New Jersey — History and Culture
There’s a lot going on in New Jersey, and there has been since the earliest days of European colonization in America. The Revolutionary War was largely fought and won in this state, and great minds like Thomas Edison invented many masterpieces like the electric light bulb in New Jersey laboratories. The modern era has seen tourism rise in Atlantic City and the massive Six Flags amusement park. Throw in some pretty beaches along the Jersey Shore and you’ve got the makings of a well-rounded travel destination filled with history and rich ethnic diversity.
New Jersey was at the center of the earliest colonial struggles between rival European nations striving to get a foothold in North America. The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken over by England in 1664, and the Province of New Jersey was given to two loyalists of King James II: Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley of Stratton.
Throughout the colonial era, New Jersey was agrarian and rural, attracting a diverse population of religions and ethnicities. English Quakers and Anglicans were two of the largest landowners, with much of the Delaware Valley settled by Quakers. Many historic towns like Lambertville date from this era and have retained much of their original colonial character.
During the American Revolution, New Jersey was the site of many battles and troop movements on both sides. It earned itself the nickname the Crossroads of the Revolution, and General George Washington made his main headquarters at Morristown, which has preserved the site as a national historic park.
General Washington led the Continental Army across the Delaware River in December 1775, winning crucial engagements against the British at the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. Both sites are preserved as national historic parks. In 1783, the Continental Congress met at Princeton University for four months, effectively making Princeton the capital of America for a short period.
No Civil War action took place in New Jersey, so the state turned its attentions to the industrial sector. Thomas Edison had his first laboratory at Menlo Park and then at West Orange in 1901 where he obtained 1,093 patents. Menlo Park’s Christie Street was the first street in the world to get electric lighting. Edison’s laboratories are now a national park and popular tourist attraction.
If you’ve watched MTV’s Jersey Shore program, you’re getting a horribly skewed perception of New Jersey. This ethnic Italian heritage is certainly one major facet of this multicultural state, but by no means the only one. There are also large pockets of Quakers, Irish, Germans, and African Americans. Due to this rich diversity, each corner of New Jersey seems to have its own character and atmosphere.
Spend a weekend on Cape May and you’ll find yourself immersed in the genteel blue-blood world of wealthy holidaymakers. Wander the streets of Newark and you’ll find a rugged urban scene. Princeton is one of the great centers of American academia, while Atlantic City is a free-for-all party zone of gambling and indulgence. Few states in America offer the chance to blend relaxing beach time, colonial towns, outdoor recreation, and the wild fun of Atlantic City into one visit. The pace of life is frenetic in most of New Jersey, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.