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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Agricultural Colonies in the United States
With the exception of the partly successful experiment by thirteen Jewish families in the state of New York in 1837 (see below), Jewish agriculture and Agricultural Colonies in America are not of earlier date than the great Russo-Jewish migration of 1881-82.
First Jewish Colony.
The first agricultural colony settled by Jews in the United States was founded at Wawarsing, Ulster county, New York, in 1837, and was named Sholom ("Peace"). It was founded by thirteen Jewish families—under the leadership of a certain Moses Cohen—who left New York city, where they had been living, to engage in agriculture on farms which they had purchased. For five years they tried tomake farming pay, but were compelled to add to their earnings from the land by manufacturing on a small scale and by trading. Some of the original settlers moved out of the colony during this period, and other Jewish families joined; but finding it impossible to support themselves by farming, they sold their holdings and moved away (1842).
The first agricultural colony of Russian Jews in the United States settled on Sicily Island, Catahoula parish, near Bayou Louis, Louisiana, in the eastern part of the state, not far from the Mississippi river. It comprised 35 families from Kiev and 25 families from Elizabethgrad, and had been partially organized in Russia. When the colonists arrived in America in October, 1881, they found that negotiations for the establishment of the colony in Louisiana had been completed by H. Rosenthal. A New York committee consisting of M. S. Isaacs, Dr. Julius Goldman, M. Ellinger, Charles L. Bernheim, and Henry S. Henry, acting as the representatives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle of Paris, France, advanced the colonists the sum of $2,800, nominally as a loan; and they possessed about $2,800 of their own. A tract of land, comprising about 5,000 acres, was purchased at $8 an acre. On their arrival at their future home, the colonists were lodged temporarily in three old houses that still stood on the property, which before the Civil War had been a plantation, and since then had remained uncultivated. Lumber (for the erection of small houses), horses, farm implements, cattle, poultry, etc., were forwarded to the settlement from New Orleans by a local committee of the Alliance, which, under the chairmanship of Julius Weiss, had taken charge of the affairs of the colony.
The colonists, who numbered 173, were divided into three groups, so as to work most effectively on the land that had been purchased in three tracts. The ground was tilled, and corn, cotton, and vegetables were planted. The colonists worked with energy, building fences and generally improving the land, when, early in the spring of 1882, the entire region was flooded owing to an overflow of the Mississippi river—houses, cattle, implements, and crops being all swept away, and an expenditure estimated at over $20,000 was rendered nugatory. Some of the colonists removed to San Antonio, Texas, and St. Louis, Mo., while others purchased isolated farms in Kansas and Missouri, where they are now successfully engaged in agriculture.
In July, 1882, Herman Rosenthal, a Russian from Kiev, president of the Louisiana colony, headed a group of 20 Russian families, who settled on farms in the southeastern part of what is now South Dakota, and formed a colony which they called Crémieux. It was situated in Davison county, fourteen miles from Mt. Vernon, the nearest railroad station, and twenty-six miles from Mitchell, the county-seat. Most of the colonists had quarter-section farms of 160 acres each, while some of the farms covered as much as a square mile (640 acres). Among the settlers were several families that had joined the ill-fated settlement in Louisiana. The colonists at Crémieux had means of their own, and the first year met with a fair measure of success. Oats, wheat, rye, and barley were sown, and yielded good crops, while especial attention was paid to the raising of flax. In the second year wheat was more extensively cultivated; but the wheat-bug made its appearance, and a large part of the crop was destroyed. In addition to this, a prolonged period of drought caused the death of many cattle. In the third year thunderstorms were so destructiveto the standing crops that the colonists were compelled to mortgage their farms; but the rate of interest demanded on loans was so high that most of the settlers sold out and moved away. A few remained a year or two longer; but excessive interest on their mortgages and a scarcity of water proved a combination too powerful for them, and in the latter part of 1885 they also left the settlement. The failure may likewise be attributed, in a measure, to the distance of the colony from the railroad and the county-seat.
