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Friday, March 16, 2012

A Spoonful Of Sugar - Tuckerton Style

"A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" is a line from a popular song in Walt Disney's 1964 movie, Mary Poppins

I'm not sure exactly what medicine Julie Andrews was singing about, but it's a good bet that it may have been castor oil. When I was a kid, castor oil was a cure for a variety of ailments. Unfortunately, unlike the benevolent Mary Poppins, I never received my spoonful of sugar along with the distasteful liquid.

A spoonful of sugar

You're probably wondering what all of this has to do with a history blog. Well, back in the early 1800's a major industry in Tuckerton was the castor oil business, In fact, it would not be a stretch for Tuckerton to have been the castor oil capital of New Jersey, and maybe even the entire USA, back then. Evidently the climate and soil was perfect for growing bumper crops.

It all started with the little castor bean. 

castor beans 

dried castor bean pods

The small castor bean grows in a pod on the not so little caster bean plant. I learned this first hand. Some years ago two of my good friends, Floyd West and Harry DeVerter, who live just down the street from me, had a friendly competition to see who could grow the tallest castor bean plant. I called it the "Jack and the Beanstalk" competition. 

Floyd and his castor bean plant.

I'm not sure who won the contest, but I was astonished to see how tall the plants actually got. They can grow to the size of a small tree, 25 to 30 feet tall, in a single season. 

I also learned, from Floyd and Harry, not to eat the beans, as they are extremely dangerous. They contain ricin, a deadly poison used in biological warfare. The "2007 Guinness Book of World Records" called the castor plant the most poisonous in the world.

Harry grinds the castor beans, mixes the powder with peanut butter, and places the concoction in mole holes to rid his vegetable garden of the pesky creatures. That taught me a valuable lesson - When Harry asks if I would like a peanut butter sandwich, I politely decline!

Now, finally, the connection of all of this to Tuckerton history . . . 

John Hallock, a Quaker, came to Tuckerton in 1816 from Long Island. He purchased a 278 acre farm from Thomas Ridgeway III on the west bank of Tuckerton Creek for $2,550. It was part of the property owned by Mordecai Andrews, one of the earliest Tuckerton settlers. Today, it is in the area occupied by the Tuckerton Seaport. Here, Hallock started growing castor beans, erected a castor oil pressing mill, and began manufacturing castor oil, which fetched a good price. 

The castor oil mill on Bartlett Lane in Tuckerton
(Photo courtesy of the Tuckerton Historical Society.)

Hallock entered into agreements with the Pharo and Bartlett families for the growing and pressing of the beans, which added considerably to their wealth. He also persuaded many of the farmers in Tuckerton and West Creek to grow castor beans. Soon a thriving castor oil industry developed in the area, with both the oil and raw beans being exported to the Philadelphia and New York markets.

A 1823 journal entry of a Philadelphia traveler mentions the castor oil business as thriving.

I found it interesting that John Watson mentioned that the Tuckerton salt works had a wind mill. Seven years ealier, in a 1816 journal entry, Hugh Judge wrote that he traveled from New York City to Tuckerton with John Hallock. He mentioned that the salt works produced about 2,000 bushels of salt in a summer season. That sounds like a pretty substantial operation to me and might make an interesting future Blog topic.

Hallock was a leader in the castor oil industry and held a United States patent for a castor oil press that could be driven by horses or by water power. Detailed patent information is available at the Tuckerton Historical Society.

Hallock eventually sold most of his Tuckerton holdings and, in 1823, bought property on the Wading River from John Youle, Jr. This property would later become a part of the Harrisville paper mill and town. 

Hallock and his partner, Philo Andrews, rebuilt and modernized the old Evi Balangee skit and slitting mill facility on the Wading River which had been destroyed by a fire on August 24, 1823. The new mill was used for the manufacture of castor and linseed oils. Hallock suffered a series of setbacks and sold his Wading River Mill interests- half to Samuel Read in February, 1824 and the remaining half to Timothy Pharo in October, 1825.

