Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs
Manuscript Group 70 Alexander, James and William Papers, 1711-1909, 5 linear feet
Alexander, James and William Papers, 1711-1909
The Alexander Papers span the years of 1711 through 1909 (predominant dates 1711-ca.1770). This collection consists of correspondence, journals, legal documents, and printed materials. The collection is 5 linear feet and is contained in 13 boxes.
The documents and materials in this collection contain a vast amount of information nearly spanning two centuries. It features an in depth look into the lives of two landholders during the height of the American Revolution and their respective parts in the formation of the original 13 colonies, the very backbone of the United States of America.
The Alexander Papers came to The New Jersey Historical Society from two major sources. Sixteen volumes, including business records, letter copybooks, and personal documents, were donated (in part) by William A. Duer and James G. King in 1845 and 1849. In addition to it, the majority of letters to and from James Alexander, were purchased by the New Jersey Historical Society in 1987 from the Charles Applebaum company, a firm specializing in rare books and collections.
James Alexander was born in Scotland, heir to the title of Earl of Stirling, in 1691. As youth, he was well educated and trained as an engineer officer. In early adulthood, though a Whig in politics, he formed connections with the Jacobites and served in the forces of the Old Pretender during the Rebellion of 1715. When his group faced defeat, he fled for America. In America, he was quickly established among the opponents of the colonial House of Brunswick, though he received numerous favors from them. On November 7, 1715, he was made surveyor-general of the Province of New Jersey and later of New York. In 1718, he became the recorder of Perth Amboy, N.J., where he resided. By 1723, James Alexander had been made deputy-secretary of New York (1718), boundary commissioner of New Jersey and New York (1719), a member of the Councils of New York and New Jersey (1721, 1723 respectively), a member of the provincial bar and attorney-general of New Jersey (1723).
In 1725, with his seat in the Council of New Jersey, he tried to make positive legal reforms but in vain. As a result, in 1727, he stepped down as attorney-general of New Jersey. In 1732, he was removed from the Council of New York by Gov. Cosby because he was thought as unworthy to serve His Majesty. After being accused of near treason by Mr. Clarke, President of the Council, for working up the people to the pitch of rebellion, he was removed from the Council of New Jersey.
James Alexander regained his stature by taking the case of Peter Zenger, a printer and publisher whose paper was the vehicle of invective and satire against the governor and his adherents, who was charged with libel and with inviting sedition. After being charged with contempt and removed from the roll of attorneys, Alexander and William Smith were able to obtain a verdict. Two years later, they were reinstated as members of the bar. Around this time, Alexander was recalled to the Council of New York after a change of administration upon the death of Cosby. Alexander was also still considered to be a member of the Council of New Jersey.
He then moved to New York, where he stayed active in the councils and his practice. In 1756, he heard of a ministerial plot against the colonialists. He rushed to Albany to oppose it, though at the time, he was suffering from gout. There he experienced complications from his condition and contracted a cold. On April 2, 1756, James Alexander died.
Better known as Lord Stirling, William Alexander, son of James Alexander, was born in New York City in 1726. He, like his father, was well educated early on and was associated with his mother as a merchant in New York. In the early stages of the French and Indian War, he served as a commissary, aide, and secretary to Gov. Shirley. In 1756, Alexander accompanied him to England, and in the next year, defended him as a witness before the House of Commons. It was during this time that William Alexander spent considerable money and time to make his bid for the sixth Earl of Stirling. In 1759, he was given the title he was pursuing but later in 1762, the Lords Committee of Privileges resolved that he had not secured his claim. In the previous year (1761), Alexander had already returned to America assuming the title of Lord Stirling.
Wealthy and socially prominent, he married the sister of Gov. Livingston and held various offices in New Jersey such as surveyor-general, member of the Council, assistant to the governor and a governor of Kings (Columbia) College . He promoted agriculture, manufacture, and mining. Before the war, he resided in his mansion in Basking Ridge, N. J. after selling his New York home.
By the onset of the Revolution, Stirling opposed the Stamp Act and organized a company of grenadiers. He was suspended from the Council after a heated correspondence with the Loyalist Gov. Franklin. On November 7, 1775, he was made colonel of the 1st New Jersey Regiment and raised and equipped two regiments in the state. In January 1776, with forty volunteers in a pilot boat, he captured at Sandy Hook the British transport Blue Mountain Valley. For this, he was thanked by Congress, and in March of the same year received the commission of brigadier-general in the Continental army. He then prepared for the imminent British invasion after his appointment to the chief command in New York City. The Forts Lee and Washington as well as others in Harlem and on Long Island were built under his direction.
