Possibly the split is East Jersey, West Jersey not North Jersey, South Jersey
New Jersey has been split since Colonial times – In fact, the splitting occurred precisely at the time this piece of geography became known as New Jersey. The great divide was not, however, between North Jersey and South Jersey; it was between East Jersey and West Jersey.
In March 1664, King Charles II of of England deeded land, including the area that would become New Jersey, to his brother James Duke of York (who would later become King James II). James, in turn, made grants to his friends Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley – Carteret getting the East and Berkeley the West. The area that would become known as New Jersey in honor of Carteret’s defense of the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel.
I stumbled upon this fact many years ago when I located a book in the bargain bin at the Rutgers University Book Store and made it mine for the sum of three dollars. This book The Story of New Jersey’s Civil Boundaries 1606 – 1968 by John P. Snyder was published by the Bureau of Geology and Topography in 1969. It was dedicated to the Land Surveyors of New Jersey by Robert A. Roe, Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Economic Development (yes conservation and development were linked until 1970 when NJDEP came into being), who would eventually move on to Congress (and later have a federal building and a highway named for him). While this book languished on my bookshelves for many years and many moves I knew it would one day come in handy. While Mr. Snyder helped to launch me on my quest for the truth about these ancient New Jersey rivalries, I also found invaluable information from Rutgers University Library, the New Jersey State Archives, NOAA’s Historical Charts and Bob Barnett’s extremely informative website, westjersey.org.
It seems that in March 1674, a mere ten years after receiving the grant, Lord Berkeley sold his half interest in New Jersey to John Fenwick who would in turn convey over nine tenths of West Jersey to a group headed by William Penn. In July 1674 the Duke of York issued a patent for East Jersey to Sir George Carteret which granted him the part of New Jersey north of a line connecting Barnegat Bay to Pennsauken Creek at the Delaware River- a line that would come into almost immediate dispute.
Over in East Jersey in the 1660’s the Governor had been busy handing out patents – First for Elizabeth -Town ( Dec. 1664) which would quickly cut off Woodbridge which would split further to create Piscataway – later for Middletown and Shrewsbury (1665). In 1668 Bergen Township was chartered having begun its European existence as part of the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. By 1675 four counties had been created around the lines of development – these would be named Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth in 1683.
In 1676 Carteret entered into the Quintipartite Deed with the West Jersey Proprietors which established the boundary line between East Jersey and West Jersey as a line starting from the coast at Little Egg Harbor to the point on the Delaware River where it reaches 41 degrees 40 minutes latitude. The Duke of York confirmed this line with a deed to the West Jersey Proprietors in August 1680. It wasn’t until 1687 that anyone got around to establishing the line with a boundary survey. In that year George Keith, Surveyor General for East Jersey, ran the line from Little Egg Harbor to a point on the South Branch of the Raritan River, where he stopped – probably because there was already a dispute as to where the line was established on the ground. This line was eventually resurveyed in 1743 by John Lawrence, also a surveyor from East Jersey. The Keith Line remains the dividing line between Burlington County and Monmouth and Ocean Counties. For a brief period of time (1668 – 1695) Governors Daniel Coxe of West Jersey and Robert Barclay of East Jersey agreed upon a boundary that followed the Keith Line to the Raritan River and then meandered in a northeasterly direction to the New York border. This line, which placed Sussex and Morris Counties in West Jersey, was abolished by the colonial legislature in 1719.
Of course in New Jersey nothing is easy. The dispute between East Jersey and West Jersey was complicated by the lack of agreement as to the location of the boundary between New York and New Jersey. In May 1719, a tripartite deed was signed by New York, East Jersey and West Jersey establishing the New York/ New Jersey line at a point more southerly on the Delaware River than New Jersey had claimed. Once the king’s commissioners completed the survey of the New York/New Jersey line in 1774, West Jersey looked to modify the East Jersey / West Jersey Line once again. That proposal was never adopted and the Lawrence line remained as the official dividing line between East Jersey and West Jersey. Of course the jurisdictional disputes between New York and New Jersey continued until the 1990’s when a disagreement about the status of Ellis Island was decided by the US Supreme Court.
This historical review provides me with a few new insights about the debate about “Are we in North Jersey or South Jersey?”
- By 1775, development was greatest near the large navigable waterways.
- Hudson River – East Jersey
- Delaware River – West Jersey – although development upstream of the falls near Trenton was not as rapid
- By 1775 Burlington, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland and Cape May Counties were established as parts of South Jersey
- Hunterdon and Sussex Counties seemed to be more aligned with West Jersey due to their access to the Delaware River
- In 1775 Mercer County has no identity. It eventually was created in 1838 from parts of Hunterdon, Burlington and Middlesex Counties. Trenton didn’t become the state capital until 1790. This seems like an area with a potential identity crisis
- Ocean County didn’t exist in 1775 either and it’s a long sailboat ride to there from either New York or Philadelphia, anyway.
So, for the moment I’m sticking by my proposition that there are three distinct regions of New Jersey — ,North South and Central but I’m beginning to see the merits of the argument that the state is split in two – but North Jersey/ South Jersey I’m not convinced.
The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC