East and West Jersey

In 1664 King Charles II of England gave a large slice of American Seacoast to his brother James, Duke of York, who in turn presented the part we now call New Jersey to two Court friends, John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret.

Both transactions were highly irregular if not downright illegal – for the land belonged to Holland. The King made it legal by declaring war on the Dutch and capturing New Amsterdam which he renamed New York.

For nearly 40 years the Dutch had controlled New Netherlands from Manhattan Island while for a few years Swedes held sway on the Delaware. But with a stroke of a pen Charles wiped Holland from the American map so that today there’s little to show that either Dutch or Swedes, or even the original owners, the American Indian, ever lived in New Jersey. England dominated from Maine to the Carolinas.

The New Jersey business would have been less confused if Charles II had kept control of colonial government – but with 3,000 miles of ocean between England an America the Duke’s grant specified that government go with the soil – so long as the laws did not conflict with England’s. The English called this type of kingly gift a Proprietary Grant and, as the usual phrase, “heirs or assigns” was included in the fine print, the gift could be transferred to others.

No one in England objected when the Duke gave New Jersey to Berkeley and Carteret, for they were part of the court and no one dreamed that the colony could ever fall into the hands of a commoner. But this happened – a decade later—all because of the little phrase – “heirs or assigns.”

In America, one person protested vehemently the Duke’s grant to the nobles. When word came from England, Colonel Nicholls, the deputy-governor wrote to his Master, “Your Royal Highness has given away all the improvable (best) part of your R.H. patent.

Too late, the Duke realized his mistake, but the only thing he could do was to take back Staten Island, which had been in the original patent on the most flimsy excuse that “an arm of the sea flowed around it.”

Nicholls made Phillip Carteret, the New Jersey deputy-governor’s life miserable. On several occasions he tried legally to levy taxes and claim the land in the Duke’s name. However Berkley and Carteret, because of political influence at court managed to keep their province.

The two nobles called their province “Nova Caesaria” or “New Jersey.” There’s a lot of sentiment attached to this English island off the French coast, for here the royal brothers sought sanctuary after their father, Charles I, was dethroned, and was strongly defended by Carteret.

But there’s little sentiment involved in the first settlement of New Jersey – at least by Berkeley and Carteret. True, they wrote a wonderful constitution – New Jersey’s first – which granted many rights denied common man in England. But these rights were written simply to attract settlers. Berkeley and Carteret were out to make a financial killing – they cared nothing for common man.

Quite a few colonists were attracted by this constitution and settled around the New York Bay area but the colony was never the financial success the two courtiers had hoped. Ten years later, (1674) England and Holland were again at war and when a Dutch fleet captured New York, the nobles lost their colony. Both knew the land would become Crown property when England re-conquered New Jersey.

At this juncture Lord Berkeley offered to sell his share to an unsuspecting Quaker named Edward Byllinge. The price: 1,000 pounds. At last Berkeley intended to make a profit on his investment. It was quite a joke, for apparently Byllinge did not realize he was being offered a “pig in a poke” Dutch land to a Quaker!

The business becomes more confused when Byllinge, nearly bankrupt, got John Fenwick; a fellow Quaker, to buy the land for him. Fenwick completed the deal using Byllinge’s money and now, on paper at least, two commoners owned half of New Jersey. That little phrase, “heirs or assigns” caused government to get out of Crown control.

When Quaker creditors learned that Byllinge had spent 1,000 pounds on real estate they forced him into bankruptcy. Three receivers called Trustees, William Penn, Gawan Lawrie and Nicholas Lucas, were appointed to manage Byllinge’s affairs and were expected to settle the bankrupt’s debts as soon as possible. All three men were held in high esteem by Friends.

Now further complications arose – Fenwick refused to give him the New Jersey deed which he had bought. The Quaker had expected to become full partner but Byllinge had only offered him an agent’s fee. This Fenwick turned down and Byllinge threatened to sue. Scandal rocked the Quaker community in London for Quakers never went to law except as a last resort.   Byllinge and Fenwick finally agreed to arbitrate their differences at Friends Meeting and three judges were appointed.

Now a most ridiculous situation arises. It seems logical and proper that three of the best minds among the Friends would be selected to administer to Byllinge’s estate but it seems wholly illogical that these same three, Penn, Lucas and Lawrie, be appointed to arbitrate between Byllinge and Fenwick. Yet this is what happened.

The Trustees were asked, as judges, to decide how much of the New Jersey property belong to Fenwick and how much to Byllinge. If they ruled in favor of Fenwick by giving him half the province their task as Trustees would be much more difficult. If they ruled in favor of the bankrupt, their job would be easier, for the only asset Byllinge had was his share in the American land.