Leah Blackman, in her 1880 "History of Little Egg Harbor" writings, aludes to some trickery or skull-duggery involving Hallock's misfortune. Unfortunately, she didn't go into the details or name the person responsible for Hallock's troubles. She simply stated that:

They [the local farmers] embarked in the castor bean trade, which to most of them proved a profitable business; in one instance laying the foundation for the largest fortune ever made in the place, but for the roguery of this one, Halleck — who had taught him the way to wealth — was made a bankrupt . . .  In his old age and the days of his poverty, John Halleck frequently made visits to my father, and I have prepared many a meal's victuals for poor wronged John Halleck, and after he left the house my father would remark that Mr. _______, who had ruined Halleck, ought to keep him a gentleman until the end of his life, but such rascals seldom make restitution. (page 221)

Leah Blackman
(Photo courtesy of the Tuckerton Historical Society.)

Leah was too much a lady to name the rascal and, at the time she was writing it was unnecessary, as the locals would know exactly who she was talking about. It's we, 132 years later, who are left wondering.

I suspect the culprit was Nathan Bartlett who partnered with Hallock in various aspects of the castor oil business and ended up with Hallock's Tuckerton farm. The old Bartlett house still stands on the Seaport property, today.

The Bartlett House at the Tuckerton Seaport.

The Hallock, Bartlett, and Pharo families were all Quakers. When the Quakers split into Orthodox and Hicksite branches in the late 1820's, the Tuckerton Quakers remained Orthodox. John Hallock and his wife, Lydia, sided with the more liberal Hickite branch and moved their church affiliation to the Hicksite Meeting at Bridgeport just a stone's throw from the Wading River Bridge. It was then still a part of Little Egg Harbor but is now in Bass River Township. 

I believe it's possible that John Hallock's downfall was somehow related to his choice to leave the Little Egg Harbor Meeting at Tuckerton. It is likely that he was shunned by the orthodox Quakers, both socially and in business dealings. Additional research is needed to confirm my suspicions.

I don't know where or when John Hallock died or where he is buried. His wife, Lydia, who was a Hicksite minister along with the famous Lucy Evans, died in 1830 and is buried at the old Bridgeport Meeting House site. Fittingly, her grave is beside that of Lucy.

Old Bridgeport Meeting House, circa mid 1920's
(Photo courtesy of Steve Eichinger.)

Lydia Hallock's tombstone at Bridgeport
(Photo by Pete Stemmer)

Well, our "spoonful of sugar" sure took us on a serendipitous journey. I hope that you found it interesting. 

Pete S

PS- I'm not sure if castor oil was bottled in Tuckerton. Castor oil was pressed locally, but beans were also shipped to New York and Philadelphia for pressing and processing. If the oil was bottled locally, I wonder if anyone out in the Blog-O-Spere might have an identifiable Tuckerton bottle that they might share with us here at the Blog.


  1. Very interesting blog article. You missed my favorite quote from Leah Blackman: “The Castor Bean aristocracy.” She used this term when she discussed Hallock, Pharo, and Bartlett.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best regards,

  2. OMGosh...This Nathan Bartlett may be my 3G or 4G-grandfather. I'll keep reading. I need info on his wife and children to complete my possible link.

  3. Hi Pete,

    My husband and I just finished reading your account of Nathan Bartlett's shenanigans in Little Egg Harbor (Tuckerton) involving poor John Hallock! My husband, is Nathan Bartletts 3x great grandson descended from Nathan's son Job Bartlett. I have been working on his family genealogy and stumbled upon your wonderful blog posts. I can't thank you enough for all your hard work combing through the minutes of those ancient Quaker meetings. My husband's brothers and cousins are going to be fascinated --and shocked--that they're descended from such a scoundrel. You see, they are all quite proud of their Quaker heritage and have always assumed they descended from a long line of honest men and women with progressive ideals.

    You'll be interested to know that Nathan Bartlett's grandson, Charles French Bartlett, was kicked out of one of the Philadelphia meetings for marrying an Episcopalian. My husband's uncle Josiah Bartlett became a well known Unitarian minister and was Head of the Star King Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkley, CA. My husband, has been a life long Quaker and so, at least in some small way, Nathan's grandchildren have made up for their great-grandfather's misbehavior!

    I would love to know if John Hallock had any descendants!


    Kelly M