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History of New Jersey

Beginnings [1]

In 1606, King James of England granted a new patent for Virginia (ignoring that of Sir Walter Raleigh, dated in 1584), in which was included the territory now known as the New England States and New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The possession of Eastern New Jersey was claimed by the Dutch, the Swedes claiming the right to the Western portion. The former built Fort Nassau, on the Delaware, near Gloucester; Fort Orange, on the Hudson, near Albany; and the Hirsse of Good Hope, on the Connecticut; the latter found the settlements along the Delaware river, after the Dutch built Nassau, the fort not being of sufficient strength to maintain their shadowy claims. Disputes as to the rightful possession of territory continued for years, until the early spring of 1664, when Charles II, sold to his brother James, Duke of York, "all that tract of land adjacent to New England, and lying and being to the westward of Long Island; bounded on the east part by the main sea and part by the Hudson River, and hath upon the west Delaware bay or river, and extendeth southward to the main ocean as far as Cape May, at the mouth of Delaware bay, and to the northward as far as the northernmost branch of said bay or river of Delaware, which is forty-one degrees and forty minutes of latitude, and worketh over thence in a straight line to Hudson river, which said tract of land is hereafter to be called by the name or names of Nova Caesarea or New Jersey." James soon sold this to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret.

The name was given in honor of Carteret, on account of his gallant defense of the Island of Jersey, at the time he was Governor of the island.

This grant regarded the Dutch and Swedes as intruders, and Berkeley and Carteret not only became rulers, but acquired the right to transfer the privilege to others. Measures were speedily devised for peopling and governing the country. The proprietors published a constitution, dated February 10th, 1664, by which the government of the province was to be exercised by a Governor and Council and General Assembly. The Governor was to receive his appointment from the proprietors; the Council was to be selected by the Governor, who might make choice of six Councilors, at least (or twelve, at most), or any even number between six and twelve.

On the same day that the instrument of government was signed, Philip Carteret, a brother of one of the proprietors, received a commission as Governor of New Jersey. He landed at Elizabeth in August, 1665.

The precise date of the first settlements in New Jersey is not known, though it is believed that the Danes or Norwegians, who crossed the Atlantic with the Dutch colonists, began a settlement at Bergen about the year 1624. About ten years previous, an attempt was made to form a settlement at Jersey City. In 1623, the Dutch West India Company sent out a ship under the command of Captain Cornelius Jacobse Mey, who entered the Delaware Bay and gave his name to its northern cape, and, sailing up the river to Gloucester, built Fort Nassau, which may be considered the first permanent settlement of the State.

Upon the arrival of Governor Carteret, he entered at once upon a vigorous discharge of his duties. A large number of settlers flocked thither, and at an early period the executive authority of the province was established by the appointment of a Council, composed of Captain Nicholas Varlett, Daniel Pierce, Robert Bond, Samuel Edsall, Robert Vanquellen and William Pardon. James Bollen was appointed Secretary of the province.

The first Legislative Assembly in the history of New Jersey met at Elizabethtown, on the 26th of May, 1668. The session lasted four days, and was characterized by harmony and strict attention to the business for which the Burgesses and Representatives were summoned by Governor Carteret. It may be noted that this Assembly passed laws by which twelve distinct offenses were made punishable with death. The Assembly adjourned sine die, and seven years elapsed before another convened. The capture of New York by the Dutch, July 30th, 1673, was followed by the subjection of the surrounding country, including the province of New Jersey. The whole of the territory, however, swung back to the possession of the English crown, by the treaty of peace with Holland, on the 9th of February, 1674.

The second General Assembly began its session on the 5th of November, 1675. Eight members of Council, including the Governor, were present, and fourteen Representatives appeared from the towns. Laws were enacted looking to the proper military defense of the province, for the institution of regular courts, and for the assessment of taxes. A code of capital laws was also adopted, similar in its provisions to that passed in 1668.

On the 18th of March, 1673, Lord Berkeley, one of the original proprietors of New Jersey, disposed of his right and interest in the province to John Fenwick and Edward Byllinge, members of the Society of Quakers, or Friends, who paid the sum of £1,000 for the same. John Fenwick received the conveyance in trust for Edward Byllinge, and a dispute as to the terms having arisen, William Penn was called in as arbitrator. He gave one-tenth of the province and a considerable sum of money to Fenwick, and the remainder of the territory was adjudged to be the property of Byllinge. A permanent settlement was made at Salem, in June, 1675, and settlements were made at Burlington, "ye falls of ye Delaware" or Trenton, and a flourishing whaling station established at Cape May.

Owing to the continued disputations and dissensions, a division of the territory of the province was agreed upon. By this "Indenture Quintipartite," dated July 1st, 1676, the line of division was made to extend across the province, from Little Egg Harbor to a point in the Delaware River in forty one degrees of north latitude. These divisions were known respectively as East and West Jersey, until the charters of both were surrendered, and the two portions included together under a royal government.

By the retrocession of New Jersey to Great Britain, by the treaty of 1674, the question arose whether the title returned to the proprietors or to the King. To avoid all difficulty, the King recognized the claim of Carteret, and made a new grant to the Duke of York, who also executed a fresh conveyance to Carteret, covering, however, only a part of the original territory of New Jersey. But, before making this conveyance, the Duke included the province in a commission given to Sir Edmund Andros, Governor of New York, who refused to recognize the authority, as Governor, of Philip Carteret, arrested all magistrates who would not submit to his own jurisdiction, and finally, on April 30th, 1680, carried Carteret himself prisoner to New York. The Duke was finally prevailed upon to acknowledge the claims of the proprietors, and in 1681 the government of Andros came to an end.

East Jersey, in February, 1682, was purchased by William Penn and eleven other Quakers for £3,400. The first Governor under the new proprietors was Robert Barclay, a Scotchman, and one of the twelve purchasers, under whom the country became an asylum for the oppressed members of his creed, and for a time enjoyed great prosperity. But the number of proprietors, the frequent subdivisions and transfers of shares, and various other difficulties in the way of good government, soon involved the province in trouble, and in 1702 the proprietors surrendered the rights of government to the Crown.

Queen Anne appointed Lord Cornbury Governor of New York and New Jersey, but each continued to have a separate Assembly. In 1738, New Jersey petitioned for a distinct administration, and Lewis Morris was appointed Governor. The population was then about 40,000. The last Royal Governor was William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin. A State Constitution was adopted July 2nd, 1776, and some of the most important battles of the Revolution took place upon its soil. Among these were the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Red Bank and Monmouth.

The first Legislature met at Princeton, in August, 1776, and chose William Livingston, Governor. The Federal Constitution was adopted by a unanimous vote, December 18th, 1787. The State Capital was established at Trenton, in 1790.

  1. State of New Jersey, T. F. Fitzgerald, Legislative Reporter, Manual of the Legislature of New Jersey, One Hundred and Twenty-First Session, 1897, Trenton, 1897.

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