The Statue of Liberty: New York or New Jersey

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Out of all the original 13 colonies, New York and New Jersey may be the ones with the most interesting land disputes, Which can easily be understood when you consider that Liberty Island and Ellis Island were under dispute as well as Staten Island in the early 1800s. To understand this you have to go back to the 1600s, when these lands were first “discovered”, and were colonized by the Dutch, and were called New Netherland, however, England, using larger Navy Diplomacy, conquered the lands of New Netherland, and partitioned them. This is where dispute comes in, as early maps and general understanding of an area wasn’t exactly the strong suit of the 1600s world, so partition was going to be extremely vague, and the proclamation that made it official wasn’t at all helpful. “...Give and Grant all that tract of land belonging to the westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island, and bounded on the East part by the main Sea and Part by Hudson’s River...As well as several other islands…Which said tract of land shall henceforth be known as New Cesaria, or New Jersey”. Just with that line it is easy to understand how uninterpretable this was. There is uncertainty about the names, there is imprecise descriptions of locations, and there is no clarification of what should be considered “Hudsons River” or not. That and what islands are considered “Several Islands”?


New Jersey simply claimed that “Hudson's River” flowed straight past Liberty Island, and straight to sea, right past Liberty Island, Ellis Island, and Staten Island. However, New York claimed that the river did flow ‘near’ Ellis and Liberty Islands, and then passed around Staten Island. Despite New Jersey’s claim, New York's greater population, and greater importance gave it the default right to control and claim Liberty, Ellis, and Staten Islands, and, according to New York the entire Hudson River, and therefore all islands, and piers, that Jersey had built, were New York. But, as I said earlier, the most that ever happened between the states was a number of squabbles of the citizens in the area. However with the United States eventually coming about in 1776, there was now a structure for New Jersey to try and regain its claimed territories by going to the Supreme Court. There they went in 1838, however due to New York's non-cooperation over, not only the owner of the lands, but actually appearing in court, there was no case. This was complicated by the fact New York had made it clear that no matter the ruling they wouldn’t be leaving THEIR islands, so no action was taken.


This is when a Solution came about with New York and New Jersey privately settling, after which New Jersey ceased to claim Staten Island, both agreed on fundamental geographical points, But, the agreement that would just prolong the constant debacle was that New York agreed that New Jersey’s border did run down the middle of the Hudson River, meaning Jersey regained all their piers, and since the river did flow right past Liberty and Ellis Island and was closer to Jersey, that New York technically gave up claim to both Islands. However, New Jersey in the end agreed to give up both Islands, which to them was worth it, as uninhabited Islands with Ducks were far more worthless than those piers in the age of Steam Ships. However, here is the loophole, New Jersey agreed that anything above the surface was New York, but everything below the surface was New Jersey. Meaning that both Islands are New York Enclaves within New Jersey. Eventually following the Civil War, The Federal Government took Liberty Island due to its strategic position, although it remained part of New York. Meaning that when the Statue of Liberty Arrived, it was placed on a Federal Fort, On Federal land, while still within New York, and that was how it was. And seemingly this ages long debacle should be over, but over it was not. In the 1980s, the Government of New Jersey made the discovery Liberty Island had gone from (Below) 10.17, to 14.7 Acres, and Ellis Island grew nearly 27 acres. Which brought up the question, that since New Jersey’s borders were everything below the surface, and these Islands had been built upon in areas that were under the surface, then these new areas were part of New Jersey. However, New York countered with the idea that they ‘may or may not’ have placed all the dirt from the subways there, and so it was New York soil, and was therefore, New York. However, since no proof could be found of where the land came from, a final settlement was reached in the Supreme court in the 1980s, in which the decision was made that all the added lands were part of New Jersey, which places the Statue of Liberty in New York, but a majority of Ellis Island in New Jersey. So, that ruling sort of settled the Years Long debacle, however the constant competition between the States is interesting, so you never know what the future has in store. And, for the next time you are wondering, Liberty and Ellis Island are Enclaves of New York in New Jersey, which share a land border with Both!




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