Chronicles of America 

The United Jerseys

The Quaker colonists grouped round Burlington and Salem, on the Delaware, and the Scotch Covenanters and New England colonists grouped around Perth Amboy and Newark, near the mouth of the Hudson, made up the two Jerseys. Neither colony had a numerous population, and the stretch of country lying between them was during most of the colonial period a wilderness. It is now crossed by the railway from Trenton to New York. It has always been a line of travel from the Delaware to the Hudson. At first there was only an Indian trail across it, but after 1695 there was a road, and after 1738 a stage route.

In 1702, while still separated by this wilderness, the two Jerseys were united politically by the proprietors voluntarily surrendering all their political rights to the Crown. The political distinction between East Jersey and West Jersey was thus abolished; their excellent free constitutions were rendered of doubtful authority; and from that time to the Revolution they constituted one colony under the control of a royal governor appointed by the Crown.

The change was due to the uncertainty and annoyance caused for their separate governments when their right to govern was in doubt owing to interference on the part of New York and the desire of the King to make them a Crown colony. The original grant of the Duke of York to the proprietors Berkeley and Carteret had given title to the soil but had been silent as to the right to govern. The first proprietors and their successors had always assumed that the right to govern necessarily accompanied this gift of the land. Such a privilege, however, the Crown was inclined to doubt. William Penn was careful to avoid this uncertainty when he received his charter for Pennsylvania. Profiting by the sad example of the Jerseys, he made sure that he was given both the title to the soil and the right to govern.

The proprietors, however, now surrendered only their right to govern the Jerseys and retained their ownership of the land; and the people always maintained that they, on their part, retained all the political rights and privileges which had been granted them by the proprietors. And these rights were important, for the concessions or constitutions granted by the proprietors under the advanced Quaker influence of the time were decidedly liberal. The assemblies, as the legislatures were called, had the right to meet and adjourn as they pleased, instead of having their meetings and adjournments dictated by the governor. This was an important right and one which the Crown and royal governors were always trying to restrict or destroy, because it made an assembly very independent. This contest for colonial rights was exactly similar to the struggle of the English Parliament for liberty against the supposed right of the Stuart kings to call and adjourn Parliament as they chose. If the governor could adjourn the assembly when he pleased, he could force it to pass any laws he wanted or prevent its passing any laws at all. The two Jersey assemblies under their Quaker constitutions also had the privilege of making their own rules of procedure, and they had jurisdiction over taxes, roads, towns, militia, and all details of government. These rights of a legislature are familiar enough now to all. Very few people realize, however, what a struggle and what sacrifices were required to attain them.

The rest of New Jersey colonial history is made up chiefly of struggles over these two questions--the rights of the proprietors and their quitrents as against the people, and the rights of the new assembly as against the Crown. There were thus three parties, the governor and his adherents, the proprietors and their friends, and the assembly and the people. The proprietors had the best of the change, for they lost only their troublesome political power and retained their property. They never, however, received such financial returns from the property as the sons of William Penn enjoyed from Pennsylvania. But the union of the Jerseys seriously curtailed the rights enjoyed by the people under the old government, and all possibility of a Quaker government in West Jersey was ended. It was this experience in the Jerseys, no doubt, that caused William Penn to require so many safeguards in selling his political rights in Pennsylvania to the Crown that the sale was, fortunately for the colony, never completed.

