John Tatham, New Jersey's Missing Governor by john D. McCormick


In 1684, Dr. Daniel Cox, of London, acquired an extensive interest in West

Jersey, and in 1686 one in East Jersey. A late biographer, Mr. G. D.

Scull, of England, says: "After the death of Governor Byllinge, in

January, 1687, he purchased of his fanilly their landed property in West

Jersey, together with the right of government in the Province, under the

grant of the Duke of York to Byllinge. Dr. Cox, in consequence, became

Governor of West Jersey. Shortly after, on September 5, 1687, he addressed

a letter to the Colony, detailing the circumstances connected witli the

transaction, and explaining his views as to the future."


From a paper quoted by Mr. Scull; the original being in the Bodleian

Library, dated about 1688, it appears that "The above menconed Daniell

Coxe, being resolved to sell his interest in Land and Government of the

Collonies of East and West Jersey, the land Amounting, by a moderate

calculacion unto one million of acres, whereof about 400,000 are surveyed

and the Indian purchase paid." "Besides the purchase of ye land many

thousand pounds have been Expended upon the establishing of a whale

fishing, which will bring for ye future very great profit." There were

also large forests of timber suitable for masts for vessels, immense

vineyards for the curing of raisins and the manufacture of wines. Also,

lands underlying which were rich deposits of iron, brass, copper and lead.

Besides these there were oyster beds, fisheries and other industries in

profitable operation.


"Dr. Cox never visited America. This fact is expressly stated by Oldmixon,"

says Scull. He made John Tatham his agent in the Jerseys, the latter being

a resident of Bucks county, Pa., in 1681, where he owned extensive tracts

of land. In the fall of 1687, the Assembly of West Jersey acknowledged Dr.

Cox as Governor. He appointed Edward Hunloke his deputy, but soon after he

commissioned his agent, John Tatham, to be his deputy Governor, and govern

in his name, "who, being a Jacobite, and as such by principle disqualified

him, the Assembly rejected." (Smith's History, pp. 191-92.) It was while

working on a reprint of Smith's History that this quotation first met my

eye, and directed my attention to him. The cause assigned for his

rejection, that he was a Jacobite, leaves no doubt as to his religious

belief. James II, of the house of Stuart, was then upon the throne of

England. His followers were known as Jacobites. To be a Jacobite and a

Catholic were synonymous terms in those days.


The days of the house of Stuart upon the throne of England were drawing to

a close, and party feeling ran high. A study of the affairs of West Jersey

at that period warrants the belief that the reason given for John Tatham's

rejection was only a pretext. Thomas Olive, who had been twice Governor of

West Jersey, led a vigorous opposition to the claims of Edward Byllinge,

on account of a question as to the validity of his title, and also because

of his financial embarrassments. Dr. Cox had inherited the rights of

Byllinge, and it is not unlikely that a desire to annoy Governor Cox was

the chief motive of the rejection of John Tatham. No other objection could

be raised against him but his political affiliations, which also indicated

his religion.


Notwithstanding the action of the Assembly, John Tatham continued to act as

the agent of Governor Cox, and to take part in public affairs. The line of

partition of 1676, dividing New Jersey into East and West Jersey, proved a

source of public dissatisfaction to both sections. It grew to such

proportions that Governor Cox, of West Jersey, and Governor Barclay, of

East Jersey, resolved to remedy the evil. For that purpose they entered

into a joint agreement, dated "London, September 5, 1688," for the final

determination of all difficulties concerning the line of partition.

Nothing came of that contract, however, but more jealousies and feuds.


On the 14th of December, 1687, the Proprietors of West Jersey met at

Burlington, and eleven of their number were elected to act as

commissioners for the ensuing year. The whole government of the Province

was vested in them, and among the Proprietors, I find the name of John

Tatham. He was also elected in that year one of the commissioners who

exercised the above powers of government. The question of settling the

long-disputed division line was entrusted to this commission, acting

jointly with a similar commission from East Jersey. Deep-seated as was the

trouble, I find no further reference to it after that. The first survey

that I can find for him in West Jersey was made in March, 1689 (Hill's

History of the Church in Burlington, p. 11).


