Turkey Point
New Jersey

Wild Turkey
Meleagris gallopavo

Historic Oyster Basket Technology

Oyster dredging and farming were the main agricultural employment for the indigenous inhabitants of Turkey Point and Dividing Creek New Jersey.

Indigenous Oyster Technology

Oyster harvesting by the indigenous population was observed by the early settlers as early as 1688.

This photograph was taken of Noah Newcomb on the porch of his residence and basketmaking factory that was at the corner of King PIne Road and Hwy 553. This was next to the old transfer station that was removed when the trolley left Dividing Creek and the tracks were removed. Today it is a bare field where the King Farms used to grow vegetables and soybeans. The small house was across the street from the T. B. King homestead which is still in existence today. Mary Newcomb was married into the King family.

 When Dr. Thurlow Nelson first entered the Bivalve scene from a scientific approach, he viewed the subject organoleptically because of the shell trade in the Bookbinders-Philadelphia's area need for a fresh, raw, flavored oyster from the bay as an acceptable product. This was the beginning of their quality control, up to this time, the bacteriologist, Bill Newcomb, served the shucking houses but not the shell trade. The New Jersey State Board of health for the oyster industry was born.

Oyster Baskets of Lenopi Farmers

Within the lands being preserved, there are portions sold to the state by local families that retain the cultural knowledge of resource use. Uses ranged from native plant gathering, to hunting and fishing. Later colonial cultural uses incorporated cultivation techniques learned during the contact era, but the old practices remained. In fact, the range of cultural practices that were assumed and incorporated into the local colonial farm practices were adopted from the indigenous Unilachigo culture. This study will classify oral tradition, regional mapping, and cultural uses as identified by ancestral relations of the early contact era farm families from the Southern New Jersey Shore Conservancy district.

Drawing of indigenous oyster gathering courtesy of the Bridgeton Library Collection, Bridgeton, New Jersey.

The basket industry of Noah Newcomb was a dying art even in the early 30s. Mechanization by the Dilk's family of Dividing Creek slowed the hand crafting business.  Josiah Newcomb of Port Norris, the Newcomb Brother's oyster shippers, kept Noah constantly making their oyster baskets for the scowls and oyster floats. They had to float the oysters up the Dividing Creek and tributaries in fresh water through two tides to cleanse the oysters before they were shipped. This was called shell trade. When they went to the shucking house it was not necessary to float the Josiah Newcomb oysters any more. Since the oysters were processed in this way using the aerated water, the turbulence increased the size and cleansed then. They gained one pint (increased count) of oysters per every gallon...and this all depended upon what part of the bay that the oysters came from. The handcrafted baskets had many ridges and open spaces making the aeration mopre complete. Cedar baskets witheld the constant submersion, but downed trees from the bog weighed more and were difficult to carry back to his dwelling. Oak hardwood worked almost as well as the cedar, and Noah would keep an eye out for the right types of trees. These trees were later harvested and brought home. Retreival of cedar bog trees required the use of a horse.

Miau Maul oyster beds were the highest quality beds...equal or better then Long Island Blue Point oysters of the 1930-40s.


Oyster Basket Tools


Master Basketmaker's Techniques

The bottom of this basket is shown. From the King Family collection, it has the raised center feature.

Basket Patterns

Red Oak wood was used to weave this basket from starnds of from one inch to one and a quarter in wide strands. Each strand is approximately an eighth of an inch thick.

Material Preparation According to Type of Wood

Strands were soaked in the long trough in front of Noah's cottage.

The baskets made by hand by the hands of Noah, the cedar basket held up longer then the white oak and red oak for the shell trade. Danny Newcomb used to come up to the cottage to visit Noah. Daniel Newcomb was Joe Newcomb's brother who would come by just to perform a general quality check for the strength of the baskets. He was nearby checking on his strawberry and blueberry farms back near the blueberry and cranberry bogs off Dragston Road.


Oyster Basket Tools


Master Basketmaker's Techniques

woven strands of 3/4 inch to 1 inch planed wood.

Basket Patterns

The distinctive center raise was a trademark of Noah Newcomb and was created by the starting knot in the first strand of wood. This was demonstrated for the author by Jesse Gaskell, who sat with Noah as a youth. 

Material Preparation According to Type of Wood

the type of wood used in this basket was cedar

The manufactured baskets were not made of the stronger materials, but both wood handcrafted and machine made went by the wayside as the metal baskets came into use.

There have been 24 districts identified with cultural uses that have been maintained as to the original cultural practices, or are modified cultural practices that incorporate themes from the indigenous past, but with the colonial contributions from areas of farming cultivation, harvesting methods, or the adoption of technologies in trapping, fishing, and dredging. Since the scope of practices included manipulations for tending and harvesting a list of flora and fauna, these practices and the locations of these activities will be presented according to the type and use.


Since the history of the Southern New Jersey region begins to be recorded during the 15th century, and in many languages (French, Dutch, and others), the determination of the meaning or original nomenclature used by the Lenape people themselves requires research. An overview of the word usage of the name Unilachtigo has been recorded in these ways; Unalachto, (Newcomb, 1956), Unechtigo, (Briton, 1885), Sankhikan band Unalachtigo Unami dialect, De Laet, Wunalachtico, (Zeisberger, 1910 or 1909), Renappi in Swedish 1655, Delaware Indians (de la Ware) in 1728, Ellenopey 1785 (Denny, 1860), Lenape, (Heckewelder, 1876), Real Lenape, (Zeisberger, 1776), and most recently as Lenopi before 1734 with Unilachtigo occurring later (Becker, 2005). In an article for the District Medical Society of Cumberland County, New Jersey, a correlation was drawn by the physicians about themselves. Through an overview of historic relationships within the medical community, these physicians expressed the great probability that not only did the pioneers of the county consult with “Medicine men of the aborigines” but that the knowledge of these medicinal plants were translated into today’s medical vernacular (Drs. Bateman, Fithian and Potter, 1871).


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These Bivalve oyster baskets are full of large oysters. This photograph is found on the history project web page. This picture from the early 1900s pictures from left to right by last name: Cremer, Lake, Unknown, Newcomb, Yates, Warfle, and Burns (this being Lem Newcomb's father).

Look closely at how the oyster baskets were constructed.
From the West Jersey History Project site

"Men shucking oysters at Bivalve around 1905"