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A Guide To Its Present And Past
Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of New Jersey
American Guide Series

Originally published in 1939
Some of this information may no longer be current and in that case is presented for historical interest only.

Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

Archeology and Indians

Images Of The Indians Of New Jersey

ARCHEOLOGISTS concerned with New Jersey usually center their interest on two main problems: (1) remains of the Lenni Lenape Indians and their ancestors or predecessors, and (2) traces of an ancient, possibly glacial age, man. About the Indians there is much conclusive in formation, but evidence of ancient man has been the crux of New Jersey's major archeological dispute.

The theory of an ancient man in New Jersey was first advanced with evidence by Dr. Charles C. Abbott, a Trenton physician, who discovered crude argillite blades, which he assigned to the glacial period. The spot where these remains were found in gravel along the Delaware River bluff, one mile south of Trenton, consequently became one of the most important archeological sites in the eastern United States. An article concerning his finds, written by Dr. Abbott in 1872, raised a storm of argument. Late in 1887 Henry C. Mercer, curator of the Museum of American and Prehistoric Archeology at the University of Pennsylvania, investigated the site. He reported that "No token of an antecedent race was discovered." Beginning in 1894 and continuing for nearly twenty years, the Abbott farm was excavated by Ernest Volk, under the direction of F. W. Putnam of Harvard University. Volk, agreeing with Dr. Abbott, wrote that "the conclusive evidence . . . asserts the antiquity of man on this continent at least as far back as the time of these glacial deposits in the Delaware Valley." Dr. Leslie Spier dug several trenches on the Abbott farm in 1914 and 1915. He found large stone blades, arrowheads, and other artifacts of a simple culture differing widely from that of the historic Lenni Lenape Indians, but he did not attempt to answer the question of its being a pos- sible Paleolithic, or Stone Age, culture.

In April 1936 the Indian Site Survey, a Works Progress Administration project sponsored by the State Museum and directed by Dr. Dorothy Cross, began excavations at the Abbott farm and later at other sites. Nothing has been discovered yet that may be attributed to an ancient or glacial man. On the contrary, what evidence has been uncovered tends to disprove Dr. Abbott's interpretation of his findings; as an instance, designs on recently unearthed pottery indicate that the earlier people responsible for them were not of the glacial age, but lived shortly before the Lenape. The scantiness of evidence of these earlier people is in direct contrast to the great number and variety of Indian artifacts found by members of the Survey and by other investigators. From the tools, implements, decorative or ceremonial items, weapons, skeletons, and household units discovered, much progress has been made in determining the life and customs of these aborigines. Of importance are the remains of their homes, mere darkened spots in the ground. The sunken posts around which the bark and grass houses of the Indians were built have left their marks; and these, when plotted out, serve as a basis for reconstructing the actual living quarters.

The tools and agricultural and household implements afford an especially good indication of the cultural level. Made primarily of stone and clay, they demonstrate an appreciable ingenuity. Knives, drills, scrapers, hoes, and spades were chipped into shape from the harder stones. Some of the uses to which the tools were put can be determined. For example, the edges of the knives sometimes have one or more notches where they have been used for shaping rounded objects, such as reeds for arrow shafts. Some hoes and spades show signs of having been fitted into handles. An- other method of shaping tools was by grinding and polishing. Most of the cutting implements-axes, hatchets, adzes, and gouges-were made in this way.

Mortars and pestles show one method for preparing food. Clay pots and stone hearths also tell the story of cooking methods. (Pots and baskets were frequently sunk in the ground, and the food cooked by placing hot stones in the vessels.) Food was sometimes stored in large pots of thin clay, buried so that the rim was flush with the surface of the house floor. Some of these pots, most of them cracked, have been recently excavated. They are decorated with impressions of fiber or bark.

Other smaller pieces of pottery and fragments that can be reconstructed bear elaborate' incised designs extremely important in tracing tribal distribution. Each group of Indians used definite patterns in decorating its pottery, and, where given designs are found, the work is almost certainly that of some particular group. Certain mixtures of designs show relations between the tribes.

