Coxe’s Letter to the West Jersey Proprietors

In 1689, affected by the uncertainty of the times, the West Jersey Proprietors wrote to Daniel Coxe that they would proclaim him governor if he would just provide his own writ of quo warranto. They “stressed the urgency of the situation” but Coxe, who also felt the uncertainty of the times, delayed his answer for several months.1

In my post for 1689, I was working from the minutes of the Proprietors for that year. But a recent visit to the State Archives showed me that I had missed the entry for the last meeting for that year which took place on December 22, 1689. The minutes announced that “a pacquet” had been received from Gov. Coxe “contayneing severall matters of great Importance Relateing both to proprietorship and Government directed to the proprietors and inhabitants of this province Inclosed in a Cover Addressed to ye Councell of proprietors.” This was so important that the proprietors agreed they should ponder the contents and consult with each other before meeting again on February 15, 1690. (They adjourned to February 14, 1690.) The minutes said nothing about the West Jersey Assembly, so we do not know if Gov. Coxe sent a letter to them separately or not. More importantly, we do not know if the Assembly was even meeting at this time.

That is a question that has bedeviled me—did the Assembly stop meeting when news was received of the overthrow of James II? If they continued to meet, they kept it secret. If they refrained from meeting, then we must conclude that the Assembly depended on the government in England for its legitimacy. Perhaps the answer lies in the packet of letters sent from Gov. Coxe. But those letters seem to have disappeared. John Pomfret did not find them, and I’m sure he looked very hard. Perhaps Coxe told the Proprietors that the Assembly should refrain from meeting until things were settled in England.

And yet, there is evidence that the Assembly was meeting, or at least had not dissolved itself. In the Council of West Jersey Proprietor minutes for Feb. 14, 1690 (1689 Old Style), there was this item:

The Councill having Received a letter from ye East Jarsians Concerneing ye Runing of ye partition Line, the Councill Referr ye answer thereto to be made by ye Generall Assembly.

So, clearly the Proprietors expected the Assembly to deal with the division line. But there is just enough ambiguity in that sentence to leave us in doubt as to whether the Assembly was meeting. But as for Coxe’s ‘pacquet,’ the Proprietors said nothing more. The next meetings were entirely concerned with internal affairs.

What could have been in that ‘pacquet’ from Daniel Coxe? Perhaps he discussed his plans to settle in West Jersey. According to an ancient historian named Oldmixon, Coxe was making preparations for such a trip in 1690, but friends and relatives talked him out of it. We don’t know what their objections were, or why they were so persuasive. But Coxe remained in England and was therefore obliged to leave the management of his province to others.2

Upheaval Among the Proprietors

As for those internal affairs I referred to, they concerned a sort of rebellion among the proprietors that was so significant that the entire Council resigned and called for the election of a new Council. What caused this upheaval? The minutes do not say, of course. The nine Council members were Thomas Olive, president, Andrew Robeson, John Tatham, Samuel Jennings, William Biddle, William Roydon, George Hutcheson, Thomas Gardiner Jr., and John Reading.

We might get some idea of the nature of the conflict by looking at who was elected to the new Council. The election was announced at the meeting held on October 13, 1690. Once again, Thomas Olive was president, so clearly, he was not the problem. The other new members were Andrew Robeson, William Roydon, Thomas Gardiner Sr., Thomas Gardiner Jr.,  and John Reading, only six names. The Commissioner for Burlington, replacing Samuel Jennings, was George Hutcheson, and for Gloucester, John Reading. “Attorneys for ye proprietors” from Burlington were Hutcheson, Francis Davenport, John Hollingshead and John Day, and from Gloucester, they chose, again, Thomas Gardiner Jr. and John Reading. All of these men were good steady Quakers.

So who was missing from the old Council? John Tatham (agent for Daniel Coxe and suspected Jacobite), Samuel Jennings, the passionate defender of Quaker and Assembly rights and liberties, and William Biddle, another committed Quaker. Were Tatham, Jennings and Biddle bringing too much controversy to the table? What is the back story? The minutes for February 14, 1690 read:

Whereas The Councill have advice that severall proprietors within ye Province are grately dissatisfied with and have showed much Aversion to many of ye Councills Transactions Chargeing them with severall of their orders that prove Burthensome and prejudiciall to ye proprietEs in Genrall  That ye said Councill have a designe to promote their own private Intrests more than ye publick &c. The sd Councill therefore agree and Resolve that to morrrowe being ye 15th of February The said Councill do Release Resigne and give up to ye proprietEs Their Power Trust and Authority formerly by ye said proprietEs committed to them And that ye said proprietEs have full & free liberty to Elect & Chuse other Representatives (wch may better please) to serve in ye Councill for ye future.3

I find it hard to believe that Jennings and Biddle were promoting their private interests, but it is quite likely that John Tatham was guilty of it. Also, I cannot help but wonder if this disturbance was related to Mahlon Stacy’s complaint at the meeting of July 25, 1689, of “several bad things of ye Councell” that were “Burdensome and injurious to ye proprietors.” The trouble is, I don’t have enough information. Mahlon Stacy had been replaced by John Tatham on the Council back when it was first formed. Adding to my suspicion that there was a misappropriation of funds or some inappropriate land dealings is this item from the minutes:

ye said ProprieEs will take ye Accounts of this present Councill as well what they have received as disbursed on ye publick and will Engage with them to discharge ye Balance.