On August 27, 1776, the battle of Long Island commenced, which he is chiefly associated with. He was under the direction of Putnam and charged with the defense of the coast road. With no fortifications and 1,500 to 2,000 troops, he faced the enemy in what was the earliest meeting of an American army with its opponent in the open field. His troops were attacked by Gen. Grant and Lord Cornwallis; Stirlings main body escaped by fording the Gowanus Creek while Lord Stirling himself along with a portion of his force held Cornwallis at bay for a while. He was later forced to surrender to the German De Heister.
The British as well as Washington recognized Stirling for his bravery. He was later exchanged and would take part in later campaigns. His services would lead to his promotion to major-general on Feb. 19, 1777. Stirling would go on to play important roles in notable events like Valley Forge and the inquiry concerning the treachery of Benedict Arnold. By the early 1780s, the war was coming to a close.
Stirling led a brilliant military career and received praise from his colleagues as well as his enemies. After his death on Jan. 15, 1783, his wife Lady Stirling received a letter of esteem from General Washington.
Scope and Contents
The Alexander Papers span the one hundred ninety-eight years between 1711 and 1909. The collection is divided into four series: correspondence, account books, record books, and miscellaneous material. The document types include loose letters, letter copybooks, a journal, wills, deeds, and newspaper clippings.
The correspondence contains eighteen contemporary letters to and from James and William Alexander. Though this is a small number, the remainder of this series is a lot more extensive. It contains letter copybooks and indexes copied from the originals possessed by the New York Historical Society. In these volumes, there are more letters addressed to and from William Alexander which give more insight on his time period and lifestyle.
The journal series contains the earliest part of the collection. The single entry is a journal kept by James Alexander while on board H.M.S. Arundell from 1711 to 1713. It provides a look at seafaring in colonial history.
The series titled account books contains four volumes of books which contain descriptions of transactions made by the Alexanders. Here, the transactions range from land agreements to debts and span over a forty year period.
The legal documents series is made up of seven record books and other documents that were of legal importance to the Alexanders. The seven record books resemble the account books of the previous series but with one major difference: the account books were set up like journal entries while the record books contain original or duplicates of the deeds for the listed lands. Within the record books are listings for lands as early as 1664 and as late as 1764. Last, there are two other documents of varied importance like the State of Claim of William Alexander and Issac Sharps Will which make up the last parts of this series.
The last series of this collection, miscellaneous, concludes the collection. Within this series are documents which have little to no relevance to the Alexanders and the contemporaries of the time. It spans the years from 1720-1881.
Correspondence consisting of contemporary letters, copied letters, and indexes to the letter copybooks. The contemporary letters, 17 of the 18 were either written by or for James Alexander, are arranged alphabetically and chronologically. These fall in between 1722 and 1739. The last, a letter sent by William Alexander to Jacob Ford is dated back to 1768. The letters within the two volumes of letter copybooks are also listed chronologically. These letters are to and from William Alexander (Lord Stirling) primarily, between the years 1754 and 1783 and his involvement in the Revolutionary War. Some letters are even addressed to George Washington. Last, there are the corresponding indexes to these letter copybooks.
The journal within this series is the earliest document of the collection and provides a contemporary account of the daily events and conditions on board a colonial vessel.
This series is made up of books that are financial listings kept first by James Alexander, then by his son William. These books were set up like journals, giving daily records of their financial activities. These records are listed in a fairly strict chronological order and cover over forty years with little break in the continuation of years. Last, within the pages are also letters received and copies of letters sent out by the two men.
The seven boxes are record books. These books have either original or copies of the grants and deeds of lands in New York and New Jersey. The books arranged according to state and which Alexander was keeping the records. The two folders that make up the last part of this series include the state of claim of William Alexander to the position of Earl of Stirling and the will of Issac Sharp, a landholder in Salem County, New Jersey.
This final series of the collection is made up of the remainder of materials. The peace proposal (box 13, folder 5) is a document involving James Alexander and his high political standing. Folder seven which titled Table of Contents .Rutherfurd Collection, does not provide a clear association to the Rutherfurd Record Book in series IV. The other documents like the copies of the newspaper clippings (box 13, folder 5), Contents and Correspondence (box 13, folder 3), and Indenture (box 13, folder 8) which make little to no mention of the Alexanders, are also among the materials in the miscellaneous series.
Initial processing of this collection was provided as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
 Johnson, Allen, Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1928), p. 168
 New York Historical Society
The New Jersey Historical Society