New Jersey: A Guide to Its Present and Past

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Industry and Commerce

AGRICULTURAL development was the chief economic interest of New Jersey during the early period of its existence as a Colony. Small farms were intensively cultivated in the eastern section and large plantations, operated mainly by Negro slaves, flourished in the west. Although the isolation of farm people contributed to the establishment of home industry, it likewise stunted commercial manufacturing.

The self-supporting farm was the standard unit of the Colony's economy for the two earliest generations at least. Even the small towns clustered at the head of tidewater regions on the eastern shore or along the Delaware were largely devoted to agriculture. Soap, candles, textiles, even tools were manufactured in the home by the pioneer women and children.

Trade, however, began to flourish almost as soon as the Colonists sighted the Indians. Furs, skins, and tobacco found a ready market in England; oil and fish in Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands; and agricultural products in neighboring Colonies and the West Indies.

Gradually manufacture spread from the home to the community. The miller, almost invariably first on the scene, was soon joined by the weaver, fuller, tanner, shoemaker, and carpenter. Newark had a commercial gristmill in 1671, and the earliest sawmill was established in Woodbridge in 1682. Tanning, which had been started as a business in Elizabeth in 1664 by the Ogden family, quickly led to saddlery and harness making.

The fine forests in southern New Jersey yielded their lumber to ship carpenters of Burlington, Salem, Newton, and Cape May, where shipbuilding became a leading industry. Equally significant was the development of whaling from Cape May and Tuckerton; in many respects these towns rivaled the more celebrated New England ports of the Colonial period. Tar and turpentine were also important exports from the southern part of the Colony.

Toward the close of the seventeenth and opening of the eighteenth centuries, several industries were founded in New Jersey that were destined to become not only leading sources of wealth but traditional occupations as well. An abundant supply of beaver, raccoon, and sheep furnished the


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New Jersey: A Guide to Its Present and Past


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