Straws in the Wind

In 1686, there were a few events that boded ill for West New Jersey.

The Declaration of Indulgence, which James II issued in March (or April), was James’ attempt to get the Protestant English accustomed to having Catholics and dissident Protestants more visible in daily life. It granted amnesty to those imprisoned under laws against the practice of these religions. Following this, James granted many commissions to Catholics in the army. Seems like a good thing, but it was also a good example of how James misread his subjects, who truly feared that a strong Catholic sovereign like James might turn their country into an appendage of Catholic France.

A more ominous straw for West New Jersey was that Writ of Quo Warranto mentioned in 1685. It was making its way through the legal bureaucracy, and in April the King in Council ordered it to proceed, requiring all the colonies that James wanted to gain control over to “show by what authority” they pretended to govern themselves.

Meanwhile, in New York, Gov. Dongan began seizing ships at Perth Amboy claiming they owed customs duties to New York. Perth Amboy had just been designated the capital city of East New Jersey, so this was doubly insulting.

Another straw was Jeremiah Basse who arrived at Cohansey in the Salem Tenth to act as land agent for his half-brother Joshua Barkstead.1 He would perform the same duties for the likes of Daniel Coxe and the West Jersey Society in future years. Basse would become a controversial governor in 1698 and a troublesome character in New Jersey history.

The West Jersey Assembly

The annual meeting of the Assembly was preceded by a meeting of the Burlington Court on February 20th and again on March 26th at which Deputy Governor John Skene presided.

When the Assembly met on May 12, 1686, John Skene was acting governor, and Samuel Jennings and Thomas Budd took their seats as representatives from the second tenth. Thomas Revel was Clerk, Recorder and Register. Thomas Howell, who was in his mid 40s, asked to be dismissed as representative from the third tenth and was replaced by Thomas Sharp.

The committee that had been named last November to study a new charter sent by Edward Byllinge made their report. It must have been fairly negative, because the Assembly voted to refuse to adopt Byllinge’s funding measure, claiming that this was improper, coming from an absentee governor (I don’t know exactly what he proposed because the charter has not survived). They drafted a letter to Byllinge asking him to order his deputy governor to confirm all laws passed by the Assembly. Their concern was that if Byllinge could so casually overthrow the Concessions & Agreements, which he had authored, he could do the same to any future charter of government.

On May 13th, the Assembly considered Byllinge’s proposal for proxy voting and adopted it with changes. Instead of one vote per share, there would only be one vote per proprietor. Not only that, the proxies should be landowners and residents of West New Jersey, not absentee owners. This made proxy voting by the English proprietors impossible.

It is likely that not everyone agreed with the Assembly in their antagonism toward Byllinge. One man, Thomas ffrench (in the 17th century style) was accused of impeaching the House. He was actually brought before the Assembly to answer for a letter he had written and then was handed over to the Sheriff for safe keeping until he would be called again. I cannot say how this got resolved, or exactly what Thomas French disliked about the Assembly. The Burlington Court Book does not mention this case.

The Assembly was irritated that Skene (under instruction from Edw. Byllinge) had appointed some Rangers on his own. The Rangers’ duties were to collect stray horses. First the Assembly ordered Skene to stop making appointments. Then they deliberated on whether Rangers were actually needed and decided that six would be sufficient for the four upper tenths. They left it to the Governor and his Council to make regulations for the Rangers’ duties and concluded that officers of state were to be appointed by the Assembly, not the Governor.

Postscript, 12/18/2021: Why such a fuss over such a minor position? Because naming people to government offices, no matter how minor, was a privilege jealously fought over from the very beginning of New Jersey’s existence, and in fact was jealously fought over throughout the colonies and the future states. It was a question of who had the political power.

I do not know if Byllinge responded to the Assembly’s letter regarding his proposed charter. By this time Byllinge was in failing health, and named his son-in-law, Benjamin Bartlett, to be his successor in West New Jersey.2

When the Assembly met again on May 15th, members representing the third and fourth tenths petitioned for a Court to be held alternately at Newton and Red Bank. William Warner was chosen sheriff, and John Reading (who was one of those Assembly representatives) was chosen clerk.

Almost Gloucester County

Shortly after the Assembly session ended, the proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants of the third and fourth tenths met on May 28, 1686 at the town of Gloucester, to establish the court that the Assembly had legitimated. I am not yet calling this a county (even though many historians claim this date as the establishment of the county), simply because I have not seen any original documents referring to Gloucester County this year. It’s still the third and fourth tenths. (See the Correction at the end of this piece.)

Some claim that Gloucester County was formed independently from the Assembly, and thus the proprietary government of West New Jersey. But this opinion was based on the fact that the Assembly session of 1686 was not included in Leaming & Spicer’s Grants & Concessions. The minutes were later found in the Secretary of State’s Office by Carlos E. Godfrey.

