Ploughs and Politicks: Charles Read of New Jersey and His Notes on Agriculture, 1715-1774

By Carl Raymond Woodward | Go to book overview
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Foreword

THIS book is the by-product of a search for a farm. When in 1840 Jared Sparks edition of The Works of Benjamin Franklin appeared, it included a portion of a letter addressed to Jared Eliot--clergyman, physician, and farmer of Connecticut--presumably written by Franklin about 1749.1 Although the original of this letter was incomplete, the signature and the date missing, it was with a collection of letters, later acquired by Yale University, which bore Franklin's signature, and was therefore accepted as his work. It told of a farm of about three hundred acres which the author had purchased "near Burlington," and described his efforts to bring it into profitable cultivation. For the hundred years since Sparks's collection was published, the belief has prevailed that Benjamin Franklin, in addition to his many other interests, was for a time a New Jersey farmer. The letter was reprinted in subsequent editions of Franklin's works and the farm was repeatedly mentioned by Franklin's biographers. Strangely, no one knew where the farm was situated. It was believed by some to have been the country estate subsequently acquired by William Franklin, the philosopher's son, who was the last royal governor of New Jersey, but a tracing of the title showed that this place was never owned by Benjamin. Searches of the records at the State Capitol and at the county seat yielded no clue of Benjamin Franklin ever having owned any land in New Jersey, nor was any specific reference to the New Jersey farm found in Franklin's voluminous papers.

About fifteen years ago, in making a study of the history of agriculture in New Jersey, I became interested in the mysterious Franklin farm. Burlington County, I found, was a veritable treasure ground for the agricultural historian, and I was fortunate in enlisting the aid of Charles A. Thompson,

____________________
1
Jared Sparks, The Works of Benjamin Franklin ( Boston, 1840), VI, 83-86.

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