Another attempt at Jewish colonization in South Dakota was made soon after, under the auspices of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. Twenty-five unmarried young men settled as farmers upon a tract of land near Crémieux at a place which they called Bethlehem-Yehudah. They carried on their work upon a communistic basis; but, notwithstanding outside support, the experiment proved unsuccessful. After a precarious existence of a year and a half, during which there were much strife and discontent in the community, the settlement was abandoned.
An attempt to establish a Jewish agricultural colony in Colorado met with no better success. On May 9, 1882, 12 families were sent to Cotopaxi in the state of Colorado, with means furnished by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society of New York. The colonists were settled on government land, 160 acres being allotted to each family; but of 1,780 acres 100 only were fit for cultivation. Water was scarce, except in the spring, when mountain floods endangered existence itself. During the first year of settlement there were in all 15 families at Cotopaxi, with a total of 64 persons. After many hardships the settlers were compelled to leave the colony, as they could not make a living from the soil, and had no other industries from which to derive an income.
In the summer of 1882 a Jewish agricultural colony of socialists was established in the southwestern portion of Oregon, near the California line, by a party of Jews from southwestern Russia, who called themselves "Sons of the Free," and named their settlement New Odessa. The colony was situated 265 miles from Portland, near the town of Glendale, on the California and Oregon Railroad. Originally there were 40 persons in this settlement, most of them unmarried, and many of them would-be social reformers. A grave mistake was made in the selection of the land, but one-fourth of it being capable of cultivation. Some of the settlers lost courage before the first harvest and went away. In March, 1884, 10 new settlers bought 760 acres for $4,800; of which about 100 acres were planted in oats, wheat, barley, and potatoes. A few of the colonists tried to support themselves by cutting ties and firewood for the railroad, but to little purpose. This colony, too, proved a failure, and was abandoned in 1888.
An attempt was made to found a colony of Russo-Jewish farmers in what is now North Dakota. This colony, known as Painted Woods, was located, in 1882, near the town of Bismarck. Twenty families, each receiving 160 acres, made the initial experiment, which was largely due to the efforts of Rev. J. Wechsler of St. Paul, Minn., and his Jewish fellow citizens. In the course of a year the colony had increased to 54 families, representing some 200 individuals; but, owing to prairie fires and severe drought during the winter of 1884-85, their losses were so heavy that there was much distress among the colonists. Before this period of misfortune began the population of the colony consisted of 71 men and 52 women and nearly 90 children. By the spring of 1885 only 40 colonists were left. Funds had been sent during the winter to relieve their wants; and, later, a sum of about $5,000 was furnished to provide seeds, implements, horses, and cattle. In all, about $20,000 had been spent upon the colony by the beginning of 1886. In that year the crops failed, entailing much suffering during the ensuing winter. In 1887 the colonists, having met with no more success than their predecessors, were obliged to give up. It is said that a few Jewish farmers, survivors of this colony, are still to be found scattered through North Dakota.
On March 27, 1884, an agricultural colony was founded in Pratt county, in the southern part of Kansas, which was named after Sir Moses Montefiore. At first the prospects of this colony were promising; but it was soon found that the cultivation of the soil was beset with difficulties that had been underestimated. As the settlers were unfitted for the hard work entailed by farming in this region, they were compelled to sell the land and leave. Some of them settled at Alliance, in New Jersey, while most of them—in all, 17 families—were established, April, 1885, near Lasker, in Ford county, Kansas, by the Montefiore Agricultural Aid Society of New York. About nine square miles of land were purchased, and each family was given a farm of 160 acres. For some years the colony throve, but in the end was also unsuccessful.
Through the efforts of the Jewish community of Cincinnati another attempt at colonizing in Kansas had been made in 1882. This settlement, which was called Beer-sheba, was located in Hodgeman county. Here, again, prospects, apparently bright, were soon dimmed. Owing to disputes between the colonists and the managers of the settlement the latter sold all the animals and implements, thus subjecting the former to many hardships. In order to earn a livelihood the farmers sought employment in Dodge City, Garden City, and other places, where they worked at trades, while their families remained on the farms. They continued to struggle on, and in a few cases succeeded in making their farms moderately profitable; but as a colony the attempt was not a success.
