Lord Cornbury wore women’s clothing. Or maybe he didn’t. (1703-08)

Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury is perhaps the most infamous of all New Jersey’s governors. He was the first royal governor appointed directly by the crown and is presumed to have had an affinity to wear women’s clothing. Or maybe that was all a smear campaign. 

Lord Cornbury?

Lord Cornbury?

Cornbury was considered one of the “lesser nobility” in England. Men of this class struggled “to feed their families and pay their debts.” He was even arrested on his way to New York for failure to pay his debt. (New Jersey shared its governor with New York for the early part of the 18th Century.) The proprietors who used to selected governors for the previously split East and West Jersey still claimed ultimate ownership of all the land and fought local inhabitants on this account. The proprietors were able to bribe Cornbury with £200 and so he supported their cause.

In addition to his propensity to take bribes, Cornbury, an Anglican, sold tracts of land and gave money to his friends all the while discriminating against the Quakers. Political corruption and religious discrimination! Fun times!

The assembly finally convinced Queen Anne to remove him and he lived the rest of life struggling with debt in England. Marc Mappen writes, “Cornbury has been regarded as the quintessential arrogant, corrupt, and incompetent royal governor.” 

Mappen doesn’t delve too deeply into the allegations of wearing women’s clothing that Cornbury is most well known for and rightly so since there is little evidence from anyone other than his contemporary enemies that he did so. Still, this section from Wikipedia is too great not to share:

Later historians characterise him as a “degenerate and pervert who is said to have spent half of his time dressed in women’s clothes”, a “fop and a wastrel”. He is said to have delivered a “flowery panegyric on his wife’s ears” after which he invited every gentleman present to feel precisely how shell-like they were; to have misappropriated £1500 meant for the defence of New York Harbor, and, scandalously, to have dressed in women’s clothing and lurked “behind trees to pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims”.[1]

Cornbury is reported to have opened the 1702 New York Assembly clad in a hooped gown and an elaborate headdress and carrying a fan, imitative of the style of Queen Anne. When his choice of clothing was questioned, he replied, “You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (the Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.” It is also said that in August 1707, when his wife Lady Cornbury died, His High Mightiness (as he preferred to be called) attended the funeral again dressed as a woman. It was shortly after this that mounting complaints from colonists prompted the Queen to remove Cornbury from office.[2]


This is the eighth in a series of brief summaries from The Governors of New Jersey. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive and I urge you to pick up a copy of the book if you have any interest in New Jersey history

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Jeremiah Basse was unskilled and unlucky. (East and West Jersey, 1698-99)

Jeremiah Basse served as governor while Andrew Hamilton had his Scottish question cleared up. (Parliament had enacted a law that presumably only allowed natural born Englishmen to serve as governors.) Basse’s tenure – all 20 months of it –  is considered to have been pretty terrible for New Jersey.

Basse was able to stick it to New York, which is something most people from New Jersey can always get behind. New York thought of East Jersey as basically an extension of itself and required ships docking at the port of Perth Amboy to go through customs in New York. Basse thought this was wrong so he tested it by having a ship he and his brother-in-law owned come in without clearing with New York. So New York seized it. Basse actually won a lawsuit against New York’s governor Richard, Lord Bellomont in 1700. 

Basse tried to get into the good graces of the legislature by signing bills that appealed to them. It didn’t work. Lewis Morris (a future governor) led protests and was arrested only to be broken out of jail by his supporters. In addition, Basse was unable to establish authority in West Jersey. 

The rejection of Basse’s authority took many forms. The governor’s summons of a general assembly went unheeded. The former provincial treasurer refused to provide the new administration with his accounts. Sammuel Jennings, speaker of the assembly, concealed the “Book of the Laws” and other important papers. Mobs obstructed courts at Salem and Burlington.

Basse was removed from power in 1699. Shortly after, the proprietary form of governance collapsed and England began to appoint royal governors. 


This is the seventh in a series of brief summaries from The Governors of New Jersey. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive and I urge you to pick up a copy of the book if you have any interest in New Jersey history

Building a casino in North Jersey is a terrible idea. It’ll probably happen anyway.

Photo courtesy of Robert Bruce Murray III. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thirddesign/3360127031)

Atlantic City. Photo courtesy of Robert Bruce Murray III. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thirddesign/3360127031)

The New York Times reports on a proposed “vision” for a mega-casino in the Meadowlands. The plans call for “a Las Vegas-style casino, two 1,000-room hotels, a one-million-square-foot convention center and a youth sports center at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, less than nine miles west of Manhattan.”

This is a terrible idea. It will probably get built anyway.

The announcement of Revel’s closure marks the fourth and most high profile casino failure in Atlantic City this year. It’s yet another piece of terrible news for the city that continues to see gaming revenue decline year over year. Why is gaming seemingly on the decline in Atlantic City while gaming revenue is up everywhere else? For the same reasons Atlantic City declined in the mid-twentieth century. It’s losing its grasp on a near monopoly.

