Jersey Reflections: Bayside Greenwich

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Jersey Reflections


By Vince Farinaccio


A Columnist for the Grapevine


William Penn acknowledged the advantages of the town’s location on the local waterways.
Greenwich, nestled in the southwest corner of Cumberland County, may have been conceived as a manor town with residences housed on 16-acre lots, but it became much more than that.
The vision of Englishman John Fenwick, Greenwich was planned around 1675 on land eventually purchased from Indians who, according to John Warner Barber in his text Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey, “must have here had a considerable settlement.”
Fenwick did not live to see his town completed. Instead, as William McMahon’s South Jersey Towns reports, “his son-in-law Samuel Hedge, together with William Penn, Samuel Smith of Smithville, and Richard Tindall, who had been Fenwick’s principal surveyor, carried out his ideas, mapping a street starting at Cohansey river and extending two-and-a-half miles north toward the town of Salem.” An antecedent of Vineland’s Landis Avenue, the road, dubbed Ye Greate Street, measured 100 feet wide up to the first bend. After that, it was 90 feet wide to the next bend and 80 feet wide to Pine Mount Run. On either side were lots for residences.
According to Michael J. Chiarappa’s essay “Colonial Greenwich: The Emergence of a Delaware Bay Port Community,” contained in the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society’s collection, Greenwich’s “maritime orientation reflected the vision of its planner, John Fenwick, and his desire that his Quaker brethren cooperate in constructing their houses as ‘a place Chosen and set out for a Town or City to be built, in which every Purchaser must have a Part, by reason of Delaware River for trade.’ ”
Cooperation among residents was a key notion in the settlement of Greenwich, second only to religious tolerance. Fenwick and Penn, Quakers subject to persecution in England because of their refusal to become converts to the Church of England, vowed that their settlements in the New World would foster religious equality. Penn, who served as trustee in the 1660s and 1670s of the sale of land in South Jersey, then known as West Jersey, acknowledged the advantages of Greenwich’s location on the local waterways.
But, as Chiarappa points out, “aside from recognizing the benefits of being a port community, Greenwich’s early settlers quickly distinguished themselves by aggressively banking the watershed’s vast expanses of salt meadows for hay production.” Also, Greenwich, he writes, “was meant to empower the best of what the commercial and agricultural worlds had to offer.”
By 1695, Greenwich was handling cargo that shipped from foreign ports. According to McMahon, “merchants came from as far away as Burlington and Philadelphia, then a small village, to buy goods that were transported in flatwagons or floated up the river in small barge-like boats.” In 1701, the town became an official West Jersey port of entry, complete with customs officers. Chiarappa writes that Greenwich’s main role as a port was to ship goods to Philadelphia where it would be dispersed to international location, including the West Indies. The town’s exports were “agricultural produce, fur pelts and wood products, including boards and planks made of oak and pine, and boards and shingles made from the area’s prized cedar.”
When New Jersey decided to divide the state into three custom districts with only one port for each, Greenwich became the South Jersey port, with Burlington and Perth Amboy serving the central and northern districts. However, Greenwich’s waterways, including rivers and creeks, unfortunately made it a prime area for smugglers, adding to the difficulties of the local customs officers.
As for Greenwich’s agricultural endeavors, farmers offered a diversity of crops. “A typical farm in Greenwich raised corn, wheat, rye, oats and flax, maintained a vegetable garden, and quite often cultivated an orchard of apple and peach trees,” Chiarappa explains. “Most farms supplemented crop growing with varying levels of investment in livestock, be it cattle, hogs or sheep. These same farmers engaged in lumbering, fin fishing…and shellfisheries.”
When Cumberland County was established in 1748, Greenwich served as a temporary county seat, housing the county’s courts and jails until a vote could determine a permanent location. In less than a year, Bridgeton, then called Cohansey Bridge, was selected as the new county seat. McMahon reports that some Greenwich residents “were so incensed… they rode their horses into the tavern where the ballots were counted and tossed mugs of beer at the owner.”
Next Week: The Gibbons