EAST JERSEY. East Jersey was incorporated as a proprietary holding within the colony of New Jersey after the English conquest of 1664. From its inception it fell victim to conflicting claims. George Carteret was the original proprietor designated by the Crown; he and his heirs added others, so that by the Revolution, the Board of East Jersey Proprietors centered on Perth Amboy numbered twenty-four shareholders. Meanwhile, late in the seventeenth century the king granted some of the same land to the Puritan-dominated Elizabethtown patentees, who settled the towns of Newark and Elizabeth and their environs as tenants and freemen. These conflicting tenant and proprietary claims exacerbated the already-great social, ethnic, religious, and economic tensions that persisted beyond American independence.
In 1743 a definitive dividing line was finally accepted by the Crown, severing conflicting Quaker claims by placing all Jersey Quaker communities in West Jersey. But the proprietary-patentee conflict continued unabated. The dividing line demarking East Jersey ran southeast from Sussex County's Delaware River border diagonally across New Jersey to Tuckerton in what is now Ocean County. East Jersey then encompassed rural, mostly English Sussex and Morris Counties; Dutch-dominated Bergen and Somerset Counties; the Puritan-settled towns of Newark and Elizabeth in populous Essex County; and the mixed populations of the original Middlesex and Monmouth Counties to the south.
Tenant-proprietary conflict kept East Jersey in turmoil. "Rent riots" were at the center of the disturbances, involving as they did unpaid tenant obligations to the Board of Proprietors. The board was made up of elite, largely Anglican merchants and men of property who dominated the Council, or upper house of the colonial legislature. The tenants, inheritors of patent rights, were mostly farmers and artisans of average means, Congregational and Presbyterian successors to Puritan settlers in Essex County. The Dutch in Bergen and Somerset and the large number of free people of color in Monmouth only added to the volatile population mix of East Jersey in the eighteenth century.
New Jersey was the epicenter of the Revolution from 1776 to 1783, and many internecine East Jersey scores were settled during that time. Essex County was Whig (Patriot), while Dutch Bergen and Somerset Counties remained Loyalist; where proprietors held sway—as, for example, in, Perth Amboy in Middlesex County and among elite landowners everywhere—economic interests dictated their loyalty to the Crown as well. Monmouth County, with its racial mix, remained a battleground too. So in East Jersey, internal conflict was the rule in the greater struggle for independence.
The geographic designation "East Jersey" ended with the war; most proprietors went into exile. The culture wars of colonial East Jersey, however, informed the politics of the new state. These culture wars included class hostility between middling farmers and well-to-do merchants and landowners: conflicts played out during the 1780s when the revolutionary government parceled out the former proprietor lands in the form of smaller holdings and were evident too in the party politics of the Confederation era and the 1790s (see Antifederalists; Confederation). It took the completion of the Revolution in the generation after the war to introduce into old East Jersey a distinctly American national identity that somewhat ameliorated the former ethnic, religious, political, and economic animosities in perhaps the most diverse population area in all the original American states.
Hodges, Graham R. Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613–1863. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
McCormick, Richard P. New Jersey from Colony to State, 1609– 1789. Rev. ed. Newark: New Jersey Historical Society, 1981. The original edition was published in 1964.
Prince, Carl E., et al. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1979–1988.
"East Jersey." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/east-jersey
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