Colonial history of New Jersey

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C. A. Nothnagle Log House, built by Finnish or Swedish settlers in the New Sweden colony in modern-day Swedesboro, New Jersey between 1638 and 1643, is one of the oldest still standing log houses in the United States.

European colonization of New Jersey started soon after the 1609 exploration of its coast and bays by Henry Hudson. Dutch and Swedish colonists settled parts of the present-day state as New Netherland and New Sweden.

In 1664, the entire area, surrendered by the Dutch to England, gained its current name. With the Treaty of Westminster in 1674, London formally gained control of the region; it retained that control until the American Revolution.

Pre-colonial population[edit]

The original people of the region of some 13,000 years left behind advanced hunting implements such as bows and arrows and evidence of an agricultural society. The region has probably been continually inhabited from that time as other tribes migrated to the area. At the time of the European colonization, the area of the Lenape, which they called Scheyichbi[1] (see: Unami language), encompassed the valleys of the lower Hudson River and the Delaware River, and the area in between, what is now known as the U.S. state of New Jersey; exonyms given to the different groups by the colonizing population were taken from geographic names of Original Peoples' settlements that included the Hackensack tribe, the Tappan tribe, and the Acquackanonk tribe in the northeast, the Raritan tribe, and the Navesink tribe in the center.

New Netherland[edit]

A map from c. 1639, Manhattan situated on the North Rivier, with numbered key showing settlements: 27. Farm of Van Vorst; 28. v (sic): 29. Farm of Evertsen; 30. Plantation at Lacher's Hook; 31. Plantation at Paulus Hook; 32. Plantation of Maerytensen on west bank of North River.
The relative location of the New Netherland and New Sweden colonies in modern-day New Jersey

Dutch settlement in the seventeenth century concentrated along the banks of the North River and the Upper New York Bay, though they maintained factories along the Delaware River as well. Although the Lenape did not recognize the European principle of land ownership, Dutch policy required formal purchase of all land settled.[2] The settlement grew slowly, impeded by Willem Kieft's mismanagement.[3] In 1658, the last Director-General of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, "re-purchased" the entire peninsula known as Bergen Neck, and in 1661 granted a charter to the village at Bergen, establishing the oldest municipality in the state.[4]

New Sweden[edit]

New Sweden, founded in 1638, rose to its height under governor Johan Björnsson Printz (1643–1653). Led by Printz, the settlement extended as far north as Fort Christina (on both sides of the Delaware River).[5] He helped to improve the military and commercial status of the colony by constructing Fort Nya Elfsborg, which is now near Salem, on the east side of the Delaware River. Swedesboro and Bridgeport were founded as part of the colony.[6] In 1655, the Dutch asserted control over the territory.[7]

English takeover[edit]

Italian navigator John Cabot left England in 1496 to explore North America. The English claimed that New Netherland was part of Cabot's discoveries, prior to Hudson. Insisting that John Cabot had been the first to discover North America, the English granted the land that now encompasses New Jersey, who ordered Colonel Richard Nicolls to take over the area.[8] In September 1664, an English fleet under the command of Richard Nicolls sailed into what is now New York Harbor and under threat of attack, forced the provisional surrender of the colony by the Dutch. The English received little resistance due to West India Company's decision not to garrison the colony. Nicolls took the position of deputy-governor of New Amsterdam and the rest of New Netherland, guaranteeing colonists' property rights, laws of inheritance, and the enjoyment of religious freedom.

Within six years, the nations were again at war, and in August 1673 the Dutch recaptured New Netherland with a fleet of 21 ships. Nevertheless, in November 1674, the Dutch Treaty of Westminster concluded the war and ceded New Netherland to the English.[9]

Royal Colony[edit]

New Jersey Tricentennial Flag, which was designed in 1964 to mark the 300th anniversary of the creation of the Province of New Jersey[10]

King Charles II gave the region between New England and Maryland to his brother, the Duke of York (later King James II), which was renamed New York. Soon thereafter James granted the land between the Hudson River and the Delaware River to two friends who had been loyal to him through the English Civil War: Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley of Stratton. That part of New Netherland was named New Jersey after the English Channel Island of Jersey.[11]