On November 21st, 1681, the first Assembly of West Jersey under the

Proprietors met at Burlington, and "agreed upon certain fundamentals of

government," in the tenth section of which it appears, "That liberty of

conscience, in matters of faith and worship, shall be granted to all

people within the Province aforesaid, who shall live peaceably and quietly

therein; and that none of the free people of the said Province shall be

rendered incapable of office in respect to their faith and worship."

(Smith's History, p. 128.)


John Tatham, as one of those who were invested with the powers of

government above, is inseparably connected with the establishment of that

religious liberty that was introduced six years before.




Governor Cox, in the inventory of his property offered for sale in the

Jerseys in 1688, found in the Rawlinson manuscripts, Bodleian Library,

says: "I have erected a pottery at Burlington, for white and Chiney ware,

a great quantity of ye value 1,200 have been already made and vended in

ye country, neighbor Colonies and ye Islands of Barbadoes and Jamaica,

where they are in great request. I have two houses and kilns, with all

necessary implements, divers workmen and other servts. Have expended

thereon about 2,000." The "white" ware corresponded with the "white

stoneware" produced by William Miles, of Hanley, Staffordshire, England,

and the "Chiney" ware was similar to the "crouch ware" made at Burslem. It

had all the elements of porcelain, and had John Tatham given his kilns a

harder fire his ware would have been semi-transparent. The pottery was

built at the suggestion of John Tatham, who had some knowledge of the

advantages resulting from the combination of clays, and he thus

established the first pottery built on this side of the Atlantic. Two

thousand pounds in 1688 possessed the purchasing power of $50,000 in 1890.

The pottery was located near Mahlon Stacey's mill, on the Assanpink, in

Trenton. The pottery industry in Trenton represents a capital invested of

$2,500,000 in 1890, and is the most extensive industry in the city.


Affairs in East Jersey will now claim attention, in order to follow up the

movements of John Tatham. Governor Robert Barclay died in October, 1690,

and East Jersey was without a Governor. From some cause, the government of

the twenty-four Proprietors became very unpopular, and they were naturally

quite anxious to secure a successor to Governor Barclay who would be

likely to bring about the desired popularity, and to overcome the

prejudices of their opponents. On glancing over the statesmen and public

men of East and West Jersey, they found none who possessed all the

requirements except John Tatham. I will let a distinguished author, W. A.

Whitehead, speak on the subject:


"So averse were the opponents of the Proprietors to the re-establishment of

their authority, that for a time the public sentiment was in favor of a

continuance of this state of comparatively imperfect organization as a

government. For on the arrival of Hamilton in England, and the death of

Governor Barclay, which occurred October 3d, 1690, the Proprietors

appointed John Tatham to be their Governor, and subsequently, in 1691,

Colonel Joseph Dudley, but both nominees the people scrupled to obey, on

what ground is not stated." (Collections N.J. Historical Society, Vol. I,

2d Rev. Ed., p. 185.)


Recent investigations enable us to understand the cause of the unpopularity

of the government of the Proprietors. It was a grievance of long standing,

and had its origin in this way: Some of the settlers in the Jerseys got

title for their purchases of land under the Monmouth patent; others bought

directly from the Indians, and still others under the grant of the Duke of

York to Berkeley and Carteret. These two charters overlapped. The latter

refused to recognize the validity of any title not granted by themselves,

they claiming fuller authority, and demanded rents from all the

landholders alike. A storm of opposition was raised, which broke out into

open insurrection during the administration of Governor Phillip Carteret,

and he was obliged to leave the Colony and take refuge in England.

Concessions were made to the settlers; the matters in dispute were

referred to the chancery courts, but a radical cure was not effected, and

from time to time the trouble would break out anew. It was during one of

these outbursts of popular disfavor that John Tatham was elected governor,

and that was why the settlers "scrupled to obey."


From the foregoing, it is clear that John Tatham was elected to the highest

position in the gift of the Proprietors, that of Governor of East and West

Jersey, for they seem to have been under one Governor then, each Province

having a separate Council. That he entered upon the duties of his office,

and exercised the functions thereof, is equally plain, for he served one

year in office, as is evident from the appointment of Colonel Dudley to be

his successor, in 1691. All the authorities I have examined upon the

subject lament that the records that have come down to us are very meagre,

and throw but little light upon that interesting, period of our Colonial

history. (See East Jersey under the Proprietary Governors, by Whitehead.)


