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The History of New Jersey
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 2

Historical Review 1.14   
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18th Century Population, Culture, and Economy

          The population of New Jersey grew slowly in the early part of the 18th century due to political and economic instability and the lack of a port. In 1702, New Jersey's population was approximately 10,000, Pennsylvania's was 15,000, and New York's was 20,000.(2) The majority of the population, about 7,500, lived in East Jersey. Most of the people were farmers, but there were also many large proprietary estates. East Jersey had nine well-established towns, six of which were inhabited by migrants from New England. The other three were more ethnic; the Dutch established Bergen, and Perth Amboy and Freehold were mostly Scottish. In West Jersey the towns were smaller and dominated by the Quakers. The town of Burlington was an exception due to the significant number of Anglicans. New Jersey grew dramatically through the course of the 18th century, and by 1760, the population had passed 100,000. The region became more culturally diverse with large settlements of Germans in Hunterdon County, and the establishment of Newark by Congregationalists from Connecticut. Although culturally diverse, New Jersey developed into a more economically equal and middle-class society by the second-half of the 18th century.

          New Jersey also developed an industrial base during the 18th century, including agriculture, glassware making, iron, and transportation. New Jersey had a strong farming background in the 18th century that would later be forced out by other industries and increased population. Beautifully cultivated gardens in the Raritan and Hackensack Valleys gave New Jersey the nickname of Garden State, but traditional agriculture flourished elsewhere in the state as well. Flax, hemp, and grains, cabbage, lettuce and root vegetables grew well. Fruit trees were abundant in New Jersey, including apple, pear, cherry, and peach. Mining began during this time as well. The first copper mine opened in 1712.(3) The iron industry began to operate during the late Colonial period and by 1790, New Jersey was mining 10,000 tons of iron ore per year.(4) Another industry that had an early start in New Jersey was transportation. Because of its location between Philadelphia and New York, New Jersey became a very important commuter state. The first road between Philadelphia and New York was opened in 1764. Goods were transported between the two cities via the Jersey Wagon, which was a large wagon with a cloth top. This wagon, which was one of America's first indigenous vehicles, eventually became the stage wagon and was used to transport people as well. New Jersey became the first place in America to offer regular public transportation.

The American Revolution

          New Jersey played a very active role in the American Revolution. The colony trained and provided troops, made ammunitions, and was home to numerous battles. New Jersey even had its own version of the Boston Tea Party. Dubbed the Jersey Tea Party, the incident took place when local Greenwich patriots snuck into the cellar of a Tory who was storing British tea. The patriots stole the tea, brought it to the town square, and set it on fire. This incident is a good indicator of the politically split nature of New Jersey during the second half of the century.

          When war became imminent, New Jersey responded by building a number of forts. Three forts were erected along the Delaware, which was a vulnerable location because it provided passage to Philadelphia if breached. New Jersey did not see much action the first year of the war, but troops were sent to battle. In March of 1776, the Third New Jersey Battalion was summoned for duty in Canada, and others were called for duty in New York. Action came close to home when George Washington led his retreating troops through New Jersey. When the British conquered Philadelphia, New Jersey's protection of the Delaware River became increasingly important. Unfortunately, Fort Billings, one of the Delaware River forts, was taken by surprise in September. The British took another of the forts, Fort Mercer, and the Americans were unable to hold the Delaware. The river went under the control of the British and they were able to pass freely to Philadelphia. The last significant military action in New Jersey came when the British took the city of Salem in March of 1778.

          An interesting naval battle that took place in Cape May in 1776 is worth mentioning because it was the first naval battle waged by a New Jersey privateer. The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet began when the British attacked the American ship, Nancy, as it returned from obtaining ammunitions in the Caribbean. Three American privateer ships reached the Nancy in time to help. The Americans tried desperately to unload as much cargo as possible before the ship went down. They fashioned a delayed explosion to sink the ship before the British took it, and it worked perfectly. Just as the British were boarding the Nancy, it exploded, blowing up the ship and the recent British passengers.

