New Jersey state history is among the richest in the United States. New Jersey has played a key role in the development of the United States from the very beginning, as much or perhaps more than any other state in the union. New Jersey history shows a state behind the scenes: though the major cities of American history are found in other states, the blood, sweat and tears behind the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were shed in the Garden State.
The history of New Jersey starts long before European settlement. Prior to being one of the original 13 colonies, the land we call New Jersey was settled by Native Americans for thousands of years. When Dutch settlers reached this land, the Lenape natives were the prominent people of New Jersey. New Jersey was originally called New Netherland, as the Dutch settlers moved in during the 1630s and won out over their Swedish competitors for the earliest European control in New Jersey history. In 1664 came a pivotal moment in New Jersey colonial history, as the British seized control from the Dutch for trade reasons, encountering little resistance in the area and renaming the land New Jersey, after an island named Jersey in the English Channel.
A century later in New Jersey colonial history, the colonists were fed up with British rule. The Revolutionary War is an extremely interesting period of New Jersey history, as this small area became one of the most important strategic locations of the war. Morristown, New Jersey housed General George Washington’s headquarters, the major place of planning and strategy for the Continental Army. In perhaps the most famous moment of New Jersey colonial history, George Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776. The Battle of Trenton followed, in which Washington’s army surprised the British by capturing 900 men over the course of just a couple of hours. This battle and the Battle of Princeton, together called the Ten Crucial Days, formed a major turning point in New Jersey state history that led to the retreat of the area by British troops, along with a huge boost of morale that ultimately led to American Independence.
The nineteenth century brought the history of New Jersey to a period of invention, ingenuity, and industry. “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, a New Jersey resident by the name of Thomas Edison, was hard at work in this New Jersey city inventing everything from the phonograph to the tattoo gun. The Thomas Edison Museum houses some excellent relics of this American hero who famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Hard work and perspiration is also an important theme of New Jersey state history, as cities like Camden, Trenton, and Paterson became the blue collar backbone of the Industrial Revolution. Paterson, harnessing the hydro-energy of the Passaic River, is known as the “cradle of the Industrial Revolution.” Textile, firearm, and railroad locomotive manufacturing became just a few of the items produced by New Jersey workers. Later, New Jersey shipyards were essential for production of vessels during World War II. New Jersey state history is full of hard workers that pushed America to the forefront of industry.
A notable twentieth century moment in New Jersey history was the Glassboro Summit Conference, when Lyndon B. Johnson met with Soviet premier Aleksei Kosygin in June 1967 during the height of the Cold War. Though the talks did little to relieve the tension between the superpowers, this was a monumental moment in the history of New Jersey.
The important moments that make up New Jersey history are both numerous and substantial. Many of the sites of these major events are tourist attractions today, and can be one of the most powerful things to do during your visit to the Garden State.