Chronicles of America 

Scotch Covenanters And Others In East Jersey

East Jersey was totally different in its topography from West Jersey. The northern half of the State is a region of mountains and lakes. As part of the original continent it had been under the ice sheet of the glacial age and was very unlike the level sands, swamps, and pine barrens of West Jersey which had arisen as a shoal and island from the sea. The only place in East Jersey where settlement was at all easy was along the open meadows which were reached by water near the mouth of the Hudson, round Newark Bay, and along the Hackensack River.

The Dutch, by the discoveries of Henry Hudson in 1609, claimed the whole region between the Hudson and the Delaware. They settled part of East Jersey opposite their headquarters at New York and called it Pavonia. But their cruel massacre of some Indians who sought refuge among them at Pavonia destroyed the prospects of the settlement. The Indians revenged themselves by massacring the Dutch again and again, every time they attempted to reestablish Pavonia. This kept the Dutch out of East Jersey until 1660, when they succeeded in establishing Bergen between Newark Bay and the Hudson.

The Dutch authority in America was overthrown in 1664 by Charles II, who had already given all New Jersey to his brother the Duke of York. Colonel Richard Nicolls commanded the British expedition that seized the Dutch possessions; and he had been given full power as deputy governor of all the Duke of York's vast territory.

Meantime the New England Puritans seem to have kept their eyes on East Jersey as a desirable region, and the moment the Connecticut Puritans heard of Nicolls' appointment, they applied to him for a grant of a large tract of land on Newark Bay. In the next year, 1665, he gave them another tract from the mouth of the Raritan to Sandy Hook; and soon the villages of Shrewsbury and Middletown were started.

Meantime, however, unknown to Nicolls, the Duke of York in England had given all of New Jersey to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. As has already been pointed out, they had divided the province between them, and East Jersey had fallen to Carteret, who sent out, with some immigrants, his relative Philip Carteret as governor. Governor Carteret was of course very much surprised to find so much of the best land already occupied by the excellent and thrifty Yankees. As a consequence, litigation and sometimes civil war over this unlucky mistake lasted for a hundred years. Many of the Yankee settlers under the Nicolls grant refused to pay quitrents to Carteret or his successors and, in spite of a commission of inquiry from England in 1751 and a chancery suit, they held their own until the Revolution of 1776 extinguished all British authority.

There was therefore from the beginning a strong New England tinge in East Jersey which has lasted to this day. Governor Carteret established a village on Newark Bay which still bears the name Elizabeth, which he gave it in honor of the wife of the proprietor, and he made it the capital. There were also immigrants from Scotland and England. But Puritans from Long Island and New England continued to settle round Newark Bay. By virtue either of character or numbers, New Englanders were evidently the controlling element, for they established the New England system of town government, and imposed strict Connecticut laws, making twelve crimes punishable with death. Soon there were flourishing little villages, Newark and Elizabeth, besides Middletown and Shrewsbury. The next year Piscatawa and Woodbridge were added. Newark and the region round it, including the Oranges, was settled by very exclusive Puritans, or Congregationalists, as they are now called, some thirty families from four Connecticut towns--Milford, Guilford, Bradford, and New Haven. They decided that only church members should hold office and vote.

Governor Carteret ruled the colony with an appointive council and a general assembly elected by the people, the typical colonial form of government. His administration lasted from 1665 to his death in 1682; and there is nothing very remarkable to record except the rebellion of the New Englanders, especially those who had received their land from Nicolls. Such independent Connecticut people were, of course, quite out of place in a proprietary colony, and, when in 1670 the first collection of quitrents was attempted, they broke out in violent opposition, in which the settlers of Elizabeth were prominent. In 1672 they elected a revolutionary assembly of their own and, in place of the deputy governor, appointed as proprietor a natural son of Carteret. They began imprisoning former officers and confiscating estates in the most approved revolutionary form and for a time had the whole government in their control. It required the interference of the Duke of York, of the proprietors, and of the British Crown to allay the little tempest, and three years were given in which to pay the quitrents.

After the death of Sir George Carteret in 1680, his province of East Jersey was sold to William Penn and eleven other Quakers for the sum of 3400 pounds. Colonies seem to have been comparatively inexpensive luxuries in those days. A few years before, in 1675, Penn and some other Quakers had, as has already been related, gained control of West Jersey for the still smaller sum of one thousand pounds and had established it as a Quaker refuge. It might be supposed that they now had the same purpose in view in East Jersey, but apparently their intention was to create a refuge for Presbyterians, the famous Scotch Covenanters, much persecuted at that time under Charles II, who was forcing them to conform to the Church of England.

Penn and his fellow proprietors of East Jersey each chose a partner, most of them Scotchmen, two of whom, the Earl of Perth and Lord Drummond, were prominent men. To this mixed body of Quakers, other dissenters, and some Papists, twenty-four proprietors in all, the Duke of York reconfirmed by special patent their right to East Jersey. Under their urging a few Scotch Covenanters began to arrive and seem to have first established themselves at Perth Amboy, which they named from the Scottish Earl of Perth and an Indian word meaning "point." This settlement they expected to become a great commercial port rivaling New York. Curiously enough, Robert Barclay, the first governor appointed, was not only a Scotchman but also a Quaker, and a theologian whose "Apology for the True Christian Divinity" (1678) is regarded to this day as the best statement of the original Quaker doctrine. He remained in England, however, and the deputies whom he sent out to rule the colony had a troublous time of it.

