Ever wonder who first held official title to what is now known as New Jersey? Although Native Americans were living here at the time, the British Crown originally laid claim to the lands in this state in 1663. In June 1664, King Charles II made a land grant to his brother, James, Duke of York, which included the lands in New Jersey. Three months later, the Duke of York conveyed his interest in these lands to his two friends and supporters, John, Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. These gentlemen became the original proprietors of New Jersey.
Berkeley later sold his share of the lands to others. In 1676, the successors to Berkeley’s interests and Carteret signed an Agreement dividing the colony into East and West Jersey. The portion originally owned by Carteret became East Jersey and the portion originally owned by Berkeley became West Jersey. These two provinces each came to be ruled by a Board of Proprietors who represented owners of fractional shares of each province. Subsequent transfers of title to these lands were made by the Board of Proprietors and then subsequently by those who had been granted title and their successors in interest.
As recently as 1998, certain remaining lands in East Jersey were purchased by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. However, no such agreement was entered into for any remaining West Jersey lands. As a result, it is possible that when researching title to property once located in West Jersey that the research may lead to the West Jersey Board of Proprietors as owners.
Some lands in New Jersey were also acquired from Native Americans. For example, the Newark area was purchased from Native Americans in 1667. In 1669, Carteret purchased some lands from Native Americans as well. However, by 1758, any remaining land or claims to lands by Native Americans were extinguished by a treaty between the Native American tribal chiefs and then Governor Bernard on behalf of the British Crown and the colonists.
There has been some controversy as to the actual location of the Division Line between East and West Jersey. This resulted in three separate dividing lines – each originating near Little Egg Harbor and traversing the State on a diagonal, ending at varying points in northwest New Jersey depending on which line is followed. One of the lines, known as the Keith Line, has been perpetuated by parts of Province Line Road here in Mercer County.
After the division of the New Jersey lands into the provinces of East and West Jersey, the provinces were later subdivided over time into counties. There were only eight original counties; four in East Jersey and four in West Jersey. The original counties of East Jersey were: Bergen; Essex; Middlesex; and Monmouth. Out of these counties came Hudson (from Bergen), Passaic (from parts of Bergen and Essex), Union (from Essex), Ocean (from Monmouth), Somerset (from parts of Middlesex and Essex) and Mercer (from parts of Burlington, Middlesex and Somerset).
West Jersey’s original counties were: Burlington; Cape May; Gloucester; and Salem. Out of these counties came Atlantic (from Gloucester), Camden (from Gloucester), Cumberland (from Salem), Hunterdon (Burlington), Morris County (from Hunterdon), Sussex (from Morris) and Warren (from Sussex).
As a result of the emergence of newer counties from the older ones, when researching a title to a property, it is sometimes necessary to search title records from a predecessor county from which the newer county originated. So for example, if one goes back far enough in the title of a Mercer County property, one may have to visit the County Clerk’s office for Burlington, Middlesex, or even Essex counties.