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HAMMONTON, NEW JERSEY SOUTH ITALIAN BERRY FARMERS.
Perhaps even better than the colony at Vineland, the flourishing settlement of South Italians in the vicinity of Hammonton, Atlantic County, N. J., shows the possibilities of the southern European immigrant in agriculture.
The town of Hammonton, situated on two lines of railroad, the Pennsylvania and the Reading, just about midway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City, is a real oasis in a waste of sand and lowland which includes a large part of the southern and southeastern parts of the State. For a distance of about 10 miles, its center between the stations of Winslow Junction and Hammonton, the railway traveler rides through a succession of little berry farms with acres on acres of vineyards, and rows on rows of blackberries, dewberries, and red raspberries, planted right up to the doors of the little houses, and stretching away on every hand.
This little section, something less than 10 miles square, has long been known as Little Italy. The state census of 1905 gives Hammonton a total population of 4,334 persons, of whom 1,233 are enumerated as Italians, and 2,875, or two-thirds of the total, as Americans. Of the 2,875 perhaps one-fourth are native-born children of Italian parentage; on this calculation there were something like 2,000 Italians of the first and second generations living in Hammonton in 1905, and getting a living mainly from the land. The tax roll for 1908 enumerates 450 persons of Italian origin paying taxes in the township; 82 of these pay poll tax only, and 368 are taxed on real estate owned, either town lots or tracts of agricultural land.
With the exception of Vineland, N. J., where the location and soil are more favorable in certain respects, we have here the largest Italian agricultural colony in the United States.
The light, sandy soil of this whole region, in its wild state apparently worthless, is, after clearing and subduing, admirably adapted to small fruits, certain varieties of vegetables, grapes, pears, and peaches. Grapes, bush fruits, and strawberries are raised by nearly every Italian farmer. Some have peach and pear orchards, and many raise considerable quantities of sweet potatoes, cucumbers, or peppers.
The farms are small, the median Italian farm being a little less than 12 acres. Very few contain more than 50 acres each. Those who have farms of 5 acres or more are able to make a subsistence on their land. Few can handle more than 25 acres in berries without a good deal of outside help.
Here there is a more or less compact settlement of more than 450 families, with a few scattered outlying groups, on some of the poorest
and sandiest soils in south Jersey, engaged in a specialized agriculture, in which, on the whole, they have been remarkably successful. Moreover, these people belong to the much-maligned group of south European immigrants, and to that particular race the South
Italian and Sicilian-whom some have been inclined to consider the most problematic, if not the most undesirable, of the south European group. Any advance that these people have made socially, economically, or politically must be considered in the light of these facts.
Coming from their native land, many of them direct from Sicily and Naples, to Hammonton, they have in a period of thirty-five years or less learned the English language, adopted to some extent the American standards of life, acquired property, and, as independent landed proprietors, have begun to compete, and to compete successfully, with American farmers long established in an agricultural subindustry.
Perhaps the best account of the Hammonton Italians is found in a monograph written by Mrs. Emily F. Meade and published in pamphlet form by the United States Bureau of Labor. Mrs. Meade owns property in Hammonton and for some years spent her summers there, an arrangement that afforded her an excellent opportunity for a detailed and leisurely study of her neighbors.
The main points in the present study were gathered from personal investigation, original public documents and papers, official reports, and interviews with public officials, prominent Italians, and other observers living in or near the settlement at Hammonton.
The advance guard of civilization into the "pine barrens" of southern New Jersey were the glass factories, iron mills, and sawmills. The sand of this region was early found to be excellent for glass manufacture, and, with cheap fuel near at hand, glass works early in the century began to spring up here and there in the wilderness of pine and scrub oak. Iron was at one time made from bog ore found in the swamps. At the present time, one comes upon old forge sites or abandoned villages in the midst of the extensive waste of forest and swamp.
Old Hammonton, dating back to nearly 1800, was one of the centers of industry. Here during the first third of the century stood a sawmill and a small glass factory. A country store and a few houses were built there, and for a long time this insignificant hamlet was the social and industrial center of a considerable area. Up to 1850 the town grew very little, and after that time actually declined in population. Two or three German settlements sprang up not far from Hammonton, the settlers coming from Philadelphia, and deriving their income largely from the wood and timber but partly from the products of the soil; otherwise the solitude of the "pine barrens" was unbroken.
In 1856, according to a "History of Hammonton" by Wilbur and Hand, when the village had almost gone into the last stages of decay, Judge Richard J. Byrnes and Charles K. Landis of Philadelphia formed a partnership for the purpose of disposing of several thousand
a The Italian on the Land, United States Bureau of Labor, Bulletin No. 70.
acres of real estate in the vicinity of Hammonton, to which they held title. They began an active advertising campaign to boom the land. Landis even went on a lecturing tour through northern New England, setting forth the advantages of the soil and the salubrity of the climate of New Jersey. This campaign was markedly successful, and by 1860 a considerable number of settlers from New York and New England had taken up land in the vicinity. The Camden and Atlantic Railroad was built in 1857, and in 1858 Hammonton station was put on the map.
