Jersey Reflections: Vineland Connect


Jersey Reflections

By Vince Farinaccio

A Columnist for the Grapevine

Charles Nordhoff’s grandfather of the same name and profession (as a writer) had connections to Vineland.
If seasoned readers were asked about Charles Nordhoff, they would likely explain that he was the co-author of the Bounty Trilogy, including the highly regarded Mutiny on the Bounty. But they would be partially correct because the renowned author’s grandfather, who was also named Charles, was a writer as well. Noted for his journalistic work that appeared a half century before his grandson’s writings, the elder Nordhoff also had an interesting connection to Vineland and helped promote the town in a most unique way.
Nordhoff was born in Germany in 1830, migrated with his family to the U.S. in 1835. Raised in Cincinnati, he entered the world of journalism by working at a Philadelphia newspaper but soon enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Following his life at sea, he returned to journalism, working at newspapers in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and New York as an editor of Harpers between 1853 and 1861. According to online sources, he spent the next ten years at the New York Evening Post and the New York Tribune.
According to online sources, he spent the next ten years at the New York Evening Post and the New York Tribune.
In 1868, he purchased property in Vineland. Based on information from the Vineland Historical Magazine, Nordhoff bought a farm in Vineland in 1868 for his wife’s aunt and uncle and would visit here often enough to study the town’s early development. The results would later be published in one of his most recognized books.
Nordhoff’s early works dealt with his sea experiences. Afterward, he turned toward travel literature and political topics such as 1875’s Politics for Young Americans, a book that became a school text. In the same year, he produced his study The Communistic Societies of the United States, which would include his examination of Vineland.
In the Communistic Societies of the United States, Nordhoff credits Vineland’s success to Charles K. Landis’ refusal to raise the price of land in the town. “One… part of his plan appears to me to have been of extraordinary importance,” Nordhoff writes. “Though usually it is not mentioned in descriptions of Vineland. Mr. Landis established the price of his own uncultivated lands at twenty-five dollars per acre. At that price he sold to the first settler; and that price he did not increase for many years. Anyone could, within two or three years, buy wild land on the Vineland tract at twenty-five dollars per acre. This means that he did not speculate upon the improvements of the settlers. He gave to them the advantage of their labors. It resulted that many poor men bought, cleared, and planted places in Vineland on purpose to sell them, certain that they could, if they wished, buy more land at the same price of twenty-five dollars per acre which they originally paid.”
The author contends that this is what led to the town’s longevity. “In my judgment,” he writes, “this feature of the Vineland enterprise, more than any other, changed it from a merely selfish speculation to one of a higher order, in which the settlers, to a large extent, have a common interest with the proprietor of the land. He might have done all the rest—might have laid out roads, proclaimed a "no fence" law, prevented the establishment of dram-shops, helped on educational and other enterprises — and still, had he raised the price of his wild lands as the settlers increased, he would have been a mere land speculator, and I doubt if his scheme would have obtained more than a very moderate and short-lived success.”
Familiar with the people of Vineland and its farming and industry, Nordhoff was able to evaluate the effects of Landis’ endeavors, concluding that “in twelve years, the founder of Vineland was able to collect upon his tract — which had not a single inhabitant in 1861— about eleven thousand people. Most of these have improved their condition in life materially by settling there. Many of them came without sufficient capital, and no doubt suffered from want in the early days of their Vineland life. But if they persevered, two or three years of effort made them comfortable. Meantime they had, what our American farmers have not in general, easy access to good schools for their children, to churches and an intelligent society, and the possibility of good laws regarding the sale of liquor.”

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