time it will be purchased) a piece of land near Vineland, N.J. On this land was settled, at the start of 1882, about forty families, and by the end of that year, over seventy families had settled there. Each family received fifteen acres of land, a house with a well, which cost over 125 dollars, as well as all necessities such as furniture and farming implements.

During the first few years the colonists were subsidized with small sums of money (eight dollars a month per family) and they were also given the necessities for planting fruit trees, various berries, and all kinds of seeds for gardening, and were helped in every way possible to become genuine farmers.

While the first years were the hardest (“every beginning is difficult”) for the Alliance-colonists and they had to suffer because for the first three years the earth poorly rewarded the tireless novice farmers, but time and effort paid off. Through their patience and ceaseless labor they forced the earth to sustain them and finally the heroes were amply rewarded: the crude never-worked land was transformed into fragrant blooming vineyards and rich vegetable gardens, from which they have lately received the finest crop in the area, from wine to delicious potatoes.3

Many of the old houses have been enlarged, many entirely rebuilt, several new houses have been put up (some of stone and some of wood). In the colony there is a very fine and large public school, where about one hundred fifty children study. There are also two synagogues. They help their relatives and friends to settle in the neighborhood of Alliance, and already about three hundred Russian Jewish families are farming in the area.

Last November, Alliance sent the produce from their colony to an exhibition in New York which took place at “The Palestine Bazaar”: the finest wines, preserves, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, which were praised by all the visitors, and which received the best certificates.

The men and women can be proud of their hard work, patience, and perseverance and of the sweet fruits of their indefatigable labor. They are truly pioneers contributing to the glory of all Israel.

The colonists at Alliance owe much to Mr. Isaac Eppinger, Leopold Gershel, and the Superintendent, Mr. David Sternberg, who gave many years of their time and toil to making the farmers self-sufficient. They also owe many thanks to Mr. [Henry] S. Henry, Leonard Lewisohn, M. [W.] Mendel, and the famous [British] philanthropists, Mr. Samuel Montagu, Benjamin Cohen, and Doctor [Asher] Asher.4

[Vol. I No. 2 (Dec, 1891), p. 9]

Up to the publication of this issue, the work of the Woodbine colony was proceeding well. Of the fifty-six families, thirty-three now live already on their own farms, and at the beginning of March [1892] the rest of the families will be settled. The factory has been completed and the machines are being installed. We are convinced that at the end of March the factory will be in full swing. According to what we were promised at the outset, we expect to become involved in the manufacture of clothing, suspenders, and some carpenter work (turner’s shop). Besides this, we are undertaking production of cigars and baskets. Many have found it possible to buy lots in Woodbine and open businesses. However, the committee is very careful not to sell many lots until the industry has been well established. At this time the farmers have already begun to plant and sow. Besides the fifty-six families [are] eight of those [people] who came six months ago as general workers, and by their great effort and ability and by their supreme behavior showed themselves able to become good farmers. These people will begin farming when their families arrive from Russia. The committee does not plan to settle more at the Woodbine colony. Now our task is to assure a decent living to those already settled. The committee can then sell parcels of ten to thirty acres at a low price to emigrants who have been in the U.S. not more than two years. And when they have paid for the land, the committee can also build houses for them with liberal repayment terms. But the rest must be accomplished by the settler himself. The committee had designated one of the houses to be equipped for a public school, and next week instruction will begin.

[Vol. I, No. 5 (March, 1892), p. 6]

The time when it was necessary to convince the Jew to take upon himself farm labor is past. We no longer need to entice or propagandize the Jew to work the land, he now runs to the land himself . . . .

If friends of colonization had spent the last two weeks at Woodbine, they would certainly have been filled with pleasure at the great progress that is being made. All sixty colonists are here, and over fifty are already living in their own houses. On every farm there is much activity, plowing and harrowing; fruit orchards are being marked off, as well as gardens for berries and vegetables. Pits are being dug for orchards, plowed, fertilized, and planted. And due to the great love that our farmers feel for agriculture, by their efforts, and on the other hand, through the generosity of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, which provided all the necessities, no one need doubt that this colony will become a model colony. The factory is all ready. The steam-powered machines are already in operation, the sewing machines have been installed, and shortly after Passover those members of the families who are not engaged in farm work will begin work in the factory. The school has opened with fifty pupils. All the Americans from the neighborhood, who often come to visit the school, are surprised by the intelligence and capability of the pupils, and the teacher, American born, is very satisfied with their progress in English. The library does not have many books at present, but members of the Baron de Hirsch Fund have promised that each one of them will contribute some of their own books soon. We take this opportunity to ask all our Russian friends in the cities who have Russian or Hebrew books that they wish to give us, to send them to Woodbine, N.J., or 205 Henry Street, N.Y.

The town of Woodbine is growing fast; in the course of this month twenty new houses will be ready for occupancy.

[Vol. I, No. 6 (April, 1892), pp. 1–2]

Russian Jews Farm in America

The colonies Alliance, Carmel, and Rosenhayn, N.J., which were founded by Russian Jewish immigrants nine years ago, are flourishing today. About six hundred families now work the land, which was a desert ten years ago, and together with their American neighbors they labor for the development of agriculture and industry in this land.5

[Vol I, No. 10 (August, 1892), p. 2]

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344644
Related ISBN
9780814344651
MARC Record
OCLC
1055139115
Pages
123-132
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC
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