The assembly under the union met alternately at Perth Amboy and at Burlington. Lord Cornbury, the first governor, was also Governor of New York, a humiliating arrangement that led to no end of trouble. The executive government, the press, and the judiciary were in the complete control of the Crown and the Governor, who was instructed to take care that "God Almighty be duly served according to the rites of the Church of England, and the traffic in merchantable negroes encouraged." Cornbury contemptuously ignored the assembly's right to adjourn and kept adjourning it till one was elected which would pass the laws he wanted. Afterwards the assemblies were less compliant, and, under the lead of two able men, Lewis Morris of East Jersey and Samuel Jennings, a Quaker of West Jersey, they stood up for their rights and complained to the mother country. But Cornbury went on fighting them, granted monopolies, established arbitrary fees, prohibited the proprietors from selling their lands, prevented three members of the assembly duly elected from being sworn, and was absent in New York so much of the time that the laws went unexecuted and convicted murderers wandered about at large. In short, he went through pretty much the whole list of offenses of a corrupt and good-for-nothing royal governor of colonial times. The union of the two colonies consequently seemed to involve no improvement over former conditions. At last, the protests and appeals of proprietors and people prevailed, and Cornbury was recalled.

Quieter times followed, and in 1738 New Jersey had the satisfaction of obtaining a governor all her own. The New York Governor had always neglected Jersey affairs, was difficult of access, made appointments and administered justice in the interests of New York, and forced Jersey vessels to pay registration fees to New York. Amid great rejoicing over the change, the Crown appointed the popular leader, Lewis Morris, as governor. But by a strange turn of fate, when once secure in power, he became a most obstinate upholder of royal prerogative, worried the assembly with adjournments, and, after Cornbury, was the most obnoxious of all the royal governors.

The governors now usually made Burlington their capital and it became, on that account, a place of much show and interest. The last colonial governor was William Franklin, an illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin, and he would probably have made a success of the office if the Revolution had not stopped him. He had plenty of ability, affable manners, and was full of humor and anecdote like his father, whom he is said to have somewhat resembled. He had combined in youth a fondness for books with a fondness for adventure, was comptroller of the colonial post office and clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, served a couple of campaigns in the French and Indian Wars, went to England with his father in 1757, was admitted to the English Bar, attained some intimacy with the Earl of Bute and Lord Fairfax, and through the latter obtained the governorship of New Jersey in 1762.

The people were at first much displeased at his appointment and never entirely got over his illegitimate birth and his turning from Whig to Tory as soon as his appointment was secured. But he advanced the interests of the colony with the home government and favored beneficial legislation. He had an attractive wife, and they entertained, it is said, with viceregal elegance, and started a fine model farm or country place on the north shore of the Rancocas not far from the capital at Burlington. Franklin was drawing the province together and building it up as a community, but his extreme loyalist principles in the Revolution destroyed his chance for popularity and have obscured his reputation.

Though the population of New Jersey was a mixed one, judged by the very distinct religious differences of colonial times, yet racially it was thoroughly Anglo-Saxon and a good stock to build upon. At the time of the Revolution in 1776 the people numbered only about 120,000, indicating a slow growth; but when the first census of the United States was taken, in 1790, they numbered 184,139.

The natural division of the State into North and South Jersey is marked by a line from Trenton to Jersey City. The people of these two divisions were quite as distinct in early times as striking differences in environment and religion could make them. Even in the inevitable merging of modern life the two regions are still distinct socially, economically, and intellectually. Along the dividing line the two types of the population, of course, merged and here was produced and is still to be found the Jerseyman of the composite type.

Trenton, the capital of the State, is very properly in the dividing belt. It was named after William Trent, a Philadelphia merchant who had been speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly and who became chief justice of New Jersey. Long ages before white men came Trenton seems to have been a meeting place and residence of the Indians or preceding races of stone age men. Antiquarians have estimated that fifty thousand stone implements have been found in it. As it was at the head of tidewater, at the so-called Falls of the Delaware, it was apparently a center of travel and traffic from other regions. From the top of the bluff below the modern city of Trenton there was easy access to forests of chestnut, oak, and pine, with their supplies of game, while the river and its tributary creeks were full of fish. It was a pleasant and convenient place where the people of prehistoric times apparently met and lingered during many centuries without necessarily having a large resident population at any one time. Trenton was so obviously convenient and central in colonial times that it was seriously proposed as a site for the national capital.

