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Bergen County and the Civil War

Elijah and Killie RosencrantzThe relatively strong economic climate of the early to mid-1850s came to a sudden halt in an economic recession known as Panic of 1857, which resulted in many business failures and high unemployment. The textile industry as a whole was hit hard. Elijah II suffered a sharp decline in business that brought serious financial problems. The Ripka mills in Philadelphia were also badly hurt John Rosencrantz’s situation at this time is not clear. By 1858, he was no longer running one of the Manayunk mills but instead engaged in establishing a cotton mill in Alexandria, Virginia, either for Ripka or with other sources of capital. In a letter to Elijah dated December 8, 1859, John wrote:

The North as a body are the neighbors and friends and brothers of the South—but you cannot make the people believe it. Why do not the conservative people of the North get up and denounce this abolition foray and let the people here see that they are no mere supine spectators of such movements as this John Brown . . . who would burn our houses and murder us all to carry out his . . . universal emancipation.

The letter assumed a sympathetic response from Elijah. As cotton manufacturers, the Rosencrantzes had strong connections with the South as both the source of their raw material and a market for their finished textile products. They did not want the North to give the South a reason to secede from the Union or engage in war. Peace was vital to their business interests and undoubtedly what they thought was for best for the country. [Tell me more about John Rosencrantz's Civil War experiences.]

Like the Revolutionary War almost a century earlier, the U.S. Civil War divided families. As Elijah and John were corresponding, a distant relative, William S. Rosencrans, was preparing to take a very active part in the conflict as a general in the Union Army.

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president. He lost in the State of New Jersey by 4,500 votes and in Bergen County by an even wider margin. The Rosencrantz family were with the county’s majority, the Peace Democrats (also known as Copperheads) who favored states' rights and peace, although Bergen County also had a share of Union supporters. [Tell me more about support and opposition to the war in Bergen County.]

Elijah would be put into great economic stress by the war. The raw material for his cotton warp factory was greatly curtailed and what was available was subject to a marked rise in cost, from about $35 for a bale of cotton in 1848 to $53 in 1860 and $166 by 1865. To meet costs and make a profit, he had to raise the price of his product, which in turn resulted in decreasing orders. For periods during the war, the mill did not operate at all, and creditors hounded Elijah continually from 1861 to 1865. [Show me excerpts from creditors' letters to Elijah.] Despite dire fiscal problems, Elijah held on by farming, renting out some of his property, and borrowing money (including a $4,800 loan from a relative, John C. Suffern). Although he was slow in paying off business debts, he did manage to pay the tuition to his children's schools.

During the war, Elijah's brother George returned to The Hermitage, where he died in 1864. Killie also suffered from periods of poor health.

Continue to The Difficult Postwar Years

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