The Courts Carry On

After a long digression to write about the life of Dr. Daniel Coxe before he became governor of West New Jersey in 1687, I am returning to my chronology to study the events of 1688 et seq., beginning with the Burlington Court session of February 1688, in which the list of those present began with “Daniell Coxe Esq. Governour.”

Of course, he was not in fact present at the Court. This was simply an acknowledgment of his status as Governor. Next on the list came John Skene Deputy Governour, who undoubtedly was present, and Justices Robert Stacy, Elias Farr, Richard Guy, William Emley, Edward Hunloke, Thomas Lambert, James Marshall, William Myers, and Daniell Wills. The previous court session, on November 3, 1687, did not list Coxe’s name.

There were only a few items of interest for the Gloucester County Court that Frank M. Stewart mentioned for 1688. One was the problem of damage caused by wolves. The court ordered that 10 shillings be paid for every wolf’s head produced. Another complaint was that those chosen to serve in the Assembly were exempted from paying the county tax. The Court ordered the constables to get an accounting from the treasurers and collect the back taxes, and for those who refused to pay, to charge double the amount owed, and to do so “without any regard or excuse of those that have formerly served in ye assembly.” It appears that Assembly members were abusing their privileges and continuing to avoid the tax even after their term in the Assembly had ended.

At the same meeting, Francis Collins promised to have a bridge built at the mouth of Gloucester River (Big Timber Creek) in three weeks. We could use Francis Collins to build a few bridges today.

The Council of Proprietors

Following through on the decision to create a Council of Proprietors with the responsibility to manage land ownership, separate from the General Assembly, a meeting was held on February 14, 1688 (new style) by the proprietors of West New Jersey at Burlington where it was agreed that 11 of them would be chosen each year to act as the Council of Proprietors for the succeeding year, six from Burlington and five from Gloucester. The first eleven members were all residents of West New Jersey, and probably all Quakers. They were Samuel Jennings, Thomas Olive, Wm. Biddle, Elias Farre, Mahlon Stacy, Francis Davenport, Andrew Robeson, William Royden, John Reading, William Cooper and John Wills. John Reading, whose religion remains a question, continued as a member until his death in 1717.

Confusingly, after listing the names of the newly appointed commissioners, the statement went on to say, “commissioners and trustees for the year next ensuing [presumably ending on Feb. 14, 1689], to do, act and officiate in the affair aforesaid, until the tenth day of the second month anno domini 1688.” That would be April 10, 1688, which was only two months after the meeting of Feb. 14th. That doesn’t make sense. However, on April 10th of every year (unless it’s a Sunday) election is held for Council members for the succeeding year, and the general meeting is held on the first Tuesday in May. Unlike the Proprietors of East New Jersey, the Council of Proprietors for West Jersey carries on, 322 years after its creation. That must be some sort of record.

The duties of the Council, sometimes called the Board of Proprietors, was to make purchases of land from the Indians, issue warrants for surveys, declare dividends of land to the owners of proprietary shares, and administer unappropriated lands. John Clement wrote that the commissioners immediately set about separating the government records from those related to land ownership, but he did not say exactly how he knew this.

Some historians have speculated that the resident proprietors took the step of organizing the Council of Proprietors as a way of defending themselves against the aggressive maneuvers of Daniel Coxe. This may well be so. It had to be alarming to the Quakers who had set up a system for settling the colony with hardworking Quaker families owning their own land to contemplate a person who was not a Quaker owning a fifth of the rights to all the land in the colony and possibly using it in a way that would favor the wealthy few and discourage the small freeholders. I will attempt to deal with Coxe’s land holdings in the next post.

On the first of March (the first month of the year), 1688, at Gloucester, a change in commissioners was agreed to. Mahlon Stacy and Francis Davenport were replaced by John Tatham and George Hutchinson (or Hutcheson), and William Cooper was replaced by Thomas Gardiner, Jr. At the same time, it was agreed that instead of eleven members, the number would be reduced to nine with a quorum of five members. This agreement was found on the back of the record for the meeting of September 6, 1688.