Just to refresh your memory (if you’ve been following me for a while), the third tenth consisted mostly of present Camden County from Pennsaukin Creek to Big Timber Creek, and the fourth tenth ran from Big Timber Creek to Oldmans Creek, the northern boundary line of the Salem Tenth or Fenwicks Colony.3

Several decisions were made by these proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants, presumably by voice vote. The court would meet first at Arwamus (which is what Gloucester Town was originally called), then at Red Bank, and then alternate between the two towns. They would meet four times a year, in March, June, September and December, with the first court meeting to be held on September 1, 1686, in Gloucester.

Then they established certain rules for their court: 1) that all warrants and summons would be drawn by the clerk of the court and signed by a justice before being delivered to the sheriff to be executed; 2) that each warrant would describe the nature of the action; 3) that a copy of the Declaration along with the warrant should be delivered to the defendant; 4) that all this should be done ten days before the court date; and 5) that jurors should be summoned no less than six days before they were to appear in court.

John Reading

One person who was probably eager to have a new court established was John Reading. Until the new court was up and operating, he had to travel to Burlington, which he did on May 23rd, when he was called to serve on a traverse jury on the case of brothers Daniel and Mordecai Howell, accused of killing hogs belonging to William Cooper.4. The Court found in favor of Cooper.

This Daniel Howell married Hannah Lakin in Philadelphia on September 4, 1686. He would become the father of the Daniel Howell who about 1710 would marry John Reading’s daughter.

A few days later, on May 26th, Reading served on a jury in Burlington Court in the trial of Ann Wright, wife of Thomas Wright, on complaint of Francis Davenport. Mrs. Wright was found guilty of “receiving and dressing Hoggs contrary to the laws of this province.”5 And her husband was convicted of abusing the constable, probably during Ann’s arrest. The system of letting livestock loose in the woods may have been convenient, but it was also troublesome when people helped themselves to their neighbors’ hogs. Some regulation was needed.

Earmarks of 1686

Back at that meeting in Gloucester, after the proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants of the third & fourth tenths had set up their rules for a court, they agreed that all of them should register their earmarks with the court clerk (John Reading). Earmarks were notches clipped from the edges of animals’ ears in various designs to indicate ownership. For instance, John Reading registered a “swallow tail” in the left year and “cropt” for the right ear.

When Gloucester Court met in September, it noted that many had not yet registered their earmarks and gave John Reading permission to issue summonses to require owners to come to his house to register their marks. For researchers of early Gloucester families, this list is a godsend. Here are some names of interest to Hunterdon history: Richard Bull, Thomas Bull, Thomas Dennis, George Green, John Haddon, Samuel Harrison, Daniel Howell, Katherine Howell, Thomas Howell, William Hunt, John Ladd, John Ladd Jr., Moses Lakin, Mathew Medcalf, John Reading, Daniel Reading. The list was presented before the Court at its December session.

William Hunt and his family were among several who came to West New Jersey from Long Island, rather than up the Delaware River. There were several families who moved to New Jersey from Long Island, including (with apologies for restricting myself to male names) John Bull, Jeremiah and Joseph Burroughs, Francis Combs, John Harrison, Edward Hunt, Thomas and William Lawrence, Moses Pettit, Nathaniel Pettit and Thomas Pettit, Joseph and Theophilus Phillips, Jacob Reeder, Jeremiah Reeder and Joseph Reeder, Joseph Sackett, Content Titus, George and John Wood, among others. These names were found on a list of residents of Newtown on Long Island in 1655.6

The Bull Family of Gloucester

I also wonder whether the John Bull who was listed as a resident of Newtown, Long Island in 1655 was the same person who acquired a 1/7th propriety of West New Jersey. Perhaps not, since that John Bull was identified by Thomas Budd as a citizen, draper and hosier of London in 1677. He sold the 1/7th share to Hugh Lambe of London on March 27, 1682.

I have no way of knowing if this John Bull was the father of Thomas Bull of Gloucester in West New Jersey. There seems to be no surviving record of Thomas Bull’s parents, although some family trees indicate he came from Bradley in Staffordshire. All we have is what Henry Race called (in reference to the parents of Samuel Green) “synchronism and proximity of residence.”

So, we’ll leave it at that, and proceed with what we know of Thomas Bull, whose wife was named Sarah. The first record of Thomas Bull in West New Jersey is on the list of earmarks for Gloucester County in 1686. Also listed with him was Richard Bull, which leads me to think this was Thomas Bull, Jr., Richard Bull’s brother.

Thomas Bull, Sr. did acquire land in West New Jersey, but the only entries in Nelson’s Deeds and Patents concern his sons and their disposition of his estate in 1686 and later. This should be a reminder that not all the deeds and other records relating to early West New Jersey survived.