Post-War New Jersey

          Immediately after the war, the new American nation fell into a depression. Unstable and disorganized currency put the financial structure of America in trouble. Bad harvests added to the despair and put farmers into worse debt. Luckily, recovery attempts proved successful by the end of the decade. New Jersey replaced the Continental currency with a new, stable, currency, farmers received protection from theft under the law, and iron mines recovered after the appointment of new management.

          The War of 1812 tested America's ability to govern and protect itself. Many citizens in New Jersey were skeptical about the necessity of the war, but when wartime arrived, New Jersey quickly joined the war effort. New Jersey citizens worked to protect its vulnerable shores and troops were stationed at Billingsport to protect the farms. The demand for war goods stimulated the New Jersey economy, especially the iron industry. Shot, shells, grenades, bombs, and cannons were all produced from New Jersey iron. The war served as an important milestone in America's early history, but overall, it had little effect on New Jersey.

          The decline of population growth was another negative effect of the Revolution. The decline began with the Revolution and ended in about 1840. Many New Jersey farmers moved west in search of better land. Many of the farmers moved to Ohio, and others gave up farming altogether and moved to the cities. The transportation revolution of the early 19th century was a huge factor in the reverse of the negative population trend in the state. In northern New Jersey, the transportation focus was on highway building for better overland travel. In the southern part of the state, initial interest was in steamboats. Steamboats helped increase and stimulate trade along the Delaware River. South Jersey soon began constructing more highways and was home to early railroad tracks. Increased modes of travel helped to stimulate New Jersey's economy, which in turn helped stimulate population growth.

Slavery and the Civil War

          Slavery in New Jersey began with the arrival of English colonists in the 17th century. The practice proved to be economically successful in New Jersey and elsewhere, and increased tremendously during the 18th century. New Jersey became directly involved in the slave trade in 1761 when Pennsylvania slave traders moved to New Jersey to escape taxation imposed by the Quakers. Black slaves were auctioned at Cooper's Ferry until 1765. Abolition did not come until the end of the Civil War, but some laws favoring blacks were passed in New Jersey during the late 18th century. In 1786, a law was passed against the abuse of slaves, and in 1788, a law was passed that required masters to teach their slaves to read and write. The Quakers were the first citizens of New Jersey to ask for the abolition of slavery. In 1775, a group of Quakers petitioned the legislature to create laws that would end slavery. They were unsuccessful in their attempt, but gradual emancipation was enacted in February of 1804. According to the gradual emancipation law, every child born to slavery in New Jersey after July 4, 1805 was declared free, but male children were to remain a servant to the mother's owner until the age of 25, and female children until 21. New Jersey was also involved in the Underground Railroad. Stations were located in Camden, Salem, and Greenwich. Some runaway slaves decided to stay in New Jersey and settle instead of escaping to Canada.

          Although New Jersey had both pro and anti-slavery advocates, the state came together to support the Union during the Civil War. To prepare for war, New Jersey immediately sent a brigade of four regiments to Washington and built fortifications to protect their cities. Precautions were also taken to protect the waterways and shorelines. A telegraph line was set up to Cape May and a maritime guard was set up along the coast. Fort Delaware was garrisoned to fend off any possible Confederate attempt to move up the river. Pea Patch Island, where Fort Delaware was located, was later made into a prison for Confederate prisoners of war. The prison housed over 12,000 over crowded, malnourished, and sickly POWs. No Civil War battle or skirmish was fought on New Jersey soil, and no naval battles took place in her waters, but New Jersey sent 88,000 men to war. Over 6,300 of them died in battle or from disease.(5)

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(2) Thomas Fleming, New Jersey, A Bicentennial History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1977), 18.
(3) Charles A. Stansfield, Jr., New Jersey, A Geography, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1983), 50.
(4) Stansfield, 51.

(5) R. Craig Koedel, South Jersey Heritage: A Social, Economic and Cultural History,

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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