The history of New Jersey dates back to over 350 years ago. It is one of the most diverse states in the nation, even though it is also one of the smallest states. It sits between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City. It is an extremely urban state. Only California is considered to be more urban than New Jersey. However, the northwestern part of the state has some mountains and wilderness regions. It is also known for its tidelands to the south.

A lot of industrial development goes on in New Jersey. However, it has the nickname “The Garden State.” That suggests the fact that farming still has a place in the state as well. In its earlier days, it produced vegetables and fruits, which were then distributed to Philadelphia and New York City. In fact, early colonists commented on how agricultural the area was.

The American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 to 1783. Many of its battles were fought in New Jersey. So, it makes sense that a lot of war monuments still exist in the state today. In fact, George Washington’s troops defeated British troops in Trenton, New Jersey in December of 1776, after his famous ride across the Delaware River.

The first Dutch settlements started in New Jersey in 1618, after the Delaware River and Hudson River were explored by Henry Hudson. However, conflicts with the indigenous people, called Delaware Indians or Lenni-Lenape, caused settlers to abandon their original settlements. The Finns and Swedes settled near the Delaware River in 1638. Their settlement, which was part of what was called New Sweden, lasted until 1655. At that time, the Dutch took over the area, changing its name to New Netherland. There were about six plantations, known at the time as boweries, along the Hudson River across from Manhattan by 1639. However, in 1643 and again in 1655, the Native Americans and the settlers fought. The result is that all of the Dutch settlements in the area were destroyed. The village of Bergen, which was the first permanent settlement in the area, was founded in 1660. That settlement was located in part of the area where Jersey City now sits.

Colonial settlers in New Jersey were predominantly English and Dutch. In 1664, when New Netherland was acquired from the Dutch by the British, it was given to the Duke of York by his brother, King Charles II. The Duke of York later became King James II. However, King Charles didn’t just give his brother that settlement. He also gave the Duke of York the rest of New Jersey, as well as New York. At that point, the Duke of York paid two of his creditors by giving them New Jersey. Although, at that time, it was called Nova Caesaria. The name was a tribute to the homeland of one of the two creditors, Sir George Carteret, who hailed from the Isle of Jersey. The other creditor who was given part of New Jersey by the Duke of York was Lord John Berkeley.

When England took control of the area, many English people moved to New Jersey from Long Island and New England. They settled in several towns in East Jersey, including:

  • Elizabethtown
  • Middletown
  • Piscataway
  • Shrewsbury
  • Woodbridge

The following year, Newark was founded by several settlers from Connecticut. Perth Amboy became home to a group from Scotland in 1685. However, large groups of Ulster-Scots didn’t come to the New World until the 1720s. From 1673 to 1674, control of New York and New Jersey went back to the Dutch, but then the British regained control of the region.

Carteret was allowed by the king to keep control of Northern New Jersey around that time. However, the King’s agreement with Berkeley was not renewed. So, Berkeley was forced to sell that land in southern New Jersey to John Fenwick, a Quaker. William Penn, another Quaker, acquired Carteret’s land when Carteret’s widow sold it. Then, in 1676, William Penn facilitated the division of New Jersey into west and east provinces. The capitol of East Province was Perth Amboy, while the capitol of West Province was Burlington. Proprietors were given control of both provinces. However, the boundary wasn’t surveyed properly. So, it created a diagonal line across the state. That meant that the northern part of the state was all in East Jersey and the southern part was in West Jersey.

From April of 1688 until two years later, the Dominion of New England included New York and New Jersey. However, no New Jersey records from that time seem to exist today. In 1702, both of the land proprietors in New Jersey relinquished their rule, but they did continue to control the initial sales of land in New Jersey. West Jersey Proprietors still have that right to this day, but unappropriated land in the state is rare. So, they don’t generally exercise that right. As for East Jersey, that right was not revoked until 1998. From 1702 until 1738, all of New Jersey was controlled by the Royal Governor of New York and New Jersey. In 1738, a different Royal Governor was assigned for New Jersey.

Major immigrations and migrations to New Jersey went on well into the 1700s. French Huguenots fled France and settled there. Many people also came to the area from New York. In fact, former New Yorkers made up most of the population of a lot of New Jersey counties. However, other counties were settled by people from other countries. For example, the Dutch settled in both Somerset and Bergen counties. Many Dutch people also settled in the counties of Monmouth and Middlesex. Germans and Palatines also came to the area. Some settled in New York and some in New Jersey. Their descendants further settled the region.

Of all of the colonies, New Jersey was home to the most battles during the Revolutionary War. Both the British and the American troops went back and forth across the state many times between Pennsylvania and New York. As a result, many New Jersey records were lost, burned, or otherwise destroyed. Many New Jersey residents who were Loyalists chose to move to Canada at that time.

During the 1800s, major transportation changes occurred in New Jersey. For example, the Raritan and Delaware rivers were connected by a canal in 1834. That allowed people to move more quickly between New York and Philadelphia. Until the Civil War, that canal was a major transportation hub, since most of the state is surrounded with water. Only 48 miles of its border with New York are on land.

Both roads and railroads began to be more readily available right before and in the years after the Civil War. Today, those roads and railroads are why New Jersey is a major transportation hub between New England and the southern states. The first factory in the United States was built in the 1800s in New Jersey. It was constructed where Paterson now stands. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the United States. However, a lot of its residents actually work in neighboring states.

New Jersey Ethnic Group Research

  • New Jersey African American Books (
  • David Steven Cohen, comp., New Jersey Ethnic History: A Bibliography (Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Society, 1986), lists over 600 books, articles, and theses, covering African- Americans, Cubans, Dutch, Germans, Hungarians, Irish, Italians, Japanese, Jews, Native Americans, Portuguese, Quakers, and Swedes. Another interesting but controversial work by Cohen is The Ramapo Mountain People (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1974).
  • Theodore F. Chambers, The Early Germans of New Jersey (1895; reprint, Lambertville, N.J.: Hunterdon House and Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982), has information on non-German families as well as northwestern New Jersey, but it must be used with great caution.
  • Dennis J. Starr, The Italians of New Jersey: A Historical Introduction and Bibliography, New Jersey Historical Society Collections, vol. 20 (Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Society, 1985), discusses the largest ethnic group of the state and is helpful for finding other sources on the subject.
  • Clement Alexander Price, comp. and ed., Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey, New Jersey Historical Society Collections, vol. 16 (Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Society, 1980), is based heavily on original source material. One WPA project highlighted records of Afro Americans: Transcriptions of Early County Records of New Jersey: Gloucester County Series: Slave Documents, prepared by Gloucester County Historical Project (Newark, N.J.: Historical Records Survey, 1940).
  • Herbert C. Kraft, The Lenape: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography, New Jersey Historical Society Collections, vol. 21 (Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Society, 1986), is a study of the so-called Delaware Indians who lived in what are now New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York. In an earlier work, William Nelson compiled a reference work, Personal Names of Indians of New Jersey (Paterson, N.J.: The Paterson History Club, 1904), listing 650 names, mostly from seventeenth-century deeds.
  • New Jersey Native American Books (

New Jersey History Databases and other Helpful Links

State Genealogy Guides

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