The Founding of the Quaker colony of West Jersey

Quoted from Samuel Janney's "The Life of William Penn," 6th edition, 1882. Transcribed by James Quinn, Historian, Gwynedd Friends Meeting (Pennsylvania)

In the year 1664, the Duke of York, proprietary of the province of New York, assigned to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret the tract of country to the east of the Delaware River, and extending to the Hudson and the Atlantic. In honour of Carteret, who was Governor of the island of Jersey, this territory received the name of New Jersey.

Lord Berkeley, in the year 1675, for the sum of one thousand pounds, sold his half of the province of New Jersey to John Fenwick, in trust for Edward Byllinge, and his assigns.

Fenwick and Byllinge, both members of the society of Friends, became involved in a dispute about the property, and having confidence in the judgement of Penn, they agreed to refer the matter to him for arbitration.

After carefully examining the case, he gave his award which, not being satisfactory to Fenwick, he refused to comply with.

The arbitrator was deeply grieved at his obstinacy, and much concerned lest the dispute should give rise to a law-suit between the parties, and thus bring discredit upon the society, which prohibits litigation between its members. In order to induce Fenwick to come forward and settle the difference, the following letter was written:

"John Fenwick: — The present difference betwixt thee and Edwar Byllinge fills the hearts of Friends with grief, and with a resolution to take it in two days into their consideration to make a public denial of the person that offers violence to the award made, or that will not end it without bringing it upon the public stage. God, the righteous judge, will visit him that stands off. Edward Byllinge will refer the matter to me again, if thou wilt do the like. Send me word; and as oppressed as I am with business, I will find an afternoon to-morrow or next day to determine, and so prevent the mischief that will certainly follow divulging it in Westminster Hall. Let me know by the bearer thy mind. Oh John ! let Truth, and the honour of it in this day, prevail! Woe to him that causeth offences! I am an impartial man.


This letter not having the desired effect, Penn wrote him two others, the last of which is subjoined, on account of the good feeling and true wisdom it exhibits:

"JOHN FENWICK: — I have, upon serious consideration of the present difference, (to end it with benefit to you both, and as much quiet as may be,) thought my counsel's opinion very reasonable: indeed, thy own desire to have the eight parts added, was not so pleasant to the other party, that it should now be shrunk from by thee as injurious; and when thou hast once thought a proposal reasonable, and given power to another to fix it, 'tis not in thy power, nor indeed a discreet or civil thing, to alter or warp from it, and call it a being forced. Oh John! I am sorry that a toy, a trifle, should thus rob men of their time, quiet, and a more profitable employ. I have had a good conscience in what I have done in this affair, and if thou reposest confidence in me, and believest me to be a good and just man, as thou hast said, thou shouldst not be upon such nicety and uncertainty. Away with vain fancies, I beseech thee, and fall closely to thy business. Thy days spend on, and make the best of what thou hast. Thy grandchildren may be in the other world before the land thou hast allotted will be employed. My counsel, I will answer for it, shall do thee all right and service in the affair that becomes him, who, I told thee at first, should draw it up as for myself. If this cannot scatter thy fears, thou are unhappy, and I am sorry. Thy friend,


This dispute being at length adjusted by the kind offices of Penn, Fenwick embarked with his family in the ship Griffith, accompanied by several other Friends, to take possession of the land assigned him. They landed at a "pleasant rich spot" on the river Delaware, where they commenced a settlement, to which he gave the name of Salem.

This was the first English ship that came to the western part of New Jersey, and none followed for nearly two years. In the mean time, Edward Byllinge, becoming embarrassed in his circumstances, was desirous to transfer to his creditors his interest in the territory, being the only means he had to satisfy their claims.

At his earnest entreaty, Penn consented to be associated as joint trustee, with two of the creditors, Gawen Laurie, of London, and Nicholas Lucas, of Hertford, to carry out his intentions and render the property available. Penn thus became one of the chief instruments in the settlement of New Jersey, and establishment of a colonial government, which prepared him for the still greater work of founding a colony of his own.

In order to promote the settlement and proper government of the colony, a constitution was drawn up in the spring of the year 1676, under the title of "Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders, and Inhabitants of the Province of West New Jersey," which was subscribed by one hundred and fifty-one names; and in the summer of the same year, a deed of partition was signed between Sir George Carteret on the one part, and Edward Byllinge, William Penn, Gawen Laurie, and Nicholas Lucas on the other part.

This deed assigned to Carteret that part of the province next to New York, under the title of "New East Jersey," and to Byllinge, Penn, and others, the part bordering on the Delaware, called, "New West Jersey;" the line being drawn "from the east side of Little Egg Harbour, straight north through the country to the utmost branch of Delaware River."

This arrangement gave to Carteret the settled part of the province on the Passaic and Raritan, and to Penn and his friends the unvultivated portion on the Delaware, then mostly in possession of the Indians.

The trustees, of whom Penn appears to have been the prime mover, now wrote to Richard Hartshorne, a Friend of high standing already settled in the province, requesting his consent to be joined in commission with two others, James Wasse and Richard Guy; whom they authorized and instructed to act for them in the public affairs of the colony.

