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The History of New Jersey
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

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Native Americans of New Jersey: The Lenni-Lenape

          Before Europeans arrived and settled in New Jersey, the Lenni-Lenape people occupied the land. The Lenni Lenape, also known as the Delaware Indians, lived throughout present-day New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. They belonged to the Algonquin nation and were known for their easy-going nature. They often played the part of mediator between disagreeing Algonquin tribes.  

          The Lenni Lenape people were separated into three clans; the Minsi in the north, the Unami in the center, and the Unilachtigo in the south. The three clans are also known as the Wolf, Turkey, and Turtle clans. The tribes were nomadic and traveled with the seasons in order to make better use of the available natural resources, but they had permanent settlements where they returned in the winter. During the spring, they planted gardens of corn, beans, and squash. They also foraged for fruits and nuts and hunted game and fowl. In the summer they migrated to the coast to collect oysters and clams. They ate the meat and used the shells for jewelry. In the fall the Lenni Lenape would migrate back to their settlements to harvest their gardens and prepare for winter.

          The Lenni Lenape had a strong culture that included tool making, religion, and specific family dynamics. They used wood to build canoes and utilized stone to build tools. Jasper, slate, and flint were used to make spear points, arrowheads, knives, hatchets, hammers, and jewelry. Their villages were made up of families related through the female lineage, showing that the Lenni Lenape had much respect for the female gender. Male sachems were chosen by the village ancestress to regulate laws. The ancestress was also in charge of the domestic economy of the tribe. After the exchange of gifts, mothers of each individual would decide on marriage. The marriage ceremony did not bind the couple for life, but couples usually remained together if they had children. The Lenni Lenape practiced a form of natural religion and believed that nature was a series of miracles provided by the Great Spirit. They also believed in lesser spirits who controlled fire, water, thunder, and other events. Burial ceremonies consisted of the deceased being buried in a coffin with gifts and mourners showed their grief by painting their bodies black for periods lasting up to a year.

          When the Dutch arrived in the New York/New Jersey area and created New Netherland, the fate of the Lenni-Lenape began its slow decline. They had some hostile relations with the Dutch, including a slaughter at Pavonia in 1643 where many Lenni Lenape, including women and children, were killed. The English who took over New Netherland were less hostile, but they introduced concepts, such as land ownership, that changed the Natives' way of life. Through many land transactions, the English "bought" the land from the Indians. The Lenni Lenape who chose to stay faced the horrors of alcoholism and the devastation from European disease. By 1700, the Lenni-Lenape population had dwindled from about 2,000 to 500.(1) The remaining Lenni Lenape sided with the French during the French and Indian War, but did not find much success. In 1758, the New Jersey Assembly created the first Indian Reservation, called Brotherton. Unfortunately the reservation did not last and it was sold in 1801. The profits of the sale were given to the remaining members. The Oneida Tribe of New York invited the remaining Lenni Lenape to live with them. Some joined the Oneida and some stayed and assimilated into New Jersey. The Lenni Lenape of Brotherton stayed with the Oneida until 1832, when they moved to Wisconsin. Unfortunately the Lenni Lenape was unable to remain a cohesive group because of the displacement caused by the European settlers.

Early Exploration and Colonization

          Europeans had sailed passed New Jersey long before deciding to settle it. The first European to sail the New Jersey coast was John Cabot. In 1498, while working for the English, Cabot, an Italian, sailed past New Jersey. Giovanni da Verranzano, another Italian, became the next European to explore the region. Working for the French, Verranzano anchored off Sandy Hook and explored the Raritan Bay in 1524. It was nearly a century before another explorer would come to the area, but when he did, settlement soon followed. In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed into the New York Bay and dropped anchor. Impressed by the land and waters of the area, he reported back to Dutch officials and made two more journeys to the area leading to the creation of the Dutch colony of New Netherland.

