New Jersey Family History Research
History of New Jersey
After Henry Hudson’s initial explorations of the Hudson and Delaware River areas, numerous Dutch settlements were attempted in New Jersey, beginning as early as 1618. These settlements were soon abandoned because of altercations with the Lenni-Lenape (or Delaware), the original inhabitants. A more lasting settlement was made from 1638 to 1655 by the Swedes and Finns along the Delaware as part of New Sweden, and this continued to flourish although the Dutch eventually gained control over this area and made it part of New Netherland. By 1639, there were as many as six boweries, or small plantations, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson across from Manhattan. Two major confrontations with the native Indians in 1643 and 1655 destroyed all Dutch settlements in northern New Jersey, and not until 1660 was the first permanent settlement established—the village of Bergen, today part of Jersey City.
Of the settlers throughout the colonial period, only the English outnumbered the Dutch in New Jersey. When England acquired the New Netherland Colony from the Dutch in 1664, King Charles II gave his brother, the Duke of York (later King James II), all of New York and New Jersey. The duke in turn granted New Jersey to two of his creditors, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. The land was named Nova Caesaria for the Isle of Jersey, Carteret’s home.
The year that England took control there was a large influx of English from New England and Long Island who, for want of more or better land, settled the East Jersey towns of Elizabethtown, Middletown, Piscataway, Shrewsbury, and Woodbridge. A year later, migrants from Connecticut founded Newark. In 1685 a large group of Scots came to Perth Amboy, but they were not part of the great wave of Ulster-Scots who in the 1720s began their immigration to the New World, including New Jersey. For a brief period, from 1673 to 1674, the Dutch regained control of New Jersey and New York, but it soon reverted back to the English.
The King renewed his agreement with Carteret for control of the northern part of the colony, but not with Berkeley, who was forced to sell his interests in the southern part to Quaker John Fenwick. When Carteret died, his widow sold his interests to another group of Quakers, which included William Penn, who in 1676, forced the setting of a boundary that divided the colony into two provinces, East and West. These provinces were controlled by proprietors, with capitols at Perth Amboy and Burlington, respectively. The poorly surveyed boundary cut diagonally across the state in such a way that all of the southern part fell in West Jersey, and the northern in East Jersey.
For two years beginning in April 1688, New Jersey was, with New York, part of the Dominion of New England, but no significant records of New Jersey seem to have been generated in its capital of Boston. The proprietors of both provinces gave up their right to rule in 1702 but continued to control first sales of the land. (The West Jersey Proprietors still hold this right today, although unappropriated parcels are rare; the East Jersey Proprietors dissolved in 1998.) New Jersey was then under united rule by the royal governor of New York and New Jersey until 1738, after which New Jersey had its own royal governor.
Significant migrations and immigrations continued into the eighteenth century, including the French Huguenots, who fled France. New Yorkers, mostly from Long Island, Staten Island, and New York City, settled throughout New Jersey, constituting the majority of the population in many counties. A large Dutch migration formed the basis of settlement in Bergen and Somerset counties, and contributed to the peopling of Middlesex and Monmouth counties. Some of the Palatines who immigrated to New York in 1709 came to New Jersey, as did Germans who entered through Philadelphia throughout the 1700s. Descendants of some of these families migrated to northwestern New Jersey.
New Jersey was a major battleground during the Revolutionary War, with more battles fought on its soil than in any other colony. Both American and British troops ravaged much of New Jersey as both armies passed back and forth from New York and Pennsylvania, which caused some destruction of records. New Jersey residents were quite divided by the war, and a large number of Loyalists left for Canada.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the state continued to grow through increased development of transportation, including the completion in 1834 of a canal connecting the Delaware and Raritan rivers that enabled faster travel between Philadelphia and New York. Since New Jersey is completely surrounded by water, with the exception of its forty-eight-mile border with New York, the canal remained one of its major means of transportation until the Civil War.
The years immediately before and following the war saw the coming of the railroads and development of roadways, which today make New Jersey the major corridor between the northeast and the south. The 1800s also saw New Jersey develop industrially, starting with the establishment of the nation’s first factory town at the site of present-day Paterson. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, with many of its families moving back and forth, to and from—and many of its residents commuting to work in—the neighboring states of New York and Pennsylvania.