The Royal Charter
What is a Royal Charter in America and what does it mean?
First, a little history of New Jersey, Burlington County, and the Townships. England claimed ownership of northeastern America as belonging to England based on discovery by Sebastian Cabot in 1497. In the 17th Century, King Charles ll granted to his brother James "Duke of York" lands from Connecticut to Maryland in spite of the fact that in the 1663/4 period the Dutch had peopled the area and called it Newe Amsterdam. In June 1664, James granted the territory to Lord John Berkley and Sir George Carteret in payment of favors lent in the past. Berkley then sold his rights to John Fenwick and Edward Byllynge.(1)
Fenwick was an ardent Quaker and he and others including Byllynge designed a new form of government to be established in a new world proprietorship and a voluminous form for governance called "the Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders, and Inhabitants of West New Jersey in America". It was written and signed by 150 Quakers in London August 1676. This Quaker experiment in Democracy was the most liberal progressive government design for the protection of individual rights in North America until surpassed by the US Constitution in 1787. (2)
Byllynge had bought his half on credit and a dispute grew between he and John Fenwick settled with the help of William Penn called the Tripartite Agreement that divided the West Jersey portion into "Tenths" so faster to sell. Each tenth was comprised of 100 shares to further facilitate sales. Each tenth elected a Proprietor and Freeholder representative for joint meetings and they appointed justices and constables to enforce the proprietary laws within the tenth and collect taxes. (3)
Our local Townships were set up Nov. 6, 1688 as "constabularies" within the tenths and these were Nottingham, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Springfield, Wellingborrow, Nothampton, Chester and Eversham within what would become Burlington County in 1694. (4) Nottingham would be cut off with the formation of Mercer County and Chester would be reduced to Moorestown.
Proprietor taxation followed the feudal system of England with arbitrary levies imposed by the Kings necessity in the form of quit rents that were difficult to track and collect. In 1702 Queen Anne declared all of North American holdings as colonies. Governance of the territories in America were now under uniform laws to tighten control over Governors and taxes.
A Royal Charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organizations such as cities or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and letters of appointment, as they have perpetual effect. Typically, a royal charter is produced as a high quality of work of calligraphy. The British Monarchy has issued over 980 Royal Charters. Of these about 400 remain in existence. The earliest was to the University of Cambridge in 1231 followed by the University of Oxford in 1248. Charters continue to be issued by the British Monarchy, a recent example would be The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, which received its charter on 7 April 2011. Among the past and present groups formed by royal charter are the British East India Company (1600), the Hudson's Bay Company, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), the British South Africa Company, and some of the former British colonies on the North American mainland. (5)
The first Burlington County Townships to receive charter status were Chesterfield, Jan 10,1713 and Springfield Township Jan 13, 1713. Burlington Township is the first township, formed in 1677 with the city of Burlington removed later.
2013 marks the 325th Anniversary of the formation of Burlington County's original towns and the 300th anniversary of the first royal charters granted to Burlington County towns.
- (1) "William and Sarah Biddle 1633-1711 planting a seed of Democracy in America" by C. Miller Biddle 2012 ISBN 978-0-98486116-0-6 page 18.
- (2) ibid page 33
- (3) ibid page 30
- (4) "The Story of New Jersey's Civil Boundaries 1606-1968" by John P. Snyder cccn #69-6319 page 12
- (5) Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia