The whole of East New Jersey and other parts at one time belonged to a syndicate of 24 men. They called themselves “The Lords Proprietors of New Jersey.” These “Lords Proprietors” claimed their title derived from a sale made to them in 1681 and 1682 by the widow of Phillip Carteret, the first Proprietary Governor. Their claims were recognized in law and they made large sums of money in disposing of much of the land. Before and at the time of the American Revolution the “Lords Proprietors of New Jersey” were a mighty financial, political and social influence and they were connected with the early composition of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The dispensation of justice was the exclusive right of the patroon. He and he only was the court with summary powers of “high, low and middle jurisdiction,” which were harshly or capriciously exercised. Not only did he impose sentence for violation of laws, but he, himself, ordained those laws and they were laws which were always framed to coincide with his interests and personality. He had full authority to appoint officers and magistrates and enact laws. It was a sort of shire law wielded by the owners of the stupendously enormous rural estates. The patroon was absolute king of his shire, county or parish. (A parody of shire law can hopefully be seen in the short clip at top.)
The landholding class was the dominant class during the times of the American Revolution. In Carolina and Georgia, a monopolization of land by a few meant diminished hopes for many. Governor Thomas Boone granted 343,000 acres to less than 200 persons, many of them British lords or other speculators. The British Lords of Trade heard about these huge land grants to a few and directed that no extravagant warrants for land should be issued. Furthermore, the British Lords of Trade tried to break the large grants already made, but their instructions came too late.
The time leading up to the American Revolution was marked by a split between the new trading class and the patroons. At first the trading class had been more or less identical with the patroons and others who, by virtue of their charters, powers and privileges, held a monopoly of trading. The grandiose feudal lord of the manor was not only the proprietor of the soil, but for a long time he was the dominant manufacturer and trader, and the mass of the people were his retainers or tenants. Tenants were forced to sign covenants with their patroon that they would trade nowhere else but at his stores and mills.
However as property in the city became more valuable than the rural properties of the patroons, an increasingly independent merchant class arose. No close research into pre-Revolutionary currents and movements is necessary to understand that the Revolution was brought about by the dissatisfied trading class as the only means of securing absolute freedom of trade. Notwithstanding the view often presented that it was an altruistic movement for the freedom of man, it was essentially an economic struggle fathered by the trading class and by a part of the landed interests. Admixed was a sincere aim to establish free political conditions. This, however, was not an aim for the benefit of all classes, but merely one for the better interests of the propertied class.
With the success of the Revolution, the trading class bounded to the first rank. Entail and primogeniture were abolished and the great estates gradually melted away. Altered laws caused a gradual disintegration in the case of individual holdings, but brought no change in instances of corporate ownership. The Trinity Corporation of New York City, for example, has held on to the vast estate which it was given before the Revolution except such parts as it voluntarily has sold.
The lordly, leisurely environment of the old landed class had been supplanted by feverish trading and industrial activity which imposed upon society its own newer standards, doctrines and ideals and made them uppermost factors.
(Sources: (1) History of the Supreme Court of the United States, by Gustavus Myers. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1912 (2) History of the Great American Fortunes, by Gustavus Myers. Kindle e-book edition.)