This is what I wrote in a previous post (dated July 14, 2010).

It is not clear whether any records were actually turned over, or if they were, what happened to them. While the directive of the Dominion of New England was in effect, New Jerseyans may have tried to avoid compliance. What I do not know is whether John Skene was ordered to deliver the papers to Boston himself or just hold onto them.

At the time of writing, I had not yet visited the State Archives and taken a close look at the Minutes of the Council of West Jersey Proprietors. Those minutes did shed some light on this problem of record-keeping, but first I want to say a few words about my visit to the Archives.

The principal goal of my visit was to locate some record of a meeting of the West Jersey Assembly between the years 1688 and 1692. Every historian of West Jersey has written that either the Assembly did not meet, or the records were lost. The great source of early provincial documents, Leaming and Spicer’s Grants & Concessions, has no documents at all for West Jersey from 1685 to 1692. In Documents Relating to the Colonial Period of New Jersey (known as New Jersey Archives), records abstracted for 1688 include the draft of a surrender of government by the proprietors of East Jersey, and not much else. Nothing is listed for 1689-1691.

But I had hopes anyway, based on an article written by Godfrey Carlos about the creation of Gloucester County. He had discovered minutes of the Assembly for 1686 in a manuscript book titled “Concessions 1681-1699”. His focus was on creation of Gloucester County. I hoped to find some evidence of Assembly meetings in 1688 or later.

The “Concessions 1681-1699” and the “West Jersey Acts 1681-1701” are both on microfilm if you are interested. But with the help of Joe Klett, Chief of Archives, I was able to look at the original manuscripts. And much to my dismay, there was nothing in either manuscript for 1688 through 1691.

Bette M. Epstein (Reference Supervisor at the State Archives) suggested I look through the Proprietors’ Minutes to see if any mention was made of Assembly sessions. There I discovered that the reason for the lack of records may be due to a disagreement between Deputy Governor John Skene and the West Jersey Council of Proprietors. At a Council meeting held on October 10, 1688, the minutes took note of the fact that John Skene had been appointed “by ye Secretary and Register Genrall of ye Dominion and Territoryes of new England to Receive ye Records Rolls and papers from Thomas Revell and John Reading who hath allready demanded ye same.” Skene was Daniel Coxe’s Deputy Governor, but he was also appointed by the Dominion of New England to take charge of the records.

At that meeting, the Council ordered Revell and Reading to hand over “all Records relateing to Government,” but “such as relate to Lands” were considered the property of the proprietors and should not be handed over. Two days later, the Council decided that it would be prudent to send a letter to this effect to Gov. Edmund Andros

to Request ye Secretary to permitt ye Records of Landes to Rest in ye same handes they have formerly been forasmuch as they Conceive they properly belong to ye Proprietors.

Another letter to the same effect was sent to Secretary John Randolph. The minutes do not reflect that the Council received an answer to these letters, and they probably didn’t.

The minutes of March 26, 1689 (new style) show that Skene was not sympathetic to the proprietors’ request. The Proprietors had sent William Biddle and William Roydon to meet with Skene, and they returned with the message that Skene would not turn over any records unless he received authorization from Benjamin Bartlett.

So—we must conclude that all the records had already been turned over to Skene, perhaps in late 1688, and he was unwilling to return the land records to the Council of Proprietors. This is a little confusing, because the minutes seemed to suggest that Revell and Reading had not yet turned over their records, but I guess that is the wrong conclusion.

The Proprietors’ Minutes also include a copy of a very long letter sent to Gov. Cox and the English proprietors covering many concerns, but chief among them was the recalcitrance of John Skene regarding the records. They asked Cox to obtain the proper authorization from Benjamin Bartlett to satisfy Skene’s demand. They also wrote:

We lately ordered a messuage by two of our members to John Skene to Demand of him on ye behalfe of all ye ProprietEs ye publick Deeds and Books he had in his Custody and Belonged to them; with Intent to have them Lock’t up in a Chest with three locks, ye Keyes to be Committed to ye Trust of three select persons chosen for that purpose service, that they  might be Exhibitted when called for by Authority and as ye publick Occations required wch notwithstanding he Refused to surrender without an order from Benjamin Bartlett alledging Benjamin’s order for that purpose.

It being of great moment that they be in safe and faithfull Custody where Access may be had to them soe often as ye Service of ye province & people shall Reqire it,  we doe therefore Request that GovernEr Cox will forthwith please to procure an order from Benjamin Bartlett that John Skene Deliver ye said Deeds and Books into ye hands of ye Councill and send and send him his owne order and warrant to deliver all other publick writeings (if they may) to be deposited (as is said before) for ye use and service of ye people without further denyalls or dilatory Excuses. This is a matter of greater weight then perhaps will be Apprehended at ye first Glance.  But till they are given up ye Government will be hoodwinkt and not able to see its way wch makes us ye more pressing to have it Efected and that Dispatch be used therein.

Who was Benjamin Bartlett? He was the son-in-law of Edward Byllinge and de facto administrator of Byllinge’s estate (acting on behalf of his wife Gracia and sister-in-law Loveday Byllinge who died in 1688). He was not the governor of West New Jersey, and I find it puzzling that John Skene would think Bartlett had more authority than Daniel Coxe, especially since Skene was Coxe’s Deputy Governor. What was going on? One would think that Skene had some sort of antipathy toward the resident proprietors.

I hope that subsequent researches will turn up an answer to these dilemmas.