skip to searchskip to content
Martha Furnace daybook/diary
print eadcite thisAsk Hagley
Martha Furnace daybook/diary

Accession 0339

Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2014-05-28T14:56-0400

Finding aid prepared using best local practices and Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Cite items for this collection in the following format:
[Description and dates], Box/folder number, Martha Furnace daybook/diary (Accession 0339), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807


Descriptive Summary

Title: Martha Furnace daybook/diary
Dates: 1808-1815
Accession Number: 0339
Creator: Martha Furnace (Washington, N.J.)
Extent: 1 volume
Language of Material: English
Repository: Hagley Museum and Library: Manuscripts and Archives Department
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.

Administrative Information


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.

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


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.


Access Points

Atsion Iron Works (Atsion, N.J.).
Ball, Joseph, 1758-ca. 1822.
Batsto Furnace (Batsto, N.J.).
Blast furnaces--New Jersey.
Burlington County (N.J.)--Industries.
Burlington County (N.J.)--Social life and customs--19th century.
Earl, Caleb, 1756-ca. 1815.
Earl, Caleb, 1795-1873.
Evans, Jesse, 1770-1849.
Federal Furnace (Lakehurst, N.J.).
Flour-mills--New Jersey.
Hampton Furnace (Shamong, N.J. : Township).
Hanover Furnace (Hanover Furnace, N.J.).
Iron and steel workers--19th century.--New Jersey
Iron industry and trade--New Jersey.
New Jersey--Social life and customs.
Richards, Samuel, 1769-1842.
Rutter family.
Sawmills--New Jersey.
Weymouth Furnace (Weymouth, N.J.).