The two proprietors of New Jersey attempted to entice more settlers to move to New Jersey by granting sections of lands to settlers and by passing the Concession and Agreement, a document granting religious freedom to all inhabitants of New Jersey; under the British Church of England there was no such religious freedom. In return for land, settlers paid annual fees known as quitrents. Land grants made in connection to the importation of slaves were another enticement for settlers.[12] Philip Carteret was appointed by the two proprietors as the first governor of New Jersey. Philip Carteret designated Bergen as the first capital of the colony.[13] However, it became difficult for the two proprietors to collect the quitrents. As a result, on March 18, 1673, Berkeley sold his share of New Jersey to two Quakers, Edward Billinge and John Fenwick, who quarreled over the purchase and Quakers brought in William Penn to resolve the dispute without having to resort to court (as Quakers tried to resolve such issues among themselves).[14][15][16]

Division into East and West[edit]

The original West and East New Jersey provinces, highlighted in yellow and green, respectively. The Keith Line is shown in red, and the Coxe and Barclay line is shown in orange.

With this sale, New Jersey was divided into East Jersey and West Jersey, two distinct provinces of the proprietary colony.[17] William Penn was heavily involved in drawing up the West Jersey Concessions in 1676. This set out a structure of government and a legal framework. It was signed by 31 signatories in America and 150 more in Great Britain. Although never fully enacted, a number of its elements subsequently became core features of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.[18] The political division between the two colonies existed for the 26 years between 1678 and 1712. Determination of an exact location for a border between West Jersey and East Jersey was often a matter of dispute, as was the border with New York.

The border between the two sides reached the Atlantic Ocean to the north of Atlantic City. The border line was created by George Keith, and can still be seen in the county boundaries between Monmouth and Burlington/Mercer Counties; Burlington and Ocean Counties; and Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, reaching upward to a point on the Delaware River which is just north of the Delaware Water Gap. The border was often disputed, so with the 1676 Quintipartite Deed more accurate surveys and maps were made to resolve property disputes. This resulted in the Thornton line, drawn around 1696, and the Lawrence line, drawn around 1743, which was adopted as the final line for legal purposes.


New Jersey was very diverse religiously during the colonial period.[19]

Dutch Reformed Church[edit]

Old Bergen Church in Jersey City
Church on the Green, a Dutch Reformed Church in Hackensack
Schraalenburgh North Church in Dumont

After the final transfer of power to the English, New Netherlanders and their descendants spread across East Jersey and established many of the towns and cities which exist today.[20] The Dutch Reformed Church played an important role this expansion [21] Following the course of the Hudson River in the north to the Raritan River in the south, settlement and population grew along what George Washington called the "Dutch Belt".[22] The American classis secured a charter in 1766 for Queens College (now Rutgers University), where the appointment in 1784 of John Henry Livingston as professor of theology marked the beginning of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Year Congregation
1660 Bergen at Bergen Square, now Jersey City
1693 Acquackanonk[23] in Passaic
1694 Tappan[24]
1696 Hackensack[25]
1699 Brick in Marlboro[26]
1700 Second River[27] in Belleville
1703 Six Mile Run[28]
1710 Ponds[29] in Oakland
1717 New Brunswick[30]
1720 Fairfield
1724 Schraalenburgh now Dumont
1725 Paramus now Ridgewood[31]
1727 Harlingen[32]
1736 Pompton Plains[33]
1740 Ramopock in Mahwah
1755 Totowa[23][34] in Paterson
1756 Montivlle
1770 Ridgefield[35] in the English Neighborhood[36]

Religious Society of Friends[edit]

Seaville Meeting House in Seaville
Trenton Meeting House in Trenton

Quakers first settled in what is now Monmouth County as early as 1664. They established the first Quaker meeting in Shrewsbury, now Little Silver, in 1665. A meeting house built in 1672 was visited by George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, the same year. This meeting house was replaced by the present meeting house in 1816. Much of West Jersey was settled by Quakers who established congregations and founded towns throughout colonial-era New Jersey, including the eponymous Quakertown in 1744. Colonial-era meeting houses built in New Jersey include:

Year Locale Year
Seaville Friends Meeting House[37] Seaville 1716
Woodbury Friends' Meetinghouse Woodbury c.1715
Quaker Meeting House Quakertown 1733[38]
Bordentown Friends Meetinghouse Bordentown 1740[39]
Smith Friends Meetinghouse Harmony 1753[40]
Alloways Creek Friends Meetinghouse Hancock's Bridge 1756
Dover Friends Meetinghouse Dover 1758
Evesham Friends Meeting House Mount Laurel 1760
Greenwich Friends Meetinghouse Greenwich 1771 [41]
Salem Friends Meetinghouse Salem 1773[42]
Chesterfield Friends Meeting House Crosswicks 1773 [43]
Arney's Mount Friends Meetinghouse Pemberton 1775
Copenney Friends Meetinghouse[44] 1775
Trenton Friends Meeting House Trenton 1776


Church Locale Year
Upper Meeting House of the Baptist Church of Middletown[45] 1688
Cohansey Baptist Church[46] Roadstown, west of Bridgetown 1683/1690
Stelton Baptist Church[46] Piscataway Township, later Edison 1689
Ye Olde Yellow Meeting House[47] Imlaystown 1720

Episcopal Churches[edit]

Church Locale Year
St. Peter's Episcopal Church Perth Amboy 1685[48]
St. Mary's Episcopal Church Burlington 1703
St. John's Episcopal Church Elizabeth 1706


In 1804, New Jersey enacted a law providing for the gradual abolition of slavery. With the passage of this law, all states north of the "Mason–Dixon line" (the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania) had abolished or provided for the gradual abolition of slavery within their boundaries.[49]


There are numerous extant buildings from the colonial era located throughout the state.


The oldest continuously used school site in the state was established in 1664 at Bergen Square, in today's Jersey City.[50]

Two Colonial Colleges were founded in the Province. In 1746, The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) was founded in Elizabethtown by a group of Great Awakening "New Lighters" that included Jonathan Dickinson, Aaron Burr Sr. and Peter Van Brugh Livingston. In 1756, the school moved to Princeton. In 1766, Queens College (now Rutgers University) was founded in New Brunswick by Dutch Reformed ministers with a Royal Charter from George III. The college was named after his wife Queen Charlotte.

Rutgers Preparatory School was founded in 1766. The Newark Academy was founded in 1774.

Continental Congress[edit]

Representatives from New Jersey participated in the Continental Congress before and after the Declaration of Independence.

Revolutionary War[edit]

Many major battles were fought in New Jersey during the American Revolution, making it pivotal in the ultimate victory of the American colonists. The important role earned it the titles of "Crossroads of the Revolution" and the "Capital of the Revolution".

