The history of New Jersey goes back to Dutch and Swedish communities established prior to settlement by the English. Dutch claims to the Hudson and Delaware valleys were based on the voyages of Henry Hudson, who sailed into Newark Bay in 1609. Under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company patroonships were offered for settlement, and small colonies were located on the present sites of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Gloucester City.
Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, who predominated in the Delaware Valley after 1638, were annexed by the New Netherland colony in 1655. In 1664, New Netherland was seized for the English, but the Dutch disputed this claim. Proprietorship of lands between the Hudson (at lat. 41°N) and the northernmost point of the Delaware was granted to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. The original grants to Berkeley and Carteret divided the region in two. The split was further defined in the Quintipartite Deed of 1676, which divided the province into East and West Jersey. East Jersey was held by Carteret.
In 1681 William Penn and 11 other Quakers purchased East Jersey from Carteret's widow. In both Jerseys confusion resulting from the unwieldy number of landowners together with widespread resentment against authority caused the proprietors to surrender voluntarily their governmental powers to the crown in 1702, although they retained their land rights. New Jersey's independence from New York was recognized, but authority was vested in the governor of New York until 1738, when Lewis Morris was appointed governor of New Jersey alone. Under the royal governors the same problems persisted—land titles were in dispute and opposition to the proprietors culminated in riots in the 1740s.
East Jersey was dominated by Calvinism, implanted by Scottish and New England settlers, while in West Jersey the Quakers soon developed a landed aristocracy with strong political and economic influence. Anti-British sentiment gradually spread from its stronghold in East Jersey throughout the colony and took shape in Committees of Correspondence. Although the Tory party was to prove strong enough to raise six Loyalist battalions, the patriot cause was generally accepted, and in June, 1776, the provincial congress adopted a constitution and declared New Jersey a state.
Because of its strategic position, New Jersey was of major concern in the American Revolution. Washington's memorable Christmas attack on the Hessians at Trenton in 1776, followed by his victory at Princeton, restored the confidence of the patriots. In June, 1778, Washington fought another important battle in New Jersey, at Monmouth. Altogether, about 90 engagements were fought in the state, and Washington moved his army across it four times, wintering twice at Morristown.
At the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, the delegates from New Jersey sponsored the cause of the smaller states and carried the plan for equal representation in the Senate. New Jersey was the third state to ratify (Dec., 1787) the Constitution of the United States. By this time New Jersey's population had grown from an estimated 15,000 in 1700 to approximately 184,000. Trenton became the state's capital in 1790. Agriculture had been supplemented by considerable mining and processing of copper and iron and by the production of lumber, leather, and glass.
During the next 50 years, a period of enormous economic expansion, the dominance of the landed aristocracy gave way to industrial growth and to a more democratic state government. The important textile industry, powered by the falls of the Passaic, was initiated at Paterson. Potteries, shoe factories, and brickworks were built. Roads were improved, the Morris Canal and the Delaware and Raritan canals were chartered, and the Camden and Amboy RR completed a line from New York to Philadelphia with monopoly privileges.
Prior to the Civil War an era of reform resulted in the framing of a new state constitution (1844) in which property qualifications for suffrage were abolished, provisions were made for the popular election of the governor and the assemblymen, and a balance of power and responsibility was established among the executive, legislative, and judicial departments. In spite of some pro-Southern sentiment, New Jersey recruited its quota of regiments in the Civil War and gave valuable financial aid to the Union. The war demands proved lucrative for commerce and industry, and the expanding labor market attracted large numbers of European immigrants.
By 1865 the pattern of the state's development was molded. Population and industry showed rapid and steady growth. Large economic interests grasped control of political power, giving rise to sporadic but unsustained popular movements for reform. The Camden and Amboy RR was transferred by lease to the Pennsylvania RR in 1871, and its monopolistic power was lessened by legislation opening the state to all rail lines and by the assessment and taxation of railroad properties.
After the 1870s easy incorporation laws and low corporation tax rates attracted new trusts to incorporate through "dummy" offices in the state. There was much liberal sentiment against the power of "big business." A general reform movement sponsored by Woodrow Wilson when he was governor (1910–12) resulted in such legislation as the direct primary, a corrupt practices act, and the "Seven Sisters" acts for the regulation of trusts (later repealed).
The state voted predominantly Democratic from the Civil War until 1896. Since that time it has frequently voted Republican in national elections, and in state politics it has often divided power between Democratic governors and Republican legislatures. The powerful political machine of Frank Hague, centered in Jersey City, wielded great influence in the Democratic party from 1913 until 1949, when it was defeated by insurgents within its ranks.
In 1947 a new constitution was framed and accepted to replace the antiquated constitution of 1844. The liberal Bill of Rights was preserved and extended, governmental departments were streamlined, the cumbersome court system was simplified, the executive power was strengthened, and labor's right to organize and bargain collectively was recognized. In 1966 another convention was called to rewrite those portions of the 1947 constitution invalidated by application of the U.S. Supreme Court's "one man, one vote" rule to state legislatures. The convention drafted sweeping revisions, which were approved by the electorate in Nov., 1966.
A six-day race riot in Newark in July, 1967, drew attention to the urgent need for social and political reform in many of the state's urban centers. During the early 1970s the state government proposed plans for massive urban renewal and economic development projects, but the trend of movement away from central cities increased throughout the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s.
During this period, New Jersey lost thousands of manufacturing jobs but replaced them through the dramatic development of the economy's service and trade sectors. In 1976 the state legalized casino gambling and in 1978 the first casino opened in Atlantic City. The Meadowlands Sports Complex opened in 1976 and now includes a football stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets professional football teams, and an indoor arena. New Jersey was hard hit by recession in the early 1990s and the state suffered from overdevelopment, but increasing economic diversity had fueled a recovery by the decade's end. Many of the state's numerous shore communities and resorts suffered significant damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.