Occupying the Land: Early European
and African Settlement in New Jersey


Early European and African settlement in New Jersey can be traced showing both areas of initial use and increased density over time. Areas that had begun to be settled by 1665, for example, continued to draw settlement, leading to greater density.  In viewing a map of settlement patterns, it is readily apparent that the two major operational factors were inherent soil fertility (as viewed at the time) and accessibility. In eastern New Jersey settlement was first on the better soils of the Piedmont and Inner Coastal Plain, which were readily accessible by navigating the Passaic, Hackensack and Raritan rivers.  In western New Jersey, the better soils on the Inner Coastal Plain facing the Delaware were occupied first.  Settlement there lagged upstream from the rapids at the site of Trenton, which limited navigability for larger watercraft. In much of southern New Jersey the ready access provided by streams in the Outer Coastal Plain did not encourage much settlement due to the perceived infertility of the soils.  In northern New Jersey areas still not settled by 1765 included the Great Swamp, the glaciated Highlands and Kittatinny Ridge.  In the latter two cases steep slopes added to the intractability of the soils to inhibit settlement.