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New Jersey

The first settlements in New Jersey were made by the Dutch along the western bank of the Hudson, with one on the Delaware at Fort Nassau; but these settlements were insignificant, and the history of the colony properly begins with the occupation of the territory by the English. New Jersey was included in the grant of Charles II to his brother James, the Duke of York, in 1664. The same year James disposed of the province to two of his friends, Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, and it was named in honor of the latter, who had been governor of the island of Jersey in the English Channel. The next year Carteret began to colonize his new possessions. He sent his nephew, Philip Carteret, as governor, who, with a company of emigrants, made the first settlement at Elizabethtown, so named in honor of Sir George's wife. A still larger number came from New England, especially from New Haven, because of the great dissatisfaction in that colony with its forced union with Connecticut. These Puritans founded Newark and adjacent towns.

Carteret granted a form of government in what was known as the "Concessions," which granted religious liberty to Englishmen in the new colony, and a government to be carried on by a governor, council, and an assembly of twelve to be chosen by the people, and no taxes were to be laid without the consent of the assembly. A farm, free for five years, was offered to any one "having a good musket... and six months' provisions,"1 who should embark with the governor, or meet him on his arrival; while those who came later were to pay a half-penny an acre quitrent. The first assembly met in 1668, and the severity of the code of laws adopted plainly indicated the Puritan domination of the colony. After a session of but five days it adjourned, and met no more for seven years. The first quitrents fell due in 1670; but many of the settlers refused to pay rent, claiming to have received their lands from the Indians, the real owners, or basing their right to titles confirmed by Governor Nicolls of New York. The people rose in rebellion, elected an illegal assembly, and called James Carteret, illegitimate son of the proprietor, to be their governor. But Sir George did not sustain his son, and the rebellious government fell to the ground.

The settlers, however, quietly tilled their farms and gave little heed to matters of government. Not even the reconquest of New York (which included New Jersey) by the Dutch, in 1673, cause any serious disturbance of the New Jersey farmers. The constant commotion between Carteret and his colony discourage Lord Berkeley, and he sold his interest in the province to two English Quakers, John Fenwick and Edward Byllynge. The latter soon became a bankrupt, and his share passed into the hands of trustees, the most prominent of whom was William Penn -- and thus we are introduced to the most famous of American colony builders.

The province was soon after this divided (1676) into two parts: East Jersey, which was retained by Carteret, and West Jersey, which now became the property of the Quakers. The line between them was drawn directly from Little Egg Harbor to the Delaware Water Gap. The year before the division Fenwick had led a few colonists and settled at Salem, but the first important settlement in West Jersey was made in 1677, when two hundred and thirty people sailed up the Delaware and founded Burlington, and within two years several hundred more had made their homes in the vicinity. Two wholly separate governments were now set up, and they were as different as white from black. The stern New England Puritans had settled in East Jersey in sufficient numbers to give coloring to the laws, and in these laws (enacted by the first assembly before the division) we find enumerated thirteen crimes for which the penalty was death. In West Jersey the government was exceedingly mild. A code of laws with the name of Penn at the top gave all power to the people, and made no mention of capital punishment. This was the first example of Quaker legislation in America.

When Edmund Andros was governor of New York, in the later seventies, he claimed authority over the Jerseys also, as the property of the Duke of York. He arrested and imprisoned Governor Philip Carteret of East Jersey, but the courts decided against Andros, and the Jerseys continued their own separate existence.

In 1680 George Carteret died, and two years later East Jersey was sold at auction to twelve men, one of whom was William Penn.2 Each of these twelve men sold half his interest to another man, and thus East Jersey came to have twenty-four proprietors, and they chose Robert Barclay, a Scotch Quaker, governor for life. Everything went smoothly under their mild government; but this tranquility was soon to end.

When James II became king of England he demanded the charters of the Jerseys on writes of quo warranto, leaving the ownership of the soil to the people, and united East and West Jersey to New York and New England under the government of Andros. At the fall of the king and the expulsion of Andros the Jerseys were left in a state of anarchy, and so it continued for more than ten years. The heirs of Carteret and the Quakers laid claim to the colony; and New York made a similar claim. After a long season of confusion it was decided to surrender the whole colony to the Crown, and in 1702 New Jersey became a royal province. Queen Anne, who was now the reigning monarch, extended the jurisdiction of New York's governor over New Jersey, and this arrangement continued for thirty-six years, when in 1738, the two colonies were finally separated.

New Jersey, numbering some seventy-five thousand inhabitants in 1760, was settled almost wholly by English people. A few Dutch, Swedes, and Germans were scattered here and there, but no in such numbers as to affect society. The Quakers occupied the western part, while the eastern portion was settled by emigrants from England, New England, and a few from Scotland and the southern colonies. Almost the entire population were farmers. The numerous towns were little more than centers of farming communities. The colony was guarded, as it were, on the east and west by the two great colonies of New York and Pennsylvania, and it escaped those peculiar perils of frontier life with which most of the other settlements had to contend. This was doubtless the chief cause of its rapid growth. New Jersey was also singularly free from Indian wars, the people living on the most friendly terms with the red men, with whom they kept up a profitable trade in furs and game.


Footnotes

1One seventh of the land was to be reserved for the proprietors and two hundred acres in each parish for the minister. See Winsor, Vol. III, p. 424.[return]

2The price paid was 3400 sterling.[return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter VII pp. 146-149. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.




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