South Jersey Heritage: A Social, Economic and Cultural History - R. Craig Koedel

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From Quaker Commonwealth to Crown Colony

      After a fanciful plan for New Albion vanished, the English, involved with other colonies in the New World and wracked by civil war, bided their time as the Dutch and Swedes contended for possession of the Delaware. Never having relinquished her claim to the coast of North America, the island kingdom struck in 1664, four years after the Stuart Restoration. In that year, Charles II awarded to his brother James, the Duke of York, all the lands lying between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers, to be apportioned and governed as he chose.

      The duke, in turn, on June 23 gave to two court favorites, Sir George Carteret and John Lord Berkeley, the territory lying between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, decreeing that the "said Tract of Land hereafter is to be called by the name or names of New Caesarea or New Jersey." The naming was an expression of gratitude to Carteret, the man who governed the Isle of Jersey and defended it for the crown during the English Civil War. Meanwhile, James dispatched Colonel Richard Nicholls, equipped with a fleet and an army, to seize New Netherland. Upon the Dutch surrender, the name of the village on Manhattan Island was changed to New York. The victorious Nicholls then sent Sir Robert Carr to the Delaware to take possession of the settlements there. Although no armed opposition greeted Carr, in a needless show of strength he blasted off two kegs of powder and twenty shots, by which several settlers were killed.

      When Lord Berkeley’s financial entanglements rendered him insolvent, he was eager to forego the long-term profits his American holdings could give him in exchange for ready cash. Thereupon, he sold his half of New Jersey, an area as yet undefined, in a transaction of March 18, 1673 with John Fenwick, a member of the Society of Friends (commonly called Quakers), for the price of 1000 pounds. Fenwick made the purchase as the agent of another Quaker, Edward Byllynge. Because Byllynge was in financial trouble at the time, he could not consummate the deal on his own behalf without risking devastation by his creditors. Eventually, his affairs became so involved that three Quakers of substance and ability, among them William Penn, were appointed trustees of his estate until he could be extricated from his financial woes.

      The leadership of the Society of Friends was eager to found a colony in the New World where they would be safe from persecution, and in which they could establish a commonwealth resting on the political, moral, and social tenets of their faith. Each person would be free to worship according to his own conscience, all would be equal before the law, and opportunity for advancement would be available to everyone without restraint. In turn, hard work, plain living, and the development of spiritual values would be expected of all.

      Byllynge and the trustees spent three years developing a plan for creating in New Jersey a haven for their fellow Quakers. A division line between their holdings and those of Carteret had to be established, a plan for a government was needed, and if Quaker colonizers were to be attracted to New Jersey, advertisements were necessary. The first of these matters was disposed of by the Quintipartite Deed of July 1, 1676, by which Carteret, Byllynge, and the three trustees agreed that the boundary line should run north by west from the mouth of the Little Egg Harbor River (the Mullica) to the uppermost tip of the province. Berkeley’s former holdings were called West New Jersey.

      The region to be settled was divided into 100 shares, or proprieties, to be sold at the usual price of 350 pounds each. Any purchase of a share, or a part thereof, carried with it the right to participation in the government of the province. Ten of the shares were allotted to Fenwick in recognition of his part as Byllynge’s agent in carrying off the transaction with Lord Berkeley. To announce their plans, descriptions of the lands to be taken up were printed and distributed.

      A constitution, entitled the Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders, and Inhabitants of the Province of West New-Jersey in America, was devised. A model of liberality and humanity, the Concessions and Agreements provided for the annual election of a representative assembly, guaranteed the right to freedom of worship on the principle that "no man, nor number of men on earth, hath power or authority to rule over men’s consciences in religious matters," and assured to anyone accused of a crime a public trial by jury, to take place only after a formal indictment. Proof of guilt could be established only by the testimony of at least two reliable witnesses. Illegal arrest and imprisonment for debt were barred.

      Fenwick was understandably furious at what, to him, amounted to a swindle by Byllynge, Penn, and the others since, according to his claim, he had paid Lord Berkeley with his own money. Although he later deeded nine-tenths of his purchase to the trustees and received, in exchange, 900 pounds, a proportionate amount of his original payment, he was only partly mollified by Penn, who entreated him to "fall closely to thy business . . . make the best of what thou hast; thy grandchildren be in the other world before the land thou hast allotted will be employed." Fenwick decided to act alone in colonizing his shares. Forthwith, he advertised for buyers and for skilled artisans especially to go with him to the New World. Most of the inhabitants there, he pointed out, were farmers. Tradesmen, being few, "live happily there, as Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Masons, Taylors, Weavers, Shoemakers, Tanners, Brickmakers, and so many other Trades."