At a meeting of proprietors in Burlington on the 6th of the seventh month (September), 1688, it was agreed that the commissioners would meet “at least once a quarter, the day after each quarter sessions.” The following 31 resident proprietors (in alphabetical order) signed this statement:

William Alberson
Thomas Barton
William Bate
Thomas Budd
Thomas Butcher
Francis Collins
John Dayes
Bernard Devonish
Anthony Elton
Thomas French
Thomas Gardiner
Henry Grubb
Richard Herritage
John Hugg
George Hutcheson
Thomas Hutchinson
John Kay
Isaac Marriot
Thomas Matthews
William Meyers
Samuel Oldale
John Pancoast
Thomas Sharp
John Shinn
John Tatham
Percival Towle
Robert Turner
Christopher Wetherill
Daniel Wills
Henry Wood
John Wooleton

On the same date, the following 13 men signed the same declaration in Gloucester County:
William Alberson
James Atkinson
Francis Collins
William Cooper
Woolla Dalbo
John Hugg
John Hugg, jun.
John Ladd
John Rambo
Thomas Sharp
Thomas Thackera
John Wills
Robert Zane

The rest of business conducted during this September 6, 1688 meeting concerned Daniel Coxe, which will be covered in a future post.

The English Proprietors

One of the matters left hanging from 1687 was the offer of the proprietors in England to surrender the right of government to the Crown. I neglected to mention that this gesture was made without the knowledge or consent of the resident proprietors of East and West New Jersey. I suspect that a fellow named William Dockwra was behind this. He was the agent for the proprietors in London and had come to enjoy an authority over all proprietary affairs far greater than was contemplated in the office of registrar and agent. Dockwra would continually interfere in New Jersey affairs for years to come, especially in East New Jersey where he owned proprietary shares.

The Dominion of New England

Also left over from 1687 was the Dominion of New England, James II’s scheme for consolidating the English colonies. Edmund Andros was still in charge as governor. On April 7, 1688, the Commission from the Duke of York was issued naming Sir Edmund Andros Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Dominion of New England, consisting of not only of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, but also New York, and East and West Jersey. These were the parts of the English territories that James wanted to bring under his control. Population estimates for the year of 1688 were: Massachusetts (including Plymouth) 45,000; New York 20,000 or more; Connecticut 17-20,000; New Jersey (both East and West) 10,000; New Hampshire 6,000; Rhode Island 6,000. This meant a total population for the Dominion of New England of 113,000, give or take.

Daniel Coxe may have been wondering what the future held for him as governor of West Jersey now that the Dominion of New England was established. He had vast investments in Jersey real estate, but his governorship seemed at risk.

A Matter of Public Record

On May 25, 1687, The Council at Boston (the governing body of the Dominion of New England) had decreed that all public records of the several Provinces be surrendered to it and kept in the custody of the Secretary or his deputy. Apparently, this order had originated with James. The Council at Boston also sent out a directive ordering that all estates with a value greater than £50 be probated in Boston. Once New Jersey was subsumed into the Dominion in April 1688, this order applied to it also.

Apparently, John Randolph, Secretary of the Dominion of New England, did not trust the existing officeholders to carry out the Dominion’s orders. He appointed his own man to receive the records, rolls and papers. This was none other than the former and current Deputy Governor John Skene, who I have already written about here. Based on a recommendation by William Penn, Daniel Coxe had named Skene to be his Lieutenant or Deputy Governor.

John Reading, who was the first recorder of deeds and surveys for the West Jersey Council of Proprietors as well as clerk for Gloucester County, and Thomas Revel, clerk of Burlington County, were not ready to hand over the papers they had been put in charge of, not without some kind of clearance from the proprietors themselves. So, in September 1688, they brought the issue to a meeting of the Council and asked for guidance.

They were advised to comply with the directive, but to retain the land records in their counties. It takes a long time to get to Boston today. Imagine how discouraging it must have been back in 1688 when the Boston Post Road (today’s Route 1) was little more than a dirt path. Traveling by ship along the coast was faster, but hazardous. The idea of traveling from New Jersey to Boston to record or retrieve public records seems nothing short of bizarre.

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.

Many have concluded that since Leaming and Spicer did not include any records of the West Jersey Assembly from 1686 to 1692, that there were no meetings held. But Carlos Godfrey insisted that was not the case, citing “original manuscripts contained in a book entitled ‘Concessions, 1681-1699” which he found in the Secretary of State’s Office in 1922. Presumably that book now resides in the N.J. State Archives and is worth seeking out. (If I ever do that myself, a blog post is sure to follow.)

One of those who assumed there were no legislative sessions was John Pomfret, who wrote that the two Jersey provinces got along just fine without their Assemblies. The courts continued to do their business, and there was no outbreak of violence.

