Long-Lost Colonial Documents Recovered At Auction
by Division Of Archives and Records Management
In June 2005, the State acted decisively to acquire a priceless piece of New Jersey’s history. When it purchased eleven lots on 21 June, the State purchased eleven lots of colonial New Jersey manuscripts, maps, and imprints auctioned by collector Jay T. Snider at Christie’s in New York City. The collection includes a cache of unique documents originally belonging to Robert Barclay, proprietary governor of the East New Jersey Province from 1682 to 1690. Privately held and essentially unknown to historians for more than three centuries, the Barclay documents now belong to the people of New Jersey.
John Seller's circa 1677 depiction of New Jersey-the first printed map of the colony-erroneously connects the headwaters of the Walkill River with those of the Delaware.
The State’s success is truly a story of New Jersey’s historical community acting in unison. In the weeks prior to the sale, Joseph J. Felcone of Princeton, the State Archives, the Advocates for New Jersey History, and other New Jersey archivists and historians recognized an unprecedented opportunity to rescue a part of New Jersey’s colonial heritage from private hands. It was known that Governor Barclay’s record book contained previously unseen documents, including the London minutes of the East Jersey Proprietors from 1682-84—pre-dating the earliest American minutes by two years. Even more compelling, five seventeenth-century maps of New Jersey had been removed from the record book and offered for sale as separate lots. Since these materials were never in the possession of the colonial or state government, the State could not assert a legal claim to them as public records.
Fast-spreading news of the auction led to a dynamic public campaign to compel the State to bid on the Barclay records. Thanks to this concerted effort by the historical community, then Acting Governor Richard J. Codey and Secretary of State Regena L. Thomas authorized using up to $1 million from the State’s Public Records Preservation Fund to bid on eleven New Jersey items. Amidst vigorous bidding, the State prevailed on all of the lots, winning for the people of the state many rare and previously unknown records of the colonization, settlement, government, and mapping of New Jersey. The price for these treasures, including a 20 percent buyer’s premium, totaled $656,760.
Schoolchildren gather to view the 1684 plan of the proposed town of Perth Amboy at the Morven event, 27 September.
The Christie’s acquisition was publicly unveiled in September 2005 at Morven Museum & Garden in Princeton. Acting Governor Codey and Secretary Thomas hosted the ceremonies and opening of “Proprietors & Adventurers: A Rediscovery of Colonial New Jersey,” an exciting exhibition featuring the original manuscripts, maps and books. Dr. Richard P. McCormick, late professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University, was the featured speaker.
After the opening on September 27, the documents remained on view in facsimile form at Morven through the end of October. In November, an expanded display was opened in the State Archives’ exhibit gallery in the Department of State Building, 225 West State Street, in Trenton.
The late Prof. Richard P. McCormick celebrates the State's acquisition at Christie's.
To date, two articles have been published in periodicals relating to the acquisition, and others are planned. Chief of Archives Joseph R. Klett published a full transcription of the circa 1684 account of East Jersey’s seven settled towns in The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey 80:106-114 (September 2005). Archives Division Director Karl J. Niederer authored an account of the acquisition and the Morven event in New Jersey Heritage Magazine, 5:56-58 (Winter 2006).
For more information on the acquisition, please visit: http://www.njarchives.org/links/adventurers.html