Some sources describe James Carteret as an illegitimate son of Sir George, but George Balleine, in his Biographical Dictionary of Jersey insists that this is not correct, citing a Royal Warrant of 11 February 1680 granting "to Elizabeth, widow of the late Sir George Carteret, and to his younger son James, the same precedence as they would have had, had Sir George been actually created a Baron, having died before the Patent could be sued out".
James was born in about 1643 and was sent to France by his mother when Elizabeth Castle surrendered to Parliamentary forces in 1651. He was brought up and educated there and eventually followed his father by going to sea, probably as a privateer. In 1664 he commanded one of his father's slave boats and the following year he joined the Navy as Lieutenant on the Royal Prince, before taking command of the Oxford. By July 1667 he had risen to Vice-Admiral of the British Fleet against the French in the West Indies, and in the next two years he commanded the Foresight and the Jersey.
Sir George had been granted territory in America by King Charles II and appointed his fourth cousin, Philippe de Carteret, as the first Governor of New Jersey. However, when James arrived in New Jersey en route to South Carolina in May 1672, having left the navy, he found the people were on the verge of open insurrection, and in need of a leader.
James was ambitious, but dissolute and unscrupulous, and was ready to undertake anything that promised him fame and fortune. He put himself at the head of the malcontents who opposed his cousin Philip. The insurgents called an assembly at Elizabethtown in the spring of 1672, formally deposed Philip Carteret, and elected James their governor.
Philip returned to England and obtained Sir George's support. Sir George issued several "Declarations" with support of the King that sought to punish the rebellious settlers by rejecting all land claims filed when Colonel Richard Nicolls first took possession of the territory on behalf of the King's brother, James, Duke of York. All settlers were ordered to secure land titles from the proprietors and pay up amounts due for quitrents.
Powers previously granted to the Assembly under the "Concessions and Agreements" to distribute land, charter towns and make appointments were rescinded and the governor was given the power of veto over actions of the Assembly, and authorised to appoint justices. The Governor's expenses were to be paid by the Assembly.
Report to London
Back in New Jersey, James appointed himself as the Assembly's leader, claiming authority as the son of Sir George. The Assembly's officials, who were now no happier with James than they had been with Philip, sent a report to London:
- "He gives forth continual threatenings against those that do not obey his orders, and has persons adhering to him that probably will be ready to execute his will, so that they may have the plundering of our estates; and all these proceedings he carries on with the pretence that he hath power sufficient, he being Sir George Carteret's son, and that he himself is Proprietor, and can put out the Governor as he pleases, and that his Father hath given him his part of the Province, though he doth not shew any grant or commission, but saith he scorneth to shew his power to such fellows as we, neither need he so do being on his own land".
Probably in fear rather than admiration the rebels made James 'President of the Country' but when he upset them further they turned to Philip Carteret's deputy, Captain Berry, to lead them. James had sailed for Virginia by the time Philip returned the following year to resume his role as legitimate governor. He made concessions in the name of Sir George, and was quietly accepted by the people.