The Dividing Line

On September 5, 1688, Robert Barclay, Governor of East New Jersey, and Daniel Coxe, Governor of West New Jersey, both non-resident governors, signed an agreement regarding the line between their two provinces (which I wrote about earlier here). The line they agreed on was never actually surveyed, despite their best intentions. West Jerseyans thought East New Jersey got the better of the deal, and East New Jersey was evasive about allowing a survey to be carried out.

The Glorious Revolution

The birth of a son to James’s Queen Mary on June 10th suggested the likelihood of a Catholic succession, prompting England’s Whig leaders to send an invitation to the king’s son-in-law Willem (or William) of Orange on June 30, 1688, to take over the monarchy jointly with his wife Mary, daughter of James II. Two weeks later, the Protestant nobility followed suit. After due consideration, William made preparations, and on September 21, 1688, he issued a declaration to the English people that his fleet was prepared to sail for England.

The fleet of 300 ships landed at Torbay, near Plymouth on November 15, 1688. It took almost a month before James II offered to negotiate, to little effect. On December 10, 1688, James II was dethroned in the “Glorious Revolution” and attempted to flee to France. Like so many other endeavors of his, he failed and was detained the next day. This was probably not on William’s orders, because on December 23rd, James was allowed to escape to France, where he immediately began working to regain his throne.


The Howells

In 1688, on March 8th, Daniel and Mordecai Howell divided their father Thomas’s estate between them, and Daniel Howell gave his brother Mordecai a bond for observing their agreement.1 I do not know if Mordecai gave Daniel a bond. Probably as part of the division, Daniel conveyed 250 acres on Cooper’s Creek to brother Mordecai on March 12th.2 The property bordered Richard Wright and Francis Collins.

On July 1, 1688, Mordecai Howell, as executor of the last will of his father Thomas Howell, conveyed to Daniel Howell of Cooper’s Creek a 1/8th proprietary share of West Jersey, excepting the 250 acres already sold.3 Daniel Howell gave Mordecai “goods, chattels and money” for which he was given a receipt on July 3rd and 10th, 1688.4

The next year, on March 1, 1689 (new style), Daniel Howell, yeoman of Cooper’s Creek, conveyed to his brother-in-law Moses Lakin, planter of Cooper’s Creek, 42 acres in two lots, bordering “the late Thomas Howell.”5

There is evidence that Mordecai Howell traveled to England sometime between July 1688 and April 1689, for on the latter date, Mordecai Howell of Tamworth, County Warwick, gentleman, purchased an eighth share of a propriety in West Jersey from Henry Beal of Stafford, maulster.6 The family history says that Mordecai came to England to bring his widowed mother Katherine back to New Jersey. Mordecai Howell did return with his mother by May 1, 1690, because by that date he was “of Cooper’s Creek” when he sold 200 acres out of the 1/8th proprietary share he had bought from Henry Beal.7 But his mother settled in Philadelphia instead.

Hunts and Bulls

On September 3, 1688, John Reading, Mathew Medcalfe and Sarah Bull, widow of Thomas Bull, witnessed the will of William Hunt of Gloucester, NJ, who named as his executors his two daughters, Mary Spey and Sarah Harrison. The will was not recorded until June 1, 1689. Although some have speculated that William Hunt had come to Gloucester from Long Island and may have been related to Edward Hunt of that place, I rather doubt it. In 1686, William Hunt was called for jury duty with Thomas Bull, Daniel Reading, Mathew Medcalf and others, but he was not “attested on ye Jury.” In his will he named his four children; the other two were son William and daughter Elizabeth Hyhorn. He also named grandchildren William Spey and Anne Harrison.

The husband of Sarah Hunt was Samuel Harrison, a mariner, who died a fairly wealthy man in 1704. His estate included books and ‘plate’ and four Negroes. Sarah and Samuel had at least six children, born about 1685 to 1700. Sarah’s second husband was Capt. Richard Bull, son of the Sarah Bull who witnessed William Hunt’s will, and brother of Sarah Bull who married Samuel Green.

Sources Used in This Post

Thanks to Robert Haines, President of the West Jersey Council of Proprietors, for his help in understanding the business of the Proprietors of West New Jersey.

For other sources, please visit “Sources for West New Jersey” under “Basic Sources.”


  1. Gloucester Deeds, Book 1 pp.42, 44.
  2. Gloucester Deeds, Book 2 p.62.
  3. Gloucester Deeds, Book 2 p.64.
  4. Gloucester Deeds, Book 1 p.45.
  5. Gloucester Deeds, Book 1 p.83.
  6. Gloucester Deeds, Book 2 p.42.
  7. Gloucester Deeds, Book 2 p.104.