Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

Settlers of West Jersey

The close of the seventeenth century in England was marked, in one respect, by a widespread interest concerning colonial affairs. The age of fable touching the mother country's transatlantic possessions, when effort was made to find the palm-crowned isles of the Indies at the headwaters of the Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, and James Rivers, or to seek for gold in Virginia or silver in Massachusetts, had given place to a period when sober, common sense was asserting itself. Peace reigned in England, and rural and municipal industries were thriving to the degree that the problem of congestion of population in great centers was a factor in social life.

Charles II as prodigal with his favors of land grants to his adherents as he was of money to the beauties of his court, had already granted New Jersey to Carteret and Berkeley, as well as Pennsylvania to William Penn. Having thus discharged his debts, he left to the proprietors the burden of peopling their domains, and of providing fit and proper governments for their lands oversea. To accomplish these ends the owners of New Jersey and Pennsylvania were most active. Although Carteret and Berkeley's interests became lodged in proprietary boards, and Penn's estate was managed by agents, the British Isles, and indeed most of Eastern Europe, rang with the advantages of Pennsylvania and the Jerseys as a place where man could find health and liberty and the enjoyment of perfect happiness. Pamphlets, tracts, circulars, broadsides, and volumes of merit spread the gospel of colonization.

But it was West Jersey that offered to the prospective settler the rarest advantages. The Delaware, open to the sea, and suitable for the largest ships and the up-building of trade, received many tributary streams, sluggish and shallow, whose banks were loamy and fertile. Undeniably was it true that the low and easily tilled plains which swept eastward and southward from the Delaware, the short winters and long, hot summers, and the supply of timber made life less rigorous along the Delaware than it was on the banks of the rivers emptying into New York Bay. To the southward were the tidal meadows covered with sea fowl, in the forests game in such abundance that no man need starve. To the settler were such alluring prospects held out, coupled with the assurance of a stable, democratic form of government.

The towns upon the Delaware and its streams sprang into being under the advent of a body of settlers whose customs, modes of life, and desires were directed toward a common object. The Quaker brought to West Jersey a steadfast purpose, a hope, maybe a dream, that the new colony would be a model for the world, but, in a land of plenty and under the influence of an equitable climate, a natural tendency asserted itself. As compared with East Jersey, the unconscious but constant tendency was to develop along the lines of least natural resistance, to use what was present rather than create for the future, and to drift into a state of existence of which the motto was laissez faire.

The most characteristic feature of the economic development of West Jersey was the establishment of a land-owning class. Whether or not this was designed will probably never be known, but certain it is that those who had money or ready credit invested heavily, as the records show, in real estate. As the ownership of land was, at the time, an indication of wealth, the men of the largest acreages were given a prominence which naturally brought with it the best and most profitable relationships in the commercial, political, and religious life of the period. The result was the formation of a plantation-owning aristocracy, which was perpetuated by a certain religious tenet.

It was the rule of the Society of Friends to "marry in meeting"; that is the union of a Quaker and a Presbyterian or Episcopalian was not only discountenanced, but was absolutely forbidden, to the degree of religious and social ostracism. Thus it was that a wealthy member of the Society, having a daughter, sought to unite her in marriage to some worthy young man of another land-owning family, and join the two estates. The result was that thousands of acres came into the possession of comparatively few families. There grew up a social condition not unlike that of tidewater Virginia and Maryland, differing, however, in the fact that amusements, diversions, and laxities permitted in the South were absolutely prohibited in West Jersey. But in so far that the men became wealthy farmers, and owners of saw and grist mills, content to secure the luxuries of life from city merchants, and to use up at home the products of their farms, the similarity between West Jersey and Virginia or Maryland is perfect.

Not only were the two Jerseys different in natural advantages, but in the political and religious concepts of the settlers, although the dominant spirit was English, there was marked variation. In East Jersey the small towns became stirring entities, with an intense individuality. In West Jersey the county capitals were surrounded by small satellites. The rigors of stern New England justice spread terror among offenders of Newark, Amboy, and Shrewsbury. In Burlington and Salem no public execution, so far as is known, ever took place. In the one colony the Calvinistic ministers echoed the thunders from Sinai; the other repeated again and again the Sermon on the Mount. While the Calvinists cried aloud that there should be some who would forever endure torment, cursed by original sin, the Quakers bent in silent prayer, in the belief that no one who repented would be lost. One kept the sacred ordinances; the other threw them all aside. The Calvinist too often preached the doctrine of lex talionis, the Quaker the doctrine of non-resistance. One had its paid ministry, with glebe and a highly developed organization of its congregations; the other had its "accepted ministers," who received no pay, and with the elders governed the Society. Among the Calvinists there was a democratic sentiment, naturally engendered by the virility of the faith; among the Quakers a constant bent toward conservatism, which ultimately served to weaken the Society, but which was its earliest and greatest source of strength.

But the religion of neither the Calvinist nor the Quaker was an outward garb. With all the fanaticism and uplifting of a dogma there was an intensity and earnestness about both that made their denominational fervor something more than a convenience and a mere outward show. At least, Calvinist and Quaker had one object in common, the stamping upon the individual the full force of their religious teaching. This applied equally to his domestic or to his political affairs, in which latter phase both faiths tended to strengthen the doctrine that the hope of a nation lies in the establishment and perpetuation of a Christian state.

New Jersey as a Colony and as a State, One of the Original Thirteen, by Francis Bazley Lee, Associate Board of Editors William S. Stryker, LL.D.: William Nelson, A.M., Garret D. W. Vroom: Ernest C. Richardson, PH. D.; Volume One; The Publishing Society of New Jersey New York MDCCCCII (1902) transcribed by Fred Kunchick

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