Jersey Reflections: At 150 Years-Plus


Jersey Reflections

By Vince Farinaccio

A Columnist for the Grapevine

Hammonton, older than Vineland, has chosen to mark its beginnings by the date it was incorporated.
Five years after Vineland’s sesquicentennial celebration, Hammonton joins the ranks of 150-year-old towns, enjoying a yearlong series of events and activities to honor its noteworthy anniversary. However, Hammonton is actually significantly older than Vineland yet has chosen to mark its beginnings by the date it was incorporated rather than by its earliest incarnation or its subsequent rebirth involving Charles K. Landis.
The origins of Hammonton can be traced back to two tracts of land that were combined to form the town in the early 19th century. One tract, a small portion of 13,821 acres owned by the West New Jersey Society and sold to William Richards in 1805, was purchased by William Griffith in 1808. This land consisted of 654 acres. A year earlier, Griffith was deeded 944 acres that had originally belonged to the Kirkbride family. In 1808, both tracts became the property of John R. Coates.
As these land transactions occurred, the settlement may very well have had its start in the form of several cabins in the vicinity of what is now Hammonton Lake, according to the 1889 Illustrated History of the Town of Hammonton with an Account of its Soil, Climate and Industries.
An Irish “mythical first settler…kept a groggery [pub] at this most lonesome spot in the wilderness,” the book reports. “Such a location might have been fit for a ‘moonshiner,’ but could hardly have been a profitable location for a liquor saloon, even at a time when everybody drank. This Irishman's name was Mullen, and it is barely possible that he may have eked out a feeble existence entertaining the few travelers who in those days journeyed from the city to the sea.” It is not known what transpired of this early inhabitant, but by the time William Coffin arrived in 1812, the first proper settlement was ready to be born.
Coffin, whose family hailed from Nantucket, Massachusetts, had been living in Burlington County and entered into an agreement with Coates to establish and operate a sawmill on the land that became Hammonton. But Coffin was ambitious and, after managing the mill for several years, purchased it and the land in 1814.
Commenting on the era, Illustrated History of the Town of Hammonton reports that “those were the days of small things, when a little money went a good ways, and trade was carried on by barter rather than bank checks. Still the industrious and economical prospered, and to this class Mr. Coffin belonged. The sawmill was his principal industry until 1817, when in company with Jonathan Haines, then in the business at Clementon, Burlington County, he commenced the erection of a glass factory. Haines and Coffin continued the business until 1821, when the firm dissolved, Haines moving to Waterford, and starting the glass business at that place.”
Glass factories had already been sprouting up in southern New Jersey and would soon spur the arrival of railroads to transport products to the city. At this time, stage lines still operated in the area, but the Coffin glass factory transported its goods by way of the forks of the Mullica River.
The Coffin-Haines factory, according to William McMahon’s South Jersey Towns: History and Legend, was known for manufacturing whiskey flasks that were called by such names as Weeping Willow, Eagle, Old Glory, Bunch of Grapes and Sheaf of Rye.
Coffin continued to operate his sawmill and glass factory but, in 1836, he leased the works to his son Bodine and his son-in-law Andrew K. Hay. The new firm, Coffin and Hay, only lasted two years and the elder Coffin found himself back in charge. He remained in control until his death in 1844.
The passing of William Coffin left his businesses in the hands of two other sons, John Hammond Coffin and Edward Winslow Coffin, who ran the mill and factory for two years before Edward decided to sell his share to John.
Coffin’s name was never applied to the new town, even though he had structured the settlement with his enterprises, a company store, houses for workers and a school that doubled as a church. Instead, just as Edward’s middle name was used for a nearby township, Hammonton was christened from the middle name of John and, in its first true incarnation, was known as Hammondton, a variation of Hammondtown.
Next Week: The End of “Old Hammonton”