Among the most interesting items are ornaments made of the rarer stones-banded slate, rose quartz, steatite, serpentine, mica, schist, and clay marl-highly polished. These include pendants, beads of tubular and disk shapes, gorgets more elaborately designed than pendants and with more than one perforation, and banner stones. There has been much speculation about the banner stones -- usually highly polished stones in the shape of butterfly wings, which were centrally drilled or notched. Early historical accounts suggest that they were mounted on shafts and carried as scepters, but there is disagreement on this point. Among the rarest ornaments are the bird stones, shaped like birds; these were made only from the finer stones, such as slate, steatite, and serpentine. Boat stones, resembling canoes and sometimes perforated to be worn as pendants, are also among the rare items.

More than 15,000 implements have been found to date (1939) in various excavations made by the Indian Site Survey. Judging by the artifacts found, the Abbott farm site must have been a favorite place for hunting, fishing, and farming. Numerous arrowheads, spearheads, and other implements of the chase have been found here, together with sinew stones, used for making animal gut pliable, and semi-lunar knives, used for scraping flesh from hides or for chopping meat.

The innumerable net sinkers, usually mere notched pebbles, show that fishing was popular. Hoes, mortars, and pestles, found in surprising quantities, indicate that the land was cultivated even more extensively than was formerly supposed. Axes and gouges prove that the felling of trees and wood-working were common practices.

The Indians who inhabited New Jersey when the white man came called their country Scheyechbi and themselves Lenni Lenape, meaning "Original People." The Colonists named them Delawares because most of them lived along the Delaware River.

The Lenni Lenape belonged to the general group of Algonkian Indians in northeastern United States and eastern Canada. The larger tribe was divided into three sub-tribes. Each sub-tribe was further divided into family groups, each having an individual totem or guardian spirit. The Minsi (or Munsee) sub-tribe lived in the north, and used the wolf as a totem; the Unami, in the central part of the State, adopted the turtle; and the Unalachtigo, in the south, were known by the wild turkey.

Where the Lenape came from is uncertain. According to their own legend they originated in the north country, probably southern Canada. Famine and war forced them southward through western New York, into Ohio, and then eastward to the shores of the "salt sea" or Atlantic Ocean. A remarkable record of this migration was painted in picture writing on strips of bark and called the Walum-Olum, or "Red Score." A copy is reputed to have been discovered in Kentucky by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, who interpreted the pictures in 1833.

The Lenape arrived in New Jersey not many centuries before the first white men. Possibly there were not more than 10,000 tribesmen here when European colonization began. They were a healthy group, slightly above average height, but it was not long before their number was decreased considerably by small migrations, the white man's diseases, and liquor.

Large villages were built by the Lenape. During the proper seasons they camped near their favorite hunting and fishing grounds and quarries. The entire State was honeycombed with well-defined trails that led to these haunts and connected the larger villages. Since Colonial roads largely followed the earlier trails, it is possible to trace many of these today. For water travel the Lenni Lenape made extensive use of dugout canoes.

One of the most important routes was the Minisink Trail, which connected Shrewsbury Inlet on the Atlantic Coast with Minisink Island in the Delaware River four miles south of Milford, Pennsylvania. On the New Jersey mainland opposite the island was the largest Minsi village. Innumerable trails crossed the State from the Delaware to the ocean, where the Indians went to catch shellfish, which they dried before carrying home. The numerous shell heaps along the coast, principally in the salt marshes near Tuckerton and Barnegat, are evidence of this practice. Villages were composed of round and oval houses. The round structures were usually occupied by a single family, while the more spacious oval ones occasionally supported several households. Chiefs had large houses, and the council houses were also roomy.

Groups of houses were sometimes provided with a stockade, a device borrowed from the Colonists. The houses were made by placing saplings in the ground at regular intervals around the circumference of a circle or oval, and tying their tops together. This skeleton was covered with strips of bark or overlapping bundles of grass, securely lashed to the framework. A hole was left in the roof for smoke from an inside fire.

The inside furnishings were simple. Pine boughs were used for beds. Household utensils were made of stone or wood. Occasionally wooden benches served as seats and beds.

