New Jersey colonial history





Let us turn to a consideration of the history of New Jersey as a colony. We have traced its progress from the period of its first settlements to that of its permanent political organization as a British colony, with a governor and council, and when a cluster of four houses at Elizabethtown were dignified with the title of a colonial capital. Agents were sent to New England to invite settlers, and a company from New Haven were soon seated on the banks of the Passaic. Others followed; and when, in 1668, the first legislative assembly met at Elizabethtown, it was largely made up of representatives of New England Puritanism. The fertility of the soil; the salubrity of the climate; the exemption from fear of Indian hostilities and other manifest advantages, caused a rapid increase in the population and prosperity of the province; and nothing disturbed the general serenity of society there until the year 1670, when specified quit-rents of a half-penny for each acre of land was demanded. The people murmured. Some of them had purchased their land of the Indians before the proprietary government was established, and refused to pay the rent, not on account of its amount, but because it was an unjust tax levied without their consent.

Disputes concerning rents continued almost two years, and the province was cast into confusion. The whole people combined in resistance to the payment of the tax. There was actual rebellion; and in May, 1672, the disaffected colonists sent deputies to a popular Assembly which met at Elizabethtown. That body chose a weak and dissolute illegitimate son of one of the proprietors to be their governor, and compelled Philip Carteret, the proprietary ruler, to vacate his chair and leave the province. He went to England for more authority; and while the proprietors were making preparations to recover the province by force of arms, New Jersey and all the rest of the territory in America claimed by the Duke of York fell into the hands of the Dutch, with whom the English were then at war. That was in August, 1673.

When, fifteen months afterward, these territories were restored to the English, and the duke received a new charter from his brother the king, he appointed Andros governor of the whole domain. Carteret complained, and his authority was partly restored; but sufficient was reserved to give Andros a pretext for asserting his authority and annoying the proprietors and the people.

Lord Berkeley was now so disgusted by the losses and annoyances which he had endured in connection with his ownership of New Jersey, that he sold his interest in the province to John Fenwick and Edward Byllinge, English Friends or Quakers, for the sum of five thousand dollars. The tract sold to these Friends was in the western part of the province. With some emigrants, mostly of the Society of Friends, Fenwick sailed for his new possessions. They settled at a spot not far from the Delaware River, which they named Salem, on account of the peaceful aspect of the country and the surrounding Indians. There, with the peculiar gravity of the sect, Fenwick and his two daughters, thirteen men (most of them heads of families) and one woman, the wife of one of the emigrants, sat in silent worship according to their custom, under the shadow of a great tree, with covered heads and quiet bodies, on the ensuing "First Day" after their arrival. Then they built log cabins for shelter, and so began a new life in the wilds of New Jersey.

Byllinge was the principal proprietor, but soon after the departure of Fenwick, heavy losses in trade made him a bankrupt, and his interest in New Jersey was first assigned to William Penn and others for the benefit of his creditors, and was afterward sold to them. These purchasers and others who became associated with them, unwilling to maintain a political union with other parties, bargained with Carteret for a division of the province. This was done in July, 1676. Carteret retained the eastern part of the province, and the new purchasers held the western part. From that time until they were united and became a royal province in 1702, these divisions were known as East and West Jersey. From this circumstance, the expression "The Jerseys," heard in our day, was derived.

The proprietors of West Jersey gave to the settlers, who were mostly Friends at first, a remarkably liberal constitution of government, entitled "The concessions and agreements of the proprietors, freeholders, and inhabitants of the province of West New Jersey in America." The following year (1677) more than four hundred Friends came from England and settled below the Raritan. Andros required them to acknowledge his authority as the representative of the Duke of York. They refused, and the matter was referred to the eminent crown-lawyer and oriental scholar, Sir William Jones, for adjudication. Sir William decided against the claims of the duke, who submitted to the decision, released both provinces from allegiance to him, and the Jerseys became independent of foreign control. The first popular Assembly in West Jersey met at Salem in November, 1681, and adopted a code of laws for the government of the people. One of these laws provided that in all criminal cases, excepting treason, murder and theft, the aggrieved party should have power to pardon the offender.

Carteret died late in 1679. The trustees of his American estates offered East Jersey for sale. It was bought in 1682, by William Penn and others, among them the Earl of Perth, the friend of Robert Barclay, whom the proprietors appointed governor of the domain for life. Barclay was an eminent young Friend, whose writings have ever been held in high estimation by his sect, especially his "Apology for the true Christian Divinity, as the same is held forth and practised by the people called in scorn Quakers," and his "Treatise on Christian Discipline." The purchase was made, not in the interest of religion or liberty, but as a land speculation. Barclay governed the province by deputies until his death in 1690, when he was only forty-two years of age.

A large number of Friends went from England and Scotland to East Jersey, and other immigrants flocked in from Long Island, to find repose and peace. They soon found that repose was not to be enjoyed by lovers of freedom anywhere under royal rule. They were also impressed with the significance of the injunction: "Put not your trust in princes," for James the king failed to keep the promises of James the duke, and they were compelled to submit to the tyranny of Andros. When that detested viceroy was driven from the country in 1689, the Jerseys were left without a regular civil government, and so they remained several years.

Wearied with contentions with the people of the provinces and with the government in England, and annoyed by losses in unprofitable speculations, the proprietors of the Jerseys surrendered them to the crown in 1702, when Queen Anne was the reigning British monarch. The government of that domain was then confided to Sir Edward Hyde (Lord Cornbury), whose instructions constituted the supreme law of the land. He was then governor of New York, and possessed almost absolute legislative and executive control within the jurisdiction of his authority. In New Jersey the people had no voice in the judiciary or the making and executing of laws other than recommendatory. Liberty of conscience was granted to all but Roman Catholics, but the bigoted governor always showed conspicuous favors to the members of the Church of England. Under the rule of that dishonest libertine, the people of New Jersey were slaves. Printing was prohibited in the province except by royal permission, and the traffic in negro slaves was specially encouraged.

The province of New Jersey remained a dependency of New York, with a distinct legislative assembly of its own, until the year 1738, when, through the efforts of Lewis Morris, its chief justice, it was made an independent colony, and so continued until the war for independence. Mr. Morris was commissioned the first governor after the province had gained its freedom from New York. He was the son of an officer in Cromwell's army who, at about the year 1672, settled on a farm of three thousand acres on the Harlem River, New York, which was named Morrisania.

The last of the royal governors of New Jersey was William Franklin, son of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who was appointed, in 1763, and closed his official career in the summer of 1776, when he was deposed by the Continental Congress, and sent under guard to Connecticut, where he was released on parole and sailed for England. He died there in 1813.





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