It is probable that Governor Tatham, understanding well the nature of the

situation, has avoided those public acts that would cause irritation among

the people, and allowed affairs to pursue the even tenor of their way, he

contenting himself with simply holding the executive power in abeyance, to

be used only in case there should be urgent necessity for its exercise.

Those who govern best, govern least.


The "scruples to obey" on the part of the people did not mean that they

refused to obey Governor Tatham, and defied his authority. It ouly meant

that the government of the Proprietors was unpopular, and was ouly obeyed

with reluctance. Hence the wisdom of the governor in pursuing the

conservative course that he did.




The Hon. B. F. Lee, Clerk of the New Jersey Supreme Court, called my

attention recently to an old minute-book of the court in his office. I am

of the opinion that Mr. Lee has made an important discovery, and that the

matter contained in the record is of great historical value, and that it

illuminates a peried of New Jersey history that has been shrouded in

comparative darkness. The investigations of Bancroft and the late W. A.

Whitehead failed to fathom that obscure period, and they were left to

conjecture about it. Yet this record shows that the courts were held

regularly at Burlington; we have the names of the judges who sat on the

bench; we know who composed the grand jury, and we have a synopsis of the

cases that came before the court, thus enabling the student of history to

form a pretty correct idea of the state of society at that time.


The record is known as "The Court Booke. Containing the Orders and

Proceedings of the Court at Burlington, and Liberties, Jurisdictions and

Precincts Thereof. 1681." On page 79 we learn that the "Quarterly Sessions

held at Burlington ye first Tuesday in February, the fifth of ye same

month, 1688. Present there John Skene, Edward Hunloke, Wm. Biddle, James

Marshal, Daniel Wills and Wm. Myers, justices present. John Tatham, Esqr.,

was foreman of the grand jury, which included the following: Tho:

Hutchinson, Tho: Folke, Joshua Ely, Peter Rossa, William Budd, Brigall

Sowle, William Hunt, John Lambert, John Bainbridge, Isaac Marriott, Edw:

Rockhill, Robert Wilson and Tho: Scattergood." One of the cases that came

before the court was that of a woman named Pearson, charged as a vagabond

in the indictment. She was convicted and punished. Another case was that

of Christof Snowden, indicted for misdemeanors, in selling liquor to the

Indians. He was convicted. "The court therefore order and hereby prohibit

said Christof Snowden from selling any strong liquors until next Quaxter

Sessions" (p. 79). He had his license revoked.


On June 5th, 1696, he appeared in behalf of Dr. Daniell Cox, plaintiff; vs.

John Dubois, defendant. "At the Court of Sessions, February 26, 1692-3,

Edward Hunloke, Dep. Gov. John Tatham, William Biddle, Daniel Wills, Fran.

Davenport, Mahlon Stacey, Thomas Lambert, Thomas Gardner, William Righton,

Daniel Leeds, Esqrs., justices upon ye bench" (p. 115). This was the first

time that John Tatham performed the duties of a judge on the bench. He

appears on the bench at the Sessions of May 8th, 1693, October 18th, 1693,

October 20th, 1693, May 8th, 1694. He was on the bench at the Quarter

Sessions and Common Pleas, November 8th, 1694, January 19th, 1694,

November 4th, 1695, February 20th, 1695-6, May 8th, 1696, August 8th,

1698, November 3d, 1698. On that date "The Grand Jury returns into court

and presents * * Christopher Wetherill for scandalizing John Tatham, by

calling him a Papist" (p. 158). A session of the court was held soon after

in which it appears that "whereas, the grand jury presented Christopher

Wetherill for scandalizing John Tatham; and whereas, the said Christopher

Wetherill appeared in court and submitted, and was, discharged." John

Tatham was not on the bench at that session, but he appeared, before the

court as counsel for Daniell England (p. 160). The action of the court,

at this session is worthy of note. It establishes the fact that Judge

Tatham was a Catholic; and it also shows that religious liberty was

something real and practical in West Jersey at that time, with William

III. on the English throne.




In 1692 Andrew Hamilton returned to America, and became Governor of the

Jerseys. After a time he solicited John Tatham to become a member of the

Governor's Council, and he accepted. We have seen that he was a "Jacobite;

"that is, an adherent of James II., and that he stood by him while there

was any hope. But all hope having been extinguished at the battle of La

Hague, in 1692, John Tatham accepted the inevitable, and took the oath of

civil allegiance to William III.


