By Michele S. Byers
Had things gone differently, this state we’re in might have been called New Netherland, New Sweden, Nova Cesarea or even Albania. But we ended up as New Jersey, a name that honors the Isle of Jersey in Great Britain … and gives us our famous “Jersey” attitude.
This year marks the 350th anniversary of the birth of New Jersey, when the English seized control in 1664.
The story of how this little peninsula between the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean became New Jersey starts with early European explorers and colonists, and their quest for control over lands that had been inhabited for millennia by Native Americans.
The true colonial era began in 1609 with Henry Hudson, who sailed for the Dutch East India Company. Hudson explored the Delaware and Raritan Rivers, the Hudson River Valley and the Newark and New York bays. Dutch mapmaker Adriaen Block subsequently surveyed the coast from New England to Delaware, naming it New Netherland. Dutch colonists settled throughout New Jersey, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Hudson Valley.
Meanwhile, Swedish settlers migrated to southern New Jersey, what’s now Salem and Gloucester counties. In 1638 the colony of New Sweden was founded, straddling the Delaware River. It was short-lived, eventually taken over by the Dutch.
In 1660, King Charles II was restored to the throne in England and resolved to bring the New Netherland colony into the dominion of the British crown.
In 1664, he issued a patent giving extensive lands in the New World to his brother James, Duke of York. James, in turn, granted land between the Hudson and Delaware rivers to two loyal friends, Sir George Carteret, who had served as governor of the Isle of Jersey, and Lord John Berkeley.
The document recording this land grant, now housed at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, proclaims that “said Tract of Land is hereafter to be called by the name or names of New Cesarea or New Jersey.”
But, making a royal gift of New Jersey was a bit hasty, since the Dutch still held sole power over New Netherland.
The Duke of York remedied that “problem” by sending a squadron of war ships. Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered in September 1664, New Amsterdam was renamed New York, and New Jersey was called Albania by the local English … a name that obviously didn’t stick.
Over the next decade, war broke out between England and Holland. New Jersey once again fell under Dutch control, nullifying the land grants to Berkeley and Carteret. A peace treaty in 1674 returned New Jersey and New York to the British, and it was time to divvy up New Jersey once again.
Berkeley had sold his interest to a group of Quakers, and Carteret pressed to have his land grant reinstated. Rather than giving Carteret a half interest in the entirety of New Jersey, a decision was made to slice the state in half diagonally, forming the provinces of East Jersey and West Jersey – the first subdivision of our state.
In 1676, a “Quintipartite Deed” was executed between Carteret, who held East Jersey, and the trustees of West Jersey. A division known as the Province Line was proposed, starting at Little Egg Harbor on the Atlantic and extending northwest to the Delaware River.
Creating the Province Line was easier said than done due to squabbles over the boundary. The first survey was done in 1687, but it took until 1743 to establish the Lawrence Line, the final and legal boundary between the two provinces. East and West Jersey existed until 1702, when they were reunited as a royal colony under the reign of Queen Anne.
Since that first subdivision into East and West Jersey, New Jersey has been subdivided further into millions of blocks and lots, perhaps more so than any other state!
Most of these blocks and lots have been paved or preserved, but what will happen to those remaining? Without a stable source of state funds to continue preserving these lands, many more will be further subdivided. This does not have to happen!
Please urge your representatives in the General Assembly to renew New Jersey’s preservation funding this year, before we lose even more of our farms and natural areas.
To learn more about New Jersey’s history and the 350th anniversary celebrations planned this year, go to http://officialnj350.com.
And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
***ITALMichele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.***END