- Historic Sites
“the Most Improveablest Land…”
Somehow the royal land grants in New Jersey are still operating, and every now and then they pay off
October 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 6
New Jersey, a self-assured state that is sometimes derided as being nothing more than an oversized industrial suburb, but that shrugs off the slight equably because it knows better, was originally two states—or, to be more exact, two provinces. They were the provinces of East New Jersey and West New Jersey, and they were separated by a boundary line running not literally north-south, but northwest-southeast: from the Atlantic coast a few miles north of the present Atlantic City to a point on the Delaware River somewhat north of the Delaware Water Gap. All land in “the Jerseys,” as the area was often called, unless and until it had been duly granted to someone else, was owned, in one case, by the General Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey, and in the other, by the various individual proprietors of West New Jersey. For a short time in the very beginning, the proprietorships were supposed to have had the responsibility for the government of their respective provinces as well as the privilege of holding the land; this rather feudal arrangement came to an end in 1*02, when Queen Anne took over the government of all of New Jersey and it became a British colony. But the proprietors kept title to all previously unconveyed land. As a matter of fact, they still do, and it is entirely possible that the Board of Proprietors of East Jersey, which first convened in i()8s and is almost certainly the oldest profit-making corporation in the country, will distribute some of the proceeds of its recent land sales to its shareholders in the form of a cash dividend next year, as it last did in 1960.
For one reason or another, pieces of land that have never been granted to anyone, and are therefore the proprietors’ property, keep turning up; and odd as it may seem after three centuries, the rate at which they turn up seems to be accelerating as time goes on. An excitable securities analyst might even describe the proprietorships as “growth situations”—which was exactly the way their original promoters described them to the real-estate plungers in the coffeehouses of seventeenth-century London. The Jerseys, and New Jersey itself, came into being as handouts for speculalion to Restoration court favorites. In 1664, when the British took over New Netherland from the Dutch and changed its name to New York, the practically unsettled area now comprising New Jersey was part of the prize of conquest. That same year, King Charles II included the territory between the Delaware and Hudson rivers in a grant to his brother, then Duke of York and later James II.
Immediately after being granted the territory, James deeded it to two of his London cronies, Sir John Berkeley and Sir George Charteret, specifying in the deed that the place be called New Jersey after the Channel Island where Carierel had been born and had served a term as governor. (New Jersey counts lhe day of this deed—June 24, 1664—as its birth date, and celebrated its tercentenary this year.) The giveaway raised cries of outrage in various quarters, particularly in the brand-new British colony of New York, where the general belief was that the lands west of the Hudson ought to be part of its domain. One New York merchant, Samuel Maverick, wrote in 1668 to a London intimate of the Duke complaining that the Berkeley-Carieret grant had deprived New York, and the Crown itself, of “a vast tract of the most improveablest land within His Royall Highness his patent.” Berkeley and Carteret do not seem to have been especially worthy of such largesse. Neither of them ever came to New Jersey, perhaps because they had their hands full at home. Berkeley, who later became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, has left a record of generally poor behavior; and Carteret was expelled from the House of Commons for embezzling funds of the Royal Navy, of which he had been treasurer.
The East and West Jersey proprietorships emerged out of the grant to Berkeley and Carteret. These absentee landlords operated New Jersey for a decade as a joint proprietorship, encouraging settlement with a liberal charter that allowed religious freedom, and providing for an appointed council and an elected assembly. Clear title to plots granted to settlers was insured through at least token purchases by the proprietors from the Leni-Lenape, or Delaware, Indians, who were friendly. Despite these generally satisfactory terms, the promoters had little success with their speculation, except in the areas of Newark, Elizabeth, and what are now Middlesex and Monmouth counties, where numerous New England religious dissenters came to escape persecution. Even this migration brought little income to Berkeley and Carteret, since many of the dissenters bought their land titles from Governor Richard Nicolls of New York, who insisted that New Jersey was part of New York and acted on his conviction by freely granting deeds to land there.
