West Jersey Proprietors Deposit - What People are Saying
Note: The Star Ledger article incorrectly refers to the records deposit as a gift and donation.
GIFT TO JERSEY: BIRTH CERTIFICATE
Thursday, December 15, 2005
By Tom Hester
It was an early holiday gift and added to a run of good fortune that has spread good cheer throughout the New Jersey historical community.
Thousands of important documents related to the settlement of Colonial West Jersey in the 1600s and 1700s -- some bearing the rare signatures of William Penn, the Duke of York (later England's King James II) and Sir George Carteret -- were donated to the State Archives in Trenton yesterday by an organization that traces its roots to the founders of the province.
The jewel of the collection is a 1677 document archivists describe as the constitution of West Jersey. They maintain it served, in part, as a basis for the U.S. Constitution.
Titled "Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders and Inhabitants of the Province of West Jersey in America," it calls for, among other things, equal rights for women, the education of girls, trial by jury and fair treatment of Native Americans.
"If you asked me 10 years ago if I thought it would be possible to obtain both the East and West Jersey proprietary records and that they would be available in the State Archives, I would have said no," said Joseph R. Klett, the archives chief. "This is a wonderful gift from the West Jersey Council, and the collection adds immeasurably to the State Archives."
This is the third major acquisition related to Colonial New Jersey the state has obtained in the past seven years. On June 21, it bid $656,760 to obtain 11 rare maps and documents that detail the early European settlement of New Jersey, which were being auctioned at Christie's in New York. In 1998, the now-defunct East Jersey Proprietors donated thousands of their records, which also date back to the 1600s.
Included among the yellowed and frayed but neatly hand-written parchment documents obtained yesterday were:
- An agreement conveying land to William Penn, a founder of West Jersey, which bears his seal in red wax, a rare example of that identification mark, as well as his signature, still clearly visible. Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania.
- A lease signed simply but boldly "James," as in the future James II, granting "New Jersey" -- actually West Jersey -- to Carteret and John Lord Berkeley in 1664.
- A 1719 surveyor's map fixing the location of the three-way border where West Jersey met East Jersey and New York at the Delaware River; it highlights a Lenape Indian village at the riverbank. West Jersey, settled mainly by Quakers fleeing persecution in England, extended west and south of a line that ran from that point to the southern end of Long Beach Island. East and north of that line was the province of East Jersey. Together they became the state of New Jersey in 1776.
- A tattered book contains the minutes of the Council of Proprietors of West New Jersey from 1688.
- Maps, record books, land surveys and newspapers.
In all, the archives received 11 large parchment documents from 1664 to 1763; 55 bound volumes of minutes, surveys, warrants and other records dating from 1676 to 1909; surveys from 1680 to the 1900s; and 52 boxes of rolled maps and plans dating to the 1700s.
Robert S. Haines, the Proprietors' president who negotiated with Klett for two years, said the documents include the original papers for virtually every piece of property in West Jersey. He said the safety of the documents and making them available to researchers were strong considerations in the decision.
"The archives has state-of-the-art security and care we could never duplicate," he said. "These documents are so important and precious, they need the best of care, something that we could never afford."
The 330-year-old Proprietors Council is the legal successor to Lord Berkeley and had protected the documents in a steel and concrete vault at its headquarters in Burlington City. The organization is still approached by lawyers, surveyors and real estate agents to help settle land disputes, according to William H. Taylor of Haddonfield, the Proprietors' surveyor general.
Klett said the documents will be examined to determine the need for repairs by professional conservationists, catalogued and made available to researchers. He said reproductions of especially historic papers will eventually be exhibited for the public.
HISTORICAL ARCHIVES CHANGE HANDS IN NJ
By Nora Muchanic
December 14, 2005
A treasure trove of valuable historical documents has been turned over to the state archives.
The Council of Proprietors of West Jersey turned over the documents to the state archives. The panel dates back to 1688, and for over 300 years these charters, books, and maps were kept in a vault in Burlington.
Robert Haines/Council of Proprietors Pres.: "Security was pretty good but not anywhere near what the state archives has."
The most significant piece is this priceless, handwritten book of Concessions and Agreements, written by William Penn and the Quakers in 1676. It served as the constitution for what was once West Jersey-- and as documents go, is considered on a par with the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence.
Sen. Diane Allen/R-Burlington County: "It said that men and women should be treated equally, it said that everybody should be educated."
Of special interest is the signature and wax seal of William Penn on one of the papers.
Karl Niederer/Dir. Archives Management: "It bears the impression of his signet ring and his coat of arms. And there are very few of those that have survived 340 years."
Edward Sayers/Pine Beach, New Jersey: "I think it's amazing to know that that far back you're actually looking at what he signed, his name right there."
Considering how old they are experts say the papers are in great shape but do need some work.
Joe Klett/State Archives Chief: "They do need some conservation, there are losses and places where the documents have become fragmented. They need to be repaired."
They'll then be kept in climate-controlled storage.
William Taylor/Surveyor General: "We could not afford to do that in our little office in Burlington. The state has this beautiful facility."
The originals are too fragile to be on constant display, but exact copies will be made so that eventually the public will be able to view these important historical documents.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE DEPOSIT...
"I send you my sincerest congratulations and great appreciation for what you have accomplished! I and my fellow students of West Jersey history are deeply indebted to you and the archives staff for obtaining this material and preparing it for public access. There are many documents and maps that have never been seen by most modern historians and I am very excited about the prospects of reviewing the collection. Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of the West Jersey history community!!"
Paul W. Schopp
"Congratulations on the transfer of the West Jersey Proprietors' records. I can't imagine what you would do for an encore performance. New Jersey is quite lucky to have such a good archives and talented archives staff. It has been an extraordinary year for New Jersey history."
Associate Professor of Anthropology and History
"Congratulations on this great acquisition ... I want to wish you the very best and know that it will be a great celebration!"
Ronald L. Becker
Special Collections and University Archives
Rutgers, The State University
"I want to congratulate [the West Jersey Council officers] in negotiating the deposit agreement with the State. All members of Council will agree with me in expressing thanks to you for your good judgment in handling a complicated matter."
Richard P. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University
"Congratulations on your good work..."
David A. Cowell>
Advocates for New Jersey History
"The [Star Ledger] article described a truly wonderful cache of material. Congratulations."
Archives of the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/
State Historical Records Advisory Board
"Congratulations on getting this treasure trove for the State Archives."
National Society, D.A.R. Library, Washington, DC
"This is big news for the New Jersey Archives and the genealogical community. These records (and those from East Jersey acquired a few years ago) are almost unique in the whole US. Just looking at documents prepared 340 years ago is quite an experience."
John W. Konvalinka
Genealogical Society of New Jersey
Chad E. Leinaweaver, Library Director
New Jersey Historical Society
"I am elated that these documents are now at the Archives; my Ph.D. research will greatly benefit from these sources."
University of Delaware, Department of History
"Congratulations on your newest acquisition!"
Beverly A. Weaver
Office of Historic Sites
"Thank you for keeping NJ history world posted on your major acquisitions. This is great news that you have acquired the West Jersey Proprietors’ records."
New Jersey Historical Society
"Congratulations to Joe Klett and the New Jersey State Archives on this acquisition."
"I was excited to learn about this ... Bravo to you ..."
New Jersey Historic Trust
Richard W. Hunter
Hunter Research Associates
"This is awesome! Great job!!!!"
Salem County Department of Archives
"This is a wonderful thing you have done for the NJSA! Great work!"