Of the many Jewish agricultural settlements in South Jersey, some failed to thrive. The Estellville Colony, also known as Burbridge, was one such settlement. Not much information is known about the colony or the settlers. The settlement was located in Atlantic County, New Jersey, near modern-day Estell Manor. Though it was backed by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society and several other sources, it did not have suitable funds for such a labor-intensive venture. At its inception, other supporters included Stephen Gano Burbridge, Matthew Whillden (or Whilden), and the Estell family. 1
Born in Kentucky in 1831, Burbridge fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. His position was unpopular in Kentucky and he was socially ostracized and forced to move east. Whillden was born in Philadelphia, P.A. in 1827. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to teach. During the Civil War, his path crossed with Burbridge, serving as the general’s personal aid during the Arkansas campaign. Whillden’s father was born and raised in Cape May, N.J. It is likely this connection that opened the door for the purchase of a tract of land for settlement from the Estell family.2
General Stephen Gano Burbridge, c. 1865. From National Archives and Records Administration.
In October of 1882, the contract between Burbridge, Whillden, and the HEAS was set:
“With the support of the HEAS, colonists at Estellville would be furnished with fifteen acres of land, a cottage house with necessary household furniture, farming implements and domestic animals. General Burbridge, who had considerable farming experience, planned to reside at the colony and instruct the colonists in agriculture as A. C. Sternberg had been doing in Alliance.”3
Little more than six months after settling, about twenty families from Alliance left to join Estellville. The colonists arrived outside of planting season and set to work on clearing the tract. With limited support from the HEAS, colonists began to starve. Only two months after their arrival, at least seventeen families walked back to Alliance. Those who stayed in the colony faced many hardships such as land poorly suited for farming and a cottage fire that killed two children. The event was reported extensively in local and regional papers. 4
A headline from the Philadelphia Times read “Tragedy at Estellville-Mother and Children in the Flames.” The beginning of this article presents a telling narrative of the plight of the colonists:
“The land is what Jerseymen call half good, but it wouldn’t be called so by any one else. Many of the refugees grow disheartened over their condition and leaving their families behind them to till the fifteen acres they go out to the cities to shift for themselves. Some of them are said to be begging here in Atlantic City.”5
Conditions in the colony continued to deteriorate as settlers could not make payments to the HEAS. In December of 1883, only a year after settlement, the colony was nearly all abandoned. 6
For more information and an interactive look at the area, click here: Noyes Museum of Art- Estell Empire: Online Tour of Historic Sites
1. Tom Kinsella, Growing American: The Alliance Agricultural Colony in South Jersey-A History (Galloway, NJ: South Jersey Culture and History Center, 2021), 36.
2. Kinsella, Growing American, 36.
3. Kinsella, Growing American, 36.
4. Kinsella, Growing American, 38.
5. “Tragedy at Estellville, The Times, August 7, 1883.
6. Kinsella, Growing American, 38.