West New Jersey In Debt

The West Jersey Assembly met in May of 1687. The minutes of their meeting are not included in Leaming and Spicer’s Grants and Concessions, so for many years, people thought they had not met at all. We know of two matters undertaken by the Assembly in 1687. The first was the problem of the Province’s debt. Despite the fact that taxes had been levied, they could not be collected. Much of this was due to the scarcity of coin, which had to come from abroad. By May of 1687 the debt had risen to £1,250.

There was only one commodity that West New Jersey had in abundance, and that was land. So, Thomas Budd volunteered to assume the entire debt himself in exchange for 15,000 acres of land in the province. At the end of this session, on May 25th, 24 proprietors signed a deed granting Budd the 15,000 acres. They were William Alberson, Henry Ballenger, John Barton [Boarton], Thomas Barton, William Bate, Francis Beswick, William Budd, Symon Charles, Francis Collins, William Cooper, Bernard Devonish, Thomas Gardner, Thomas Harding, John Hugg, Thomas Mathews, William Peachee, John Reading, Andrew Robeson, William Roydon, John Shinn Sr., Percifall Towle, William Watson, Gilber Wheeler, and Daniel Wills Sr.1

The Council of Proprietors

The other matter of concern to the Assembly was the time it had to spend on managing sales of proprietary shares and surveys of land. People were selling fractions of fractions of shares, and it was too much for a part-time governing body. They asked the Proprietors (many of whom were also members of the Assembly) to take over this burdensome task. A group of 59 proprietors (including John Reading and Gilbert Wheeler) met together after the session and decided to send James Budd to England to consult on this with Gov. Daniel Coxe. While Budd was in England, Coxe gave him power of attorney to sell his lands in West New Jersey. Budd returned to Burlington in the company of one Adlord Bowd, whom Coxe had named to be his agent in West New Jersey, which is confusing given the power of attorney granted to Budd. Bowd (or Bowde) soon became ill (perhaps West-Jersey didn’t agree with him) and hired James Budd to survey properties for Daniel Coxe. I mention all of this because Adlord Bowde’s name will one day show up on a survey of 30,000 acres in Hunterdon County. I am assuming that James Budd also returned to West-Jersey with Gov. Coxe’s approval for creation of a board of proprietors independent of the Assembly.

Adding Injury to Insult

1687 was also a year of scarcity for West New Jersey residents, as described by Samuel Smith, who wrote that crops “in great part failed.” He did not say why the crops failed but described the hardship of families subsisting on fish or the generosity of more prudent neighbors. Some were driven to gathering “herbs.” There might have been a Jamestown situation if a ship from New England had not arrived in Philadelphia “laden with corn, which proved an agreeable supply.” Additional ships followed, preventing a disaster. (Note that in the 1680s, the word ‘corn’ generally meant wheat, which grew in England; our American corn was not yet a major commodity.)

The winter of 1687 must have been a severe one, probably a continuation of the frigid weather the first settlers experienced in 1677 (which I wrote about earlier). Today we call it the “Little Ice Age.” Unfortunately, in 1687 no one in West New Jersey was recording the temperatures, so there is no specific information available about weather patterns. It seems likely that crops failed due to conditions that were colder and wetter than normal, something a little worse than the summer of 2009.

East New Jersey’s Pre-emptive Action

The Proprietors of East New Jersey were aware that New York had appealed to the king for relief from the advantage that East New Jersey enjoyed with respect to customs duties. They feared that the king might solve the problem by joining East-Jersey to New York. There had never been friendly relations between the two provinces, so the prospect was not appealing to the East-Jersey Proprietors.

To pre-empt New York, the Proprietors of East New Jersey sent their own petition to the king in June 1687 (which you can read here), asking that their province be joined with West New Jersey rather than with New York, and that ownership of the soil be separated from the right to govern the inhabitants. The Proprietors were first and foremost investors and were not about to give up control over sales of land.

The king passed the petition on to the Lords of Trade, who had been expecting both New York and the New Jersey provinces to voluntarily relinquish their right to govern to the crown. No doubt Gov. Coxe in London was busy negotiating for West-Jersey, but we have no information on that. The situation was temporarily resolved in 1688 (to be described in a future post).

The Howell Family

In 1687 (I cannot give an exact date), Thomas Howell of Gloucester County wrote his last will and testament. The fact that he referred to Gloucester County in his will shows how the fact of the county’s existence had been accepted by this time. The County is said to have been named for Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the third son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, who died in 1660 at the age of 20. He had been raised as a Protestant during Cromwell’s Protectorate and was later regarded as the ‘lost leader’ of the Stuart opponents, which gives you a hint of the political leanings of Gloucester County residents.

Thomas Howell referred to his wife as “not living with testator.” She was still residing in England, and he did not know if she was alive or dead. If she came to America, the will allowed her to have the household goods. Howell’s will mentioned sons Daniel and Mordecai and three unnamed daughters. His property consisted of a farm of 100 acres, and another of 250 acres, plus personal property. Surprisingly, he named his second-oldest son Mordecai his executor rather than eldest son Daniel. The will was witnessed by Moses Lakin, William Willis and Stephen Penston.