A third agricultural colony, known as Hebron, was established in southern Kansas. This settlement comprised 80 families, one-half having private means, the other being aided by the Montefiore Agricultural Aid Society. Only a few families succeeded in making their farms pay, and, as a whole, the attempt was a failure.
In March, 1886, Gilead, in Comanche county, Kansas, was settled by 20 families, most of whom were Rumanian; while Touro was begun with 12 Russian families, and Leeser, in Finney county, with a still smaller number. What has been said of the other Jewish Agricultural Colonies of Kansas applies also to these. Each attempt was a struggle beset with hardships, rewarded by occasional success, and ending in complete failure.
In 1882 Lazarus Silberman, a banker of Chicago, settled 12 Russo-Jewish families on 300 acres of land in Michigan, lying on the shores of Carp lake, between Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse bay. After many difficulties with the settlers, who either would not or could not make any payments on the amounts advanced to them, Silberman abandoned the enterprise; and soon after the colonists disbanded. The failure was ascribed as much to lack of capital as to the fact that the colonists were not practical agriculturists.
In August, 1891, 16 families of Russian Jews settled in Huron county, Michigan, some three miles from the town of Bad Axe. They called their settlement Palestine. The land was wild but good. The colonists took it on five-year contracts, agreeing to pay $12 an acre for their holdings, each family contracting for 40 to 60 acres. This settlement, like most of the other attempts at Jewish colonization in the United States, was begun too hastily, and without sufficient means to tide the colonists over the unproductive period and to secure them against probable losses from drought, fire, and flood. They succeeded in erecting a few shanties and log houses, but these were insufficient for their needs; and they ran into debt for the few horses and cows that they were able to obtain. In the spring of 1892 the Beth-El Hebrew Relief Society of Detroit (a city one hundred and thirty-five miles southwest of the colony) sent food and tools to the colonists, and on their behalf applied to the Baron de Hirsch Fund, which, at this time and in subsequent years, gave them substantial help. In spite of this support the farmers have been unsuccessful. Four or five have given up their holdings, while the rest are still struggling on in the hope of eventually paying off their burden of debt. In October, 1897, there were 13 men, 11 women, and 39 children in the colony. In April, 1900, there were but 8 families, and these, too, would have left but for the frequent and substantial aid rendered by philanthropic organizations.
Among other Jewish Agricultural Colonies having only brief existence may be mentioned one established by 15 Jewish families in 1883 on land purchased with their own funds near the city of Washington, D. C. This colony they called Washington, and it, too, was doomed to failure. Through the efforts of some philanthropic Jewish residents of Baltimore 9 families were established in November, 1882, at a place called Waterview, on the Rappahannock river, in Virginia, but before 1886 this colony had disappeared. A dozen Jewish families were colonized in Middlesex county, Virginia, in 1882, but did not remain there long.
Among several other futile attempts at Jewish agricultural colonization between 1882 and 1892 was one in Calaveras county, California.
Jewish agricultural colonization in Connecticut dates from the settlement of three Jewish families, in 1891, at New London and Norwich, by the United Hebrew Charities of New York city, with money provided for the purpose by the Baron de Hirsch Fund. The families were sent to work in mills, but by strict economy they succeeded in a few years in saving enough money to enable the heads of the families, who had been dairy-farmers in Russia, to buy cheap farms near Norwich. Not long after, in1892, one Ḥayyim Pankin, a Russian Jew, aided by the Baron de Hirsch Fund, bought a farm near Chesterfield. He soon succeeded in inducing 28 other Jewish families to settle near the same place. They all engaged mainly in dairy-farming, as the soil was not rich enough to make market-gardening profitable, although each farmer raised his own fodder and the potatoes and other vegetables required for his family. The general method by which these farms were purchased was by the payment of one-third to one-half in cash, the balance remaining on mortgage at 5 or 6 per cent per annum. Later, the Baron de Hirsch Fund made loans on second mortgage to some of the farmers, to enable them to improve their holdings. The population of Chesterfield has been unstable. Of the 28 families that settled in August, 1892, only 15 remained in the autumn of 1894; but 18 others had come in the meantime, so that in the latter year the total number of Jewish farmers was 33. In 1897, through the good offices of the trustees of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, a steam creamery was erected and a synagogue was built. In size the farms range from 32 to 132 acres, the average being about 60; the price paid, including buildings, averages $15 an acre. While some of the original settlers who were unsuccessful left the colony, newcomers took their places, so that the population has not decreased.