In 1674, Berkeley decided to cash in his share of New Jersey. To make the sale possible, a dividing line—the first of many—was marked out; whereupon Berkeley, who got West Jersey, immediately sold it to two Quakers who formed a Quaker colony there but went bankrupt in the process. Then, in 1683, a stock company was formed and enough shares were sold to get West Jersey out of bankruptcy. Members of a board of proprietors, made up of those who had bought the shares, were installed as owners. Carteret held onto the East Jersey land, except for what little he sold off and what was improperly disposed of by Governor Nicolls, until his death in 1680. Two years later, his heirs sold East Jersey as a whole to a group of twelve men, who became its first board of proprietors. Thus within twenty years of the Duke’s grant, both Jerseys were established under stock-company ownership.
The proprietary system—whereby unclaimed lands belonged to a board of proprietors rather than to the Crown—was, of course, employed in developing some of the other original states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the Carolinas, the proprietors in the last case including the ubiquitous Berkeley and Carteret. But in all oi those cases, the proprietors lost their rights to both government and land ownership during the eighteenth century—before, during, or soon after the American Revolution. Not in New Jersey; there, and there alone, the proprietors successfully weathered all crises occasioned by the march of democracy and other causes. Even the Revolution, for all its land reforms, produced not a whisper of a proposal to disturb the New Jersey proprietorships. The explanation for this extraordinary silence seems to lie in the fact that while the proprietary rights in other states were concentrated in a few hands—in the Penn family in Pennsylvania and Delaware, for example, and the Calvert family in Maryland—East and West Jersey were the domain of companies whose ownership was by that time divided among hundreds of unrelated individuals, most of them also voters. The moral is clear enough: a land company, when a revolution comes along, does well to have a lot of stockholders.
Free of British rule and still secure in their property rights, the East and West Jersey proprietors went right on indulging in a practice that had long since become almost a reflex with them—squabbling with each other about land. In fact, over a period of more than two centuries they carried on intermittently one of the most durable property-line rows in the history of unneighborliness. The first important dividing line, laid out in 1687 by George Keith, a theologian and surveyor—he was perhaps better as the former than as the latter—ran northwest from Little Egg Harbor and was supposed to terminate at the Delaware River at a point near the Delaware Water Gap, but for some reason Keith never finished it; he got no further than a point on the south branch of the Raritan River. Even apart from being incomplete, the Keith line was unacceptable to West Jersey. Nevertheless, despite almost continuous bickering, it remained the nearest thing to an agreed-upon province line until 1743, when John Lawrence, a surveyor with more stamina than Keith, laid out a new line that went from Little Egg Harbor more northerly than Keith’s line, and extended to the Delaware, which it touched at a point just south of Dingmans Ferry. The Lawrence line, however, did not put the controversy to rest. It was revived in 1775, in the 1830’s, and again in 1887, when the West Jersey proprietors maintained, a mere century and a half after the event, that Lawrence had cheated them—and that, furthermore, “he did not do it ignorantly.” But the Lawrence line survived all attacks, and has continued to be accepted, grudgingly, since then—perhaps because practically all land in the disputed area has long since been appropriated, and what remains to be squabbled over is a bare bone. I recently asked Richard P. McCormick of Rutgers, an authority on New Jersey history and a West Jersey proprietor, whether he thought the boundary dispute was over. “I wouldn’t say that,” he replied. “I’d merely say it’s quiescent.” At any rate, the proprietors of the two Jerseys held a joint meeting in Elizabeth this May—their first such meeting in 283 years, incidentally—and their discussion of the border question is said to have been amicable.
