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Martha Furnace daybook/diary

1808-1815
 Collection
Identifier: 0339

Abstract

Martha Furnace was an iron plantation built in 1793 by the Pennsylvania ironmaster Isaac Potts (1750-1803) on a branch of the Wading River two miles above Harrisville in eastern Burlington County, New Jersey. The volume is a combined daybook and diary, containing a comprehensive account of the operation of a Pine Barrens iron plantation during the early 1800s.

Dates

  • 1808-1815

Creator

Extent

1 volume(s)

Historical Note

Martha Furnace was an iron plantation built in 1793 by the Pennsylvania ironmaster Isaac Potts (1750-1803) on a branch of the Wading River two miles above Harrisville in eastern Burlington County, N.J. He named the furnace for his wife, Martha Bolton (1750-1798). It was one of the more important iron plantations in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

After the death of his wife, Potts sold the furnace to John Paul, Charles Shoemaker, Morris Robeson and George Ashbridge in 1800, who operated it as the Martha Furnace Company. Samuel Richards, one of the most important South Jersey ironmasters, and his cousin, Joseph Ball, acquired the interest of Paul, Shoemaker and Robeson on April 6, 1808. Jesse Evans was installed as manager. Evans purchased the furnace outright in 1841, but it soon closed under competition from the coal-fired furnaces of Pennsylvania.

Scope and Content

The volume is a combined daybook and diary, with operating and statistical data entered on the left-hand leaves and notes on the occurrences of the day entered on the right-hand leaves. It comprises a relatively complete account of the operation of a Pine Barrens iron plantation. The diary appears to have been the work of a single primary writer from 1808 to 1811. Thereafter, three individuals seem to have been responsible for the entries, until the diary was discontinued in 1815. It was once thought that the principal writer was Caleb Earl, Jr., but this now appears less likely.

The daybook portion of the volume includes time sheets, lists of workmen, and records of consumption of raw materials and output of finished products. As such it is an important source on the technical performance of an early 19th century charcoal iron plantation. There are, however, no entries for wages paid or other dollar amounts, which were recorded in companion volumes that have not survived.

The diary portion of the volume is the work of a good observer of daily life and is an excellent source for the social history of an iron plantation. It mentions a total of 360 individual persons, including the workers, clerks, the visiting owners, and persons from the surrounding country doing business with the furnace. It describes work rhythms, celebrations, drunkenness, accidents, illnesses and deaths within the community, with occasional references to larger events in the world beyond the Pine Barrens. It also delineates the working relationships between Martha Furnace and nearby ironworks at Atsion, Batsto, Federal Furnace (Lakehurst), Hampton, Hanover and Weymouth.

Existence and Location of Copies

A typed transcript is available at Camden County Historical Society, Park Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, Camden, N.J. 08103.

The diary portion of the volume, with annotations, was published as Martha, 1808-1815: The Complete Martha Furnace Diary and Journal (Burlington, N.J.: Henry H. Bisbee and Rebecca Bisbee Colesar, 1976).

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

John W. Harris of Mount Holly, N.J., who typed the transcript located at Camden County Historical Society, owned the original volume circa 1917. It later came into the possession of Albert Collier of Bordentown, whose family had large land holdings in the Pine Barrens. Collier sold the item to a New York book dealer around 1961, from whom it was purchased by the then Eleutherian Mills Historical Library in 1962.

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Martha Furnace daybook/diary
Status:
Online
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400