In all fairness Penn and his associates should have disqualified themselves and asked that other judges be appointed. Apparently the conflict of interest concept was unheard of in 17th century England. The trustees accepted the job of arbitrators and, as was expected ruled in Byllinge’s favor. Fenwick was awarded ten percent of the property and Byllinge ninety percent – to be held in trust by the Trustees. The settling by Byllinge’s estate was made much easier.

All of this occurred just as Dutch war came to a close. As expected, England won and New Jersey became Crown land. It is no wonder that one of Penn’s friends wrote, “The business about New Jersey is confusing.

It didn’t take long for the Duke to ask his brother the King, for a new grant but it took a little longer for Carteret to get the Duke to return his part of New Jersey. However the Duke refused to recognize Lord Berkeley’s sale to the Quakers. Here is the situation as it existed in the spring of 1675. Sir George Carteret again owns half of New Jersey. The Quakers hold a deed to the other half – but so far the province has never been divided and the Duke refuses to admit Quaker ownership.

In spite of a clouded title the Trustees preceded as if the title is clear for after all, had not Penn’s father been one of England’s greatest Admirals and was not the Crown in debt to William Penn? This was the Quaker’s ace-in-the-hole, Penn, the Quaker, was friendly with the House of Stuart. So the situation from the Quakers’ viewpoint was not as bad as it might appear. Now Penn began to put pressure on the Duke to get recognition – but the first break came from a different quarter.   In some manner Penn persuaded old George Carteret to divide the province. This was accomplished by the so-called Quintiparti Deed and gave some status to the Quaker’s claim.

There’s a line today on most New Jersey maps that runs from a point near Beach Haven to the upper reaches of the Delaware River. It marks the northeastern border of Burlington County and runs just west of Princeton. It’s called the East-West Jersey Line and approximates the division between Carteret’s land and Quaker territory. All land to the east of this line is called East New Jersey and all to the west – West New Jersey.

If you’ve been confused when people refer to the state as “The Jerseys” just remember that at one time there were two provinces – East and West.

With the Quakers now knowing their boundaries one would assume that all would be smooth sailing. But no – the New Jersey business was to be further confused. Although the Trustees hoped to quickly settle the bankrupt’s affairs Penn now saw an opportunity to form a sanctuary for Quakers in the new world.

West Jersey was to be Penn’s “Holy Experiment.” Penn knew the boundaries but not the acreage of the proposed colony. How to divide? Penn had the answer. He formed a stock company. He gave Fenwick 10 shares and held the rest in trust for Byllinge. These shares were given to Byllinge’s creditors and some sold to other Quakers. Thus all stockholders, later called Proprietors, would own a percentage of all the land.

To discourage large estates Penn proposed that the whole province be split into 10 divisions, later called Tenths, and that each stockholder be made to take his portion in each and every division.
As an example: a person holding one share of stock would be entitled to 1-100th of each and every division.

Now a Quaker further muddled the waters of the New Jersey business. John Fenwick, who owned 10 shares, objected to Penn’s proposal. He wanted to take his 10 shares and settle a colony of his own.   In spite of the Trustee’s objections, Fenwick raised an expedition and in the fall of 1675 sailed for the Delaware where he settled the town of Salem. It was a sad day for the Quakers, for Fenwick got into all kinds of trouble and nearly wrecked the West Jersey Colony.

In the meantime Penn sent no colonist to West Jersey until he was prepared. It was during this time that he divided the province with George Carteret and wrote a constitution for the new colony.

Even today, this constitution that Penn wrote in 1676 is considered one of the most freedom-loving documents ever written for an American colony. All the ideals and dreams of persecuted peoples are embodied in the Charter. The Constitution is called the Concessions and Agreements.  It is the first American constitution which spells out separation of Church and State. It also gave women and free blacks the right to vote if they could show that they had assets of at least 50 pounds.

The colonists were cautious in their claims until 1680 when the Duke recognized the Quakers right to govern.   Because of the difficulties involving land matters the Assembly found they had little time for affairs of government. In 1688 they suggested the stock holders set up a separate body to administer land matters.   The Proprietors (stockholders) formed two councils of Proprietors, East Jersey Proprietors and West Jersey Proprietors to handle land matters. In 1998 East Jersey Proprietors, then the oldest NJ Corporation dissolved placing their records in the state archives and selling their land to the green acres program.   In 2005 the West Jersey Proprietors placed their records in the state archives will retaining ownership. They are now the oldest NJ Corporation.  The two Proprietors remained east and west even after under pressure from the Crown in 1702 New Jersey was united under a Royal Charter.