May 20 2015

Philip Case Tannery Business Prospered Despite Tragedies


Illustration showing tannery workers stripping bark from trees..

(We continue our history on the Hunterdon Land Trust’s headquarters at the Dvoor Farm by looking at Philip Case’s tannery business. From the 1730s through the mid-1800s, the property was known as the Case Farm. If you missed our last blog on “frolics,” please go here.)

For more than a half century, Philip Case ran a profitable tannery on the farm despite a terrible flood in 1795 and a shocking murder eight years later.

The Case tannery was located just east of the farmstead on the bank of the creek and operated from 1783 to 1851. The Cases did custom work and purchased animal hides around Flemington and elsewhere in the county, although after 1800, as local supplies diminished, New York agents supplied hides from a variety of sources, some imported from as far away as New Orleans and Buenos Aires.

To provide the tree bark necessary for the tanning process, Philip Case acquired several nearby wood lots and purchased bark to supplement his supply. Lime was originally hauled by wagon from New Brunswick until local kilns supplied the tannery’s needs.

While neighbor John Hall declared that Case’s leather did not meet the grade of English leather, the product found a ready market in Philadelphia, New York City and elsewhere. On June 12, 1795, neighbor Mary Capnerhurst noted in a letter: “Mr. Case has been down with leather (to Philadelphia). came back with an empty wagon.”

Before summer ended, the tannery would face a natural disaster when heavy rains and flooding swept through the area. On Aug. 28, 1795, Mary Capnerhurst wrote: “We have had very wet weather [and] lately great floods . . . the second flood was the highest came poring into Mr. Cases tan yard on the other side of the building where they grind bark.  swam the Hides out of the tan vats  washed the Bark from the tan vats. It was in the dark in the evening or Mr. Case could have kept the water out. Fifty pounds will not make up the loss.”

The tannery work force included one or more slaves, as well as men and apprentices hired by the Cases. (Since slaves were widely used in agriculture, as well as the ports, the New Jersey state legislature was the last in the North to abolish slavery, passing a law in 1804 for its gradual abolition. The 1804 statute and subsequent laws freed children born after the law was passed.)

One of the Case slaves was convicted and executed for the murder of a fellow slave in 1803. As recounted in a 19th-century history, the second convicted murderer executed in Flemington:

“…was Brom, a slave belonging to Mr. Philip Case, who in a quarrel with a fellow slave, killed him in his master’s kitchen with a trammel. He was hung Nov. 11, 1803.

(A trammel is an adjustable pothook for a fireplace crane.) Indications are that the murder took place in the kitchen basement of the home.

The coroner’s inquest identifies the murder victim as James, an African-American belonging to Philip Case, and indicates that Brom had been sent to work in the tannery on the day of the murder, October 7, 1803.

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