Guide to the Letters of Jonathan Belcher, Governor of New Jersey 1731-ca. 1900 (bulk 1731-1756) MG 39

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Descriptive Summary
Biographical Note
Scope and Content Note
Arrangement
Restrictions
Access Points
Related Material

Administrative Information

Bibliography

Container List

Letters and Documents

Guide to the Letters of Jonathan Belcher, Governor of New Jersey
1731-ca. 1900
(bulk 1731-1756)
MG 39

The New Jersey Historical Society
52 Park Place
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Contact: NJHS Library
(973) 596-8500 x249
library@jerseyhistory.org
http://www.jerseyhistory.org
© 2004 All rights reserved.
The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Stephen Yautz as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.Finding aid encoded by Danielle Kovacs. October 2003. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.


Descriptive Summary

Creator: Jonathan Belcher
Title: Jonathan Belcher Letters
Dates 1731-ca. 1900
Abstract: This collection contains the letters, mostly transcripts copied by William A. Whitehead, of Jonathan Belcher. The collection includes Belcher’s outgoing correspondence and a marriage certificate signed with his autograph signature dated 1756.
Quantity: 0.23 linear feet (475 items)
Collection Number: MG 39

Biographical Note

Jonathan Belcher was born on January 8, in 1681 or 1682, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew and Sarah Belcher. A member of one of Boston’s wealthiest families, Belcher was afforded the opportunities of his class. A graduate of Harvard University in 1699, he went on to become a successful and wealthy merchant in his own right.

His prominent social status granted him the opportunity to serve in the Massachusetts legislature, where he made his mark as a moderate with no definitive political ideology. Eventually, he secured the appointment as Governor of Massachusetts in 1730. Belcher maintained his political power by an intricate system of political patronage that spanned both sides of the Atlantic. However, after eleven years as governor, his patronage system caught up with him; he had made many enemies because of his political maneuvering. When the Walpole government in London collapsed, Belcher was recalled, and William Shirley was named Governor in his place. Consequently, Belcher retired to his estate in Milton, Massachusetts.

Belcher waited by the sidelines for another government appointment for some time. It was not until 1746 when his luck changed, mostly due to his alliance with dissident Quakers and Congregationalists. Upon hearing about Governor of New Jersey Lewis Morris’s poor health, Belcher actively pursued the opportunity for another royal appointment. Although the Morris Family nominated the former governor’s son, Robert Hunter Morris, the alliance of Quakers in New Jersey and London cultivated by Belcher and his brother-in-law, Richard Partridge, managed to obtain the appointment for Belcher, rather than Morris.

Governor Belcher arrived in Burlington, New Jersey, the capital of the colony, in 1747. He soon found himself embroiled in a feud between two factions in the New Jersey legislature, the Quakers and Congregationalists on one side, and the supporters of the Morris Family on the other. The friction between the two factions became so intense that rioting and violence erupted in the vicinity of Newark and Elizabethtown. Belcher’s solution, despite his ties to the Quakers, was to quietly support them without antagonizing the Morris faction. Eventually, the two factions in the Assembly were able to come to a compromise in relation to their differences.

Nonetheless, Morris Family supporters in London embarked on a campaign to unseat Belcher, claiming that he was consorting with and openly supporting the rioters. London believed the charges leveled against Belcher, and was reprimanded for his alleged improprieties. Severely weakened politically by the reprimand, Belcher achieved little else while in office, in which he remained until his death in 1757.

With his political agenda sidelined, he shifted his energies to the field of education, for he felt that there was a “lack of religion and learning” in New Jersey. Therefore, he had a preacher, George Tennent, address the New Jersey legislature, to whom he spoke about building a college in New Jersey. Impressed by what he heard, Belcher then managed to have himself included on the Board of Trustees of this institution, which came to be known as The College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton University). Because of his fundraising efforts, the trustees of the college offered to name the first building erected Belcher Hall; he refused the offer, and the building was named Nassau Hall instead.

Belcher married Mary Partridge in 1705, with whom he had five children: Andrew (b. 1706), Sarah (1708-1727), Jonathan (b. 1710), William (b. 1712), and Thomas (b. 1713). After Mary’s death, he married Louise Teale, a wealthy widow, in 1748; they had no issue. Belcher died of palsy while still in office, on August 31, 1757.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the letters, mostly transcripts copied by William A. Whitehead, of Jonathan Belcher. The collection includes Belcher’s outgoing correspondence and a marriage certificate signed with his autograph signature dated 1756.

Belcher’s letters mostly contain his business, political, and personal correspondence to colleagues, friends, and family members. Correspondents include Rev. Aaron Burr (1716-1757), The Committee of the West Jersey Society, The New Jersey Council and General Assembly, Governor William Shirley, Richard Partridge, his brother-in-law and political ally, and his sons, Andrew, Jonathan, and William Belcher.