      Having organized an expedition, Fenwick and his passengers sailed for America aboard the Griffin in early autumn, 1675. They arrived on the Delaware, at the mouth of Varkens Kill, in November. The place of their landing Fenwick called New Salem, because of the "delightsomeness of the land."

      Although his by right of purchase from Lord Berkeley and allocation from Byllynge’s trustees, Fenwick nevertheless consolidated his claim by buying from the Indians an area comprising all of today’s Salem and Cumberland Counties. In addition to guns and powder, the Indians received in payment from the Quaker 300 gallons of rum. The region came to be called Fenwick’s Colony, or Fenwick’s Tenth, being one-tenth of the 100 shares into which West Jersey was divided. Eventually, when his business affairs in London had to be untangled by the trustees, Fenwick’s holdings were reduced to the territory around the little settlement at Salem town. William Penn received the bulk of Fenwick’s shares.

      The arrangements complete, the first group of Byllynge’s colonizers were ready to depart for the New World by the fall of 1677. Most of them were Quakers of Yorkshire and London. As their ship, the Kent, left the dock at London and headed down the Thames, they were hailed by the king, relaxing aboard the royal yacht. Upon learning that the passengers aboard the Kent were Quakers, the monarch gave them godspeed as they journeyed to their new homes. Despite the king’s blessing, it was a tiresome voyage for the 230 Englishmen aboard a ship crowded with livestock and all the necessaries for setting up households in a wilderness. In October, they made landfall at Raccoon Creek.

      At Raccoon, the Yorkshire and London Quakers enjoyed the hospitality of the Swedish settlers until they could negotiate a land settlement with the Indians and select a site for a village. They agreed upon a Delaware River location several miles upstream from Raccoon, where they established a town called Burlington, the nucleus of what would become the second most prominent Quaker community in America, after Philadelphia.

      Quickly, other ships sailing from English ports bound for West Jersey brought Quakers to the shores of the Delaware. By the middle of 1679, their numbers had increased to 800. A group of Irish Quakers left from Dublin in 1681 to settle the Irish Tenth, the area comprising part of what became Gloucester County. Although the influx of Quakers to New Jersey lessened considerably after 1682, when William Penn transferred the center of Quaker settlement in America to his new colony of Pennsylvania, by the end of the 17th century, of a total West Jersey population in excess of 3300 persons, more than two-thirds were Quakers.

      Not all the members of the Society of Friends departing England and Ireland in the 17th century pointed their ships toward the Delaware. Some planted settlements on Long Island, and in New England, where for the most part they were not kindly received. Unlike their co-religionists on the Delaware, who turned to farming as a chief occupation, these families looked to the sea, and the pursuit of the whale, for their livelihood. In the 1690’s, in the search for more freedom and a larger catch, a small group of northern Quakers moved southward along the shore to the ocean side of West Jersey province, to settle at such places as Leeds Point, the mouth of the Great Egg Harbor River, and the coastal strip of Cape May County. An English Quaker, John Somers, who settled first in Pennsylvania, purchased land for a plantation along Great Egg Harbor Bay shortly after 1690.

      Although by 1700 nearly 70% of the population of West Jersey were Quakers of English or Irish origin, and another 1000 were Swedes and Finns, English-speaking people of other religious persuasions had begun to settle the province.

      Baptists from England, Ireland, the colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania, and New England settled at Cape May and in Fenwick’s Colony during the last quarter of the century. Puritans from New Haven colony entered into the Fairfield Agreement, an instrument by which a New England-type township was created along the Cohansey River, in 1697. They had migrated to the future Cumberland County some years, perhaps as many as thirty-five or forty, before the formal agreement was drawn up. Of the total population, the Baptists and Puritans, with a few scattered Anglicans, constituted no more than 5%.

      During the earlier years in which English-speaking peoples, by setting up a permanent, thriving colony, captured undisputed claim to the territory, West Jersey was governed by Edward Byllynge, a non-resident executive who acted through a deputy-governor. For the most part, the governor, albeit he had the sole political power by conferment from the Duke of York, administered the province in the spirit of the Concessions and Agreements, recognizing the civil and religious liberties granted by the constitution, and allowing the citizens representation in an elected assembly. No great change was made in 1687 by his successor to the governorship, and the one who also purchased most of his lands, Dr. Daniel Coxe. In 1691, the physician, who never came to America, sold most of his shares, and with them the power of government, to the West Jersey Society, a London-based company of real estate investors with holdings in both the Jerseys and Pennsylvania.