If there is one thing that drove the decline in Atlantic City tourism before the advent of casino gaming, it was the introduction of relatively cheap air travel. Tourists gained the ability to go anywhere in the country in a more reasonable amount of time than train or automobile travel could offer. The Northeast could now easily reach points south which are warm year round. Simply said, the supply rose to meet demand.

And so New Jersey turned to casino gaming, both as a means to spur revitalization in Atlantic City and as a revenue source. (There was no state income tax at the time and the sales tax was relatively new.) The steps leading up to the passage of casino gaming are fascinating and deserve their own post so I won’t go into it here.

Did casino gaming help Atlantic City? Well, if by “help” you mean “alleviate social ills and spur the local economy” then the answer would be “no.” Anyone who’s been to Atlantic City knows that once you step off the boardwalk or outside of the Fortress of Solitude that is the Borgata, the city looks like most distressed urban areas. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia published a report [PDF] on Atlantic City as a lesson for policy-makers looking to turn to casino gaming.

Atlantic City’s unemployment and poverty rates are considerably higher than those in the rest of New Jersey and the nation. The 2000 census reported that 19 percent of the population lived in census tracts that meet the definition of extreme poverty neighborhoods; that is, they had poverty rates of at least 40 percent. Per capita income in the city is among the lowest in the state.
Compounding the situation are a high crime rate, an active drug trade, and gang activity. Also, despite the city’s high per pupil spending, the graduation rate for Atlantic City students is considerably lower than that for the state as a whole. Vacant houses and lots are a common sight, residents have access to few retail outlets, and the city has no supermarket. Furthermore, the level of noncasino employment has declined significantly

Maybe that’s because Atlantic City approached gaming and revitalization the wrong way. Or maybe it’s because the style of casino people insist on building is terrible for revitalization efforts. Hulking behemoths that are designed to keep visitors within their walls and away from the city by offering gaming, restaurants, shops, bars, and more.

Even if this wasn’t the case, we should be skeptical that casinos could give a jolt to a local economy today. Jake Blumgart for the Pacific Standard writes,

But no matter how often pundits and boosters use the term ‘Las Vegas-style casinos,’ the fact is that most communities will never experience the kind of economic boost given to Clark County or South Jersey. Las Vegas and Atlantic City were unique because they dominated a market defined by scarcity. Their customers were mostly out-of-towners who would not have otherwise spent money in the region. Tens of thousands of unionized working class jobs were sustained by a steady flow of tourist and convention dollars, cushioning both regions from capital flight and the low-wage economy.

As Atlantic City gaming declines and the city tries to re-reinvent itself back to a general resort and tourist destination, what will a North Jersey casino do for the region and state? New Jersey loves its casino tax revenue and isn’t going to just sit back and watch those dollars flow to other state governments. So a North Jersey casino, while it will assuredly cannibalize some gaming revenue from Atlantic City, is probably seen more as a backstop by policy-makers. A North Jersey casino may very well bring in additional revenue or at least turn the tide of revenue leaving the state but it will do so at the expense of the rest of the tourism industry in the region. (Some may argue that the convention center would be the major draw. This is also a terrible idea.) And since New Jersey doesn’t have a say on what happens across the Hudson, I would expect to see more New York casinos open as well. The New York Times piece I referenced in the beginning of this post mentions that “claims of glamorous, revenue-generating machines are being made by companies in New York State that are vying for casino licenses at locations within 50 miles of Manhattan.” So the hold a North Jersey casino may have on that market will probably be even more short-lived than Atlantic City had.

Rafi Farber:

[T]he only way gambling can increase tax revenue for a State government is if gambling attracts capital from outside the state’s jurisdiction. This is unlikely for New Jersey, even if gambling is legalized outside of Atlantic City. Those who consider going to New Jersey from outside New Jersey to gamble will likely not be any more attracted by a casino outside of Atlantic City than they already are by casinos inside Atlantic City. The possible exception might be a New Jersey casino situated right off Manhattan, which is Christie’s only hope of increasing tax revenue on net to his coffers, and even that will be short lived when New York inevitably fights back to keep gambling revenue inside its own State borders.

So what’s the big deal? The Meadowlands isn’t in decline like Atlantic City and if the state is losing revenue anyway, why shouldn’t it invest in a backstop casino?

Because we’ve heard this story before. The idea that mega-projects like Xanadu/American Dream or this proposed casino is going to save the state from raising revenue from traditional sources or somehow stimulate the local economy is wishful thinking. There would be a short-term bump in employment from construction but once built, it will probably be too big to fail like Revel and Xanadu.

The one big hiccup in the plans to expand casino gaming is that it would require voter approval. And the voters don’t seem too keen on letting it happen, rejecting the idea 50% to 42%. Though that is a narrower margin than in years past.

So what’s going to happen? An amendment allowing statewide gaming passes after a big push from casino and construction industry interests. The casino will be built in the Meadowlands (Sorry, Jersey City) and qualify for an obscene amount of tax incentives, grants and various other breaks. The casino will struggle financially and gaming revenue will continue to decline.