The general statistics of Jewish Agricultural Colonies in Connecticut may be summarized as follows: In April, 1891, 2,376 acres of farm land were owned by 19 Hebrew immigrant families (compare "American Jewish Year Book," 1899-1900, pp. 281 and 283). These farms cost $20,800, of which sum $5,840 was paid in cash. The total Jewish farming population at that time was 143 persons. In January, 1892, the number of acres of woodland and pasture owned by Jewish farmers was 7,843, of which 1,420 acres were cleared. The purchase price of these lands was $89,600, of which $36,050 had been paid, the balance remaining on mortgage at 5 or 6 per cent. These farms were owned by 52 families, consisting of 491 persons. The farmers owned 229 head of cattle.
In December, 1899, there were 600 Jewish farmers in New England, mainly in Connecticut, with some scattered in Massachusetts. It was estimated that $1,100,000 had been invested by them in their holdings, $1,250,000 remaining on mortgage. The principal groups of settlements in Connecticut are at Chesterfield, Colchester, and Montville, with others near Norwich and New London.
Of all the Jewish Agricultural Colonies in the United States the most important are those founded in New Jersey. With few exceptions they were all established in the southern part of the state, and include Alliance, Rosenhayn, Carmel, Woodbine, Montefiore, May's Landing, Halberton, Malaga, and Hightstown. Of these only the first four still (1900) remain. There were 300 Jewish farmers in New Jersey at the beginning of the movement in 1882, 200 in 1893, and only 76 at the end of 1896. Through aid extended by the Jewish Colonization Association of Paris in 1897, the colonists were given effective help, so that in 1900 it was estimated that there were 250 Jewish farmers in the state—most of whom were settled in the southern part. Of these probably not more than 100 families make a living exclusively by farming.
The colony of Alliance is situated in Salem county, New Jersey, about a mile north of Broadway—a station on the New Jersey Southern Railroad. It is about 43 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and 4 miles from Vineland, the nearest market-town.
The colony was named after the Alliance Israélite Universelle, which provided funds for its foundation. Three large wooden buildings were erected to afford temporary shelter for the colonists, who were brought thither in May, 1882.
The soil is a light sandy loam covered with the bush and scrub-oak common in southern New Jersey. At the outset 25 families, principally from cities of southern Russia (Elizabethgrad, Odessa, Kiev, etc.), settled at Alliance, but this number soon increased to 67 families. The first winter was passed by the colonists crowded together in the three buildings mentioned, their needs being provided for in part by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. The next year the land was divided into fifteen-acre farms; houses consisting of two rooms and a cellar were erected, wells sunk, and other improvements made. Contracts were entered into under which each farmer was to pay within ten years $350 for his holding, the house being reckoned at $150. The number of acres devoted to communal purposes, school-buildings, factories, burial-ground, etc., was 150.
