The History of New Jersey

New Jersey has played a pivotal role in the history of the United States, specifically when it comes to the American Revolution.

New Jersey has a long and distinguished history that dates back far before the American Revolution in which the state played a pivotal role.


Also known as the Garden State, New Jersey has been a center for high-tech industry and invention throughout its existence. Originally settled by Native Americans, New Jersey has welcomed waves of immigrants, from the Dutch and English in the 1600s to Asians and Latin Americans today.


One of the first European explorers to see the land that became New Jersey was Henry Hudson, who in 1609 sailed along the coast in his ship the Half Moon. One of his crewmembers wrote in his journal, "This is a very good land to fall in with and a pleasant land to see." 


The first colonizers were the Dutch, who established their New Netherland colony along the Hudson River. A short-lived Swedish colony was established on the Delaware River to the south. In 1664, the English conquered the region and named the area between the two rivers New Jersey, after the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel.


New Jersey played a key role in the American Revolution. Because it was located between British-occupied New York City and the rebel capital of Philadelphia, the state was repeatedly invaded by the enemy. Gen. George Washington spent more of the war in New Jersey than in any other state.


And more battles and skirmishes — including the battles of Trenton, Princeton and Monmouth — were fought here than anywhere else. Washington's victory at Trenton in 1776 has been described as the most important American military victory ever, because if he had lost it, the nation would have perished in its infancy. The state has rightfully been dubbed the “Crossroads of the American Revolution.”


After the war, New Jersey was the third state to adopt the U.S. Constitution and the first to approve The Bill of Rights. At the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia, a New Jersey delegate, William Paterson, put forward the "New Jersey Plan," which ultimately led to the establishment of the U.S. Senate, in which every state, large and small, has equal representation.


In 1791, founding father Alexander Hamilton and his associates selected an area along the Passaic River as the first planned industrial city, where rushing waters powered the new city's textile factories. This was the first step in New Jersey's transition to being a powerhouse of the industrial revolution. 


Location was everything for the state, situated strategically at the midpoint between the northern and southern regions of the country. The state embraced the building of canals and roads, and the first steam railroad in America was built in Hoboken. 


One of the most important figures in New Jersey's economic development was Thomas Alva Edison, who established a pioneering research and development enterprise, where the light bulb, sound recordings, motion pictures, commercial electric service and other innovations were invented or improved. 


New Jersey has continued its record of inventions. In the 20th century, these have included everything from the transistor to decaffeinated coffee. Today the state is a leader in telecommunications and pharmaceuticals. Through its resort communities along the state’s 130 miles of ocean shoreline, New Jersey has also been a pioneer in recreation and tourism.


In 1947, New Jersey adopted a new constitution that has been regarded as a model for other states for its design of the legislative, judicial and executive branches. The constitution banned segregation and other forms of discrimination — a progressive step years before the civil rights revolution.


Following World War II, the state witnessed an enormous expansion of its suburbs, a growth made possible by affordable housing developments, federally backed mortgages and the interstate highway system, which was manifested in New Jersey by the Garden State Parkway and the NJ Turnpike.


In more recent years, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and the River Line helped revitalize urban areas in North Jersey and South Jersey, revitalizing the economies along those routes. New Jersey may rank 47th in size, but it is 11th in population, making it the most densely populated state in the nation.