History of the Horseneck Riots, Essex Co., New Jersey

A Thesis presented by Max K. Vorwerk, A.B.

Montclair State Teachers College 1948

Published by the Caldwell (NJ) Bicentennial Committee in 1976


Chapter 1

    The Indian Bill of Sale for the settlement of Newark is obtained and the Newark settlers procure an Indian Deed to settle the Horseneck Tract

Chapter 2
    Indian deed gotten without permission from the Lord Proprietors are void and subject to a fine and punishment

Chapter 3
    Several deeds are granted for identical tracts of land at Horseneck

Chapter 4
    The land and the people of Horseneck

Chapter 5
    The West-Jersey Society -- legal owners of the Horseneck Tract -- begins to take action against those settlers who live there by right of Indian Deed

Chapter 6
    In deeds there is trouble

Chapter 7
    The Horseneck Riots

Chapter 8
    Mr. Nevill, Esquire, a member of the New Jersey Assembly and one of the general proprietors, attacks two petitions received from the rioters in the assembly

Chapter 9
    Riots continue in New Jersey

Chapter 10
Chapter 11
    Riots spread in New Jersey. The Proprietors review the legal history concerning land holdings

Chapter 12
    Riots continue and the Proprietors seek to find ways of checking them

Chapter 13
    Law suits and ejections Conclusion || Appendix || Bibliography


Several years ago when I began to teach American History at Caldwell, New Jersey, I learned that at one time this section was a part of what had originally been known as Horseneck, and that it possessed a rich, historical background. Anxious to bring local color into my history courses, I began a study of Horseneck and discovered that only a few books had been written about it. These stated its history in a general way.

In the course of my investigation, I began to realize that thirty years before the American Revolution, serious riots against the Proprietary Government had occurred, which were looked upon as treasonable and seditious by the British authorities. These riots concerned land disputes and, beginning at Horseneck, spread into neighboring counties. Since our standard American History books made no mention of these riots, and local histories dismissed them briefly, I began a closer study, spending more than a year accumulating material. The results of that study are contained in this paper.

It seemed to me that if the Horseneck Riots were actually classified as open rebellion against the Crown of England by the New Jersey Proprietors, thirty years before the American Revolution, they were worthy of consideration. I have written this paper to shed more light on the colonial history of New Jersey and also with the hope that its contents will be of value to those teachers of the old Horseneck Section, which today includes Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell, Verona, Essex Fells, Roseland, Caldwell Township, Cedar Grove and Livingston, who seek to bring local color into the teaching of American Colonial History.


The main problem involved in my study of the Horseneck Riots was to determine their causes and to find the main arguments used by the Proprietors and the Rioters in justifying their courses of action.

To determine the causes, it became necessary to make a study of the complicated system of granting land to the Horseneck settlers during the colonial period. This system was grossly misunderstood by the settlers, even though the colonial authorities passed several land acts, in 1683, and in 1703, which defined very clearly the conditions of land purchase and the punishment given if disobeyed.

Misunderstanding of the law was the root of the evil that caused the riots. The settlers had obtained an Indian Deed to the Horseneck Section and -- contrary to the law -- believed they therefore owned the land. The question arose: Were Indian deeds to be recognized as legal? The Proprietors said "no" and cited the acts of 1683 and 1703. To avert real trouble, they sought to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Indian Deed settlers. Letters were sent to the settlers, outlining plans of agreement. These were rejected and the Proprietors began to evict the settlers.

The question here involved was: Could an Indian Deed establish the right to settle, or did the Proprietors have the right to evict people who had not obtained land through British authorities?

Right or not, the Proprietors did begin to evict. On September 19, 1745, Samuel Baldwin of Horseneck was evicted and taken to Newark prison. While there, a group of settlers freed him -- using force -- and then marched back to Horseneck riotously. This was the beginning of a long series of riots. Accounts of them, taken from contemporary newspapers and from the proceedings of the East Jersey Proprietors, tell the full story. Their implications are manifold. They were classified as open rebellion against the motherland. The Proprietors called it treason. The settlers answered these charges with plausible arguments. It then became a matter to be decided in the courts, and the seriousness of the situation was great. The flaunting of British law may have been a forerunner of the Revolution itself, at least the question involved was the same -- individual rights versus blind obedience to law as administered by royal decree.

These Horseneck Riots have great importance in New Jersey colonial history because they gave impetus to other riots which began to spread in neighboring counties.

The Horseneck Rioters were certain that they were right. Taking advantage of a popular democratic procedure, they sent several petitions to the New Jersey Assembly, stating why they should be allowed to remain on the land. One of the Proprietors, a Mr. Nevill, tore these petitions apart and did his best to show the fallacy of the settlers' belief.

The New Jersey Proprietors as a group on March 25, 1747, outlined the negotiations that occurred between the settlers and the Proprietors of Horseneck. They attempted to show that the Rioters knew they were guilty and were afraid to have the matter brought into the courts. In order to prove once and for all that the Proprietors were right, the land policy of the government was outlined. From this outline it became very clear why there had been so much confusion concerning land ownership. From the citation of English Common Law to the Act of 1703, a picture of complete confusion was apparent. It seems strange that the Proprietors should expect the unlettered settlers to understand this policy. No wonder the settlers held that Indiana deeds were legal.

Riots continued. Finally law suits were brought against the Horseneck settlers. Many lost their lands, others paid up.


In conclusion, the following observations may be made:

  1. The settlers of Horseneck found that in Indian Deeds, not recognized by the Proprietors, there was trouble. Had they investigated the law, they would have found themselves in the wrong, and the riots might have been avertted.
  2. This, however, may have been in impossibility, because the Horseneck settlers were unlettered men, unfamiliar with legal terminology, and the law in itself was confusing. Many of the settlers believed they were acting quite within the law. The Proprietors, on the other hand, were shrewd and clever men, who took advantage of the settlers lack of knowledge.
  3. The question of land ownership was settled in a manner favorable to the Proprietors; the settlers were either evicted or paid the Proprietors for their lands.
  4. The riots themselves accomplished little at the time they occurred, but they were a foreshadowing of things to come.

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