How are the two proprietorships making out otherwise? Because I wanted to find this out, and because I generally welcome an excuse for a day’s ramble through New Jersey, I set out one morning not long ago to visit the East Jersey proprietors, in Perth Amboy, and then to go to Burlington and drop in on the West Jersey proprietors there. In the case of East Jersey, my plan involved making a rendezvous, because the surveyor general’s office on High Street in Perth Amboy, which serves as the proprietors’ headquarters and where their records are kept, is customarily unmanned. Nobody so much as has a key to it except a janitor and a certain George J. Miller, who serves as the East Jersey Board of Proprietors’ registrar and general factotum. I got in touch with Miller, and we arranged to meet at the surveyor general’s office.
The drive from the Holland Tunnel to Perth Amboy, across the southern part of the Jersey Meadows and then through the overpoweringly industrial outskirts of Newark, Elizabeth, Linden, and Rahway, is enough to make one weep for the fresh, green, promising East Jersey that is gone; looking at the muddy mouth of the Raritan and its smokestack-studded shores, one needs an imaginative eye indeed to conceive the Perth Amboy and Piscataway that arose here in the seventeenth century. It was a relief to get to the center of Perth Amboy, which is made oddly charming by the effect, characteristically New Jerseyan, produced by a few well-preserved old buildings scattered apparently at random among a great many contemporary ones, giving the modern city a kind of historic leitmotiv. Arriving at High Street, I found the surveyor general’s office—a small rectangular brick building dating from 1868, painted white, with a single door and a plain peaked roof without dormers—standing directly beside City Hall at the edge of a circular park. Mr. Miller I found to be a heavy-set, jowly man who looked to be in his sixties. After we had exchanged greetings, he unlocked the door of the surveyor general’s office with his exclusive key, and in we went.
The interior, consisting of an entrance alcove and a single large room, greeted us with a blast of cold, damp air that carried the unmistakable and stimulating smell of old papers. In the main room, one wall of which was decorated with a large portrait of Washington, were a battered long table, eight or ten battered chairs ranged around it, a potbellied stove, and a large box containing wood and coal; one corner of the room, comprising perhaps a quarter of the whole area, was walled off to form a large vault entered through a door with a combination lock. As Mr. Miller put some wood into the stove and lit it, I asked him about the absence of modern heating facilities or electricity in the building. “Unnecessary expense to the Board, and a potential fire hazard to its priceless records,” he replied briefly, clapping his hands against his sides for warmth. Then he worked the combination lock and led the way into the vault, in which the fragrant papers were arranged in rows of filing cabinets and on tiers of shelves, all apparently in apple-pie order. “These are the records,” Mr. Miller announced. “They include twenty-four volumes of land survey—ssome seventy thousand, in all—eleven volumes of warrants of survey, sixteen volumes of early deeds, about four hundred maps, and an uncounted number of caveats, certificates of mislocation, pieces of correspondence, and miscellaneous papers. They are chiefly useful to individuals and title companies in the searching of land titles. Outsiders are entitled to use our records, with the Board’s permission, on payment of a small fee, but in practice I usually come here myself and get people the information they want—also for a small fee, payable to the Board. Yesterday, for example, I got a request from a lawyer in Sea Girt for a copy of a deed to one hundred and sixty acres granted to John Stuart, dated December 20, 1700, and if you’ll pardon me, I’ll dig that one out right now.”
As Miller spoke, it occurred to me that there was a self-satisfied, almost cat-that-swallowed-the-canary quality about his manner. But I thought it the part of Jersey prudence, if not Jersey manners, not to mention my impression, and in any case, Mr. Miller went on talking as he hunted for the Stuart deed. “Since the original twelve proprietors bought East Jersey in 1682,” he said, “the original twelve shares have been divided into ninety-six shares. The stock has been split eight for one, you might say. Of those ninety-six, ninety-one and a half are extant—the other four and a half have disappeared, over the years. Our executive body, the General Board of Proprietors, normally meets twice a year, on the third Tuesdays of May and October, either here or in Newark. Membership on the Board is open to anyone who holds at least one full share, and who has been certified as a fit member by the rest of the Board. At our last meeting, thirty-five proprietors were present. Ten of them were Howells. The Howell family have been East Jersey proprietors for about four generations. In fact, most of our Board members get their entitlement by inheritance through several generations—the Keans, the Rutherfords, the Brinleys, the Cobbs, and the Collinses, for example. But we also have members who have acquired shares by their own purchase. I’m one of them. My wife is another.
