Originally appeared in HISTORY MAGAZINE, June/July 2013
After New Netherland surrendered to the British Crown in 1664, the Duke of York named the area stretching from the lower Hudson to the Delaware River New Jersey, after the English Channel island of Jersey. He granted the province to two loyal friends, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, making both Lord Proprietors.
To encourage settlement, the proprietors offered New Jersey colonizers not only tracts of land but also—unlike neighboring Puritan colonies– religious freedom.
Because settlers refused to pay their annual quit-rents, however, Berkeley sold his portion, the western part of the colony to Quakers in 1673. At that point, the colony was divided into East and West Jersey, each with its own governor.
Over time, English, Scotch, and Dutch colonists left the New York area, followed the Hudson River south, whether by boat or on horseback, then established villages along East Jersey’s creeks, brooks, and rivers. From 1681 on, many second and third generation Dutch, seeking land for their sons, reached Somerset County. Somerset, one of the oldest counties in America and located mid-way between New York and Philadelphia, is watered by the Millstone and Raritan Rivers.
To this day, the origin of the word Raritan, which today denotes both the river and a nearby town, remains a mystery. Some surmise that in Native American tongue, it meant “forked river,” an allusion to its north and south branches, or “stream overflows,” an allusion to its repeated flooding. Some believe Raritan was a noble Leni Lenape chief. Others wonder if it was a Dutch adaptation of “Naraticong,” the tribe that navigated its peaceful waters and made its home along its broad, flat banks.
Like the Naraticong, the Dutch found Somerset’s Raritan water basin attractive. Its rich, virgin soil yielded an assortment of wild nuts and berries, an abundance of pumpkins, squash, and other garden vegetables, and nurtured mulberry, pear, and apple trees. Its fields yielded fat ears of corn and fields of barley, flax, and hemp. Its floodplain meadows and marshes were prime grazing grounds. Its woodlands teemed with deer, elk, and plover, partridges, pigeons, geese, quail, ducks, pheasants, and wild turkeys. Indeed, even a century later, poet John David praised “The Raritan, Queen of Rivers.” read more….