Sunday, February 7, 2016

coming to America, part 2: Halberton

This week, I've been researching my mother's family.  There is very little information available.  I wrote this while I was researching, and, after some thought, have decided to leave it in the order I discovered the information.  There's a bit of a twist!


I spoke with you last week about my father's father's line.  Today, I am going to talk to you about some of my mother's ancestors.  In particular, I want to talk about my mother's father's family, the Halberts, and the doomed colony they first lived in, Halberton NJ.

The town of Halberton was populated by Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine.  In the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Halberton is just west of Ocean City.  They, however, did not found the town.  The town was planted by the unscrupulous "Cumberland Land and Improvement Company", a New York firm which tricked many Russian Jewish immigrants in New York into coming to Halberton, and working as indentured servants at their factory, a satellite of the "schmata" (rags) industry.  Sanitation was very bad, and infectious disease, including cholera, was rampant.  See here for more details.

My mother's father's grandfather, Michael Halbert, was born May 6th 1893 in Halberton, to Morris and Annie Halbert, both of Russia.  I assume Halbert was not their original name, but rather that they took the name of the town.

Several agricultural colonies were founded in southern New Jersey by Russian (Ukrainian) Jewish immigrants.  One of these colonies was Halberton.  According to the New York Times, the town of Halberton was sold at Sheriff's auction December 22, 1894.  There were, at that time, 60 cottages, each with 5 acres of land.  the community had previously been supported by a cloak factory, but when the factory left, the community fell apart.

So..... upon doing a bit more research, I find that my ancestors WERE NOT the poor besotted immigrants, but rather the evil developers in this story.  Source: Cape May County Herald, May 1902.

"Halberton was started in 1903, by Morris Halbert [my mother's father's father's father], Marcus Stein, and Leon Lait, the latter a New York banker.  The men purchased 5000 acres of land, and erected a large factory building and many houses.  A number of Hebrew families were brought to the place from New York, all of them investing every dollar they possessed.  A few months after Halberton was started, Stein, Lait, and Halbert disposed their interests to Julias Barcome and Marcus Solomon.  In less than a year, over $60,000 was sunk in trying to colonize Halberton.  Those who purchased farms there, which many of them had thought free of encumbrances, were heavily mortgaged to the New Jersey Building and Investment Company of Trenton.  The mortgages were foreclosed and the farmers and their families were dispossessed."

The Philadelphia Times, March 3, 1902, has this to say:
"The town was founded in 18933, when Morris Halbert and Marcus Stein purchased fjve thousand acres of land, much of which was laid out In farms of ten and twenty acres each. A town site occupied a thousand acres, upon which many homes and a large factory building were erected. The object was to establish a colony where many Hebrews of New York's east side could find heulthy and comfortable homes at a moderate cost. Several families were taken there, the factory was put In operation, and for two or three months Halberton boomed. Then Its promoters disposed of the town to Leon Lalt, a New York banker and broker. Lait organized the Cumberland Land and Improvement, Company, of which he became president. In a short time the colonists learned that their homes and farms had been heavily mortgaged to the New Jersey Building and Investment Company, of Treu-ton. The factory was closed. Without any means of earning a livelihood, tbe colonists were soon reduced to extreme poverty. Ths land upon which they had settled was barren pine land waste, unfit for farming. - When the colonists were about ready to desert their homes, Isaac Bercaine, of New York, and Marcus Solomon, of Boston, took control of Halberton. The colony was extensively advertised, and efforts were made to obtnln more colonists. Bercame and Solomon worked hard to make the colony s success, but after nine months they decided lt was useless, and they went back to New York, losers to the extent of $00,000. Then the New Jersey Building and Investment Company foreclosed the mortgage. The colonists were dispossessed. Relatives and friends helped some to reach New York, but many had to lenve Halberton on foot. More than $100,000 was lost In the venture. A fine schoolhouse, built by tha Township Committee, Into which no teacher or scholars ever entered, stands In the town. Halberton, with Its houses falling to ruins, its weed-grown streets and deserted farms, is a striking contrast to the prosperous Baron de Hlrsch colony of Woodbine, only a few miles sway."

The town was rebuilt by 1897, when The Menorah, a Jewish monthly magazine from B'nai B'rith said "The Jewish settlement at Halberton, NJ is experiencing a boom.  One hundred and fifty houses are to be erected, and the old ones rebuilt.  New industries, including shirt, cloak, wrapper cotton, and towel factories are being contemplated."

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