“I first got interested in this thing back in the late thirties,” Mr. Miller went on, finally pulling out of the files a yellowed paper that I took to be the Stuart deed. “I’m a native of Perth Amboy and a lawyer, and back in those days I was alternately practicing law in Perth Amboy, specializing in real estate, and serving as assistant attorney general of New Jersey. One way and another, I was in and out of this office so much that I got to know probably more about the records than anyone else, and in 1940, when the Board’s registrar went to war, I was appointed to fill his place. A member sold me a couple of shares, so I could go on the Board. I’ve held the job ever since, and I get a salary, which I hope I earn. I’m Jewish, by the way, and that’s something more or less new among East Jersey proprietors. Most of the early ones were Anglicans or members of the various dissenting Protestant sects. I’m proud to be able to say that during my tenure as registrar we’ve published, at the Board’s expense, two volumes of great historical interest— The Minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey from 1685 to 1705 , which we got out in 1949, and a second volume of minutes covering the years 1725–64, issued just a year ago. I’m also proud to be able to say that during the same period, we have become financially highly solvent.”
On that reassuring note, Mr. Miller quitted the vault, taking with him the deed. He carried it out to the battered table in the main room, where the stove was now glowing cheerily. I waited while he copied out the pertinent parts, and then, emboldened by his mention of the Board’s financial affairs, I asked him to enlarge on the subject. He did so, with neither hesitation nor braggadocio—with, rather, a cool factualness that reminded me of any corporation executive reporting on a good year. To begin with, he said, the East Jersey Board has a striking, if spotty, record of dividend payments. In the early days, when it still had practically all of East Jersey to parcel out, it paid its shareholders dividends in land—ten thousand acres per share in 1684, five thousand more per share in 1698, and another twenty-five hundred in 1702. In those days, obviously, a single share held for a decade was ample to give a man almost baronial status in East Jersey. The pace slowed as land began to run short, of course, and very little East Jersey land has been distributed as dividends since the Revolution. Instead, occasional dividends have been paid in cash—and in recent years, not so occasional, at that; for example, there were no dividends at all from 1929 until 1955, when twenty-five dollars was paid, followed by the same sum in 1957 and again in 1960. As to the possibilities of buying into the corporation, Mr. Miller told me that he acts as a clearinghouse for transactions. Anyone wishing to become an East Jersey proprietor must first be lucky enough to approach him at a time when shares are on the market, and must then be able to satisfy the Board that his purpose is not to indulge in land speculation or otherwise fall short of proprietary standards of conduct. As recently as 1954, the going price for a share was under two hundred dollars, while the latest sale, in 1960, brought just over one thousand dollars.
