New Jersey State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General New Jersey State History

New Jersey's first residents were the Lenni Lenape Indians who inhabited the territory for over 10,000 years before the first European arrived on its shores. Other tribes, including the Powhatan-Renape, also lived here.

The first European to explore New Jersey was Giovanni de Verrazano, from Florence, Italy, who sailed along the Jersey coast and anchored off Sandy Hook in 1524. Nearly a century later, in 1609, Henry Hudson arrived and New Netherland, a Dutch colony, was established in 1624 in what was then called 'the northeast territory'.

In 1638, a Swedish colony settled along the Delaware River and was taken over by the Dutch in 1655. In 1664, the area fell to the British. King Charles II granted domain to his brother James Duke of York, who granted the land between the Delaware and Hudson to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. They named the land New Jersey, after the Isle of Jersey, in the English Channel. The land was later sold to Quakers, who divided it into East and West Jersey. In 1702, the rights to both Jerseys were surrendered to the English Crown, who united the inhabitants under a royal governor. The governor of New York also served as the governor of New Jersey until 1738, when Lewis Morris became governor of New Jersey. More than 100 battles took place on New Jersey soil during the Revolutionary War. In 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware and surprised and defeated the Hessian garrison at Trenton. A few days after the new year, he defeated a British force at Princeton. His army spent the winter of that year and the 1779-80 winter in Morristown.

New Jersey was the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and the first to ratify the Bill of Rights in 1789. Francis Hopkinson, a signer of The Declaration of Independence is credited with designing the first American flag with thirteen stars and stripes. His design was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.

In 1791, Alexander Hamilton selected the Great Falls of the Passaic River as the site of a model factory town. Throughout the 1800s, the state continued to expand economically-roads were built, canals dug and railroads constructed. Rail and steamboat service helped Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Camden and Trenton become leading industrial areas.

By 1850, New Jersey's population of nearly half a million, and the industries in which most of those people worked, was concentrated in the north. The sparsely populated southern areas remained rural. After the Civil War, industrialization attracted still more workers from the south, along with many thousands of European immigrants. The railroads played a large role in helping the north Jersey lakeland and south Jersey seashore areas expand.

The entire state prospered greatly in the late 1800s. A good part of the state's economic expansion was due to the genius of its inventors-Thomas Edison was one of the most famous-who were responsible for the development of a number of important technological and research areas.

A strong and effective reform movement, which flowered in the early 1900s, brought Woodrow Wilson to power. He was elected governor in 1910 and resigned in 1913 to become President of the U.S. Among the many important social reforms associated with Wilson were a series of welfare acts providing workmen's compensation and protection for laborers, including restrictions on the employment of women and children, as well as a number of important antitrust laws.

During the war, New Jersey's economy expanded still further. The state became the site of important training centers, as well as a major port. Chemicals and munitions were two of its most important and profitable products. As its highway and transportation systems improved, it became one of the most important industrial states in the U.S.

New Jersey produced an enormous amount of war materiel. Twenty-five percent of U.S. Navy destroyers were constructed in the state, along with battleships, heavy cruisers and many aircraft engines. More than 500,000 New Jersey residents served in the armed forces.

Today, New Jersey is recognized for its present as well as its past.

One of New Jersey's premier landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, is America's greatest symbol of freedom. The freshly restored Ellis Island was a port to many in search of the American dream. Atlantic City, with its legendary boardwalk and casinos, is a vacation resort renowned worldwide. Four professional sport teams make their homes here: the 1990 National Football League Champion Giants, American Football Conference Jets National Basketball Association Nets, and National Hockey League Devils. Horse racing is a popular spectator sport. And the abundance of flowers, fruits and vegetables has given New Jersey its well-deserved nickname, the Garden State. New Jersey's tourism industry is currently ranked seventh in the United States.
New Jersey Historic Figures

Thomas Edison
1847-1931: He opened his own laboratory in Newark, N.J., where he made important improvements in telegraphy and on the typewriter, and invented the carbon transmitter that made Alexander Graham Bell's telephone practical. In 1876 he moved his laboratory to Menlo Park, N.J., where he invented the first phonograph (1877) and the prototype of the commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb (1879). These and other inventions led to his being internationally known as "the wizard of Menlo Park", although in 1887 he moved to a larger laboratory in West Orange, N.J. By the late 1880s he was contributing to the development of motion pictures, and by 1912 he was experimenting with talking pictures.


