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The Alliance Colony

The Alliance Colony-
A Brief History

Founded on May 10, 1882, by 43 original families—soon joined by many more—the Alliance Colony formed the first successful Jewish agricultural colony in the United States. Located in the southwest area of the Garden State, Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, New Jersey, became the destination for Jewish families fleeing oppression and violence in Russia. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, pogroms erupted and the Jewish populations faced even more restrictions. A group of intellectuals operating out of Odessa believed the way to free themselves was to establish independent agricultural communities in the U.S. and Canada.

These farming societies were funded by several charitable groups. The Alliance community itself was named after the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a group founded in Paris in 1860. Other organizations that offered financial assistance included the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society (HEAS) of New York City, the Mansion House Relief Fund in London, and the Baron de Hirsch Fund. Soon, other Jewish farming communities were formed in Carmel, Rosenhayn, and Estellville. The Alliance Colony grew into the related village centers of Alliance, Norma and Brotmanville.

Portraits of Simcha Helig & Sara Helig, Original Settlers 1882

Simcha and Sara Helig.

Farming in Salem County

Salem County is a coastal lowland bordered by the Delaware River to the west and the Maurice River to the southeast. Oldman Creek forms a northern border and Stow Creek occupies the southwest. 1

“A visitor will observe good houses, improved and thoroughly up to date outbuildings, healthy and well-conditioned stock, and crops growing that are admirably adapted to the character of the soil.” 2

A group of wealthy individuals in New York City formed the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society (HEAS) to help Jews fleeing the pogroms in Russia. The group purchased 1150 acres in Pittsgrove Township. They had three barracks built to house the emigrants. The original colonists included 250 men, women, and children, a number that quickly increased. Families were provided with farms from 13 to 15 acres by HEAS for a price of $350, payable over 10 years with interest. Those terms would shift as the settlers encountered difficulties. 3

Map of the railroads of New Jersey in 1887.

The settlers were new to both farming and New Jersey. The climate and soil of the Garden State presented a unique challenge:

“The soil at Alliance is a light, sandy loam, not well-adapted to cereals, of which but little is raised except a small quantity of corn for home use, but it is as good as any in the country for growing fruits, berries, grapes and sweet potatoes, and to these from the very beginning the people of Alliance have turned their attention with marked success. They raise very fine strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, pears, peaches and immense quantities of sweet potatoes of very excellent quality.” 4

Alliance’s proximity to a railroad line in Norma allowed the settlers to ship their crops out to the main market in New York City.

Families also kept cows and chickens to supplement their diets. 

The Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School was established in 1894 in Woodbine, New Jersey (thirty miles from Alliance), to help train farmers in the conditions found in southern New Jersey. 5

There were other colonies set up in the area that didn’t fair as well as Alliance. These included settlements in Mizpah, Reega, Malaga, Ziontown, Alberton, and Hebron. 6

Raphael and Martha Crystal, 1924

Raphael and Martha Crystal, 1924

Sources:

1. “Salem County, New Jersey” Britannica Online, accessed June 1, 2022, https://www.britannica.com/place/Salem-county-New-Jersey.

2. William Stainsby, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey: A Historical Sketch of their Establishment and Growth (Bureau of Statistics of New Jersey: Camden, 1901, republished Galloway: South Jersey Culture and History Center Press, Stockton University, 2019), 11.

3. Stainsby, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey, 10.

4. Tom Kinsella, Growing American: The Alliance Agricultural Colony in South Jersey (Galloway, NJ: South Jersey Culture & History Center), 19-30.

5. Stainsby, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey, 18.

6. Stainsby, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey, 33.

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