Starting from Scratch: The First Building Tradesmen of Middlesex County


  • Robert W. Craig



"Starting from Scratch" examines the earliest years of Middlesex County from the point-of-view of the building tradesmen--the carpenters, bricklayers, and others--who constructed the towns of Woodbridge, Piscataway, and Perth Amboy between the 1660s and the 1680s. It shows that by identifying these men by name it is possible to trace their careers and to reveal a considerable amount of their working lives. That Piscataway, for example, was settled more slowly than Woodbridge is mirrored by the smaller number of building tradesmen there who have been identified. The building tradesmen of Woodbridge and Piscataway tended to acquire property and rise to the social status of yeomen, while many of those in Perth Amboy arrived in the colony as indentured servants and remained property-less even after their time of service ended. In Woodbridge, especially, building tradesmen dominated the town's leadership during the years of Philip Carteret's governorship. And ironically, despite the remarkably rich clay deposits that would later be found in Middlesex County, the towns failed to attract more than a handful of masonry tradesmen, and the local clays went almost completely unexploited in the seventeenth century. Finally, studies that focus on the experiences of representative colonists, such as of building tradesmen, could collectively provide the basis for a new history of colonial New Jersey.