|Alexander Hamilton - Founder of Raritan ?|
|The last article by this author in the Breeze was about the stay that Alexander Hamilton had in Somerville in the winter of 1778/79.
For this article I turn my attention to the impact that Alexander Hamilton had on the creation of Raritan.
Don Esposito wrote a well-researched and respected History of Raritan fifty five years ago in 1964. That publication states:
Alexander Hamilton came to Raritan and said he wanted to build a canal. People laughed at him and told him it could not be done. Hamilton left Raritan with idea; but the thought he planted began to grow. In 1840 the villagers of Raritan woke up to the noise of men digging a canal.
|Today Hamilton has risen to Rock Star status due to the popular Broadway play Hamilton, The Musical.
So, it is time to take a more detailed look at the influence that Hamilton had on Raritan. We are able to do this as there are many more sources available today than there were 55 years ago.
|Hamilton, The Musical|
|The new sources on Hamilton and Raritan are:
- The critically acclaimed Hamilton Biography by Ron Chernow.
- Letters written by Hamilton and to Hamilton have been put online, typed out, and are easily searchable.
- A Forgotten History Paper on Raritan written in 1941 was re-discovered a few years ago. This paper has a lot of detail on the beginnings of Raritan.
|The year was 1791 and Alexander Hamilton already had a long list of significant accomplishments.
During the first five years of the Revolutionary War he was the most trusted advisor of George Washington.
At the end of the war he led troops to victory in the final battle against the British at Yorktown.
Probably most important Hamilton had lobbied for the creation of a Constitution which he then played a major role in creating. Also, he started the first U.S. Bank which solved the U.S. financial woes. Lastly he had served as Secretary of the Treasury.
|Now he was looking to promote manufacturing in this country. Up to that time the U.S. had focused mostly on farming.
The lack of manufacturing was due in great part to the holdover of the restrictive rules against manufacturing set by the
British prior to us obtaining our freedom.
Hamilton felt it was necessary for the U.S. to create all their own products. He remembered that during the war we had to shamefully rely on France for basic war supplies such as gunpowder and uniforms. In this manufacturing endeavor Hamilton faced opposition from many others such as Thomas Jefferson who thought we should continue to concentrate on farming. Hamilton reasoned why not do both.
opposed the plan by Hamilton
|Hamilton formed The Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures.
Its purpose was for the government to encourage and work with private entrepreneurs to establish manufacturing in the new country. His plan was for the building of an entire manufacturing town at once. That would include the factories, a canal, layout of the streets, and houses for the workers. His idea was that the entrepreneur/financiers could make money off both the factory output and by selling or renting out the surrounding land to their workers and town newcomers. A double revenue stream that would ensure the survival of the new town.
Hamilton hoped that a successful manufacturing town or two like this would ignite a spirit of imitation so that other similar places would come about. Numerous manufacturing towns would improve our self-sufficiency and encourage skilled laborers to come to this country.
|New Jersey was chosen as the ideal spot for the initial manufacturing town as it was densely populated,
had cheap land, and abundant forests. Most importantly New Jersey had many rivers whose moving water streams could
spin turbine blades and waterwheels.
The question then was at what location in New Jersey would this happen. Ron Chernow in his Hamilton Biography states that Hamilton and his society were swamped with appeals from many local landlords, touting the wonders of their riverside properties.
|Hamilton was very familiar with the Raritan River. He stayed close to it while in Somerville,
but more importantly he traveled extensively during the war. Rivers could be logistical nightmares when moving troops.
The location and characteristics of any river was well known.
(Today one can be oblivious to the location of a river. This author bets that no one even realizes that Route 287 crosses over a winding Raritan River twice within two miles at Weston Canal Road and Easton Avenue.)
|Hamilton probably did not re-visit the Raritan/Somerville area in 1791 himself to assess the feasibility
that a manufacturing town could be built here.
For a surviving letter written to Hamilton from an aide states that they have surveyed the Raritan River, but did not find the ideal location for a factory town.
|The Raritan River|
|Hamilton bypassed Raritan and chose a location by the Passaic Falls for the trial manufacturing town.
He had some sentimental attachment to these falls as he and Washington had picnicked there during the war.
They named the new town Paterson after then Governor William Paterson.
While his purpose to promote manufacturing was just what the country needed, that particular manufacturing complex only lasted a decade before being abandoned. That was because a partner had stolen most of the money and a fancy architect had over built the facility, dooming the project. However, twenty years later, after his death, Hamilton was vindicated as that complex was restarted and this time survived proving to be very prosperous. Today at that location is a statue of Alexander Hamilton.
|The Falls at Passaic|
|As for the land at the town of Raritan, it would stay quiet for decades.
Then as The Forgotten History Paper on Raritan states, in 1836, developers John Gaston, Luther Loomis, Garrett Wall, and James Nevius,
(who obviously chose to name many of the streets after themselves) decided to plan a manufacturing town.
A surviving map/plan from 1840 shows the planned-out streets that would soon be made, the lots for homes to be built, the proposed canal, and factories. It was just like the vision that Alexander Hamilton had for a manufacturing town. This forgotten history paper does not mention Hamilton. But his vision is no doubt there.
|The 1840 plan for Raritan|
click for larger view
|That canal in Raritan which was dug by hand starting in 1840 was completed by 1842.
Naturally it took hundreds of workers to do this. These workers needed a place to live and local places to obtain goods.
Thus, the Village of Raritan, as it was first called, came into being.
Several mills and other factories would be built and survive along the river/canal for decades.
|The Star Flower Mill|
on the Raritan a long time ago.
|For the record, the manufacturing initiative is not mentioned in the play Hamilton, The Musical.
He had way too many other accomplishments and Broadway likes subplots more exciting than manufacturing.
So that is what is known about the influence that Alexander Hamilton had on the creation of Raritan. Perhaps Raritan should formally acknowledge the contribution of Alexander Hamilton. While we do not need another statue in town, perhaps a portrait in town hall would be appropriate. Just saying.
|A copy of this would|
look good in town hall