Each family during the first year of settlement received $8 to $12 per month for 9 months, according to the number of its members, and $100 worth of seed for planting. Each farmer also received some furniture, cooking utensils, small farming implements, etc. The second year each family received $30 worth of seed, and about 50 families were also supplied with sewing-machines. One of the large buildings above referred to was converted into a cigar factory during the second winter; but, the hands being unskilled, wages were very low. This industry was discontinued the next year, and the colonists suffered very much in consequence. Owing to these hardships and discouragements, by the end of 1884, 17 farmers abandoned their holdings, which reduced the population to 50 families, comprising 250 persons. About this time a party of delegates from the Mansion House Fund of London, England (Samuel Montagu, Benjamin L. Cohen, and Dr. A. Asher), visited and investigated the condition of the colony, with the result that $10,000 was sent for its aid to the New York Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, the Alliance Land Trust being formed by Henry S. Henry, Isaac Eppinger, Leopold Gershel, Leonard Lewisohn, S. Muhr, F. de Sola Mendes, and others. About $7,000 was devoted to the completion of the purchase of the land in behalf of the colonists generally, the remainder being used to buy horses, cows, implements, etc., for the more deserving among them. New contracts were made whereby one-half of the farm was to be given to the holder free of charge, provided the other half was paid for in equal instalments extending over thirty-three years.
Among the local industries established at Alliance were a shirt factory and a tailors' shop, the employment from which materially aided the colonists during the winter months. In 1889 the population of the colony was 529, of whom 282 were males and 247 females. The farmers owned 1,400 acres of land, of which 889 were cultivated. There were 92 houses in the colony, a synagogue (dedicated July 29, 1888), a library, a post-office, and a night-school. Through the joint efforts of the Baron de Hirsch Fund and the Jewish Colonization Association of London, tailors' shops have been established, thus affording a local market for produce. The most recent statistics obtainable regarding Alliance show that there are (1900) 96 Jewish families, aggregating 512 persons, in and around the colony (including Norma). Of these, 33 families devote themselves entirely tofarming, 15 entirely to tailoring, 12 combine farming and tailoring, and the remaining 36 not only till their farms but also follow some other craft, such as masonry, shoemaking, carpentry, etc. Over 1,500 acres of land are owned by these settlers, of which 530 are devoted to fruit, 577 to vegetables, and the remainder to fodder or pasture. There are 87 dwelling-houses, with 141 outbuildings. The capital invested in 1897 was $112,298, of which $68,033 had been repaid in cash. The balance remained due. The value of the yearly products of the soil was estimated at $17,808. The colonists then owned 55 horses, 79 cows, and 4,700 fowls. See also Alliance, New Jersey.
Another Jewish agricultural colony in New Jersey is known as Carmel, and lies in Cumberland county, in the southern part of the state, midway between Bridgeton and Millville. The nearest railroad station to the colony is at Rosenhayn, about three miles to the north of Carmel. Seventeen Russo-Jewish farmers, aided by Michael Heilprin of New York, settled here in 1882, and called the place Carmel. A year or two after the settlement, 7 of the original immigrants, discouraged by the poor results, left the colony, but their places were soon filled by others who came from western Russia. In 1889 the colony contained 286 persons, of whom 150 were men and boys and 136 women and girls, living in 30 houses. Eighty-two of their children attended the public school. The farms comprised 864 acres, of which the Jewish colonists occupied 848 acres, although only 123 were under cultivation. Corn, rye, buck-wheat, vegetables, and berries were the chief crops. During the winter the farmers supported themselves by tailoring. In the latter part of 1889, owing to a gift of $5,000 by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, 1,500 additional acres of land were purchased, and 36 new houses erected at an average cost of $800 each.
The condition of the colony at Carmel has been one of varying prosperity and depression. Outside aid, either by the establishment of local industries, by liberal loans on mortgage at a low rate of interest, or even by direct gifts, has from time to time been necessary to enable the colony to exist. Carmel contained, in 1900, 89 Jewish families, whose members aggregated 471 persons. The number of families engaged exclusively in farming is 19; 14 combine farming and tailoring, 13 are engaged in farming, 23 in trades other than tailoring, and 33 earn their living exclusively by tailoring. These families own 1,029 acres of land, of which 113 are devoted to fruit-growing, 504 to raising market produce, while the remaining land is devoted to pasture or fodder. Of the dwelling-houses, 46 are occupied, together with 86 barns and other outbuildings. The total value of these holdings is estimated at $84,574, on which there is an indebtedness of $26,273. The yearly produce of the soil was, in 1900, valued at $12,585; that actually sold brought $8,200, while the remainder was consumed by the producers. The settlers of Carmel own 36 horses, 114 cows, and 3,300 fowls. In the community several factories have been established—chiefly for the manufacture of clothing—and the employment they afford is a source from which many of the settlers derive their principal means of livelihood.