He took part in the organization of Burlington township, and was present at

its first meeting. It appears from the original records that on April 5th,

1694, "the Freeholders and Inhabitants of Said Town being Convened and * *

Did Choose & Elect John Tatham Recorder." Shortly afterwards some

disorders occurred in a liquor saloon on Sunday, that greatly disturbed

the peace and quiet of Burlington, and the moral and law-abiding citizens

thereof brought it to the notice of the town meeting. At its session of

April 22d, 1695, the matter was considered, and disposed of by its

reference to a committee of which John Tatham was chairman. His colleagues

considered him a proper man to promote morality in the community, and to

keep the liquor traffic within lawful bounds. (History of Burlington and

Mercer Counties, by Woodward & Hageman.)


On May 20th, 1697, an "agreement was signed by Governor Hamilton and

his Council and the members of the House of Representatives of West

Jersey," in which they say that "whereas, there has been a horrid and

detestable conspiracy, formed and carried on by Papists and other wicked

and traitorous persons, for assassinating his Majesty's Royal person, in

order to encourage an invasion from France on England, to subvert our

religion, laws and liberty, &c." And "we do hereby further freely and

unanimously oblige us to unite, associate and stand by each other in

supporting and defending the succession to the crown." Soon after, another

address, somewhat similar in wording, was signed, congratulating the Kiug

on his happy escape, &c. (N.J. Archives, Vol. II, pp. 145, 146). John

Tatham, in common with the other members of the Governor's Council, and the

public men of West Jersey, signed those documents. They contain nothing

but an expression of loyalty to the King in the civil order, and of

abhorrence of the crime of assassination.


The plot that gave rise to the expressions of loyalty above proved to be a

genuine plot. Let the reader note well who it was that frustrated it. The

would-be assassins had landed in England, and had laid their plans so well

that the life of King William was in imminent danger. Every detail had

been agreed upon. The plot was revealed and frustrated by "a Roman

Catholic gentleman of known courage and honor named Pendergrass." * * "My

Lord," said he to Portland, "as you value King William's life, do not let

him hunt to-morrow. He is the enemy of my religion, yet my religion

constrains me to give him this caution. But the names of the conspirators

I am resolved to conceal. Some of them are my friends; one of them is

especially my benefactor, and I will not betray them." (See Macauley's

History of England, p. 598.)


Pendergrass had been led to believe that the plan was to simply make a

prisoner of Willlam. At the trial of the conspirators, nothing was found

upon them or elicited in evidence that would criminate James II. or

anybody of note in church or state. The spectacle of a Catholic like

Pendergrass coming forward voluntarily to save the life of the King, and

of John Tatham remaining true to his obligations to the King, were acts

well calculated to disarm their enemies of their hostility.


I now approach the end of John Tatham's public life. "Att a Council held at

Perth Amboy 30th of May Anno Domi 1698, were present Governor Basse and

full Council.


"The Governor administered an oath of Secrecie to John Tatham, Esqr., hee

not being of the Councill of this Province, but of West Jersey, who was,

Accordingly Admitted to this board to Assist them with his Advice."

(Minutes of the Governor and Council, p. 198.)


"After the reading of the late proclamation, signed by Bellamount, Governor

of New York, the 24th of May, 1698, the board were of opinion that Mr.

James Dundas should be sent for, to acquaint them of what he knew of any

order lately come from England to Bellamount concerning our port, who

accordingly came. "And it was agreed by this board that there should bee a

Proclamation issued out, asserting the authority of our Port." (Ibid., p.



The cause of so much anxiety arose from the fact that New York became

jealous of Perth Amboy as a port of entry, and endeavored to have it

closed. Governor Basse had but just succeeded Governor Hamilton, when this

grave public question was forced upon him. He summoned the ablest men of

New Jersey to his side, and seems to have placed a high estimate upon the

advice of John Tatham, who was the only representative from West Jersey,

where he was a member of Governor Basse's Council, as appears from the

minutes of the Council. His last public service of which we have any

record was performed in defence of New Jersey's rights, and to uphold her





There is one thing about which I am certain, and that is, that John Tatham

never took the oath of supremacy to William III. We have no record to let

us know what oath he took when he entered upon the duties of Governor of

the Jerseys, but we can show by later occurrences that he only took the

oath of civil allegiance. We have a positive record in the Minutes of the

Governor and Council of the oaths taken by Governors Barclay, Hamilton and

Basse when they assumed office. They all first subscribed to the oath of

civil allegiance, and then to the oath of supremacy. Portions of their

Councils did the same. The name of Governor Hamilton, and also several

members of his Council, appear on the record before me, but the name of

John Tatham is not there. It is true his name is not in the Council first

chosen by Governor Hamilton, because he was selected later on, and it may

be objected that because he was not among the first batch he might have

been overlooked.