That Quakers should establish a refuge for Presbyterians seems at first peculiar, but it was in accord with their general philanthropic plan to help the oppressed and suffering, to rescue prisoners and exiles, and especially to ameliorate the horrible condition of people confined in the English dungeons and prisons. Many vivid pictures of how the Scotch Covenanters were hunted down like wild beasts may be found in English histories and novels. When their lives were spared they often met a fate worse than death in the loathsome dungeons into which thousands of Quakers of that time were also thrust. A large part of William Penn's life as a courtier was spent in rescuing prisoners, exiles, and condemned persons of all sorts, and not merely those of his own faith. So the undertaking to make of Jersey two colonies, one a refuge for Quakers and the other a refuge for Covenanters, was natural enough, and it was a very broad-minded plan for that age.

In 1683, a few years after the Quaker control of East Jersey began, a new and fiercer persecution of the Covenanters was started in the old country, and shortly afterwards Monmouth's insurrection in England broke out and was followed by a most bloody proscription and punishment. The greatest efforts were made to induce those still untouched to fly for refuge to East Jersey; but, strange to say, comparatively few of them came. It is another proof of the sturdiness and devotion which has filled so many pages of history and romance with their praise that as a class the Covenanters remained at home to establish their faith with torture, martyrdom, and death.

In 1685 the Duke of York ascended the throne of England as James II, and all that was naturally to be expected from such a bigoted despot was soon realized. The persecutions of the Covenanters grew worse. Crowded into prisons to die of thirst and suffocation, shot down on the highways, tied to stakes to be drowned by the rising tide, the whole Calvinistic population of Scotland seemed doomed to extermination. Again they were told of America as the only place where religious liberty was allowed, and in addition a book was circulated among them called "The Model of the Government of the Province of East Jersey in America." These efforts were partially successful. More Covenanters came than before, but nothing like the numbers of Quakers that flocked to Pennsylvania. The whole population of East Jersey--New Englanders, Dutch, Scotch Covenanters, and all--did not exceed five thousand and possibly was not over four thousand.

Some French Huguenots, such as came to many of the English colonies after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1685, were added to the East Jersey population. A few went to Salem in West Jersey, and some of these became Quakers. In both the Jerseys, as elsewhere, they became prominent and influential in all spheres of life. There was a decided Dutch influence, it is said, in the part nearest New York, emanating from the Bergen settlement in which the Dutch had succeeded in establishing themselves in 1660 after the Indians had twice driven them from Pavonia. Many descendants of Dutch families are still found in that region. Many Dutch characteristics were to be found in that region throughout colonial times. Many of the houses had Dutch stoops or porches at the door, with seats where the family and visitors sat on summer evenings to smoke and gossip. Long Dutch spouts extended out from the eaves to discharge the rain water into the street. But the prevailing tone of East Jersey seems to have been set by the Scotch Presbyterians and the New England Congregationalists. The College of New Jersey, afterward known as Princeton, established in 1747, was the result of a movement among the Presbyterians of East Jersey and New York.

All these elements of East Jersey, Scotch Covenanters, Connecticut Puritans, Huguenots, and Dutch of the Dutch Reformed Church, were in a sense different but in reality very much in accord and congenial in their ideas of religion and politics. They were all sturdy, freedom-loving Protestants, and they set the tone that prevails in East Jersey to this day. Their strict discipline and their uncompromising thrift may now seem narrow and harsh; but it made them what they were; and it has left a legacy of order and prosperity under which alien religions and races are eager to seek protection. In its foundation the Quakers may claim a share.

The new King, James II, was inclined to reassume jurisdiction and extend the power of the Governor of New York over East Jersey in spite of his grant to Sir George Carteret. In fact, he desired to put New England, New York, and New Jersey under one strong government centered at New York, to abolish their charters, to extinguish popular government, and to make them all mere royal dependencies in pursuance of his general policy of establishing an absolute monarchy and a papal church in England.

The curse of East Jersey's existence was to be always an appendage of New York, or to be threatened with that condition. The inhabitants now had to enter their vessels and pay duties at New York. Writs were issued by order of the King putting both the Jerseys and all New England under the New York Governor. Step by step the plans for amalgamation and despotism moved on successfully, when suddenly the English Revolution of 1688 put an end to the whole magnificent scheme, drove the King into exile, and placed William of Orange on the throne.

The proprietaries of both Jerseys reassumed their former authority. But the New York Assembly attempted to exercise control over East Jersey and to levy duties on its exports. The two provinces were soon on the eve of a little war. For twelve or fifteen years East Jersey was in disorder, with seditious meetings, mob rule, judges and sheriffs attacked while performing their duty, the proprietors claiming quitrents from the people, the people resisting, and the British Privy Council threatening a suit to take the province from the proprietors and make a Crown colony of it. The period is known in the history of this colony as "The Revolution." Under the threat of the Privy Council to take over the province, the proprietors of both East and West Jersey surrendered their rights of political government, retaining their ownership of land and quitrents, and the two Jerseys were united under one government in 1702. Its subsequent history demands another chapter.

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