Grover Cleveland
1837-1908: Twenty-second/twenty-fourth U.S. president; born in Caldwell, N.J. Basically self-educated, he was admitted to the bar in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1859 and began to work his way up the political ladder as a Democrat, becoming a reformist mayor in 1881 and New York governor the next year. His efficiency, honesty, and independence from the state political machine took him to the presidency in 1884. During his first term he pursued civil service reform and lowered a protective tariff that was hurting labor. The latter, however, gained him the enmity of big-business interests; their man, Benjamin Harrison, won the close election of 1888. Cleveland came back to beat the ineffectual Harrison in 1892, but his second term was troubled by economic problems and ensuing unrest, during which Cleveland alienated workers and most Democrats. Losing the nomination in 1896, he retired to pursue business interests but he maintained his status as a respected statesman.


Walt Whitman
1819-92: Poet, writer; born in West Hills, Huntington, Long Island, N.Y. He was educated in Brooklyn (1825--30) where his father, a carpenter and farmer, had moved about 1823. He left school about age 12, and after working as an office boy, at age 13 he became a printer's assistant on several papers around New York City. While exposing himself to opera and theater, he began to contribute occasional pieces to newspapers (including some of the earliest reports of baseball games); at one stage he taught in various schools on Long Island (1836--41). In 1838 he was the founder/editor of a Huntington, Long Island, newspaper, The Long Islander. He continued educating himself through his reading and between 1841--48 contributed to various magazines - both fiction and commentary - and worked as an editor on several newspapers in and around New York City, most especially the Brooklyn Eagle (1846--48); he was fired from this last post because of his outspoken antislavery views. He then journeyed to New Orleans where for three months he wrote for the New Orleans Crescent. On returning to Brooklyn, he continued writing for and editing various newspapers (1848--62), and occasionally helping his father build houses. Meanwhile, about 1848 he had begun writing poetry in earnest. In 1855 he gathered 12 of these relatively long poems and self-published them as Leaves of Grass. Its radically free-flowing style and intensely personal subject matter did not engage the public or critics - although when Ralph Waldo Emerson praised his brave new style and wrote to him, "I greet you at the beginning of a new career," Whitman stamped that on the cover of an enlarged second edition (1856). In December 1862 he went to Virginia to find his brother who had been wounded in a battle; he stayed in Washington, D.C., to serve as a nurse in hospitals with wounded Civil War soldiers. He obtained a job as clerk in the Department of the Interior in 1865 but was soon fired when it was discovered he was the author of Leaves of Grass, already regarded as scandalous because of its frank sexual allusions. (His second volume of poems, Drum Taps (1865), was more acceptable to the public.) He then found a job in the attorney general's office (1865--73) but when he suffered a paralytic stroke he moved to Camden, N.J. He continued to write and publish larger editions of Leaves of Grass (his deathbed edition appearing in 1892) and also published the second of his prose works, Specimen Days (1882; his first was Democratic Vistas, 1877). Revered by a small band as "the Good Gray Poet," he held court in Camden, his reputation actually higher in Europe. It was only in the decades after his death that Whitman came to be recognized as one of the major American creative forces.


James Fenimore Cooper
1789-1851: Writer; born in Burlington, N.J. Raised in prosperous circumstances in his father's frontier settlement at Cooperstown, N.Y., he attended Yale University (but was expelled for a prank) and spent several years in the navy (1806--11). Living as a country gentleman, he wrote his first novel, Precaution (1820), allegedly after his wife challenged his claim that he could write a better one than what she was then reading. His second, The Spy (1821), is regarded as the first major American novel. He moved to New York City and achieved great popular success with The Pilot (1823) and his first three Leatherstocking tales, The Pioneers (1823), followed by The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Prairie (1827), a series that offered for the first time a heroic vision of the American frontier. From 1826 to 1833 he lived in Europe, where he wrote several American and European romances and other works revealing his deep homesickness for an unspoiled American wilderness. But his return to Cooperstown in 1834 was followed by years of bitter disillusionment with the U.S.A. He wrote many satires and virulent criticism that were largely ignored by readers; he also engaged in libel suits against some of his critics and this only further alienated the American public. The prolific output of his last years included a scholarly history of the U.S. Navy (1839), and, among other novels, two final Leatherstocking tales, The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841).


Charles Addams
1912-88: Cartoonist, born in Westfield, NJ. He was a regular contributor to The New Yorker from 1935 onwards, specializing in macabre humour and a ghoulish group which was immortalized on television in the 1960s as The Addams Family.