Colonial New Jersey

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Colonial English Research

This article is part of a series.

Overview of Colonial English Research
Colonial New Hampshire
Colonial Massachusetts
Colonial Rhode Island
Colonial Connecticut
Colonial New York
Colonial New Jersey
Colonial Pennsylvania
Colonial Delaware
Colonial Maryland
Colonial Virginia
Colonial North Carolina
Colonial South Carolina
Colonial Georgia
List of Useful Colonial English Resources

This article originally appeared in "Colonial English Research" by Robert Charles Anderson, MA, FASG in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Jurisdictional History

Prior to the conquest of New Amsterdam by the English in 1664, the area that was to become New Jersey was a sparsely populated extension of New Amsterdam. Soon after the conquest, the Duke of York granted New Jersey to John Lord Berkeley and Sir John Carteret. In 1676 this region was divided into two proprieties, which were named East Jersey and West Jersey. The proprietors in each of these jurisdictions controlled both the government and the granting of land until 1702, when New Jersey became a royal province. The governor of New York was also the governor of New Jersey, but the proprietors retained control of the land. In 1738, New Jersey became completely independent of New York and, for the remainder of the colonial period, had its own royally appointed governor.

In 1683, East Jersey was divided into four counties: Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, and Monmouth. In the early 1690s, four counties were established in West Jersey: Burlington, Cape May, Gloucester, and Salem. These eight counties were the predecessors of all the remaining New Jersey counties.


Like New York, New Jersey was a region of transition from the town-based proprietary system to the colony-based system. This section focuses on East Jersey to see how this system worked.

Prior to the English takeover in 1664, most of the European population in what would become East Jersey was in the settlement of Bergen, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Almost immediately after the grant from the Duke of York to Berkeley and Carteret, township grants were made to settlers who came from various parts of New England. In 1664 the patent for Elizabethtown was issued, and in 1666 this tract of land was subdivided into three parts, thus giving rise to the new towns of Woodbridge and Piscataway. In 1665 the Monmouth Patent was issued, and, within a few years, this area evolved into the towns of Middletown and Shrewsbury. Finally, in 1666 the patent for Newark was granted. Thus, by 1670 most of the settlers in the northeastern part of New Jersey could be found in one of these seven towns, one (Bergen) dating from the period of Dutch settlement, and the other six being formed within five years after the English conquest by men from New England.

These New England-style towns were issued charters by the proprietors. For example, Woodbridge received its charter on 1 June 1669. Among the rights granted was that the 'Freeholders or the major part of them are equally to divide the aforesaid tract of upland and meadows among themselves,' very much in the way that the proprietors of New England towns operated.<ref>Joseph W. Dally, Woodbridge and Vicinity: The Story of a New Jersey Township (New Brunswick, N.J., 1873; Lambertville, New Jersey, 1989), 298'302.</ref> However, the patent goes on to require that these town grants made by the freeholders were 'to be entered upon record by the Secretary or Recorder General of the province' and 'to hold his land by patent from the Lords Proprietors and to pay them . . . rent yearly,' which were actions not required in New England. For much land in this part of New Jersey, then, there may well be two distinct records of the original grant: an entry in the town book and a patent issued at the colony level.

The earliest records of the granting of land at the colony level are contained in a series of books that also include a wide variety of other records, including probate matters, Indian deeds, court proceedings, and so on. These volumes were begun before the division of New Jersey into East and West Jersey in 1683. The years 1664 through 1703 have been abstracted into Volume 21 of the New Jersey Archives series.<ref>William Nelson, ed., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, vol. 21, Calendar of Records in the Office of the Secretary of State. 1664'1703 (Paterson, N.J., 1899; Baltimore, 1976).</ref> This series of records also contains straightforward warranty deeds from person to person, of land earlier granted by the town or colony.

After the division of the region into East and West Jersey in 1683, the focus for landgranting was in the two capitals of Burlington (West Jersey) and Perth Amboy (East Jersey). Although counties were formed very soon after this, the recording of deeds was retained in these two capitals until 1785 (although the recording of mortgages at the county level began in 1766). Thus, for most of the first century of the existence of New Jersey, the researcher must look both in province and town records for information about land transfers. For those generations living in the middle of the eighteenth century, the researcher may need to look in all three jurisdictions: province, county, and town.

Case Studies

Francis James Dallett, 'The Inter-Colonial Grimstone Boude and His Family,' Genealogist 2 (1981): 74'114. This article might have been brought forth as a model for research in several of the colonies. Several members of the family lived at various times in New Jersey, and Dallett has made good use of the published New Jersey Archives, especially the wills and the West Jersey Records.

Phyllis J. Miller, 'Abraham Garrison of Cumberland County, New Jersey, and Some of His Descendants,' American Genealogist 74 (1999): 58'71. Miller consults many of the standard court records of Salem and Cumberland counties but also examines Presbyterian church records and New Jersey tax and militia lists in tracing the life of Abraham Garrison and his children.