His correspondence as governor reflects the antagonism between himself and the Provincial Assembly. He writes to the New Jersey General Assembly, in which he rejects a legislative bill to levy a provincial tax, since he “can find no instance of any Bill having been laid before the Governor after it has been sent up to the Council & several Amendments made thereto by them… And therefore to bring this Bill to me would be irregular & out of the Constant.” On a more personal note, the papers include much correspondence written to his sons, especially to his son, Jonathan. Belcher, a religious man, imparts advice to his son: “Devoting yourself morning and evening to the God of your Life…and a Constant reading of the holy Scriptures will be an Excellent Preservative against the Snares of a Wicked World.” He continues, admonishing his son for not writing to his grandmother. Since his son Jonathan was in London at the time, Belcher took the opportunity to have his son take care of his business there at that time.

The bulk of the correspondence is derived from the letterbooks of Jonathan Belcher at The Massachusetts Historical Society, from which transcripts were made in the late nineteenth century by William B. Trask; photostat copies were added to the papers in October 1953. A list of the transcribed letters is also filed in the papers, and lists the letters in chronological order. A portion of the correspondence in the transcripts is extracts from the originals only; the list of the transcripts indicates which pieces of correspondence are extracts. Two of the letters are originals; one is dated September 25, 1738, the other is from December 19, 1755.

A marriage certificate signed by Belcher dated August 2, 1756, completes the collection.

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Arrangement

This collection is arranged by type of document and chronologically therein.

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Restrictions

Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.

Use Restrictions

Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.

The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.

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Access Points

The entries below represent persons, organizations, topics, forms, and occupations documented in this collection.
Subject Names:
Belcher, Andrew, b. 1706.
Belcher, Jonathan, 1682-1757.
Belcher, Jonathan, 1710-1776.
Belcher, William, b. 1712.
Burr, Aaron, 1716-1757.
Partridge, Richard, 1681-1759.
Shirley, William, 1694-1771.
Subject Organizations:
New Jersey. Legislature. General Assembly.
West New Jersey Society.
Subject Places:
Burlington (N.J.)
New Jersey–History–Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
Perth Amboy (N.J.)
Document Types:
Correspondence.
Letterbooks.
Marriage certificates.

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Related Material

For materials in print on Jonathan Belcher and other prominent colonial New Jersey politicians, see:

Belcher, William Henry and Belcher, Joseph Warren. The Belcher Family in England and America. Detroit, Michigan, 1941.

Browne, Cynthia E. “Two Friends-Joined in Death As in Life,” New Jersey History, vol. 96, 1978.

Sheridan, Eugene R., ed. The Papers of Lewis Morris. Newark, New Jersey: The New Jersey Historical Society.

For related collections at other institutions on Jonathan Belcher’s tenure as Governor of New Jersey, see:

Call Number P-042, Belcher-Jennison-Weiss Papers, The Massachusetts Historical Society.

Call Number P-30, Jonathan Belcher Letterbooks, The Massachusetts Historical Society.

For related collections on politicians and other prominent people in colonial New Jersey at The New Jersey Historical Society, see:

Manuscript Group 2, East Jersey Manuscript Collection

Manuscript Group 3, West Jersey Manuscript Collection

Manuscript Group 16, Lewis Morris Papers

Manuscript Group 17, Robert Hunter Morris Papers

Manuscript Group 41, Samuel Smith Papers

Manuscript Group 46, New Jersey Legislature Minutes

Manuscript Group 56, Jacob Spicer Papers

Manuscript Group 244, Ferdinand John Paris Papers

Manuscript Group 409, Stevens Family Papers

Manuscript Group 602, Peter Middagh Papers

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Administrative Information

Custodial History

The Jonathan Belcher Papers was originally an open collection, as per The New Jersey Historical Society’s resolution of January 20, 1853. Transcripts of the original letters that are housed at The Massachusetts Historical Society were completed in the late nineteenth century by William B. Trask of Boston, under the direction of William A. Whitehead, the Corresponding Secretary of The New Jersey Historical Society. Original documents included in the papers were purchased at auction from The Anderson Auction Company in New York, circa 1910. The photostat copies of original letters at The Massachusetts Historical Society were obtained in October 1953.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 39, Jonathan Belcher Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.

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Bibliography

Belcher, William Henry and Belcher, Joseph Warren. The Belcher Family in England and America. Detroit, Michigan, 1941.

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Container List

Letters and Documents

Box Folder Title Date
1 1 Outgoing Letters 1731 Oct 12-1747 Dec 28
1 2 Outgoing Letters 1747 Oct 8-1748 Apr 18
1 3 Outgoing Letters 1748 July 29-1748 Sept 23
1 4 Outgoing Letters 1748 Oct 6-1751 Sept 24
Box Folder Title Date
2 1 Outgoing Letters 1751 Sept 30-1755 Dec 19
2 2 List of Transcribed Letters [ca. 1865-1900]
2 3 Marriage Certificate with the autograph signature of Jonathan Belcher 1756 Aug 2

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