But this objection entirely disappears when we approach the administration

of Governor Basse. John Tatham was among the few who turned out to publicly

receive Governor Basse on his arrival in Burlington, as is recorded in the

N.J. Archives. He was among the first Council of Governor Basse beyond

doubt, as is evident from the Minutes of the Council (p. 198), quoted

elsewhere. The name of Governor Basse, and a few of his Council, are

recorded as having taken the oath of supremacy.


But John Tatham is not in the list. If he had taken the oath of supremacy

when he became Governor, he would also have taken it when called to

Governor Hamilton's Council, and be so recorded. He would certainly be

among the subscribers to the oath of supremacy in Governor Basse's

Council, if he took it. His name does not appear as having taken any of

the oaths. But neither do the names of other members of Governor's

Councils who did not take the oath of supremacy. We have the case of

Richard Hartshorne, a Quaker, I think, who objected to the oath of

supremacy when selected upon Governor Basse's Council. He did not take it,

yet he appears upon the list of the Governor's Council in East Jersey at

subsequent meetings.




On July 15th, 1700, John Tatham made his last will and testament. In the

opening clause he said: "I do give my soul to God, hoping for remission of

my sins, through and on account of the pure merits and suffering of my

glorious Lord and blessed Redeemer, and my body to the earth." Judging

from the signature to the original document, I believe that he also wrote

the body of the will with his own hand. It would seem from this that the

strong religious sentiments he expressed were the outpourings of a

Christian heart, and not the mere form common to such documents. His death

soon followed, for the will was admitted to probate July 26th, 1700. The

inventory of his personal effects was made September 27th, 1700. Among

them was a silver-hilted rapier and belt. He has no doubt been a military

man. It is something unusual to find swords mounted with the precious

metals in actual service, and it is probable that he received it in

recognition of deeds of bravery performed upon some bloody field.




His library was valued in bulk at 50. The total value of his goods and

chattels was estimated at 3,765: 18: 3, an immerse sum in those days. He

made his wife, Elizabeth Tatham, his sole executor. No conditions were

imposed; no restrictions were placed upon her. This fact gives us a

glimpse at his domestic life, and shows it to have been harmonious. She

did not long survive him. Her will bears date October 15th, 1700. It was

admitted to probate May 21st, 1701. The inventory of her own and her late

husband's effects throw much light upon his character. Under the head of

"Church Plate" are the following: "1 handle cup, 1 small plate, 1 box,

10: 12; 1 small case, 1: 2: 6; 1 silver universal dial, 12s.; 1 silver

grater, 6d.; 1 round armed silver Crucifix, 1 plate of St. Dominique, 1

small silver box with reliques, 1 wooden cross with image of Christ, 1:



The title of every book in his library is given separately. I will quote a

few of them from the original paper: "Pontifical Rome," Sir Thomas Moore's

Works, "Liturgy of ye Mass," "Faith Vindicated," "Theologia Naturali," "No

Cross, No Crown," "Consideration of ye Council of Trent," "Necessity of

the Church of God," "Bibli Vulgati," "A Survey of ye New Religion,"

"Cidroni's Philosophia," "The Following of Christ," "Theologia Moralis,"

"Office of ye Blessed Virgin Mary," in French, "A Mass of Pious Thoughts,"

"Ambrosia Officia," Thomas Moore's "Utopia," "History of Sir Thomas Moore,"

"Defence of Catholic Faith."


There were 478 books, by actual count, in his library, mostly with Latin

titles, some of the works comprising several volumes, making a total of

about 500 volumes. They treat of church discipline, commentaries on the

Scriptures, law, logic, theology, controversy, history, medicine,

metaphysics, music, astronomy, surveying, biography, and kindred subjects.

