Peddler Licenses, 1771-1879

RECORD GROUP: County Clerk
SERIES: Peddler Licenses
DATES: 1771-1879, (bulk 1846-1878)
VOLUME: 1.5 cubic feet

Peddler License jpg for webpage
1871 Peddler’s License for Erasmus V. Hobart

This series includes 236 records: bonds filed by applicants with Clerk of Quarter Sessions during 1771-1830, and petitions filed by applicants to Common Pleas Court, along with recommendation by neighbors and friends, other documentation, and a copy of the license issued and signed by the current Governor, during 1830-1879. Local and out-of-county peddlers were required to file with the county clerk to sell merchandise.

Hawkers, peddlers, petty chapmen, itinerant auctioneers, or traveling salesmen, as we might know them today, were a common sight during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. The peddler would travel with horse and wagon or by foot from town to town, and from county to county, selling a variety of merchandise. But, in 1730, residents of the Province were “greatly imposed upon by a rash of idle and vagrant persons” claiming to be hawkers and peddlers. On July 8, 1730, the Royal Governor, Council and General Assembly approved an “Act for the Preventing of Lotteries and for regulating hawkers, pedlars, and petty chapman,” at Perth Amboy.

The purpose of the Act was to regulate and oversee who was traveling around the State and to assure residents that only “Persons of known honesty and civil behavior” would be allowed to roam the countryside.

Under the Act of 1730, the peddler first had to obtain a recommendation from the Justice of the Peace of the County Court of Quarter Sessions where he or she resided. The recommendation of the Quarter Sessions court was then submitted to the Governor stating that, in their opinion, the applicant was honest and “that he or she is a Liver within the Province and intends to travel with one or more horses or other beast of burden, or on foot.” The applicant also was required to give bond to the Clerk of the Quarter Sessions Court and to supply at least one surety (one who has become legally liable for the debt, default, or failure in duty of another). The amount paid by the surety ranged from 20 to 50 pounds, which amount was at the discretion of the court. Once all requirements were met and the 25 shilling fee paid to the Governor, the applicant received the license issued by the Governor.

The Colonial procedure changed only slightly in 1797, under the State government. Through an Act of the General Assembly on March 17th, the bonds ranged from $50 to $150, again at the discretion of the Quarter Sessions court. The Act of 1797 also stated the bond fee was to be “used by the county.” The regulations and requirements for hawkers, peddlers and petty chapmen changed very little over the years. Only two minor changes were made to the system from 1830 to 1878. The first, on February 27, 1830, directed applications for recommendations to the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, for a one year license. Rather than a Justice of the Peace, the applicant now needed one freeholder as his surety. The application fee to the Governor’s office, which was changed to $15 for a horse and wagon and $8 on foot was “for use by the state.” At this point, the Clerk of the Common Pleas court was only responsible to renew licenses on a yearly basis by endorsing the back of the license “renewed for one year,” for which he received a fee of $3.50 for horse and wagon and $2.00 for peddlers on foot.

The second minor change came with a “Supplement to the Act of 1830.” which was approved on February 24, 1838. The 1838 Act required record keeping at the county level and stated that a copy of the official license from the Governor had to be filed in the peddler’s respective County Clerk’s Office. The County Clerk was responsible to keep the copy on record and to endorse the dating of filing on the back of the original license.

For reasons unknown, the Act of 1838 failed to make an impression on filing and recording procedures at the County level. It would take another Act of the General Assembly in 1846 to finally change the system. Under the “Act Relating to Hawkers, Pedlars and Petty Chapman, approved April 10, 1846,” applicants were again required to file a copy of his or her license with the County Clerk. The clerk’s fee for filing was $.50. Henceforth, the County Clerk’s records include the petition by the applicant to the court requesting its approval; recommendations and signatures from residents, neighbors, and freeholders stating that the applicant was a “sober and honest man”; and a copy of the license issued by the Governor.

The 1846 Act would remain in effect for 34 years until 1880. On March 12, 1880, “An Act to enable township committees of certain townships to grant licenses” began the process of eliminating record keeping and responsibility of granting licenses at the State and County levels and transferred them to the municipal level. Another Act of the General Assembly dated March 25, 1881, extended the authority to grant licenses to “cities, incorporated boroughs, police, sanitary and improvement commissions and camp meeting associations and seaside resorts.”

Through the 1880 and 1881 Acts, townships, towns, cities, boroughs, and villages were granted the power to make ordinances regulating licenses, establish guidelines and fees, and to keep all records pertaining to the issuance, revocation and transfer of all licenses.

The “pedlars” license series includes documents pertaining to 233 licenses covering the period 1771 through 1879 with gaps. From 1771 to 1830, according to law, applicants submitted a petition to the Quarter Sessions Court for the Court’s recommendation to the Governor and gave bond to the Clerk of the Quarter Sessions court. Consequently, documents pertaining to early applications (1771-1830) are only represented by the bonds given to the court by the applicant, not the actual licenses. The bonds are helpful in that the name of the applicant’s surety is given and is signed by both.

Unfortunately, there is a wide gap in the series. The years, 1828-1845, are missing. This gap may be due to the fact that the Act of 1830 no longer required a bond nor did it require the Clerk of the Court or County Clerk to record licenses. Through the Act of 1830, the County Clerk was only responsible to renew each license on a yearly basis by endorsing the back of the original license. There are renewals for only 23% of the peddlers, suggesting that, for most, peddling was a short term occupation.

The bulk of the Peddlers License series covers the period 1846 through 1878, more than likely due to the Act of April 10, 1846, which required all licensed peddlers to file a copy of the license with the County Clerk. The 1846 law also directed the County Clerk to keep on record the applicant’s petition to the Court of Common Pleas and the letter of recommendation signed by residents, neighbors and friends.

Included in the collection are many out of county peddlers who, by law, had to file a copy of their licenses if they were going to travel about Monmouth County. While 74 licenses are for peddlers from Monmouth County, 90 are for out-of-county peddlers, of which 52 were from Mercer and 14 from Essex.

This series is open to researchers.


The series is available on microfilm in the Archives reading room. An Access database and a computer index printout, alphabetically sorted by name are available. The index includes the year the license was issued and renewals, peddler’s hometown or county, and fee paid.

The loose papers are stored in four manuscript boxes. Records are arranged in order of peddler’s surname.

Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan NJ 07726
Tel. (732) 308-3771

These records were transferred to the Archives by Jane G. Clayton, Monmouth County Clerk before 1993.

These records were microfilmed on June 7, 1993. A finding aid was created in February 1994; updated May 2016 by George Joynson. An Access database containing 236 records was created July 30, 1997.