Native People of New Jersey        



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The Original People (Lenni-Lenape) inhabited New Jersey long before the Europeans arrived. They were a people with a strong sense of tradition ( Lenape Wedding) and a well organized life-style. Unfortunately, they did not survive long after the arrival of the Europeans. Conflict between the cultures led to hostile wars. The European need to own the land and the diseases, guns and alcohol they brought with them created an impossible situation for the survival of the Lenni-Lenape in their homeland.

The life-style was strange to the Europeans, but was based on adaptation to the environment of New Jersey. (Rather similar to the current movement from the cities to the shore for the summer.) The Lenni-Lenape traveled with the seasons, making full use of the area resources. During the spring the planted gardens around their permanent settlements. In the summer, they went to the shore to catch oysters and clams and stay cool. In the fall, they would move back to their village and harvest their crops. In the winter, they hunted deer and other animals. (New research as to the accuracy of the seasonal traveling has come to my attention. I hope to be hearing more and posting some information soon.)

    The Lenni-Lenape were part of the Algonquin nation. Some of the other tribes scorned them for their peaceful ways. The Iroquois called them "The Old Women." They frequently were the intermediaries in resolving problems within the nation. 

The Map above is from the Cumberland County Library Site, where they have done an online publication of: 


"The Original People Of Cumberland County


  ((Web Version)

The Lenni-Lenape were organized into three subtribes: 

Each subtribe had a sub-chief (sakima) and the Lenni-Lenape usually considered the Unami sakimi to be chief of all subtribes. 

From the map you can see where the trails were that they used to move between their villages and their summer residences. Many of the trails would became the early highway system for the Europeans.

    Contact with the "whites" was sporadic until the early 1600's.  The Dutch traders had no respect for the native population and treated them with contempt, even looking upon them as possible slaves. Their attitude, however, did not prevent them from engaging in trading rum and guns for pelts and furs. 

    The worst event in relations was the slaughter at Pavonia on February 25, 1643. The director-general of New Netherlands ordered "an assault on a large group of Indians encamped at Pavonia, to wipe their chops and drive away and destroy the savages." at the end he added "... spare as much as it is possible their wives and children."

    The soldiers forgot to spare the women & children. It was a horrible massacre. Eleven tribes of the Iroquois nation banded together in retaliation. Retaliation took place from the Raritan River to the Connecticut River. A truce was finally secured in 1645.

    Ten years later, another war was set off, when "a Dutchman killed an Indian girl who was in one of his trees getting a pear."  Three days of raging attack ensued, including death, burning of settlements and kidnapping.  The captives were ransomed. The lead and powder received as part of the ransom put the Dutch in a helpless position if war were to break out again.

    In 1664, England took over from the Dutch and brought their own twist to the relationship. Their was considerably less hostility, but the English brought their ideas of land ownership. It must have been impossible for the Lenni-Lenape to understand that they were signing away their land for trinkets.  All over New Jersey there are tales of the bargains that were made for the purchase of the lands from the "Indians". Some of the tribe members moved north, some west to get away from the "whites."

    The ones who stayed were overwhelmed by new restrictions on their movement, the fog of alcohol consumption and the decimation of their ranks from diseases like smallpox, measles and tuberculosis. By 1700, the population of the "original people" was probably only one fourth of what it was when the Dutch arrived (from about 2000 down to about 500). 

    In 1755, like the rest of the Algonquin Nation, the Lenni-Lenape hoped to push the "whites" out of their land by siding with the French in the French & Indian War.  It did not work out the way they had hoped and they were a defeated nation. Peace came in 1758 when New Jersey Governor Francis Bernard and Lenni-Lenape leader named Teedyuscung met and exchanged apologies. 

    The New Jersey Assembly in 1758 established a permanent home for the Lenni-Lenape in Burlington County. It was the first "Indian reservation". The tribe had relinquished all rights to New Jersey, except for hunting and fishing privileges. About  200 of the "original people" gathered to make their home under the benevolent supervision of John Brainerd. Reverend Brainerd optimistically called the reservation Brotherton in the hopes that all men would be brothers. He was an enthusiastic organizer and devout missionary. He helped them to set up grist and sawmills and encouraged them to adapt to the new way of life. For a while it seemed to be working and the area became known as Indian Mills.  

    Unfortunately, due to his own illness Rev. Brainerd left Brotherton in 1777 and affairs grew steadily worse.  Tales of the misery reached as far as upper New York State, where the Oneida, another tribe of the Algonquin Nation still lived. In 1796, the Oneida tribe in New Stockbridge, NY, invited the Brotherton tribe to come spread their mats before "our fireplace, where you will eat with your grandchildren out of one dish and use one spoon."

    In 1801, the New Jersey Assembly agreed to sell the reservation and give the proceeds to the remaining tribe members, fewer then 85. 

    In May of 1802, Elisha Ahhataina (Lashar Tamar), last chief of the Brotherton Indians, led his people in their twelve rented wagons to New Stockbridge, New York. A few stayed behind, some becoming integrated into the local communities of South Jersey and some taking to the hills of North Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Chief Tamar stayed for a while with his people in New York, but eventually returned to New Jersey and settled on the Woolman farm near the town of Rancocas.    

    The Brotherton Indians stayed with the Oneida until 1832, when they ask the New Jersey Legislature for the balance of the money from the sale of the Brotherton Reservation. They were appropriated $3,551.23. The remaining 40 members of the tribe resettled in Statesburg, Wisconsin. This same year Bartholomew Calvin came east and made his plea on behalf of the "Original People." (see box below). 

    Later some of the tribe moved on to join with the Cherokees and Osages, west of the Mississippi. Some later went to "Indian territory", now Oklahoma. Others, many who had gone before 1802, went to Canada.

@ Susan Ditmire, June 6, 2000 

To Salve the Conscience of the State

     In 1832, Bartholomew S. Calvin (Shawuskukukung - "Wilted Grass") came east as a representative of the "original people."  He was seventy-six years old and Princeton educated. He lost no time and went straight to the heart of the matter, as he addressed the state legislature.  Hunting and Fishing rights had never been bargained away by the tribe and there was some subtle reference to using the courts. Still, he allowed that the members would look with "an eye of pity" on the plight of the Lenni-Lenape.

     The legislature voted "by fair and voluntary purchase and transfer," to pay $2000," as a memorial of kindness and compassion to a once powerful and friendly people."

     In return, Bartholomew on March 12, 1832, wrote the legislature a letter that forever eased the consciences of a state. His most quoted paragraph:

     Not a drop of our blood have you spilled in battle; not an acre of ground have you taken but by our consent. These facts speak for themselves and need no comment. They place the character of New Jersey in bold relief and bright example to those states within whose territorial limits our brethern still remain. Naught save benisons can fall upon her from the lips of a Lenni-Lenape.

    Having written the letter, he took the $2000 and returned west to what remained of the "Original People."

Continue exploring the heritage of the Native Americans in New Jersey:

Read more about Rev. John Brainerd & his brother.

Take an on-line tour of the former Brotherton Indian Reservation (1758-1801)

The subject continues to fascinate me and I have gathered a lot more information, continue on to...

More about the Lenni-Lenape
including books, links, living history sites & Where are they now.