350 years of records
We are brash, we are loud and we are always a bit confused.
How else can you live in a state with a football stadium where not one, but two different professional teams play… and both of them take their names from a city that isn’t even located in the state?
Where all of the television stations are located across a river to the north and east or the south and west?
Where you pay a toll to leave, but not to enter?
And where, yesterday, we celebrated a big, bold, brash birthday?
We are New Jersey, and yesterday was our 350th birthday.
All across the state, at noon, we rang our church bells, blew our sirens, even blew the shofar, for a full minute in celebration of the day, 350 years ago, when James, Duke of York, relinquished lands he’d received from Charles II to Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley. The lands were described as “all that tract of land adjacent to New England, and lying and being to the westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson’s river, and hath upon the west Delaware bay or river, and extendeth southward to the main ocean as far as Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware bay.”1
Three hundred and fifty years of history.
And three hundred and fifty years of records.
Starting with the most amazing set of records imaginable: the records of the Proprietors of East and West Jersey.
You see, the original colony of New Jersey was divided into two parts. Governance of East Jersey was centered in Perth Amboy, which became the provincial capital in 16862 and in Burlington for West Jersey.3
The Proprietors of those two provinces gave up the right to try to govern the “increasingly restless and riotous” residents4 but kept the right to control the land.
And do you know how long the Proprietors kept control of at least some New Jersey land?
Here’s the answer:
In 1998, the East Jersey Proprietors—then New Jersey’s oldest corporation—dissolved and sold their rights to unappropriated land to the state’s Green Acres program. … The West Jersey Proprietors continue as an active corporation based in Burlington, NJ, and retain legal ownership of their original records.5
That’s right. Right up to today in West Jersey, to 1998 in East Jersey.
Now think about all those years… and all those records. And, as New Jersey’s State Archivist Joseph R. Klett explains, when the East Jersey Proprietors dissolved, “the East Jersey records were transferred from Perth Amboy to the State Archives in Trenton. In December 2005, the West Jersey Proprietors deposited their records with the State Archives as well, thus uniting all of New Jersey’s colonial land records under one roof.”6
What can you find in those records? Klett describes them this way:
The records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors document over three hundred and forty years of land transactions and settlement in New Jersey. While the earliest volumes of proprietary deeds, surveys and government commissions were united in the office of the Secretary of State at the time or soon after Trenton was established as the state capital in 1790, a large volume of books containing just surveys or warrants and certain other early records were retained by the proprietors.
Since the recording of land conveyances is and has always been voluntary, and since this function was not fully available in the county seats until 1785 for deeds and 1766 for mortgages, proprietary survey records are vital for documenting colonial land-owning families. Throughout the records are buried innumerable genealogical facts and connections. …(V)ery little has been published in terms of abstracts or transcripts of the proprietary land records…7
Minutes of the Proprietors — 1685 to 1998 for East Jersey and 1688 to 1951 for West Jersey — are in the collection. Deeds and wills, surveys and warrants, road books, quit-rent records, dividend records, maps and account books exist for East Jersey. Minutes, account books, surveys and warrants, rules and regulations, fee books, maps and drawing for West Jersey.
A veritable treasure trove of colonial records…
All available — at least in part, already (some processing and cataloguing remains to be done) — at the New Jersey State Archives.
Consider it a present from the birthday state of New Jersey to anyone with colonial ancestors from here.
- “The Duke of York’s Release to John Lord Berkeley, and Sir George Carteret, 24th of June, 1664,” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library (http://avalon.law.yale.edu: accessed 24 June 2014). ↩
- Joseph R. Klett, “Using the Records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors,” New Jersey State Archives (2008), PDF at 6 (http://www.nj.gov/state/archives/pdf/proprietors.pdf : accessed 24 June 2014). ↩
- See ibid., PDF at 1, 7. ↩
- Joseph R. Klett, “The Founding of New Jersey,” The Official NJ350 Blog, posted 20 June 2014 (http://officialnj350.com/category/the-official-nj350-blog/ : accessed 24 June 2014). ↩
- Klett, “Using the Records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors,” PDF at 1. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