Figuring quickly on a scratch pad like a securities analyst, I calculated that on the basis of the 1954 price, the average annual cash return of East Jersey over the years 1954 to 1964 amounted to 3.75 per cent, and that over the same period, the capital appreciation came to a whopping 400 per cent. I asked Mr. Miller to explain exactly how the Board earns the money out of which it pays these dividends. He replied that while its steady income is the modest fees it charges for supplying documents and information, its important income—that from which dividends are paid—comes from land sales, which he spoke of as windfalls. Ordinarily, he said, the Board has no idea what land it owns; to find out, it would have to go through the prohibitively expensive process of surveying every square foot of East Jersey. In the absence of surveys of its own, it makes its claims on the basis of those made by others. Land values in East Jersey have skyrocketed over the past decade or so, and this rise has been accompanied by a large number of transactions; the transactions have necessitated a great deal of resurveying, and every once in a while a new survey reveals an unowned patch of land—say, a vacant strip between two properties that were supposed to be adjacent. Such patches were brought about, most often, by carelessness or errors in the old surveys that have been relied on for the past two or three centuries. Sometimes, it seems, the early surveyors became confused about the compass needle’s magnetic variation from true north; sometimes they were misled in their calculations by local effects on the compass caused by iron-bearing rock; and sometimes their instruments were downright inaccurate. By vigilantly keeping track of new surveys and thus discovering slip-ups in old ones, Miller explained, he finds odd-shaped pieces of land to which no one else can establish ownership, and to which the Board thereupon lays claim under the 1682 conveyance from the Carteret heirs to the original proprietors. Very few real-estate lawyers have any stomach for quarrelling with such venerable evidence as that, and the man who had previously believed he owned the land is usually only too happy to pay the Board for a deed to it. If he isn’t, there is generally someone else who is.
I asked whether the Board had had any windfalls lately, and Mr. Miller nodded. “One was the Woodbridge case, which was settled a few years ago. In 1959, I think it was, the town of Woodbridge, just north of here, sold off a parcel of municipal land for three hundred thousand dollars. Woodbridge’s title was based on a perfectly valid grant dated June i, 1669. But—and here’s the catch—the 1669 grant stipulated exactly one hundred acres, whereas the 1959 survey showed a hundred and seventy-two acres . Somebody must have slipped up somewhere—in 1669, I mean. Naturally, the Board was quick to claim the extra seventy-two acres as previously unconveyed land. We released our claim for ten thousand dollars, which was paid in shares by various interested parties—the town of Woodbridge, its board of education, and five private companies that have oil pipelines running across the land. There, substantially, was the source of our 1960 dividend. And this year we had another interesting windfall: about a hundred acres in Brick Township, over by the mouth of the Metedeconk River, has netted the Board twelve thousand dollars.”
I asked whether such windfalls come along very often.
“Depends what you mean by ‘very often,’” Mr. Miller replied, coolly. “We collected slightly more than one hundred thousand dollars in land sales immediately after the Revolution.” Time, with the East Jersey proprietors, is relative. After locking the vault and gathering up his papers, he ushered me out of the surveyor general’s office. “The Board’s future looks bright,” he said in parting. “When the northernmost areas of Sussex and Passaic counties begin to open up, more windfalls are virtually certain to come along.”
Reflecting that Mr. Miller had had reason for his self-satisfied look, I set out for Burlington and the West Jersey proprietors. As I moved past Hightstown and Allentown, away from the industrial concentrations of the northeast into the heart of agricultural West Jersey, the air became redolent of dried wheat and corn—the smell of land. For all of modern transportation and communications, identifiable regions, with their characteristic flavors, die hard if they die at all, and one need not travel far from New York City to find at least one of them.
At Burlington, a riverfront town on the Delaware, I called at the real-estate office of Haines & Haines, where I had an appointment to see Senator Henry S. Haines, vice president of the Council of West Jersey Proprietors, and his brother, I. Snowden Haines, the Council’s clerk. A receptionist ushered me into a homey second-floor office containing Early American furniture and a fireplace; there I met the Senator, a blondish, sparse-haired, tweedy, genial, slow-spoken proprietor in his middle years. He told me that from 1960 to 1964 he had represented Burlington County in the state senate; that he is a Democrat; that he and his brother come from a long line of West Jersey proprietors; and that, like his forefathers, he is a Quaker. He told me something of the organization and operation of the West Jersey proprietors, putting the case in the form of contrasts to the setup in East Jersey—or, more often, in the form of contrasts to “George Miller,” an expression that I gradually came to recognize as more or less a synonym for East Jersey in West Jersey proprietary circles.