I do not have the original documents pertaining to his estate. (It is times like this that I wish I were living next door to the State Archives.) There is some confusion in the abstract, which states that the will was proved on March 9, 1686/87. And yet, on June 1, 1687, Thomas Howell of West Jersey, planter, sold 100 acres in Coopers Creek to Richard Wright. The property bordered Howell’s other land and Francis Collins.2 Since the new year in those days did not begin until March 1st,  I think we can conclude that the will was recorded in March 1688, not 1687.

The Inventory of his estate was recorded on October 29, 1687 and amounted to £154.8.7. It was made by Stephen Penston and George Goldsmith. On November 3, 1687, son Mordecai submitted a bond as administrator of the estate, with Stephen Penstone of Gloucester and James Hill of Burlington as fellow bondsmen. The next day, Mordecai Howell of Cooper’s Creek mortgaged the farm of 250 acres to Stephen Penston and James Hill, to hold them harmless for their role as fellowbondsmen.

The abstract adds an interesting note. There was a nuncuputive (i.e., spoken) will attached to the letters of administration granted to Mordecai Howell, recorded at Burlington, rather than Gloucester.3 It would be interesting to see if there is more to this story.

Thomas Howell’s wife Katherine apparently traveled to America after her husband’s death. I have a note (from an unidentified source) that her son Mordecai traveled to England to get her. We do know that she settled in Philadelphia with her son Daniel and did not die until October 1695. She wrote a will mentioning sons Daniel (the eldest) and Mordecai, and also Daniel’s daughter Hannah Howell.

Reading and Bull Families

I neglected to mention in my entry for 1686 that John and Elizabeth Reading had a son that year, born on June 6, 1686. They named him John Reading, Jr. He would be their only son, and a great help to his father in later years.

In his capacity as clerk to the Gloucester County Court, John Reading recorded the first marriage in the county this year.

In 1687, “John Reding” appeared on the Tax List of the Lower Division of Gloucester County at Timber Creek with 560 acres and 5 head of cattle. The only others there were Mrs. Bull with 500 acres and John Ithell with 1000 acres. Mrs. Bull was Sarah, widow of Thomas Bull, living with her sons Richard and Thomas, and daughter Sarah. Thomas Bull had died without a will in 1686, probably in November. Administration had been granted to his widow Sarah. In 1687, Daniel and John Reading made an inventory of his property in Gloucester. The sons, Richard and Thomas, were not quite of age, I believe, so nothing further was done with the estate until the 1690s. Samuel Green was about the same age as Richard and Thomas Bull and may have been living with this family.

In November, John Reading, yeoman of Gloucester County, conveyed 250 acres to Matthew Medcalf of same.4 Later on, Mathew’s widow Deborah would acquire a large acreage in Hunterdon County.

Thomas Budd In Trouble

Thomas Budd was given the right to 15,000 acres of land in West New Jersey, but before he could have it surveyed, it had to be purchased from the Indians who lived on it. According to a letter written to the Proprietors in England, Budd purchased land on what the East-Jersey Proprietors considered to be the east side of the dividing line. According to Pomfret, it was located above the Falls of the Delaware (Trenton) and was considered some of the best land in the Province. Keith’s dividing line came perilously close to Trenton.

When Budd traveled to New York, probably in late 1687, to acquire trade goods to give to the Indians, he was waylaid on his return home and arrested by an East-Jersey Sheriff, name not known. Budd was confined at John Inian’s tavern for two or three days, during which time he refused to accept that he was at fault for making his Indian purchases. During his confinement he was visited by some other West-Jersey men and, fearing they meant to release him from jail, the sheriff put up a stronger guard, which in those days meant spending a lot of money. After five days, Budd was brought before deputy governor Andrew Hamilton, where he was reminded that no one was to purchase land near the disputed dividing line until the boundary had been resolved. Budd answered that his actions had been sanctioned by the West New Jersey Assembly, who would bear him out; and if not, shame on them. This was a little ingenuous since the Assembly did not specify where Budd’s lands should be located, at least not officially.

Since Budd did not have a copy of the act of Assembly with him, he could not show it to the deputy governor, who responded that if Budd’s claim was true, then the West-Jersey deputy governor was equally guilty with Budd for a breach of faith, and would thereby forfeit the bond of £5000. So, Budd had to give a recognizance of £1000 to appear at the next court to be held in October (presumably of 1687). I do not know what the outcome of this case was. There is no entry in the Journal of Governor & Council of East New Jersey, 1682-1703 for the year 1687.

Back in England

The final important development in the year 1687 was the news that James’ wife Marie Beatrice was pregnant. This was important because if she had a son, then James would have a (presumably) Catholic heir. His two daughters, Anne and Mary, had defied their father and remained with the Church of England. Many in England were suspicious of James’ efforts to establish a policy of tolerance for Catholics. News of an heir made them downright anxious, and some began making visits to Mary and her husband, William of Orange, to discuss a dramatic change for the country. Stay tuned.

  1. West Jersey Proprietors’ Deeds, NJ State Archives, Book B1:150, 231; see also Nelson’s Calendar of Records, p. 419.
  2. Gloucester Deeds, Book 1 p. 14.
  3. Burlington Records, p. 13.
  4. Gloucester Deeds, Book 3 p. 27.