      Under the Society’s governance, West Jersey affairs ceased to be dominated by Quakers. Also during the years of their control, the province was first divided into counties. The first county to be created was Cape May, on November 12, 1692. Previous to this date, residents of the Third (Irish) and Fourth Tenths had declared themselves a county, but not until May 17, 1694 was the County of Gloucester officially created by the provincial legislature. At the same time, the Egg Harbor region was placed under its jurisdiction. In 1710, Egg Harbor was formally incorporated with Gloucester County. Salem was selected in 1682 as one of two West Jersey towns (the other being Burlington) in which annual Courts of Sessions would be held, thus making Salem, in effect, a county comprising all of the six southernmost counties of present-day New Jersey. However, an act formalizing Salem as a county and defining its boundaries with Cape May and Gloucester was not passed until May 17, 1694. Cumberland was a part of Salem County until 1748.

      By the last decade of the 17th century, it had become evident that proprietary government, as it operated in New Jersey, was of neither the stability nor the efficiency needed to maintain the civil and economic well-being of the people, in particular the land owners. Consequently, the proprietors of both the New Jersey provinces were content, even eager, to relinquish control of the government to the crown in exchange for greater economic security. Accordingly, they surrendered power to Queen Anne in April, 1702. The Jerseys were then united as a single crown colony.

      Few privileges were actually given up. The proprietors retained both their property rights and a measure of political control. The crown appointed a royal governor, whose instructions were the essence of a constitution. The governor ruled with a council appointed by the crown from among the leading proprietors. The council acted as the governor’s advisor, was the upper house of the provincial legislature, and sat as the highest court of appeal. A representative assembly, the lower house, was chosen by the citizenry in elections called at the discretion of the governor. The right to levy taxes, and to grant funds or withhold them, even for the governor’s salary, was vested in the representatives of the people. Although the assembly could initiate legislation, all its acts were subject to the approval of the crown. The civil and religious liberties of the proprietary era were continued, but their application was limited to Protestants.

      From a wilderness, the western edges of South Jersey were transformed, in the 1698 description by Gabriel Thomas, into an idyllic, peaceful English countryside, with an air that was "very clear, sweet and wholesome." Fenwick’s "pretty town" of Salem sat amid orchards of apple, cherry, pear, plum, and peach trees. They were "the natural product of this country, which lies warmer, being more befriended by the sun’s hot and glorious beams, which without doubt is the chief cause and true reason why the fruit there so far excells the English." Sheep, covered with wool "very fine, white and thick," dropped two lambs at once in the spring. Great stocks of cattle and oxen grazed in the pasture, hogs of prodigious size fed in the woods beside horses, "very hardy, strong and of good spirit for labor or travelling." There were bees aplenty, fish in great variety, and wild and tame fowl "incredible in numbers," among them the mocking bird, "uncommon and valuable . . . , known but not well in England." Gardens of vegetables, flowers, and herbs cradled the "great brick houses" of the country estates.

      Salem, the "ancientist" but not the "chiefest town in that countrey," was a market town, with several yearly fairs and a "commodious dock" along the river, where vessels to and from Barbadoes and other islands could tie up. Salem’s "stately brick houses" were many and fine, their storehouses well-furnished with "bread, beer, beef and pork, as also butter and cheese."

      Gloucester town, "a very fine and pleasant place," notable for its summer fruits, was resorted to by Philadelphia young people, who would cross over "in the wherries" to sit within sight of the city while they ate strawberries and cream.

      Thomas wrote this description, as he said, "to inform all (but especially the poor) what ample and happy livelihoods people may gain in those parts, whereby they may subsist very well without either begging or stealing. . . ."

      In the 18th century, the Europeans came, as they had in the decades before, and in great numbers. A natural increase among those who arrived earlier also swelled the population.

      By 1726, the figure for the three counties of Gloucester, Salem, and Cape May stood at 6874, a 225% increase over the estimated population of 1699. During this period, Gloucester County was growing more rapidly than either of the other two counties. The eleven years following 1726 saw a continuing moderate growth, with a total of 10,155 residents in the three southern counties by 1737. This represented a 48% increase in eleven years. The rate of growth declined over the next nine years. Nearing the mid-century mark, in 1745, the population stood at 11,541, only a 14% increase over the 1737 figures, or an average annual growth just in excess of one and one-half percent. This trend was reversed in the decades leading up to the Revolution. Between 1745 and 1784, the average annual rate of growth was slightly under 4%, for a total population of 27,693 in the southern counties in 1784. Of these, Gloucester County continued to undergo the fastest rate of growth.

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