In its earliest days, the area was settled by the Dutch and Swedish and duly called New Netherland and New Sweden. The Dutch concentrated their settlements in the north, and in 1661 Peter Stuyvesant granted a charter to the village at Bergen, establishing the state’s oldest municipality. New Sweden was focused along the Delaware River and the Atlantic Coast and included land that is now part of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
The British claimed that the swath of land now occupied by the Dutch and Swedes belonged to them, because it was explored first by John Cabot, not Henry Hudson. The land was granted to the Duke of York, who sent Colonel Richard Nicolls to take it back from the Dutch. Nicolls did so in 1664. The Dutch briefly recaptured New Netherland in 1673 but by the following year it was back in British hands following the Treaty of Westminster.
King Charles gave the entire area between New England and Maryland to the Duke of York in 1665, and it was renamed New York. York (the future James II) granted the land between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers to two friends, Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley of Stratton. The land was named New Jersey, after the Channel Island home of Carteret.
The new proprietors set about enticing more settlers to the region by granting land and religious freedom to new inhabitants. Philip Carteret was named the colony’s first governor and he designated Elizabethtown as the first capital. Eventually Berkeley sold his section of the new colony to two Quakers, and the colony was essentially split in half: West Jersey belonged to the Quakers, and East Jersey was still in Carteret’s hands. Frequent squabbles broke out between the two sections, and the two sections weren’t brought together until 1702.
During the American Revolution, several key battles were fought in New Jersey, including the Battle of Trenton that followed George Washington’s famous Christmas crossing of the Delaware River (they still re-enact that every Christmas Day!). Following the war, Princeton, New Jersey briefly became the country’s capital when the Continental Congress met in Princeton University’s Nassau Hall. It was there they learned of the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. New Jersey was the third state to ratify the Constitution, in 1787, and it was the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, in 1789.