The New Jersey History Speaks Lecture Series, generously supported by a grant from the Elizabeth Tuttle Fund and hosted by the Historical Society, continues in 2017 with speakers who will shed light on a variety of topics related to New Jersey. Each event is free and open to the public.
Upcoming: Wednesday May 10th, 7pm at the Moorestown Library
The Ragged Road to Abolition, Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865
The issues of the Civil War were more nuanced than we tend to think and the US wasn’t neatly divided along the Mason-Dixon line. Join Professor Jim Gigantino II (via SKYPE!) as he traces New Jersey’s efforts to abolish slavery from its boundaries-a slow, plodding quest that turned the notion of “free state” on its head and allowed slavery to persist in NJ until the end of the Civil War. Gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Civil War Era.
James J. Gigantino II is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. He was awarded the 2015 Robert P. McCormick Prize by the New Jersey Historical Commission and the 2015 New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance Authors Award for his book, The Ragged Road to Abolition, Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865.
Read about the book here.
Review of Our Annual Meeting with speaker Martin Kane, April 6th, 2017:
The Annual Meeting of the Historical Society of Moorestown at the Community House this past April 6 was an important one. Not only did the presidential baton pass from outgoing president Leonard Wagner to incoming president Michael DiCamillo, but the Indian Springs Questers presented HSM with a generous check for $1,525.00. And it just so happened that the date of the meeting fell on the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War One. So who better to give the night’s presentation than Martin Kane, an expert on the accomplishments of New Jerseyan Hudson Maxim, armaments inventor and promoter of the need for America’s military “preparedness”?
This Hudson Maxim, a native of Maine, was quite a character. His lifespan took him from 1853, in a time of growing unrest over slavery, to 1927, a time defined by jazz, Prohibition, and a bullish stock market. He took strong, public positions on issues of the day – a women’s suffragist, he opposed smoking and Prohibition. He also had a variety of passions and wrote on many topics. He loved to cook, especially baked beans, and came up with his own spaghetti recipe. He published a book called Real Pen Work about proper penmanship, as well as a volume called, The Science of Poetry. Maxim considered himself a poet, too, writing “Lincoln: A Man of the People,” a piece that was read at the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. He recognized early on that airplanes had potential for use in war and became one of the first presidents of the Airplane Society in New York City.
While Maxim initially settled in Brooklyn, he eventually made his way to Lake Hopatcong in northwestern New Jersey, a popular resort served by two railroads. Here he spent the rest of his life. His brother, Hiram, an American expatriate, got him interested in inventing tools of war, including explosives and propellants. As the speaker, Martin Kane, pointed out, Hudson Maxim’s armaments inventions did have peaceful uses, but their military applications were much more profitable. His invention of smokeless gunpowder was helpful in northern New Jersey mining, but its use in war generated the most income. He could be a victim of his own inventiveness, accidentally blowing his left hand off in 1894.
Maxim was best known for his book, Defenseless America, published during World War One, in which he argued that America was completely unprepared for military aggression. He believed that New York City was susceptible to being bombarded into submission, which would then lead to all of America falling to the aggressor. A movie, Battle Cry of Peace, was based on his book. All of this worry led to the creation of a Naval Advisory Board, on which Hudson served, along with such notables as Thomas Edison and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (whose immediate subordinate was a future president, Franklin D. Roosevelt). Maxim became so important that he hobnobbed with not only former President Teddy Roosevelt, but also 1920s presidents Harding and Coolidge.
In case anyone is wondering, Maxim did have a Moorestown connection – his son lived here for 50 years!
Martin Kane, a personable speaker, brought Hudson Maxim to life for his listeners. Mr. Kane is proud of his work modernizing and expanding the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum, and has also been involved with the awarding of scholarships at his alma mater, Seward Park High School. In the past, he was an attorney and manager at Picatinny Arsenal in the New Jersey Highlands.
In observance of the World War One milestone, after the History Rocks! exhibit ends in June, HSM will work on a new exhibit exploring Moorestown’s role in the war.