These show the owner to have been a man of education and culture, and

strong religious tendencies. (See Burlington Wills, 1693-1703.)


In order to give the reader some idea of how rare it was to find a library

of 500 volumes in the Jerseys at that time, I will quote from an address

of Hon. Charles D. Deshler, at the celebration of the Bi-Centennial of the

first Legislature of New Jersey, delivered at Trenton, March 1st, 1883. He

says: "If their means of intercommunication were few and rude, their means

for moral and intellectual culture were fewer still. There were few

churches and no school-houses. There was no post-office and no newspaper.

* * The publication of books and pamphlets in this country was not merely

discouraged, but was prohibited, and even in England the publications were

few and far between."


What an intellectual centre John Tatham's house has been! I feel safe in

saying that he has had more books in his library than there were in the

combined libraries of all the rest of the people of West Jersey put

together. I have examined the "inventories" of many of the Proprietors and

settlers of West Jersey, and have good ground upon which to base such an

opinion. He probably had the largest library in either East or West Jersey.




Gabriel Thomas, in his History of Burlington, published in 1698 [sic],

says, after speaking of other things: "Besides the great and stately

palace of John Tatham, Esq., which is pleasantly situated on the North

side of the Town, having a very fine and delightful Garden and Orchard

adjoining it, wherein is variety of Fruits, Herbs, and Flowers, as Roses,

Tulips, July Flowers, Sun Flowers, Carnations, and many more." It will be

interesting to trace the history of the beautiful property briefly

described above. On October 17th, 1712, the "Society for the Promotion of

the Gospel in Foreign Parts," an Episcopal organization whose headquarters

were in London, purchased the "Great and Stately Palace" of John Tatham,

for 600. The report of the Society for that year says that the property

was to be known henceforth as "Burlington House." It was fitted up as a

residence for the Rev. John Talbot, first rector of St. Mary's Episcopal

Church, Burlington. He was afterward consecrated Bishop. "Burlington House"

subsequently took fire and was partially destroyed. It was refitted up as a

residence for the Governor of New Jersey, but was allowed ultimately to

fall into ruin and abandonment. (See Hill's History of the Church in

Burlington, p. 15.) On July 23d, 1881, while some workmen were engaged in

making an excavation in Tatham street, Burlington, to lay a water main,

the foundation walls of the "Great and Stately Palace" were discovered.




I have examined many books of reference that give lists of New Jersey's

Governors, and find no mention of him. There is a blank between the

administrations of Barclay and Hamilton. I have searched for several years

for some sketch of him that would guide me, but only found one of half a

dozen sentences. He seems to have been entirely overlooked. His name is

never mentioned. He is known to but a few investigators. This should not

be so.


Of his enterprise, his executive ability, his versatile talents and his

integrity, we have ample proof in the fact that he was the agent and

enjoyed the confidence of Governor Cox to the last. From his reports to

Governor Cox we learn that he had a correct knowledge of the mineral

resources of New Jersey, as will be apparent to anybody who examines our

geological reports. He introduced and established many industries,

including the potter's art. His public services were of the first order,

both in Colonial and local affairs. A high public official under Cox, he

succeeded Governor Barclay and governed both Provinces for a year during a

turbulent period, owing to the rebellion of Jacob Leisler in New York. A

judge of the court for many years, he administered Jersey justice with

impartiality. He acted upon the Councils of Governors Hamilton and Basse,

and seems to have risen above those factious disputes that at times almost

paralyzed public affairs. Like Samuel Jennings, Thomas Olive and Thomas

Revell, he enjoyed the confidence of the people when others were retired

to private life.


Closely identified with the establishment of religious liberty, his work

forms the basis of our constitution and laws. Intellectually he was the

peer of any of his cotemporaries. He propagated morality, temperance and

respect for the Sabbath. From the days of Cartaret down to those of Leon

Abbett, our present honored Executive, there is probably no State in the

Union that possesses such a long and unbroken line of wise statesmen and

patriots as New Jersey's Governors. John Tatham is well worthy to be

placed where he belongs in that honored roll. The historians and the press

of New Jersey will see that it is done. His name has been brought forth

from the obscurity in which it has remained for nearly two hundred years,

and will never again be forgotten.

TRENTON, July, 1890.