THIS MONTH IN HISTORY
By: J. Mark Mutter
On February 21, 1798, the New Jersey legislature passed “An Act incorporating the inhabitants of Townships, designating their powers, and regulating their meetings.”
All 104 Townships that were then in existence were listed – including the then Township of Dover, now Toms River.
Our Township had been created some 32 years earlier – in 1767.
THE ROYAL PROVINCE
This was the period of time of the “royal province” of New Jersey in which the number of townships dramatically increased before independence was declared.
Originally, New Jersey had separate townships in both “East Jersey” and “West Jersey” – as the province was divided into two parts before 1702.
With the reunification of the province – we were then part of the British Empire – the number of Townships grew throughout the 1700’s.
There were three ways in which a township was formed during this period:
(1) By royal charters from the King or Queen, known as “letters patents”. Stafford Township, the oldest municipality in Ocean County, was created in this manner in 1749.
(2) By orders from either the Cape May, Morris, or Sussex County Courts.
(3) By acts of the General Assembly. Seven municipalities were formed this way – including Dover Township which was established on June 24, 1767.
The creation of the non-incorporated Dover Township in 1767 means our community is nine years older than the United States.
Once part of the royal province of New Jersey, our early records were destroyed when the British attacked and burned Toms River in 1782 at the end of the Revolutionary War.
THE DOVER TOWN BOOK
Our first records still in existence are from 1783 – in the Dover “Town Book” and contains very basic information from the Annual Town Meeting held in March of each year.
Those first meetings were held in public taverns or private homes – typical of those times – and organized the town for the year ahead before the planting of crops. Most of our early town leaders were farmers.
The meetings were simple – electing a clerk, an overseer of the poor, and the building of roads and bridges. (These meetings can be accessed on our Township website at www.tomsrivertownship.com, go to “Forms” to “Historic.”)
With the 1798 state law enacted this month, our Township, like all others then in existence, was “incorporated.” Thus, “municipal corporations” were introduced to New Jersey, a concept still with us today.
J. Mark Mutter is the Toms River Clerk and Historian, and Chairman of the Semiquicentennial Committee that is planning the Township 250th anniversary in 2017.