The Council of Proprietors’ Other Business

During their meetings held in 1688 and 1689, the Council of Proprietors was setting up rules for how surveys would be obtained, and naming registrars for Burlington and Gloucester counties, who were Samuel Jennings and John Reading, respectively (Council of WJ Proprietors 1688). They did not act for Salem County because it was still under John Fenwick’s control. But there were other matters to attend to.

For instance, at the meeting held September 18, 1688, the Proprietors named Rangers to collect any horses or hogs running loose that were not marked and to dispose of them by auction. The rangers were “Mahlong“ Stacy, John Day, William Wood and John Hollingswood for Burlington “and upwards,” meaning, I suppose, areas north of the Falls of the Delaware, and John Kay, Thomas Sharp and Israel Holme for Gloucester. This seems to be the job of the county courts, not an organization focused on the orderly conversion of proprietary shares into tracts of surveyed land. But the Proprietors were acting as landlords of the properties that had been purchased for them from the Indians. Until the lands were surveyed to individual proprietors, the Council had to take responsibility.

They also dealt with a problem caused by what must have been a violent nor’easter in February 1689 that felled a large number of trees in Gloucester County. John Reading asked permission to harvest the fallen trees. He was allowed to sell any tree of 12” diameter or larger for 12 pence, and anything smaller could be had without charge, which suggests the abundant quantity of trees there were. The proceeds were “to goe towards ye Defraying of ye publick Charge of ye Councell.” For some reason this did not sit well with Thomas Thackwra, who complained to the Council at their meeting of July 25, 1689. The minutes (which were kept by John Reading) did not give the nature of his complaint.

Another complaint was received at this meeting—this time from Mahlon Stacy, who presented a paper “wherein he seemed concerned [about] several bad things of ye Councell and Chargeing ye Councell to have done things Burdensome and Injurious to ye proprietors.” Once again, the specifics are left out of the minutes. After “being Interrogated and Discoursed Concerning ye severall parts thereof, [Stacy] said he did not Charge ye Councell with any thing.” Which leaves us to wonder what had angered Stacy in the first place, and how he was mollified.

Relations with Daniel Coxe

One of the actions taken by the Proprietors at their meeting of September 18, 1688, was to rule that “noe persons or persons whatsoever shall presume to buy or purchase any Land from ye Indians without the Consent of this Councill first obtained otherwayes to be prosecuted as our Common Enemy.” This may have been directed at Daniel Coxe and his agent, although there were others who had taken this liberty.

The Council of Proprietors, perhaps influenced by John Tatham, who was now Coxe’s agent, seems to have decided that it was better to deal with Coxe than to try to freeze him out. In their offer to recognize Coxe as governor, they took the trouble to present themselves in the best possible light, by describing their own judicious conduct while the Dominion of New England was in effect. In particular, they said they had voluntarily restrained themselves from increasing their land holdings. I wonder how much weight that would carry with a man who knew nothing about restraint when it came to acquiring real estate.

Clark L. Beck Jr. wrote (Stellhorn and Birkner 1982, 28-29) that while the proprietors were restraining themselves from making large land purchases, Daniel Coxe was “systematically and covertly” increasing his own holdings. I am not sure how Beck knew that Coxe was being covert; perhaps Coxe was not recording his acquisitions with the Council of Proprietors. But his agent John Tatham was a member of the Council, so that seems unlikely. Perhaps Beck is referring to the large Indian purchase made by Adlord Bowde.

Byllingesport

Location of Billingsport, taken from the 1888 NJGS Map, Vicinity of Camden

With the right to govern in dispute, immigration to West New Jersey was greatly reduced. Those who chose to start a new life in this part of the world preferred Pennsylvania, which had a more stable footing. One indication of the sad state of affairs in West New Jersey was the history of a port on the Delaware River named after Edward Byllinge, called originally Byllingesport, and later Billingsport. As John Clement wrote (Clement 1912), the place was intended to be one of four official ports for the province in its earliest years with Burlington, Gloucester and Egg Harbor. (Clement doesn’t state when this decision was made.) But it never even amounted to a village, let alone a true port, despite being the closest to the ocean of the Delaware River ports.

Byllyngeport, as Clement spelled it, was to be located below the mouth of Mantua Creek. There was some thought that Billingsport was located in the supposed ‘manor’ of Sir Edmund Ploydon known as New Albion. But Ploydon’s patent was vague, and eventually forgotten long before Charles II granted Jersey to his brother James. If I had a list of fascinating subjects to write about on this blog, Sir Edmund Ploydon would be near the top. But Ploydon’s fantasies for New Jersey so far pre-date the Quaker settlement on the Delaware, that I must let that one go for now. It might have been useful to compare his schemes with the feudal ambitions of the Earl of Shaftesbury.

Speaking of Byllinge, one interesting item I found in the Proprietors Minutes was the statement made on October 10, 1688 that any deeds granted by Edward Byllinge himself (meaning without his trustees) before 1682 would be “esteemed Insufficient.” This means that before he became solvent and was released by the Quaker trustees to act on his own, in 1683, Byllinge was actually conveying shares he had no legal right to. You would think he would know better. Perhaps he did and thought this was a way to become solvent again. When William Hunt presented a deed from Byllinge for a tenth of a propriety, the Council allowed it since it was dated September 1682, and they judged that it was made “after ye Trustees of Byllyinge had assigned up their Trust” [from the meeting of March 25, 1689]. They disallowed a deed presented by John Bissell signed in 1681, but later allowed it when Richard Heritage appeared on Bissell’s behalf and convinced the proprietors that the deed ought to have been dated 1683.

Proprietors Meeting of November 4, 1689

The first order of business was the problem of people “hunting, takeing and killing of wild Hoggs” and felling trees on the Proprietors’ lands. They ruled that these were punishable offenses and named George Hutcheson, Francis Davenport, John Hollingshead and John Day for Gloucester, along with Thomas Gardiner and John Reading to prosecute the offenders.

Next the Council clarified a ruling it had made previously at its meeting of 15 February 1688/89, regarding lands to be taken up by the Proprietors. The “order for ye takeing up of lands” was meant to concern only the lands already purchased from the Indians. Apparently some were interpreting the order of Sept. 18, 1688 to mean that lands could be surveyed anywhere in West Jersey. So this minute was intended to clarify that no lands could be taken up except within “lawful Indian purchases.” Any surveys made contrary to this intent were declared “null and void, to all intents and purposes.”

Sources

You can find sources used in this post under “Sources for West New Jersey.”