          The colony was created as a moneymaking effort for the Dutch West India Company who wanted to profit from the fur trade. They were not concerned with settling the land and planting crops; they aimed for self-sufficiency in order to keep up trade. A small group of Dutch traders settled in the west bank of the Hudson River. They lived in unnecessary fear of the Lenni Lenape, and attacked them in 1643, sparking a war that lasted nearly two years. In 1660, the Dutch decided to build further into New Jersey, hoping to create a safer and more stable community. They founded Bergen, which is now Jersey City, and it became New Jersey's first town. New Netherland grew tremendously throughout the 1650s due to a surge in immigration and the takeover of New Sweden.

          Some Swedes and Finns were among the Dutch of New Netherland. The Swedes, following the Dutch example, created their own colony in New Jersey. They too wanted to capitalize on trade in the New World, but were less successful. Their settlement lasted from 1638 to 1655 before being conquered by the Dutch. The Swedes and Finns of New Sweden remained after the takeover, adding ethnic diversity to the region.

The English Take Control

          In 1664, King Charles II had given the Duke of York, his brother, a tract of land between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers. This consisted of New Netherland. The Duke sent a fleet to take over the land from the Dutch, and they were successful. The Dutch surrendered New Netherland to the English as peacefully as the Swedes had surrendered New Sweden to the Dutch. New Netherland became New York and the land was separated into two sections. Governor Nicolls allowed Quaker and Baptist refugees from the religiously hostile New England colonies to settle on the newly acquired land. Meanwhile, the Duke of York had named the land New Jersey and leased it to two friends, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. These men became the proprietors of the land, empowering them to choose the governor and make other decisions from England. Governor Nicolls was outraged by the Duke's giveaway and resigned. Philip Carteret, a relative of Sir George Carteret, became governor.

         Governor Carteret was not well received by the Baptist and Quaker colonists. They did not like his aristocratic appointment or the feudalistic practices of his rule. Carteret became increasingly unpopular and returned to England to be reconfirmed of his power. His trip was successful and he returned with a new set of rules. Among the new regulations was the declaration that any of the former governor's land grants were declared null and void, anyone who did not have a land title from the proprietors could lose their land, and anyone who refused to pay quitrents (a land tax of feudal custom) could have their land seized. Also, it was declared that only the governor could charter towns, establish courts, appoint officials, and sell unpurchased land. The new power gave a boost to Governor Carteret's confidence and authority, but it was short-lived. Rivalry between New York and New Jersey was growing in the years of Carteret's rule. The Governor of New York, Sir Edmund Andros, had much contempt for New Jersey because he saw it as the Duke's giveaway, and he wanted control of it. Much like a bully, Andros claimed all the waters between the two colonies and taxed New Jersey to use them. This infuriated Carteret and he refused to pay. The matter was taken to England, where it was declared in Carteret's favor, but Andros had the final word when he sent a brut squad to attack Carteret, eventually leading to his death in 1684.

          Before Carteret's death, New Jersey had been divided in two; West Jersey and East Jersey. One of the original proprietors, Lord John Berkeley, sold his land to two Quakers, strengthening the Quakers' presence and power. The Quakers flourished and bought East Jersey from Sir Carteret's widow in 1680. East and West Jersey had many quarrels about governorship and land. It was especially hard when the governors would not leave England to rule. The people of New Jersey thought that the ascension of the Duke of York (King James II) to the throne would bring some stability to the region, but they were disappointed when his overthrow in 1689 brought Protestant rule back to the throne, and possibly the return of the proprietors. The citizens' fear of the proprietors and the fear of New York's power prompted them to petition the Queen for direct rule by a royally appointed governor. Queen Anne agreed, combined the two New Jerseys into one, and appointed a royal governor to rule both New Jersey and New York. New Jersey received a governor of its own in 1738. The introduction of direct rule from the crown is what eventually led to the restrictions and angst that culminated into the American Revolution.

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(1) Susan Ditmire, "New Jersey History," <www.usgennet.org/usa/nj/state/NJ-History.htm>

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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