Learning About Our New Jersey Ancestors Through Land Records
a talk given by Joseph Grabas, March 15th, 2017
If you want to do genealogical research or learn more about how people once lived their lives, go check out New Jersey land records. They’re not just about who owned which parcel of land. As speaker Joseph Grabas, a leading expert in historical land title research, told a fascinated audience at the Moorestown Library on March 15, you can find out about everything from familial discord to debtor/creditor arrangements to what society disapproved of in New Jersey’s past.
Mr. Grabas, the author of Owning New Jersey: Historic Tales of War, Property Disputes,and the Pursuit of Happiness (The History Press, 2014), is an engaging speaker. He said that, typically, research will tell you how a seller acquired his land, with the chain of title going all the way back to the beginning. But there are surprises – lots of them. He described a land record that included the will of a farmer named John Robinson who had four sons. All the sons but one received money or practical items. Poor Timothy got “good, stout rope to hang his Irish wife.”
In land records, you can discover the sorts of land transactions people engaged in centuries ago, back to colonial times – with deeds, mortgages, easements, other land use restrictions, and federal liens showing up at one time or another. Land use restrictions might address whether a property owner could use his home to run a business (hence, the term “cottage industry”). Besides federal liens there were all sorts of other liens that a researcher might run across – construction, doctor/hospital, institutional, even one based on an illegitimate birth. On the latter point, a lien might have been placed on a landowner’s property to provide for the upbringing of a child produced out of wedlock. Records include burial plot deeds, building contracts, and, during a shameful period in New Jersey history, slave manumissions.
Mr. Grabas told of property owners whose presumably private issues could become public. He found deeds referring to a “lunatic” and a “spinster.” More pleasant are descriptions of a home’s inventory. Want to know if a family grew fruits on their property? If they had a “cider press,” they probably maintained an orchard. Want to know if they liked to entertain? Chairs for 30 people suggested they did.
The speaker is one of only 25 people in New Jersey designated a Certified Title Professional and one of the first five people in the US designated a National Title Professional by the American Land Title Association. He has searched, examined and/or insured over 100,000 land titles in five States and all 21 NJ counties over the last 40 years. Among other things, Mr. Grabas has pioneered the field of interpretive land records research, and is a State Court expert in land title and real estate matters.
This presentation was sponsored by the Historical Society of Moorestown in conjunction with the Moorestown Library.
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The Annual Meeting of the Historical Society of Moorestown will feature a presentation at the Community House, 16 East Main St., Moorestown NJ 08057 on Thursday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m., by Martin Kane, historian, author, and president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum.
On this date, the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War One, Mr. Kane will speak about Hudson Maxim, a New Jersey innovator who held a patent for smokeless gunpowder, invented a variety of high explosives, and designed a torpedo-proof ship. The inventor advocated for a national armaments movement prior to U.S. entry into WWI, and was an early and ardent supporter of women’s rights.
The speaker, Martin Kane, is proud of his work modernizing and expanding the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. Mr. Kane has also been involved with the awarding of scholarships at his alma mater, Seward Park High School. In the past, he was an attorney and manager at Picatinny Arsenal in the New Jersey Highlands.
This event is free and open to everyone!
The next talk in our Speaker Series, Land Deeds and the Illumination of State, Local, and Family History, will be given by Joseph Grabas author of Owning New Jersey: Historic Tales of War, Property Disputes, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Mr. Grabas will discuss how people of different backgrounds fought to claim their piece of the Garden State. He also will share the bizarre and mysterious stories that emerge from NJ’s property records. Finally, he will discuss how property records can reveal a great deal about family history and are an excellent source for genealogists. This event, which will take place on March 15th at the Moorestown Library, is free and open to the public. Please join us!
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New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness
New Jersey’s residents historically have been of the bickering sort, said Michael DiCamillo, Vice President of the Historical Society of Moorestown, at his talk, “New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness,” which drew a large audience on January 18, 2017 at the Moorestown Library. Because of this contentiousness, New Jersey is divided into 566 municipalities, many more than exist in California – our nation’s most populous state – which has only 482.