Attrition of old shares has been far greater in West Jersey than in East Jersey. Of the original one hundred West Jersey shares, all have vanished but about twenty, of which, the Senator said, seventeen and a fraction are owned by him and his brother. Unlike the East Jersey proprietors, those of West Jersey are not a corporation; their legal status remains undefined. Their governing body—unlike East Jersey’s, which is open to anyone who owns a share and is acceptable to the other members—is a nine-member, elected council. Again unlike East Jersey, they maintain only a miniscule treasury, having no salaried employees and few expenses. Nor do they pay cash dividends; all nine of the dividend distributions voted by the Council since it was formed in 1688 have been in the form of acreage rights, starting with five thousand acres per share in 1700 and coming on down to a thousand per share in ion. Since then, not an acre.
Finally, and most importantly, unlike the East Jersey Board, which claims all unappropriated lands, the West Jersey proprietors as a body claim no land, own none, and never have owned any. Under their system, rights in the land belong not to the organization but directly to the people who hold shares in it, and the nine dividends that have been handed out to those people have been not in the form of deeds to actual land. Rather, they have been warrants to authorize the claiming of stated quantities of land. For example, a man who owned one share of West Jersey in 1911 would have received warrants entitling him to claim up to one thousand acres, provided he could find some West Jersey acres not owned by somebody else. If he could not, or if he did not want to acquire land, he was free to sell his warrants in the open market, to one of his fellow proprietors or, if he chose, to a non-proprietor. In any case, to get title to a piece of unappropriated West Jersey land, a man must obtain a survey proving that it is unappropriated, and then present this, along with the necessary warrants, to the Council for approval. Not even the fees paid to the Council for its trouble in examining the documents and approving the claims go into the West Jersey proprietors’ treasury; instead, they go to the Council members as individuals. “West Jersey—I mean the proprietorship—has virtually no money or possessions,” Senator Haines told me. “Nothing like George Miller. The proprietorship doesn’t even own the land on which the surveyor general’s office stands—it rents that from the Burlington Quaker Meeting. As for what we individual proprietors get out of our shareholdings, we have lower land values around here than George Miller has, and so the sums are comparatively modest.”
Marvelling that a twentieth-century northern Democrat could be one of the two major owners of such a wildly individualistic, anti-bureaucratic enterprise as perhaps only seventeenth-century England could have produced, I asked Senator Haines whether the West Jersey proprietors, individually, had benefited from any modest windfalls lately. After thumbing through some records, he replied that after a long dry spell lasting from 1930 to 1941, during which the West Jersey Council approved no claims at all, in the last two decades it has approved sixteen grants totalling 4,282.09 acres of land, in blocks of many sizes. The blocks, like those claimed by the East Jersey proprietors, appeared usually to be the result of mistakes in earlier surveys, particularly in connection with a hundred-thousandacre, irregularly shaped piece of south-central Jersey land called the Wharton Tract, which was purchased by New Jersey in the mid-fifties for a public recreation area, and which, in connection with this sale, had to be resurveyed; but in West Jersey there were also numerous tracts of salt marsh near the seashore that had previously been scorned as worthless but are now valued as duck-shooting preserves or for resort use along the shores of the Inland Waterway. Since most of the remaining proprietary shares and most of the acreage warrants belong to the Haineses, the Senator pointed out, it is obvious that most of the 4,282.09 acres were claimed either by the Haineses or by people who had bought their warrants from them. How, then, I wanted to know, did the Haineses come to be the virtual suzerains of unappropriated West Jersey lands? “Well, we got a little of it—about a share and a half—by inheritance from our grandfather, who was West Jersey surveyor general for many years,” Senator Haines replied. “But we got the bulk of it by purchase. In 1955, following the death of Benjamin B. Cooper—he was a member of the Cooper family that originally owned most of the land where Camden now stands—some of the assets in his estate were put on sale by his executor, the Camden Trust Company. Among the assets were a fraction under sixteen shares in the West Jersey proprietorship, with accompanying acreage warrants. My brother and I bought them. It wasn’t so much a dollars-and-cents thing for us as a matter of keeping control of the Council in responsible hands. The shares might have been sold off in small portions to speculators, or they might have been sold to someone who would want to change the whole nature of the setup. We wanted to protect West Jersey against raiders.”
