Early Exploration of New Jersey

Vikings made voyages along the coast by way of Greenland and Iceland to possibly as far south as Virginia; Leif Ericson is believed to have passed the shores of New Jersey around A.D. 985. The Englishman explorer, John Cabot, sailing for King Henry VII of England in 1497, may have been the first European to set foot on the land. In 1524, Giovanni daVerrazzano, sailing for the French King Francois I, aboard the Dauphine, entered Raritan Bay. 

Verrazzano was followed in 1609 by an Englishman, Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East Indian Company, looking for the “northwest passage” to India. He sailed along the coast from Maine to Virginia. Finding no large enough rivers to the south he turned back north. On September 2, 1609 his ship anchored off shore near what was later called Barnegat inlet and bay. Firstmate Robert Juet recorded in the ships log the following description of the Jersey coast:

When the sun rose we steered north again and saw land from the west by northwest, all alike, broken island. The course along the land we found to the norest by north. From the land, which  we first had sight of, until we came to a great lake of water, as we could judge it to be, having drowned land, which made it rise like islands, which was in length ten leagues. The mouth of the lake had, many shoals, and the sea breaks upon them as it is cast out of the mouth of it. And from the lake or bay the land lies north by east, and we had a great stream out the bay… This was a very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see.  
       (Reprinted in Down Barnegat Bay by Robert Jahn, Plexus Publishing, 2000)


Continuing north the Half Moon entered and anchored in Raritan Bay near Sandy Hook. The ship was soon visited by friendly natives who brought green tobacco to exchange for knives and beads. Hudson observed that they had plenty of maize and made very good bread. The following day, Hudson sent out a boat, which probably landed on the Jersey Shore, where the crew was kindly received by the natives, who gave them more tobacco. Several of the natives, reportedly dressed in “mantles of feathers and fine furs,”accompanied the sailors back to the Half Moon, bringing presents of dried currants. The following day a boat was sent up the north side of the bay to explore and take soundings of the river. The crew passed through the narrows between Staten Island and Bergen Neck. They described the land as covered with trees, grass and flowers and filled with delightful frangance. Unfortunately, on the return trip they were attacked by natives in canoes, and John Colman, who had accompanied Hudson on an earlier trip, was killed and two others wounded. Colman was carried ashore and buried.   This was the only negative encounter the Hudson expedition had with natives. Hudson explored New York Bay and probably the Raritan River; and up the great river which would bare his name, many miles claiming the lands for the Dutch.