How did people’s divisiveness lead to the creation of so many little towns, both big and small? Michael DiCamillo explained all of this in a brilliant review of the sometimes petty, sometimes economically-based, sometimes racially- or class-charged disputes that led to the splintered New Jersey residential landscape we know today. His talk was based on his own research, as well as on the 1998 book, New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness, written by the late Alan Karcher, a former Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly.
Mr. DiCamillo said that there are five reasons for New Jersey’s prodigious promulgation of localities. They are: street fights (disagreements about the need for streets and street maintenance), the rise of railroad towns, the creation of school district boroughs, the formation of dry versus wet towns, and the secession of exclusive enclaves of people.
Disagreements over streets and street lighting pitted rural areas of New Jersey against population centers. Haddonfield resulted from one such dispute, when it separated itself from Haddon Township. Other towns sprang up with the burgeoning building of railroads. Collingswood was founded in 1888 by Edward Collings Knight, who bought up properties around railroad depots and marketed them to people who wanted to live outside Philadelphia but still work there.
Of particular interest to Moorestown residents would be the break-up of Chester Township due to the incursion of railroads into South Jersey, with Moorestown, surrounded by farmland, being an important population center. Chester, founded in 1688, eventually split into Cinnaminson, Delran, Riverside, Riverton, Palmyra, Moorestown, and Maple Shade.
An 1894 New Jersey law required towns to consolidate their schools into one municipal district. Previously, residents of different neighborhoods in the same town were responsible for maintaining only the schools to which they sent their children. People wanting to avoid the consolidation of schools into one district, because of, for example, their aversion to newly-arrived European immigrants, created separate towns.
Religious beliefs often led to the creation of new towns. The “camp meeting” movement, active especially in some Jersey Shore towns (like Belmar and Avon-by-the-Sea), led to dry versus wet localities and the enactment of blue laws. The alienation of working families from more religious residents who enacted strict laws affecting secular behavior led to further secessions. The tiny town of Tavistock was formed in 1921 by a handful of people who, during the height of prohibition, wanted to be able to play golf and (secretly) drink.
Other people desired exclusive enclaves where they could be rid of vagrants, especially in the wake of the Panic of 1873 when unemployment skyrocketed and the jobless moved from place to place looking for work.
This talk was sponsored by the Historical Society in conjunction with the Moorestown Library. Michael DiCamillo, the speaker, has taught history at LaSalle University and served as a reference and research librarian at the University of Pennsylvania.
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Our next event is January 18th at 7pm at the Moorestown Library when Vice-President of the Historical Society, Michael DiCamillo, will discuss New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness, a book written by Alan Karcher, a former Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.
New Jersey has 566 municipalities. In contrast, California has 482. Why does New Jersey have so many independent towns and subsequently so many municipal governments? Michael DiCamillo, who has taught history at LaSalle University and has served as reference and research librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, will discuss Alan Karcher’s book which details how and why New Jersey divided itself … then divided itself again … and again to accommodate a variety of differences among New Jersey neighbors. Included in the discussion will be the case of Chester Township which was sliced and diced to form Riverside, Riverton, Palmyra, Delran, Maple Shade, Cinnaminson, and Moorestown. Historic maps will be on display to help everyone visualize the boundaries that currently and formerly divided the state.
Please join us at the Moorestown Library, Meeting Room A, on January 18th at 7 pm for this talk.
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Dan Lieb, president of the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, gave an animated, nail-bitingly suspenseful talk about shipwrecks of New Jersey on November 16, 2016 at the Moorestown Library. The Library joined the Historical Society of Moorestown in cosponsoring the event. Well over 80 people attended, and it was standing-room-only in the back with more people spilling out of the doorway leading into Meeting Room A.