Princeton University, though originating, as we have seen, among the Presbyterians of North Jersey, seems as a higher educational institution for the whole State to belong naturally in the dividing belt, the meeting place of the two divisions of the colony. The college began its existence at Elizabeth, was then moved to Newark, both in the strongly Presbyterian region, and finally, in 1757, was established at Princeton, a more suitable place, it was thought, because far removed from the dissipation and temptation of towns, and because it was in the center of the colony on the post road between Philadelphia and New York. Though chartered as the College of New Jersey, it was often called Nassau Hall at Princeton or simply "Princeton." In 1896 it became known officially as Princeton University. It was a hard struggle to found the college with lotteries and petty subscriptions here and there. But Presbyterians in New York and other provinces gave aid. Substantial assistance was also obtained from the Presbyterians of England and Scotland. In the old pamphlets of the time which have been preserved the founders of the college argued that higher education was needed not only for ministers of religion, but for the bench, the bar, and the legislature. The two New England colleges, Harvard and Yale, on the north, and the Virginia College of William and Mary on the south, were too far away. There must be a college close at hand.

At first most of the graduates entered the Presbyterian ministry. But soon in the short time before the Revolution there were produced statesmen such as Richard Stockton of New Jersey, who signed the Declaration of Independence; physicians such as Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia; soldiers such as "Light Horse" Harry Lee of Virginia; as well as founders of other colleges, governors of States, lawyers, attorney-generals, judges, congressmen, and indeed a very powerful assemblage of intellectual lights. Nor should the names of James Madison, Aaron Burr, and Jonathan Edwards be omitted.

East Jersey with her New England influence attempted something like free public schools. In West Jersey the Quakers had schools. In both Jerseys, after 1700 some private neighborhood schools were started, independent of religious denominations. The West Jersey Quakers, self-cultured and with a very effective system of mental discipline and education in their families as well as in their schools, were not particularly interested in higher education. But in East Jersey as another evidence of intellectual awakening in colonial times, Queen's College, afterward known as Rutgers College, was established by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1766, and was naturally placed, near the old source of Dutch influence, at New Brunswick in the northerly end of the dividing belt.

New Jersey was fortunate in having no Indian wars in colonial times, no frontier, no point of hostile contact with the French of Canada or with the powerful western tribes of red men. Like Rhode Island in this respect, she was completely shut in by the other colonies. Once or twice only did bands of savages cross the Delaware and commit depredations on Jersey soil. This colony, however, did her part in sending troops and assistance to the others in the long French and Indian wars; but she had none of the pressing danger and experience of other colonies. Her people were never drawn together by a common danger until the Revolution.

In Jersey colonial homes there was not a single modern convenience of light, heat, or cooking, and none of the modern amusements. But there was plenty of good living and simple diversion--husking bees and shooting in the autumn, skating and sleighing in the winter. Meetings and discussions in coffeehouses and inns supplied in those days the place of our modern books, newspapers, and magazines. Jersey inns were famous meeting places. Everybody passed through their doors--judges, lawyers, legislators, politicians, post riders, stage drivers, each bringing his contribution of information and humor, and the slaves and rabble stood round to pick up news and see the fun. The court days in each county were holidays celebrated with games of quoits, running, jumping, feasting, and discussions political and social. At the capital there was even style and extravagance. Governor Belcher, for example, who lived at Burlington, professed to believe that the Quaker influences of that town were not strict enough in keeping the Sabbath, so he drove every Sunday in his coach and four to Philadelphia to worship in the Presbyterian Church there and saw no inconsistency in his own behavior.

Almanacs furnished much of the reading for the masses. The few newspapers offered little except the barest chronicle of events. The books of the upper classes were good though few, and consisted chiefly of the classics of English literature and books of information and travel. The diaries and letters of colonial native Jerseymen, the pamphlets of the time, and John Woolman's "Journal," all show a good average of education and an excellent use of the English language. Samuel Smith's "History of the Colony of Nova-Casaria, or New Jersey," written and printed at Burlington and published there in the year 1765, is written in a good and even attractive style, with as intelligent a grasp of political events as any modern mind could show; the type, paper, and presswork, too, are excellent. Smith was born and educated in this same New Jersey town. He became a member of council and assembly, at one time was treasurer of the province, and his manuscript historical collections were largely used by Robert Proud in his "History of Pennsylvania."

