The first people came to the area that’s now New Jersey at least 12,000 years ago. Thousands of years later, Native American tribes including the Lenape, Munsee (or Minsi), and Unalachtigo lived on the land.
Around 1524 Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano became the first European to arrive in the region. Then Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch colonists built settlements and fought over land until England took control of the region in 1664. New Jersey became one of 13 American colonies ruled by the British.
But eventually the colonists living here wanted independence. This led to the American Revolution, which began in 1775. New Jersey was the site of more Revolutionary War battles than any other state. In 1776 George Washington crossed of the Delaware River into Trenton, New Jersey, where he defeated British forces. The battle was a turning point in the war, as one of the first major military victories in the Revolutionary War. In 1787 New Jersey became the third U.S. state and the first to sign the Bill of Rights.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
New Jersey was nicknamed the Garden State in 1876, because of the huge amount of food grown there during that time.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
New Jersey is bordered by Pennsylvania and New York in the north, Pennsylvania in the west, Delaware and Delaware Bay in the south, the Atlantic Ocean in west, and Long Island (a part of New York) in the east. It can be divided into four different geographical regions.
The Atlantic Coastal Plain, which features low hills, pine forests, and salt marshes, sweeps across the southern three-fifths of the state. This area includes the Barrier Islands, which have sandy beaches.
Northeast of the Coastal Plain is the 20-mile-wide Piedmont, where the Hudson, Passaic, Remapo, and Raritan rivers cross. This region has rolling hills and narrow valleys, and it’s where most of the state’s major cities are located.
Toward the west is the New England Upland, also called the Highlands. This area has flat-topped rock ridges and many lakes.
The Appalachian Ridge and Valley is a mountainous region in New Jersey’s northwest corner. It includes the Kittatinny Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap, an opening created when the Delaware River cut through the Appalachian mountains millions of years ago.
New Jersey’s mammals include black bears, bobcats, red foxes, raccoons, and Tuckahoe masked shrews, which are similar to moles. Red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, northern cardinals, and American goldfinches (the state bird) are common birds here. The state is home to reptiles such as spotted turtles, five-lined skinks, and coastal plain milk snakes. Marbled salamanders, red-spotted newts, and New Jersey chorus frogs are among its amphibians.
The state’s many trees include sugar maple, American chestnut, flowering dogwood, pitch pine, and American elm. Black-eyed Susans, orange daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, and violets (the state flower) are some of the wildflowers that grow here.
—New Jersey’s celebrities include U.S. president Grover Cleveland (the only President born in New Jersey), astronaut Buzz Aldrin, author Judy Blume, and performer Frank Sinatra.
—Inventor Thomas Edison’s early light bulbs, phonographs, and laboratory equipment are on display at Menlo Park Museum in the town where Edison worked.
—At Washington Crossing State Park in Trenton, visitors can see where George Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River and launched a successful attack on the Hessians (soldiers fighting for the British army).
—In the 19th century southern New Jersey remained largely agricultural, while the northern part of the state rapidly industrialized.