On December 1, 1686, Administration of Thomas Bull’s estate was granted to his widow Sarah. An inventory was made on Dec. 19th by James Jacob and Isaac Pearson. It included a lot in Philadelphia with the frame of a house on it worth £28. I assume this means that the house was still unfinished. Perhaps Bull was thinking of retiring to Philadelphia. He had personal estate worth £288. There was also a fairly long list of people who owed money to his estate, suggesting that Thomas Bull was wealthy.

In March the following year (1687 new style), it appears that a second inventory was made of his West New Jersey property. The appraisers were Daniel and John Reading. They counted 200 acres of land worth £50, two town lots in Gloucester with some building timber worth £10, and a personal estate worth £100. I conclude from this that he had a house on the 200 acres and planned to build houses on his Gloucester town lots.

Listed with his personal possessions was a silver watch and silver money, and two servant men. The names of those who owed him money in this second inventory appear to all be Gloucester people, which suggests that he was living in Gloucester when he died, rather than Philadelphia, even if the Philadelphia inventory was made first.

Thomas Bull’s sons Richard and Thomas, his daughter Sarah and widow Sarah all had to deal with his estate over the coming years. Those dealings help to connect the Bull family with Samuel Green, so I will save them for later.

George Green

On the list of those registering their earmarks was George Green. I am now going to indulge in some sheer speculation, based on this one little solid fact. George Green must have been an adult when he registered his earmarks, so he must have been born about 1666 or earlier, probably in England since the English did not arrive in West New Jersey until 1677. Of course, he could have been born somewhere else, but I am thinking he might have been the son of Richard Green, who was in West New Jersey in 1682. There is nothing else known of Richard Green after that date. I suspect he died, and records relating to his death were lost.

Let’s just say that was the case, for speculation’s sake. There was George Green, about 16-18 years old, orphaned (I say orphaned because there is not a hint of a female Green in Gloucester owning any property at this time), with a younger brother, Samuel, who would have been about 7 or 8 if he was born in 1675. These dates should NOT be used by anyone as definite. I’m just speculating on possibilities. It could have been like this—orphaned boys old enough to work being taken in by one of the other Gloucester families. Too bad I don’t have any evidence of that.

By the way, John Reading was about 30 years old in 1686. The Green brothers could certainly have been apprenticed to or sheltered by him, or by Thomas Bull Sr.

The Dominion of New England

As mentioned before, now that James was king, he was more determined to pull together the English colonies under his royal control. The first step was to create the Dominion of New England, which was done on June 3, 1686. Two months later, James appointed Sir Edmund Andros Governor of the “Colony of Massachusetts Bay Province of New Hampshire and Maine and The Narragansett country,” with the name hereafter to be known as the “Territory & Dominion of New England in America.”7

Residents of the two Jerseys (East and West) were already acquainted with Edmund Andros, who had been Governor of the Province of New York from 1674 to 1681, and had attempted to exercise control over the Jerseys. He had made life miserable for the Governor of East New Jersey, Philip Carteret, and for the first Quaker settler in West New Jersey, James Fenwick.

Gov. Andros arrived in Boston on December 20, 1686 and published his commission from King James. Then he proceeded to offend the Puritans by demanding a place in one of their meeting houses to conduct Anglican services. As far as the Puritans were concerned, Anglicans (Episcopalians) were nearly as godless as Catholics, so, with some trepidation, they turned him down.

Andros would quickly set about establishing a new form of government in Massachusetts, one not controlled by the Congregational churches, and then expanding his Dominion to include Rhode Island and Connecticut. But all the while, the Jerseys were in his sights.

Correction 12/31/09: I failed to read the minutes of the first meeting of the inhabitants of Gloucester closely enough. In fact, what I missed was located in the first sentence of the minutes written by clerk Thomas Sharp:
“Gloucester, ye 28th of May, 1686. By ye proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants of the third and fourth tenth, (alias, County of Gloucester,)” [emphasis added], followed with the list of rules for the court of the third & fourth tenths. But the term County of Gloucester was still rarely used, while references to the third and fourth tenth were far more common. The fact that the clerk wrote “Alias County of Gloucester” suggests there was not as yet a formal declaration of the county’s existence by the legislature of the Province.

  1. Stellhorn & Birkner, The Governors of New Jersey, p.33.
  2. Stellhorn & Birkner, p.23.
  3. See Frank Stewart’s Organization & Minutes of Gloucester County Court, or the Map from a previous post.
  4. Burlington Court Book pp.51-52
  5. Burlington Court Book p.54.
  6. History of Long Island by Benj. Franklin Thompson, 1843, p. 138.
  7. Carlos E. Godfrey, When Boston Was New Jersey’s Capital, 1685-1689. Newark, NJ: N. J. Historical Society, 1933.