If asked to guess the capital city of New Jersey, many people would probably choose Newark or Jersey City. They are the first and second largest cities in the state, after all. However, with a population of just under 85,000 people, the capital of New Jersey is actually a much smaller city called Trenton. So the question remains, why is Trenton the capital of New Jersey?
The Capital of New Jersey
Known as “The Garden State”, New Jersey is known for its diverse industrial economy. It is home to many large oil refineries and a big swath of productive farmland. Tourism is the second largest industry in New Jersey. Despite having one of America’s most condensed population demographic ratios, New Jersey has a surprising dearth of large urban centers.
New Jersey was a part of New York until 1664 when it was organized as an independent English colony under governor Philip Caratet. New Jersey was the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787, and Trenton was selected as the capital city of New Jersey shortly thereafter in 1790. While many states have tended to change their capital cities over the years, Trenton has always been the capital of New Jersey.
New Jersey was a key location during the American Revolution because of it central location and proximity to major centers like Philadelphia, located about 34 miles to the southwest, and New York City, located about 60 miles to the northeast. More battles were fought in New Jersey than any other state.
This is the key to explaining why Trenton became such a central city in terms of American history.
The History of Trenton
Trenton was named in 1917 after William Trent, a prominent land holder in the area. However the Quakers first established themselves here as early as 1679, back when the region was simply known as the falls of Delaware. Because Quakers were being persecuted in the United Kingdom, America allowed this religious group the freedom to exercise their religion.
The city of Trenton witnessed steady growth throughout the 19th century, serving as a popular industrial hub. During the roaring 1920s, Trenton became such a successful manufacturing hub for rubber, steel, wire ropes, cigars, ceramics, and other regular household necessities that the city was given the slogan “Trenton makes, the world takes.” Due to its booming industrial history, Trenton has also served as the site of numerous everyday inventions such as Bayer Aspirin, oyster crackers, and magic markers.
The state capital borders the Delaware river, which marks the division point between the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and has been the site of numerous important events in the context of American history. Trenton served as the location chosen for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, and the first professional basketball game was played here in 1896.
In the Battle of Trenton in late 1776, American troops successfully defeated British forces during a successful raid led by General George Washington. This victory is largely credited with turning the tide of the American revolution. As such, Trenton served as a focal point in determining the course of the newly formed nation of the United States of America.
Why Is Trenton the Capital of New Jersey?
We know Trenton played an important role in early America, but we still haven’t fully explained why it was chosen as capital. The answer to this question lies in location and history.
Unlike Newark and Jersey City, which are in the northern part of the state near New York, Trenton is centrally located in the middle of the state. In fact, Trenton is almost halfway between Philadelphia and New York City, two of the most important cities in Colonial America. Trenton also, as we know, sits on the Delaware River, giving the city water access elsewhere in the region.
Furthermore, Trenton is the capital of New Jersey largely because of the opportune timing and celebrated impact of the Battle of Trenton. Trenton was seen as such an important, well-located city that it was even made capital of the newly formed American nation for two months in 1784. Given its historical significance, and the fact that important governmental meetings were already being held there, Trenton was the obvious and only real choice to become capital of New Jersey.
Today Trenton holds the modest ranking of America’s 34th most highly populated state capital. The city limits of Trenton are only 7.648 miles, with a population density of 11,013 residents per square mile. The largest employer in Trenton is the state of New Jersey.
Trenton is home to the Thomas Edison State University and the Campus of Mercer County Community College. Popular tourist destinations include the New Jersey State House, which is the second oldest state house in the United States, built way back in 1792. The William Trent House is the home of Trenton’s founder and now serves as a historic museum and another popular tourist destination.
Trenton is also home to a theme park, a baseball park, an arena, numerous local theaters, and a popular farmers’ market.
Did you like this post? Want to read about more capitals? Check out the following links. Or, test your trivia knowledge with some fun New Jersey quizzes on Sporcle, like the one below!
- Why is Sacramento the Capital of California?
- What is the Capital of Bolivia?
- Why is Harrisburg the Capital of Pennsylvania?
- What is the Capital of South Africa?
- What is the Capital of Israel?