There is another possibility–perhaps Tatham was removed from the Council because of the letter from Daniel Coxe. Could it be that Coxe wrote something offensive to the proprietors, which made them turn against Coxe’s agent? Sheer speculation.

A New Governor for East New Jersey

On October 3, 1690, Governor Robert Barclay died suddenly in Scotland at age 41.4 Even though an absentee governor, he was respected, and was much lamented after his death, even by William Penn who had disagreed with Barclay over whether East Jersey should be absorbed into the Dominion of New England. (Penn favored it, while Barclay was vigorously opposed.)

It is not at all clear who was governor of East New Jersey after Barclay’s death. Andrew Hamilton served officially as deputy governor under Barclay until August 1688. He probably was ex officio after that, while the Province waited to hear the outcome of developments in England.  In August 1689, Hamilton returned to England. It is not clear who was in charge in his absence. In 1690, the English proprietors tried to appoint a deputy governor for East New Jersey, as a way of reclaiming their right of self-government.

The Proprietors’ first nominee was John Tatham. He was probably recommended by Daniel Coxe. At least that appears to be the case. Tatham was no longer serving on the Council of Proprietors when their meeting was held on October 13, 1690, so he was free to accept nomination as East Jersey Governor. But he was not welcomed. Since Tatham was the proprietors’ man, “the people scrupled to obey” him (Whitehead 1875).5

In 1691 the proprietors tried again, this time naming Col. Joseph Dudley as governor, but he too was rejected, perhaps because he had served under Gov. Andros. The situation was not resolved until 1692 when Andrew Hamilton took the position of governor for both East and West New Jersey. So—there we have it—both East and West Jersey getting by without a functioning governor, and possibly no Assembly either, from 1689 to 1692. Looks like my post for 1691 is going to be brief.

The Mysterious Death of James Budd

While James Budd was in England in 1687, he was hired by Daniel Coxe to be his agent in New Jersey. When Coxe decided to give the job to John Tatham instead, he kept Budd on as his surveyor. Tatham came to America around 1685. He left behind his identity as John Gray, a Roman Catholic; in fact, he was a lapsed Jesuit. Like so many others, he recreated himself in America, a place where he could exercise his considerable skill for getting rich.

Henry Bisbee believes that John Tatham moved to the town of Burlington in 1688 after being named agent by Daniel Coxe. That was about the time that Tatham was elected to the Council of Proprietors. He appeared as a plaintiff in a court action in Burlington in September 1688, and by February 1689 he was serving on a grand jury. In 1688, Tatham and Budd set up an office together to handle Coxe’s affairs and also to act as merchants on their own. Tatham kept getting richer, partly by making mortgages. Not shy about displaying his wealth, he built a palatial home (for the time) on the east side of Burlington facing the Delaware River. The house had at least twelve rooms, a roof of sheet lead, and several outbuildings, as well as slave quarters.6

James Budd died in 1690 at the age of 41 under mysterious circumstances. He is said to have drowned in the Delaware River near Burlington. Gossip suggested that John Tatham had a hand in doing away with him.7 That gossip has not survived, so we do not know what the nature of the animosity was between Tatham and Budd, but it is clear that the Budd family blamed Tatham for the death.

According to Henry Bisbee, James Budd was irritated at being “subordinate to a non-Quaker,” and perhaps jealous of Tatham’s financial success. I am not comfortable assigning emotions to historic figures who cannot speak for themselves. We can imagine what was going on, but without something more concrete, we cannot know how they felt.

We get a glimpse at how Budd felt from court records. In 1694, Tatham brought suit against James Budd’s brother, John Budd, for defamation of character, and the case was heard in Burlington Court on November 9, 1694, with Gov. Andrew Hamilton presiding. Among those who testified against Tatham was, surprisingly, Jeremiah Basse; surprising because Tatham later (1697-98) joined with Jeremiah Basse to oppose the West Jersey Quaker proprietors. Most of the witnesses testified on behalf of John Budd, and the evidence was very disturbing. William Budd, brother of James, testified that James told him that he “was under great trouble, for that hee had a Letter in his pockett wherein his death was designed.” But he didn’t say who wrote the letter. Nicholas Martineau stated that Budd was upset because Tatham “would not pay him money necessary for his businesse hee had undertaken.” Despite this, the jury found in favor of Tatham, giving him £20 damages.8  Since the jury was made up mostly of Quakers, we must conclude that the Budd family could not prove their case.

And so ends 1690, another eventful year in West New Jersey.

Please see Sources for West New Jersey for references.


  1. Stellhorn & Birkner, 1982, pp.28-29.
  2. Scull, 1883, p.325.
  3. Apologies for the spelling. It is odd that Reading would write Es as an abbreviation for ers.
  4. Stellhorn & Birkner, 1982, p.26.
  5. I have been looking for the source of this quote, which appears in William A. Whitehead, East Jersey Under the Proprietary Governments, 1875. He does not give an attribution. Henry Bisbee has written that only John D. McCormick has argued that John Tatham actually served as governor. But even McCormick thinks that Tatham was prudent in not actually doing anything. McCormick, who seems to have a lot of sympathy for John Tatham, wrote that “scrupled to obey” did not mean outright disobedience or refusal to comply with his orders. See “John Tatham, New Jersey’s First Catholic Governor,” American Catholic Historical Society Researches (1888), 79-92.
  6.  Henry H. Bisbee, “John Tatham, Alias Gray,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1959, vol. 83, no. 3 (July): 253-264.
  7. John Pomfret 1956, p.158.
  8. Reed and Miller 1944, pp.174-75.