Rosenhayn, another colony in the same state, is situated in Cumberland county, on the New Jersey Southern Railroad. It was founded by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society of New York, 6 families having been sent to the northern part of Rosenhayn in 1883. In 1887 other Jewish families bought land near Rosenhayn, and, to pay for it, worked at tailoring in Philadelphia. In the following year 37 additional families settled in the neighborhood, where they were sold farm land on the condition that they should build houses and cultivate a certain part of their holdings within a specified time. This agreement imposed hardships on the colonists; for, in order to meet their payments, they had to work at tailoring. For some time they lived and toiled in a large wooden building opposite the Rosenhayn railway station. By the latter part of 1889 the Jewish settlers owned 1,912 acres at Rosenhayn, of which, however, only 261 acres were under cultivation—producing chiefly berries, corn, and grapes. There were 67 families, living in 23 houses, 6 of which were built by local Jewish carpenters. The population at that time amounted to 294, comprising 149 males and 145 females. Sixty of the children attended the public school. In this community there are 47 families, who derive a living wholly or in part from their farms, and who hold a total of 1,388 acres, of which 948 are under cultivation. They own 7,415 fruit-trees, 28,770 grape-vines, 128 horses and cows, and upward of 6,000 fowls. The value of their holdings is estimated at $85,520, upon which there is an indebtedness of$26,986. Here, as at the other successful southern New Jersey Jewish colonies, there are factories, where a portion of the people earn most of their living expenses, thus furnishing a local market that pays a fair price for their products and enabling them to avoid the expensive freight rates and commissions attaching to the sale of produce elsewhere.
Woodbine, situated in the northern part of Cape May county, New Jersey, at the junction of the West Jersey and Seashore and the South Jersey railroads, is, at the present time (1901), the most successful of the Jewish colonies in America. It was established August 28, 1891, by the trustees of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, and since that time has been carried on under their supervision. The land, comprising about 5,300 acres, was purchased for $37,500. The farms are located around the town, which contains several factories, a synagogue, a church, two public schools, a number of stores, and about a hundred neat frame dwellings, sheltering a population of about 1,000 souls. In 1901 there were 52 families of Jewish farmers at Woodbine, representing a total of about 400 persons. Of the farms 49 contain 15 acres each; two, 10 acres each, and one, 30 acres. Of the total of 785 acres no less than 500 are under cultivation. The principal products are berries, small fruits, and garden truck, as well as dairy products. The aggregate value of the farms is about $50,000. Besides these farms, the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School has farm land to the extent of 270 acres, of which 121 acres are under cultivation. The town affords a local market for farm products, and the townspeople find sufficient employment in the local factories. It has been found that this system of combining local industries and farming gives the very best results.
Various other attempts to establish Jewish Agricultural Colonies in New Jersey have failed. The colony at Estelleville, established in 1882, not far from Alliance, was abandoned in the spring of 1883. Another colony at Montefiore, near Belle Plain, a station on the West Jersey Railroad not far from Woodbine, was also abandoned soon after its foundation, leaving 28 houses and a factory standing. In 1891 a syndicate of New York Jews bought up several thousand acres of land for farming purposes about four miles from May's Landing, in Atlantic county, but the colony has been of slight importance. Emphasis should be placed upon the fact that only by the combination of farming and local factory employment have the Jewish colonies in southern New Jersey been able to survive.
- Price, Russkie Yevrei v Amerike, pp. 46-73;
- J. D. Eisenstein, in Ner ha-Ma'arabi, 2:8-15,64-72,129-136,179-183;
- Landsberg, Hist. of the Persecutions of the Jews in Russia, art. entitled Russian Jews as American Farmers.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Agricultural Colonies in the United States'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/a/agricultural-colonies-in-the-united-states.html. 1901.
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