In their letter to Hartshorne, after stating the agreement with Carteret, theyh speak of the constitution they had adopted in the following terms:

"We have made concessions by ourselves, being such as Friends here, and there, (we question not,) will approve of, having sent a copy of them to James Wasse; there we lay a foundation for after ages to understand their liberty as men and Christians, that they may not be brought in bondage, but by their own consent; for we put the power in the people, that is to say, they to meet and choose one honest man for each propriety who hath subscribed the concessions; all these men to meet as an assembly, there to make and repeal laws, to choose a governor, or a commissioner, and twelve assistants to execute the laws during their pleasure; so every man is capable to choose or be chosen. No man to be arrested, condemned, imprisoned, or molested in his estate or liberty but by twelve men of the neighbourhood; no man to lie in prison for debt, but that his estate satisfy as far as it will go, and be set at liberty to work; no person to be called in question or molested for his conscience, or for worshipping according to his conscience; with many more things mentioned in the said concessions."

The territory was to be divided into one hundred parts, of which ten were assigned to Fenwick for his trouble, and money advanced to Lord Berkeley, and the remaining ninety reserved for sale on account of the creditors of Byllinge.

West New Jersey being now opened for sale, the trustees published and circulated through the kingdom a description of it, with an invitation to Friends and others to purchase lands and promote emigration.

In publishing these proposals for colonization, they were careful to advise, that "whosoever had a desire to be concerned in this intended plantation should weigh the ting well before the Lord, and not headily and rashly conclude on any such remove, and that they do not offer violence to the tender love of their near kindred, but soberly and conscientiously endeavour to obtain their good-will and the unity of Friends where they live."

In the years 1677 and 1678 five vessels sailed for the province of West New Jersey with 800 emigrants, most of them members of the Society of Friends. Among the first purchasers were two companies of Friends — the one from Yorkshire, the other from London, who each contracted for a large tract of land. In 1677 commissioners, some of whom were chosen from the London, and others from the Yorkshire company, were sent out by the proprietors, with power to buy land of the natives, to inspect the rights of such as claimed property, to order the lands out, and to administer the government.

They came with other passengers, numbering in all 230, in the ship Kent, which arrived at Newcastle the 16th of the 6th month, O.S., and proceeding up the Delaware, landed at Rackoon Creek, where the Swedes had some "scattering habitations, but too few in number to accommodate them all, so that many had to take up their abode in stables, or erect huts in the Indian fashion."

The commissioners proceeded up the river to the place where Burlington now stands, which was then called Chygoes Island, from the name of an Indian Sachem who lived there. Having obtained interpreters from among the Swedes settled about New Castle, by their aid they made several purchases of land, but not having goods enough to pay for the whole, they agreed not to settle on it until the full amount was paid.

At Chygoes Island they laid out a town. "After locating the main street, they divided the land on each side into lots — the easternmost among the Yorkshire proprietors, the other among the Londoners. The town was first called Beverly, then Bridlington, and finally Burlington." (Smith's History of NJ)

As the price of lands at that day, and the manner of dealing with the Indians, may be a matter of interest, the following list of the articles given in excahnge for the tract of country extending twenty miles on the Delaware River, and lying between Oldman's Creek and Timber Creek, is taken from Smith's History of New Jersey. It was purchased in the year 1677, when the natives received for it, 30 match-coats, 20 guns, 30 kettles, 1 great kettle, 30 pair of hose, 20 fathoms of duffels, 30 petticoats, 30 narrow hoes, 30 bars of lead, 15 small barrels of powder, 70 knives, 30 Indian axes, 70 combs, 60 pair of tobacco tongs, 60 tinshaw looking-glasses, 120 awl-blades, 120 fish-hooks, 2 grasps of red paint, 120 needles, 60 tobacco boxes, 120 pipes, 200 bells, 100 Jews-harps, and 6 anchors of rum.

In the same history it is stated, that about the year 1703, two purchases, amounting to about one hundred and fifty thousand acres, were made from the Indians for seven thousand pounds.

The colony of West New Jersey continued to prosper under Penn and his associates. Colonists arrived in considerable numbers, good order and harmony prevailed, the country proved to be productive, the air was salubrious, and the Indians, being treated kindly and dealt with justly, were found to be excellent neighbours. The Friends, who had been persecuted with relentless severity in their native land, found a peaceful and happy asylum in the forests of the new world, among a people who had hitherto been reputed as ruthless savages.

In the same province, ten years before, the "concessions" of Carteret and Berkeley required each colonist to provide himself with a good musket, powder and balls; but now, the Friends came among their red brethren, armed only with the wapons of the Christian's warfare, integrity, benevolence, and truth; they met them without fear or suspicion; trusting in that universal principle of light and life which visits all minds, and would, if not resisted, bind the whole human family in one harmonious fraternity.

The colonists made it their first care, on landing, to establish meetings for Divine worship and Christian discipline. At the place where Burlington now stands, their first meetings were held, under a tent covered with sail-cloth. Here they were kept up regularly at stated times, until John Woolston built his house, which was the first frame house erected in Burlington.

At this house, and that of Thomas Gardner, soon after errected, they continued to hold their meetings until a suitable meeting-house was built.

Among the first objects that claimed the attention of their "Meetings for Discipline," were the care and support of the poor, the orderly conduct of their members, and the solemnization of marriages.

In these several respects, as well as in the efforts for putting an end to the trafic in ardent spirits with the natives, they faithfully followed their convictions of duty, and the colony was blessed with an unusual degree of prosperity and happiness.

Information on this page provided by James Quinn. Visit Gwynedd (Pennsylvania) Friends Meeting.