New Jersey will once again suffer from a politically easy but fiscally misguided decision.

Andrew Hamilton. (East and West Jersey, 1692-98, 1699-1703)

Andrew Hamilton was a busy guy. He served as deputy governor for a year before becoming governor of both colonies from 1692 to 1698 and then again from 1699 to 1703. Then he crossed the Delaware and was deputy governor of Pennsylvania being the first in a long line of New Jerseyans to move to Pennsylvania. 

Around this time, the local inhabitants of the colonies were beginning to resent proprietary rule. “Governors appointed by the proprietors appeared as the representatives of unpopular absentee landowners whose interests clashed with the people’s well-being. Groups in East Jersey contested the proprietors’ land title and resisted efforts to collect quitrents.”

The death of Barclay and resignation of Coxe led to both groups of proprietors to choose Andrew Hamilton as their governor. So Hamilton has residents who resent the proprietors who put him in power and a Lords of Trade who were itching to remove the rights of proprietors.

An act of Parliament made Scots ineligible to serve as colonial governors. This led to a terrible governship by Jeremiah Base (looking forward to that guy!) and the subsequent petition and reinstatement of Hamilton as governor in 1699. There was a whole mess of problems at this point. Not the least of which were riots in response to tax acts. Some anti-Hamilton proprietors in England even tried to appoint a new governor. Between 1701 and 1703, East Jersey had no functioning government.

He died in office in 1703 as the last proprietary governor.


This is the sixth in a series of brief summaries from The Governors of New Jersey. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive and I urge you to pick up a copy of the book if you have any interest in New Jersey history

Daniel Coxe, “an unfortunate failure.” (West Jersey, 1687-92)

Daniel Coxe was all about the Benjamins. (Can you be all about the Benjamins before Benjamin was born?) He was a land speculator and absentee governor. West Jersey was just part of his vast land holdings which would eventually cover major swaths of the south. 

After he came to hold twenty-two out of 100 proprietary shares he took on the role of governor though he was willing to give it up for one thousand guineas. His main accomplishment seems to be the settling of the border dispute between East and West Jersey. He ended up accepting the line surveyed by East Jersey which was widely thought to be unfavorable to the West. However, the other West Jersey proprietors seemed satisfied to have the issues resolved though Beck writes “The dispute was to have repercussions for almost another century.” This line is more interesting than the rest of the essay on Coxe.

He sold his holdings and the right of government to the West Jersey Society in 1692. “It is not known whether his decision was prompted by continued friction with the resident proprietors, the outbreak of war with France, or the unfriendly attitude of the British government toward proprietary colonies.”

Beck ends with this:

As a scientist Coxe was brilliant; as a businessman he was shrewd; but as a governor he lacked the compassion necessary to good administration. His governorship must be considered an unfortunate failure.


This is the fifth in a series of brief summaries from The Governors of New Jersey. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive and I urge you to pick up a copy of the book if you have any interest in New Jersey history

Robert Barclay (East Jersey, 1682-90)

Robert BarclayWhen I began reading Clark L. Beck, Jr.’s essay on Robert Barclay, I was struck by again how much Quakers and religion in general influenced the governors and politics of the day. It should serve as a reminder how much politics and religion have always been intertwined. For the Scottish Barclay, his father’s experiences and conversion to Quakerism had a great effect in his own conversion in 1670.

After Carteret’s death, an auction was held and Barclay as one of twenty-four other proprietors purchased East Jersey and they elected him governor. This was partly seen as a way to increase Scottish Quaker settlement and give them a place of religious tolerance in the New World. Unfortunately, this idea never really took hold.

As for Quaker migration the extraordinary success of Pennsylvania meant that few Friends would choose to settle in East Jersey. As this became apparent, the governor gradually altered his vision to include all persecuted Scots…A steady decline in Scottish settlement marked Barclay’s closing years as governor. The general antipathy of the Scots toward emigration, the economic failure of Perth Amboy, the increased religious toleration in Britain after the death of Charles II, and the virtual commercial monopoly of the port of New York all contributed to dissolve Barclay’s dream.

He died in 1690 at the age of forty-one. 


This is the fourth in a series of brief summaries from The Governors of New Jersey. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive and I urge you to pick up a copy of the book if you have any interest in New Jersey history

I don’t know how to pronounce Edward Byllynge’s name (West Jersey, 1680-87)

The essay on Edward Byllynge by John E. Pomfret in the The Governors of New Jersey mainly focuses around the controversy and disput over Byllynge’s proprietorship and claim to governance of West Jersey. (I’ll admit that the early parceling, ownership and governing structure of East and West Jersey is still a bit confusing to me. I’ll have to dig up a more comprehensive history of the time to better understand it.) Even his Wikipedia entry is sparse. 

Shortly after all his legal claims were sorted, he died of tuberculosis. 


This is the third in a series of brief summaries from The Governors of New Jersey. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive and I urge you to pick up a copy of the book if you have any interest in New Jersey history