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Scheyichbi Stockton, Frank R. "How Scheyichbi Really Became New Jersey". Retrieved 2012-02-25.
  2. ^ Ruttenber, E.M. (2001). Indian Tribes of Hudson's River (3rd ed.). Hope Farm Press. ISBN 0-910746-98-2.
  3. ^ Shorto, Russell (2004) The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Colony that Shaped America (New York: Random House) ISBN 1-4000-7867-9.
  4. ^ "Jersey City Past and Present | New Jersey City University". Archived from the original on September 15, 2008.
  5. ^ A Brief History of New Sweden in America (they killed all) Archived 2005-12-11 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved December 16, 2005
  6. ^ "GLOUCESTER COUNTY NJ - Swedesboro and Woolwich History". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  7. ^ Shorto, Russell (2004). The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the stupid Colony that Shaped America (New York: Random House)ISBN 1-4000-7867-9.
  8. ^ "A Brief Outline of Dutch History and the New Netherland Colony". Archived from the original on 2009-07-13. Retrieved 2013-02-11.
  9. ^ Westdorp, Martina. "Behouden of opgeven ? Het lot van de nederlandse kolonie Nieuw-Nederland na de herovering op de Engelsen in 1673". De wereld van Peter Stuyvesant (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  10. ^ Jan Mertens (13 October 2008). "New Jersey: Tricentennial flag". Flags of the World. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  11. ^ Thorpe, Francis Newton (December 18, 1998). "The Federal and State constitutions, colonial charters, and other organic laws of the state[s], territories, and colonies now or heretofore forming the United States of America /compiled and edited under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906".
  12. ^ "Slavery in New Jersey".
  13. ^ Elizabeth, New Jersey was not named after Queen Elizabeth I, but rather after the wife of Sir George Carteret, and was founded in 1664.
  14. ^ Streissguth, Thomas (2002). (New Jersey. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc.) ISBN 1-56006-872-8. pp. 24–28
  15. ^ Surrender from the Proprietors of East and West New Jersey, of Their Pretended Right of Government to Her Majesty Archived 2005-12-08 at the Wayback Machine by The Avalon Project at Yale Law School, retrieved December 15, 2005.
  16. ^ Murphy, Andrew R. (2019). William Penn : a life. New York, NY. pp. 114–5. ISBN 9780190234249.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  17. ^ "Council of Proprietors of West Jersey".
  18. ^ Murphy, Andrew R. (2019). William Penn: a life. New York, NY. pp. 117–8. ISBN 9780190234249.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  19. ^ Golway, Terry (December 24, 2006). "Reclaiming the Revolution". The New York Times – via
  20. ^ "The United States of America and the Netherlands". Archived from the original on 2011-05-18. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  21. ^ [1] Schaff, Philip; The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
  22. ^ *Lucas Litchenberg, De Nieuwe Wereld van Peter Stuyvesant: Nederlandse voetsporen in de Verenigde Staten, ISBN 90-5018-426-X, NUGI 470, Uitgeverij Balans, 1999
  23. ^ a b "New Jersey Historical Society". Archived from the original on 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  24. ^ "Tappan: A Walk Through History".
  25. ^ "Hackensack First Reformed".
  26. ^[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ "Belleville Second Reformed".
  28. ^ "Six Mile Run". Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-05-19.
  29. ^ "Ponds Reformed Church - Oakland, NJ". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  30. ^ "First Reformed Church". Archived from the original on 2012-07-07.
  31. ^ "Ridgewood Old Paramus Reformed".
  32. ^ "Harlingen Church". harlingenchurch.
  33. ^ "Pompton Plains Reformed".
  34. ^ Rauchfuss, William H. (September 1, 1930). "The Reformed Dutch Churches of Paterson". Passaic County Historical Publication. Archived from the original on 2015-12-19. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  35. ^ "Ridgefield English NeighborhoodReformed".
  36. ^ Beck, Henry Charleton, Tales and Towns of Northern New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0-8135-1019-8
  37. ^ "Seaville Friends". Oldest Quaker Meeting House in New Jersey, Seaville, New Jersey. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  38. ^ Brecknell, Ursula C. (April 1986). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Quakertown Historic District (Quaker Meeting)". National Park Service. With accompanying 46 photos
  39. ^ "Bordentown Friends". New Jersey Churchscape. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  40. ^ "Smith Friends Meetinghouse". New Jersey Churchscape. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  41. ^ "Greenwich Orthodox Friends". New Jersey Churcscape. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  42. ^ "Salem Friends". New Jersey Churchscape. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  43. ^ "Chesterfield Friends". New Jersey Churchscape. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  44. ^ "Copenny Friends".
  45. ^ "History of New Jersey Baptists, The Baptist Encyclopedia".
  46. ^ a b "Excerpts from History of the First Baptist Church of Piscataway". Archived from the original on 2011-04-11. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
  47. ^ "Ye Olde Yellow Meeting House - New Jersey Historical Markers on".
  48. ^ "History".
  49. ^ Arthur Zilversmit, "Liberty and Property: New Jersey and the Abolition of Slavery," New Jersey History, Dec. 1970, Vol. 88 Issue 4, pp. 215-226.
  50. ^ There has been a school at the northeast corner of Bergen Square since 1664. See "Walking Tour of the Bergen Square". Archived from the original on 2016-06-17. Retrieved 2009-08-03. On the northeast corner of Bergen Square stands P.S. 11 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School). In 1664 the first schoolhouse was built on this lot. From 1790 to 1857 the Columbia Academy stood here until it was replaced by the first of three public schools.

Other sources[edit]

  • Ward, Christopher L. The Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware, 1609-64 (University of Pennsylvania. 1930)
  • Leiby, A. C. The Early Dutch and Swedish Settlers of New Jersey (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co. 1964)

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]