The town grew rather rapidly despite the discouragement incident to the civil war, and in 1866 when a local census was made, 1,422 inhabitants were enumerated, with 2,031 acres of land in cultivation. There were 365 dwellings; the real estate owned was valued at $596,000; the personal property at $169,132. The returns of value were somewhat exaggerated, no doubt, but the settlement was truly in a flourishing condition. Landis had given up his interest in the partnership in 1861, but Judge Byrnes retained both a financial and a real interest in the venture for many years.
The land was bought and laid out in comparatively small lots on straight streets; shade trees were planted along the country roads, and houses substantially built on the old New England village plan. Even the form of township government is modeled after the New England system. Town and town center are one political unit, governed by the same body of selectmen, and the taxes for village and rural improvements are levied without division or differentiation. It is almost the only New Jersey town which retains this particular form of township government.
The early settlers at first gave most of their attention to staple crops-wheat, corn, rye, and other cereals-to which the soil is not very well adapted for any length of time. Berry growing is said to have begun on a commercial scale in 1861. The local census above referred to, taken in 1866, gives 304 acres cultivated in strawberries, 212 acres in raspberries, and 40 acres in cranberries, with about 80,000 fruit trees pears, cherries, peaches, plums and quinces-in their
About this time a fine market for berry products developed in Philadelphia and Camden. Everyone near IIammonton began to raise strawberries, and for years this was the small fruit center of New Jersey. In 1866 a strawberry exhibition was held at Hammonton-a sort of national affair-at which Solon Robinson, then agricultural editor of the New York Tribune, was present as a delegate from the New York Farmers' Club. The exhibition was very successful and shows the significance of Hammonton as a berry center even at that early day. On a certain record day about that time, 70,000 quarts of strawberries were shipped.
Blackberries soon succeeded strawberries, however, and after 1880 were produced in much greater quantities than strawberries. They were easily raised without fertilizer, and a patch once started was considered permanent. In 1888, 2,500,000 quarts of these berries. were shipped. The other berry shipments were: Strawberries, 700,000 quarts; raspberries, 300,000 quarts; grapes, 100,000 pounds; cranberries, the product of 833 acres; and pears, 5,000 bushels. Meantime the production of wheat in the county had fallen from 10,519 bushels in 1879 to 1,152 bushels in 1889.
Land was cheap, and in berry culture very few acres are required per farm. There were few difficulties in the way of successful growing; almost any person could set out and profitably raise a patch of berries. There was no competition with South Atlantic growers, and the market supply was less than the demand. For this reason the population increased rapidly. In 1885, 2,525 persons were enumerated in Hammonton Township; in 1890, 3,833 were returned by the federal census. A new railroad furnished additional transportstion; the call for seasonal labor brought in many transients, some of whom remained to settle on the land, and this decade was Hammonton's most prosperous period.
It was during the period, 1880 to 1890, that the greatest numbers of Italians came to Hammonton. They were recruited in two principal ways, and though there was no colonization in the true sense of the term, the close contact of the city Italian and the newly arrived foreigner with the Italian on the land, especially through the seasonal occupation of berry picking, brought in increasing numbers of that race to occupy the farms round about Hammonton.
The very first Italians catne to the vicinity of Hammonton about forty years ago, or earlier "drifting" in at first without any outside pressure or influence-and settled down among the Americans. Two or three of the families were wanderers, who were first attracted by the cheap lands and congenial climate, and later by the opportunities for making money offered by berry growing. A few were induced to settle by real estate men. Mrs. Meade gives some account of the coming of the first Italians, relating some typical biographies of those who arrived before 1876. These accounts show that they came singly or in couples from other points in the United States; that the soil and climate first appealed to them; that later friends drew some of them thither, and that one or two came to work as farm laborers on farms owned by those who came earlier.
Shortly before 1870 came the Campanellos, two brothers from Gesso, Sicily, one of them to work for a former Italian settler. They purchased large tracts of land, prospered, married English girls, and induced a number of immigrants, mostly relatives from Sicily, to settle there. Dominik Campanello is now the largest Italian land holder in the section; he pays taxes on 230 acres in one body, now well improved and laid out in vineyards and peach orchards. The Campanellos are still prominent families in the town, and were for a long time the real leaders of the Sicilian contingent. The Sicilians were the first comers, and many came from the town of Gesso. It is probable that more than three-fifths of the total number of Italians were originally Sicilian. A number were brought over by the Campanellos and other influential Italian settlers, who employed them as farm laborers and berry pickers. Later some of these laborers bought land from the persons who had imported them. One of these importers, who had made large sums of money by the operation, was indicted for bringing in contract laborers and was ruined.
The other principal element in the population is the Neapolitan. In Hammonton the Tell family is known in a business and social way as well as any other-better than any other Italian family, perhaps. The first of the Tells came from Naples to the United States about
a United States Bureau of Labor, Bulletin No. 70.