The early houses of New Jersey were of heavy timbers covered with unpainted clapboards, usually one story and a half high, with immense fireplaces, which, with candles, supplied the light. The floors were scrubbed hard and sprinkled with the plentiful white sand. Carpets, except the famous old rag carpets, were very rare. The old wooden houses have now almost entirely disappeared; but many of the brick houses which succeeded them are still preserved. They are of simple well-proportioned architecture, of a distinctive type, less luxuriant, massive, and exuberant than those across the river in Pennsylvania, although both evidently derived from the Christopher Wren school. The old Jersey homes seem to reflect with great exactness the simple feeling of the people and to be one expression of the spirit of Jersey democracy.

There were no important seats of commerce in this province. Exports of wheat, provisions, and lumber went to Philadelphia or New York, which were near and convenient. The Jersey shores near the mouth of the Hudson and along the Delaware, as at Camden, presented opportunities for ports, but the proximity to the two dominating ports prevented the development of additional harbors in this part of the coast. It was not until after the Revolution that Camden, opposite Philadelphia, and Jersey City, opposite New York, grew into anything like their present importance.

There were, however, a number of small ports and shipbuilding villages in the Jerseys. It is a noticeable fact that in colonial times and even later there were very few Jersey towns beyond the head of tidewater. The people, even the farmers, were essentially maritime. The province showed its natural maritime characteristics, produced many sailors, and built innumerable small vessels for the coasting and West India trade--sloops, schooners, yachts, and sailboats, down to the tiniest gunning boat and sneak box. Perth Amboy was the principal port and shipbuilding center for East Jersey as Salem was for West Jersey. But Burlington, Bordentown, Cape May, and Trenton, and innumerable little villages up creeks and channels or mere ditches could not be kept from the prevailing industry. They built craft up to the limit of size that could be floated away in the water before their very doors. Plentifully supplied with excellent oak and pine and with the admirable white cedar of their own forests, very skillful shipwrights grew up in every little hamlet.

A large part of the capital used in Jersey shipbuilding is said to have come from Philadelphia and New York. At first this capital sought its profit in whaling along the coast and afterwards in the trade with the West Indies, which for a time absorbed so much of the shipping of all the colonies in America. The inlets and beaches along the Jersey coast now given over to summer resorts were first used for whaling camps or bases. Cape May and Tuckerton were started and maintained by whaling; and as late as 1830, it is said, there were still signs of the industry on Long Beach.

Except for the whaling, the beaches were uninhabited--wild stretches of sand, swarming with birds and wild fowl, without a lighthouse or lifesaving station. In the Revolution, when the British fleet blockaded the Delaware and New York, Little Egg, the safest of the inlets, was used for evading the blockade. Vessels entered there and sailed up the Mullica River to the head of navigation, whence the goods were distributed by wagons. To conceal their vessels when anchored just inside an inlet, the privateersmen would stand slim pine trees beside the masts and thus very effectively concealed the rigging from British cruisers prowling along the shore.

Along with the whaling industry the risks and seclusion of the inlets and channels developed a romantic class of gentlemen, as handy with musket and cutlass as with helm and sheet, fond of easy, exciting profits, and reaping where they had not sown. They would start legally enough, for they began as privateersmen under legal letters of marque in the wars. But the step was a short one to a traffic still more profitable; and for a hundred years Jersey customs officers are said to have issued documents which were ostensibly letters of marque but which really abetted a piratical cruise. Piracy was, however, in those days a semi-legitimate offense, winked at by the authorities all through the colonial period; and respectable people and governors and officials of New York and North Carolina, it is said, secretly furnished funds for such expeditions and were interested in the profits.

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