Over the fascinating two hours, which included Mr. Lieb’s illustrated presentation plus a generous question-and-answer session, we learned that there are about 7,200 New Jersey shipwrecks which have been found off the Atlantic coast and Delaware Bay, as well as in other NJ waterways. He told us stories about some of the more tragic wrecks and the circumstances causing them. In 1846, The John Mintern ran aground off Squan Beach in a bad storm that, in total, sank 10 vessels, with dozens of lives lost. Especially terrible was the loss of the New Era in 1854 which had sailed from Germany. About 50 people died of cholera on the way over, with another roughly 295 people losing their lives when the ship struck the Jersey Shore at Deal Beach in a Nor’easter. During the two world wars, the enemy was a lot closer than most people know – many U.S. ships were sunk off the coast by German U-boats! Mr. Lieb said that, sometimes, when he and his fellow divers discover another old shipwreck, they are only able to identify it by comparing evidence from the wreck with historical records. If just bits and pieces of a wreck turn up, they may have to contact collectors of items found in wrecks to help with identifying it. Thanks to Dan Lieb and the Moorestown Library for making this event such a huge success!
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The second season of our New Jersey History Speaks speaker series begins this month!
Dan Lieb, president of the New Jersey Historical Divers Association presents: Shipwrecks off the New Jersey Coast on Wednesday, November 16th, 7pm at the Moorestown Library in Meeting Room A
What lies underneath the dark Atlantic waters that rush along the New Jersey coast? Dan Lieb, president of the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, has dived deep into these cold, rough waters and has discovered amazing shipwrecks that reveal New Jersey’s significant history. From wrecked luxury liners to sunken German U-Boats, Mr. Lieb–who has appeared on History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives–will describe what lies buried in New Jersey’s ocean floor and will share the tales of courage, terror, and survival that accompany the wrecked vessels.
All speaker series events are free and open to the public thanks to a generous grant from the Elizabeth Tuttle Fund and a cooperative effort with the Moorestown Library.
Advanced registration is not required but it is requested. Click the link to the registration page:
Other upcoming talks in the New Jersey History Speaks lecture series will trace natural and manmade boundaries to understand why New Jersey has more municipalities than California, and delve into the Garden State’s property records for some personal family histories and the struggles some people have endured to own a piece of New Jersey land. More information about these talks will be provided in the near future. You may contact Michael DiCamillo of the Historical Society of Moorestown at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the lecture series.
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The Historical Society’s Fall General Meeting at the Moorestown Community House, Thursday October 13th at 7:30 pm
In anticipation of our new exhibit, History Rocks: Interpreting the Archaeological Discoveries in Moorestown, Dr. Gregory D. Lattanzi, Curator for the Bureau of Archaeology & Ethnology and New Jersey State Archaeologist at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, will speak about the archaeology of New Jersey and will highlight some important sites and new insights at our General Meeting, which is open to the public, on October 13th at 7:30 pm at the Moorestown Community House. Please join us!
Graham Alexander, April 7th at Moorestown Community House
Graham Alexander, a local singer-songwriter with experience on Broadway, was the featured speaker before dozens of people at the Annual Meeting of the Historical Society of Moorestown held on April 7 at the Moorestown Community House. Though only 26, Alexander, through a combination of financial savings, luck, and pluck, has managed to acquire the Victor Talking Machine Company and its associated record labels, all of which had lain dormant for decades until just a few years ago, and which were operated in the City of Camden by Victor founder and Moorestown resident Eldridge Johnson. Those labels include some very familiar names: Victor, Victrola, Camden, His Master’s Voice, Little Nipper, and Electrola. Alexander is in the process of reviving the labels and, in doing so, not only releasing his music and the music of other promising acts, but releasing or re-releasing as many as he is able to of the 10,000 master recordings he has managed to track down. Among the legendary singers and musicians who at one time or another recorded for one or more of the Victor labels were Enrico Caruso, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, Perry Como, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Dinah Shore, Jimmie Rodgers, Rachmaninoff, Leonard Bernstein, and Duke Ellington. Victor founder Johnson was an involved member of the Moorestown community, providing major funding for the Community House, and supporting Moorestown’s activities in other ways. Moorestown residents have probably seen the numerous statues of the iconic Little Nipper dog situated about the town which serve to commemorate Johnson’s impact.
