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

By Carl Raymond Woodward | Go to book overview

Introduction

THE agriculture of colonial New Jersey reflected the practices of the several European peoples who contributed to the settlement of the province, grafted upon the native agriculture and adapted to the natural conditions which prevailed in this part of the New World. The proprietary land system in New Jersey was more conducive to the development of the independent farm unit than of the village and community life characteristic of New England. The independent freehold was the most common form of tenure. In the settled regions were found farmers of widely varied means. There were, of course, so-called "poor" farmers, including former indentured servants, whose land holdings were meagre, and whose homes were crude and poorly equipped. On the other hand, there was a very considerable class of well-to-do farmers, with relatively large estates, who were literally "country gentlemen." They kept slaves, both negroes and indentured servants, and they knew how to enjoy a good living. They were described as "good-natured, hospitable, and of a more liberal turn than their neighbours the Pennsylvanians."1 Their farms were commonly called "plantations" after the style of the southern colonies. In fact, farm life in colonial New Jersey in many respects was closely akin to plantation life in the pre-Civil-War South.

The agriculture of the province was in the main self-sustaining, and produced a substantial body of exports. Wheat was raised in abundance, and the other small grains--rye, oats, barley, buckwheat--in lesser quantities. As the wheat acreage increased, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania became known as America's "bread colonies," New Jersey for a time leading the other two. Hunterdon County, which included most of the present Mercer, Warren, and Sussex counties, was called "the most plentiful wheat country for its bigness in

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1
A. Bumaby, op. cit., p. 59.

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