TRENTON — Having valuable public documents go missing is not a rare occurrence, but having them turn up in good condition certainly is. Last week, the New Jersey State Library presented one of those documents, from 1716, on to the State Archives.
The State Library received the artifact from the Ocean County College Library, where staff members discovered it when conducting an inventory of miscellaneous material in their Technical Services area. Caitlin Cook, reference librarian at the college, immediately called Deborah Mercer, documents librarian for the State Library, about the find. Both are members of the Documents Association of New Jersey, so knew how important this chance discovery was.
After receiving the document, however, State Library staff discovered that it had been purloined from the NJ State Archives when such documents were stored in the basement of the State House, and was one of approximately 500 documents listed on the Department of State’s website under “Missing or Alienated Records of the State of New Jersey.”
The original handwritten document, “An Act for the better lay out, Regulating and Preserving Publick Roads and High-ways thro’-out this Province,” was written by John Kinsey, Speaker of the Assembly, and signed by both him and Robert Hunter, governor of New Jersey and New York. It provided a procedure for the laying out of roads between towns, and established overseers to keep the roads in repair and to call out the town’s residents for that purpose. If a resident failed to show if called or send a substitute, they were fined four shillings, six pence for each day missed. The law remained in force until 1760.
“We are excited to get this document back,” said Joe Klett, deputy director of archives, NJ Dept. of State. “It is one of the earliest documents that we know survived.”
“We are pleased that this historic document, which belongs to all the citizens of New Jersey, is now back in the State Archives where it belongs,” added Mercer, who presented the document to Klett. “It was a very fortunate circumstance that led to its recovery.”
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