THE LENNI LENAPE—OUR FIRST RESIDENTS
THE Lenni Lenape (Len-ah-pay) Indians, the original owners of New Jersey, belonged to the great Algonkin Nation. They were generally called the Delawares by the early Colonists for the reason that they occupied the valley of the Delaware River and adjacent territory. The natives called the Delaware River “Lenapewihittuck” which meant the Rapid Stream of the Lenape. The Indian name for New Jersey, or at least for that section near the ocean was “Scheyechbi” (Shay-ak-bee) meaning Long Land Water.¹ The Lenni Lenape Nation was divided into three sub-tribes known as the Minsi or Wolf Tribe, the Unami or Tortoise Tribe and the iJnilaehtigo or Turkey Tribe. The Minsies not infrequently called the Munsies or the Minisinks, occupied the mountainous regions of northern Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, the name meaning, “people of the stony country.” The Unami were neighbors of the Minsies south of the Lehigh River and occupied the central portion of the State. The Unilachtigo, “people who lived near the ocean” dwelt in South Jersey and on the western shore of the River in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Indians living in the neighborhood of Moorestown doubtless belonged to the Turkey Tribe.
The Iroquois, the most dominant of the Five Nations, lived in the valley of the Susquehanna River and in central and northern New York. They were called the Mengwe or Mingoes by their enemies the Lenni Lenape. The Delawares were subjugated by the Iroquois in 1725 and for many years were known as a “Nation of Women” for the reason that a conquered nation could neither declare war nor make peace. The humiliating “petticoat” was removed in
¹“The New Jersey Indians” by Wm.O. Nelson, for many years Corresponding Secretary of the New Jersey Historical Society. This valuable book is very rare as only one hundred copies were printed.
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1756. I regret that I cannot state even approximately how many Indians there were in Burlington County when the English settlers arrived in 1677. All of the early accounts agree that the country was not thickly populated. “The present State of the Colony of West Jersey” published by the Proprietors in 1681, stated that “there were few natives, in the country but those that are, are very peaceful, useful and serviceable to the English inhabitants.” They had already begun to degenerate as a race owing to the introduction of “fire water” by the Europeans who arrived early in the Century. The Indian Chiefs seemed to realize that their race was doomed. “For every white man that comes into the country,” said an aged chief to an early settler, “two Indians will die.” When the great comet of 1680, known in History as Newton’s Comet, appeared in the sky, an Indian Sachem was asked what it signified. He replied solemnly, “it signifies that we Indians shall melt away and this country will be occupied by another people.” Their numbers also were greatly reduced by the ravages of smallpox, a disease unknown in the American forests prior to. the arrival of the white man. The natives knew nothing of its contagious nature and consequently it quickly spread from village to village.
The Indians were skillful in the use of herbs in treating disease but their treatment of smallpox, the most fatal of all diseases to the natives, was crude and barbarous. The victims were placed in the sweat house, an oven shaped hut covered with bark and earth and lined with clay. They were then given a steam bath by throwing water over red hot stones which had been rolled into the almost air tight room.' When nearly exhausted they were taken out and given a steaming concoction to drink and then plunged in the nearest stream.. A heroic and doubtless effective way of preventing over population.
The Indians of Burlington County were a friendly people and if treated kindly were good neighbors. The early settlers in their home letters repeatedly referred to the hoe
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pitality of the natives; indeed, the first arrivals in the Fall of 1677 would have fared badly had it not been for the Indians who brought them food and helped them to erect temporary winter quarters. The natives were described by an early writer as “upright in person, straight of limb and grave even to sadness.” They were courteous to strangers, the mat in the centre of the wigwam always being reserved for the guest. They lived in villages along the streams or near never-failing springs. These town or village groups were known as tribes or clans and not infrequently assumed the name of the nearest stream. Each clan had its own Sackaman (Sachem) or Chief.
The men married at the early age of 17 or 18, providing they had proved their manhood in the chase and not infrequently the brides were two or three years younger. The marriage ceremony, according to Smith’s History, was quite simple. The groom handed his bride a bone, signifying that he pledged himself to supply the meat and she gave him an ear of corn as a pledge that she would provide the bread. Nelson, in his “History of the New Jersey Indians,” states that the Indian maid desiring to be married crouched by the trail with covered face until the right young man appeared. She then uncovered her face, doubtless smiling sweetly, and if he was pleased they proceeded to her village and arranged the matter with her parents. It is interesting to note that a young brave was not permitted to marry a maid of the same clan. The Indians seemed to have had some very modern ideas, as the groom if he became dissatisfied with his bride would set her aside and proceed to select another wife.