At this moment, the Senator and I were joined by his brother and fellow suzerain, Snowden Haines, and by another man—a dapper, jaunty fellow whom the Senator introduced as Dr. Henry H. Bisbee, a Burlington oculist and a member of the Council of Proprietors. The two new arrivals suggested that I might want to have a look at the office of the surveyor general of the West Jersey proprietors.
Walking along past the Quaker meetinghouse in the placid afternoon, steeped as I was by this time in seventeenth-century events that seemed to have very practical twentieth-century applications, I suddenly felt that Burlington’s evident closeness to its past seemed natural rather than quaint. At the corner of High and Broad, Dr. Bisbee pointed out a plaque on the wall of the Mechanics National Bank, stating that at this intersection, at high noon on April 10 of each year, the proprietors of West Jersey meet to elect five members of their Council exactly as they have always done, and that three days later, they meet again on Gloucester Green to elect four other members, again according to tradition. “Since I’ve been a member of the proprietors, I’ve done a certain amount to spruce them up,” Dr. Bisbee commented. “My way of looking at it is that in the proprietors, Burlington has a priceless resource, in the booster sense, that ought to be exploited. For example, I was responsible for instituting the wearing of Quaker hats at the annual April 10 street-corner meeting, even though most of the modern proprietors aren’t Quakers.”
“I’m not quite so sold on the Quaker hats as Henry Bisbee is,” said Snowden Haines, a bit grimly.
The surveyor general’s office reminded me of Mr. Miller’s lair in Perth Amboy—the same well-sorted records and the same atmosphere of frugality, although I noticed that West Jersey permits itself the luxury of electricity. “We have to admit that our records aren’t in as good shape as George Miller’s,” said Mr. Haines. “Nor are we as alert and aggressive about claiming land. The case of the Garden State Parkway, which runs through both East and West Jersey, was typical. When the land for it was surveyed, George Miller stayed close to the State Highway Department, and we didn’t. We would wait for a piece of unappropriated land to be brought to our attention—and some were—while he deliberately went looking for land he could claim. Yes, there were some opportunities we neglected. What it comes down to is the values involved. Industrial activity in East Jersey has given great importance to land there. Here, it hasn’t happened yet. If it does, you watch—we’ll be just like George Miller.”
“People smile at the proprietors, but it’s business ,” Dr. Bisbee said, leaning toward me so as to deliver the last part of his sentence as if in confidence.
I asked Dr. Bisbee how he had come to be a proprietor and Council member. “It started with historical interest,” he replied. “I informed myself about the proprietors, and in 1951, I edited The Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors, Freeholders, and Inhabitants of the Province of West New Jersey in America, 1676 , which was published at the expense of the city of Burlington. Then in 1955, the Haineses rewarded my interest by making me a gift of one thirty-second of a share in the proprietorship, the minimum permissible holding for Council membership, and the same year I was elected to the Council.”
“Even though no further acreage dividends are now in prospect, people often want to acquire shares in West Jersey,” Mr. Haines said as we left the surveyor general’s office. “Besides the gift to Henry, my brother and I sometimes sell a thirty-second of a share to someone who is interested, for a nominal sum like twenty-five or fifty dollars.” I got out my scratch pad again. At that rate, I calculated, the going price for a full share would range from eight hundred dollars to sixteen hundred dollars—plenty, it seemed to me, to entitle the West Jersey proprietorship to hold its head up to General Motors, to International Business Machines, or, for that matter, to George Miller himself. And plenty, perhaps, to inspire West Jerseymen to cull their attics for traces of the missing eighty shares.