June 24 marks the 350th birthday of New Jersey.
Not the State of New Jersey, of course, but the territory of New Jersey.
In 1664, having just re-established monarchy rule in England, Charles II of the House of Stuart granted a huge piece of the New World to his brother James, the Duke of York (later King James II). James immediately divvied up the land among his friends.
“The land between the Hudson and the Delaware rivers, he gave to Sir George Carteret of the Isle of Jersey and Lord John Berkeley,” said Joseph Klett, director of the New Jersey State Archives. “Both of the noblemen had been loyal to the Stuart family during the British civil war.”
None of these people ever set foot in New Jersey.
Nevertheless, the named “New Jersey” first appears in an agreement, written in graceful calligraphy on animal-skin parchment, granting the land to the loyalists. It now has a place of prominence in the New Jersey State House in Trenton.
The State Capitol Complex in Trenton will be showing off that document Sunday during a daylong festival of all things New Jersey, including music, food, and theater.
The nearby New Jersey State Museum will launch an exhibition about how the state presented itself at world fairs for almost a century.
But New Jersey most lasting contribution may have occurred in 1894, in Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange.
The inventor was working on something that would become one of the most powerful machines of the 20th century: the movie camera.
“First, they had to figure out to make it, how to preserve the image,” said TV critic and film historian David Bianculli. “Then they had to figure out – ‘What do we want to film? We want to make money off of it. What do we want to show that people will pay for?'”
What Edison came up with was “Boxing Cats,” a 30-second film clip of two cats in a tiny boxing ring, wearing tiny gloves tied to their paws, forced to face off until they swat at each other.
“We have learned nothing as a human species. The Internet is exactly this,” said Bianculli, who will deliver a lecture on some of the most outstanding film and television to have come out of the Garden State, including “On the Waterfront” (Hoboken), “Clerks” (Leonardo, Monmouth County), and “The Sopranos.”
Of all of them, Bianculli said, “Boxing Cats” is his favorite.