The Indian wigwams were made by bending saplings to a common centre and binding them together with leather thongs or withes. The frame work was then covered with bark or skins an opening being left at the top for the passage of, the smoke. Gabriel Thomas, who came over with William Penn in 1682, published a book entitled, “Historical and Geographical account of Pennsylvania and West
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Jersey” in which he gives an interesting picture of the life and habits of the West Jersey Indians. “They are very loving to one another for if three or four of them came to a Christian home and the master of it happens to give one of them victuals and none to the rest, he would divide it in equal shares among them; and they are also kind and civil to the Christians for I, myself, have had victuals cut by them in their cabbins before they took any for themselves.” Their chief occupation, continued the narrative “is hunting, fishing and fowling and making canoes and Indian boats. Their women’s business chiefly consists in planting Indian Corn and pounding it to meal in mortars with pestles and making bread and dressing their victuals. They also make Indian mats, ropes, hats and baskets of their hemp which grows wild and natural in the woods in great plenty.” These duties were of course incidental to their principal work of caring for the many children found in every village.
A few years after the English arrived at Burlington, an effort was made to arouse the Indians against them by saying that smallpox was brought to them on the matchcoats which the English traded for pelts or provisions. One of the Indian Kings denied this, stating that it could not be true as their fathers and grandfathers suffered with smallpox long before the English came to America. Thomas Budd, one of three brothers who founded the Budd family in Burlington County published a book entitled “Good Order Established in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in America” in 1688 which tells of this and other interesting incidents in the early history of our County. Let us quote from this interesting paper. “The Indians told us in a conference at Burlington shortly after we came into the country, that they were advised to make war on us and cut us off while we were but few; for that we sold them the smallpox with the match-coats, therefore, we sent for the Indian, Kings and told them we desired to live at peace with
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them, that we had purchased the land from them and had endeavored to treat them justly in all dealings with them.”
One of the Kings on behalf of the rest said, “Our young men speak such words as we do not like or approve of and we cannot help that and your young men may speak words that you do not like and you cannot help that. We are your brothers and we intend to live like brothers with you; we have no mind to have war for when we have war we are only skin and bones, the meat we eat does not do us good; we always are in fear, we have not the benefit of the sun to shine upon us, we hide us in holes and corners; we are minded to live at peace. If we intend at any time to make war upon you we will let you know of it and the reason why we make war with you; and if you make satisfaction for the injury done us then we will not make war upon you; and if you at any time intend to make war upon us we would have you let us know of it and the reason; and if we do not make satisfaction for the injury done unto you, then you may make war. on us, otherwise you ought not to do it.“ Then followed these historic and memorable words, “you are our brothers and we are willing to live like brothers with you; we are willing to have a broad path for you and us to walk in and if an Indian be asleep in this path, the Englishman shall pass him by and do him no harm; and if an Englishman be asleep in this path, the Indian shall pass him by and say he is an Englishman, let him alone, he loves to sleep. It shall be a plain path; there must not be in this path a stump to hurt our feet.”
Another conference with the Indians was held in Burlington about this time to consider the question of selling liquor to the natives. This problem had troubled the conscience of the Quakers from the moment they arrived on these shores. Indeed, the second act of the Monthly Meeting set up at Burlington in 1678, was to consider “the selling of rum unto the Indians” and whether it “be lawful att all for Friends professing truth to be concerned in itt.” There were eight Indian Kings or Sachems living in the
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neighborhood, all of whom attended this conference. The best known and undoubtedly the most intelligent of this group was King Ockanickon² a loyal friend to the English, whose body rests in the Friends’ Burying Ground at Burlington. His funeral in 1681 was very largely attended by the Whites as well as the Indians. I like to think it was he who arose arid on behalf of the others spoke as follows: “Strong liquor was first sold to us by the Dutch and they were blind, they had no eyes, they did not see that it was for our hurt. The next people who came among us were the Swedes who continued the sale of strong liquor to us; and they also were blind, they had no eyes, they did not see it to be hurtful to us to drink it, although we know it to be hurtful to us; but if people will sell it to us we are so in love with it we cannot forebear it. When we drink it, it makes us mad, we do not know what to do; we then abuse one another, we throw each other into the fire. Seven score of our people have been killed by reason of drinking it since the first time it was sold us. Now there is a people come to live among us who have eyes, they see it to be for our hurt. They are willing to deny themselves the profit of it for our good. These people have eyes, we are glad such a people are come amongst us; we must put it down by mutual consent; the cask must be sealed up; it must be made fast; it must not leak by day or by night, in the light nor in the dark; and we give you these four belts of wampum which we would have you lay up safe and keep by you to be witnesses of this agreement that we make with you.”
² His name is spelled Okanishkon on the Deed transferring the first Tenth to the Commissioners.