-Elizabeth J. Rosenthal
Read more about Graham Alexander at his website: http://www.graham-alexander.net/#latest
and about Victor Records: http://www.victorrecords.com/
Graham Alexander to speak at our Annual Meeting April 7th, 7:30pm at the Community House
Remembering and Reviving South Jersey’s Connection to the Music Biz
Special Guest Speaker: Graham Alexander—singer, songwriter, musician, actor, and owner of the Victrola, His Master’s Voice, and Victor Talking Machine Co. labels, and Little Nipper!
In the early decades of the 20th Century, the Victor Talking Machine Company and Victor Records were among the most prominent companies in the music and electronics industries. Its Camden headquarters helped the city thrive, and the company’s founder, Eldridge Johnson, made his home here in Moorestown. (Johnson lived on Main Street in the home that today is the Lutheran Home.) Johnson’s legacy in Moorestown is palpable. He donated large sums of money to support the town’s activities, and in 1923 he donated $250,000 for the purpose of constructing the Moorestown Community House. Since the Little Nipper dog was the iconic symbol of Johnson’s iconic company, Moorestown has commemorated Johnson’s legacy with the many Little Nipper statues that are scattered along Main Street and other parts of town.
Like many companies in the latter part of the 20th Century, a series of mergers and acquisitions eventually moved Johnson’s companies out of South Jersey. However, over the last few years, one person has been working to bring Johnson’s companies back home. Join us on April 7th @ 7:30 PM inside the Moorestown Community House when Graham Alexander speaks to us about the history of these significant South Jersey brands, how he acquired the brands, and his plans for restoring the musical legacy of South Jersey.
Read more about Graham Alexander at his website:
and about Victor Records here: http://www.victorrecords.com/
This is a free event open to the public!
New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones: History in the Landscape
It was standing room only at the Smith-Cadbury mansion on Thursday night, January 28, when author and university professor Dr. Richard Veit gave an hour-long, humor-laced historical overview of graveyards, cemeteries, and notable graves in New Jersey. The appreciative audience learned about tombstone architecture going back to the 17th century, as well as materials used (granite, clay, tiles, ceramics, concrete – even plastic). Highlights of Dr. Veit’s talk included his numerous examples of grave markers, headstones, footstones, and mausoleums that told stories about the people buried there. Some were funny: “I told you I was sick,” read one tombstone. Another was somewhat humorous but sad: a tombstone for two brothers who died in 1693 noted they had both succumbed to mushroom poisoning despite repeated warnings by their elders to avoid the mushrooms. Typical juveniles! Yet another was simply tragic: one grave marker contained an epitaph to a woman who, in 1772, fell from a carriage and onto a blade she had been using to peel an apple. Just as interesting were the personalities illuminated by their graves. There was the immodest head stone inscription informing visitors that the grave’s occupant had been “The World’s Greatest Electrician.” A Roma cemetery featured a head stone paying tribute to a Roma couple who were community stalwarts, “Big G and Loveable Rose.” Some notable celebrities are buried in New Jersey: the infamous Aaron Burr, who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel; and Dudley Moore, the famed actor, comic, and pianist. Dr. Veit discussed African-American burial grounds and the cemeteries of different immigrant groups, such as Italians and Jews. Poignantly, he concluded by warning of the challenges that many cemeteries and grave sites face: acid rain erosion, neglect, even vandalism. Dr. Veit, an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University, based the presentation on his book, New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones: History in the Landscape (Rivergate Books, 2008).
-Elizabeth J. Rosenthal
January 28, 2016@7:30pm
As part of its ongoing NJ History Speaker Series, The Historical Society presents Dr. Richard Veit who will discuss his book, New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones: History in the Landscape, on January 28 at 7:30 pm at the Smith-Cadbury Mansion, 12 High Street, Moorestown. New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones presents a culturally diverse account of New Jersey’s historic burial places from High Point to Cape May and from the banks of the Delaware to the ocean-washed shore, to explain what cemeteries tell us about people and the communities in which they lived. Dr. Veit is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University. He is the author of Digging New Jersey’s Past: Historical Archaeology in the Garden State, winner of the 2003 New Jersey Historic Preservation Award.
Free & open to the public. For more information contact email@example.com or 856-235-0353.