Skins of the deer, elk, wolf, bear, and raccoon were used in making the Indians' scanty clothing. The men wore a small loin cloth, with a blanket thrown over the shoulder. Leggings and moccasins of skin completed the wearing apparel, except for necklaces and armbands of sharks' teeth, shells, wooden and stone beads, and pendants. With mussel shells they pulled out their beards and hair, leaving a scalp lock down the center of the head to which painted feathers were frequently fastened. Chieftains sometimes affected two locks. Faces and exposed parts of the body were painted and tattooed with designs of snakes, eagles, turkeys, and imaginary beings. Women wore short skirts, with a loose tunic fastened on one shoulder. Turkey feathers were dyed and made into skirts for dress occasions. Their hair, worn either loose or in two braids, was held in place by painted bands of deerskin. Before marriage their faces were brilliantly painted to attract the attention of prospective husbands. Children wore no clothing until they were three years old, and thereafter simply a loin cloth.

Most of the food supply was secured from hunting and fishing. In certain sections of the State, however, agriculture flourished. The ground was cultivated with crooked sticks or crudely chipped hoes mounted on shafts. For fertilizer, a dead fish was buried at the base of the growing plant. Corn, squash, and beans were the chief products, all grown in the same field. Corn was usually ground into meal, from which bread and a kind of porridge called samp (adapted by the early settlers as mush) was made. Occasionally the meal was mixed with water, rolled up in leaves, and baked in ashes. For winter use, corn meal was charred and placed in storage pots sunk in the ground. Such storage pots have been found on the Abbott farm at Trenton.

Meat and fish were boiled or broiled. Shellfish were dried, smoked, and used as seasoning for meats or mixed with corn and beans. Broiling was done over an open hearth fire. Heated stones were dropped into clay pots containing food and water for boiling.

Trade was generally conducted by barter, although the Indians had a medium of exchange in the form of small tubular shells or painted wooden beads called wampum. Black and white beads were used, the black being twice as valuable as the white. Wampum was used either by the piece or by strings, usually a foot long.

The white settlers took advantage of this cheap currency, and manufactured it from conch and periwinkle shells in regular factories on Long Island, at Pascack near Hackensack, and at Egg Harbor, New Jersey. This was considered legal currency for purchasing products from the Indians until it was outlawed toward the end of the seventeenth century.

The religion of the Lenni Lenape was very simple. They believed in one supreme god or Manitou, who was supported by lesser beings having charge of various parts of everyday life. Elaborate ceremonies were presented in honor of the various deities, but individuals seldom prayed to them. Each Indian had a guardian spirit, who was supposed to have his particular interest at heart and to whom he turned in time of need. At the time of puberty the male child was turned out into the forest, where he remained without food or drink until some object, animate or inanimate, feeling sorry for him, presented itself in a dream; this object then became his guardian spirit.

From the time the first white explorer Verrazano anchored off the shores of New Jersey in 1524 until the last group of Indians left the State in 1802, the relationship between aborigines and whites was, on the whole, peaceful and friendly.

Numerous treaties were formulated, the Indian interests being taken care of by brilliant native chieftains and sympathetic white statesmen. Perhaps the most notable chief of the Delawares was Teedyuscung, who represented his people at the five councils of Easton between 1756 and 1761.

In treaty making, the Indians of New Jersey were usually affiliated with their kinsmen on the western shores of Delaware River because they "drank the same water." Teedyuscung represented the entire group. He had a remarkable career as a bold warrior, opportunist Christian, eloquent speaker, and able counselor for his tribe. Born near Trenton shortly after the turn of the century, he became chief in 1754, and continued to rule until 1763, when he died in his burning house.

Teedyuscung was mainly interested in restoring the prestige lost by the Delawares in 1725, when they became subservient to the Iroquois after refusing to fight against the English. During this association, the Iroquois addressed the Delawares as "women," because the women in the Iroquois council were the ones who had the right to ask for peace, and the Delawares had often shown peace-loving tendencies. They were frequently called upon as mediators during the Colonial period.

Another great leader was Oratam, chief of the Hackensacks during the middle part of the seventeenth century, who represented his people at numerous peace treaties and land transfers in the northern part of the State.

The rapid decline of the Indian population after the coming of the white men was due principally to sale of their lands, to disease, and to liquor. By 1758 there were but a few hundred scattered over the entire Colony. In that year the Colony purchased 3,000 acres of land for a reservation at the present village of Indian Mills in Burlington County. Here were collected almost l00 Indians, mainly Unamis, who agreed to surrender their title to all unsold lands, and attempted to form a self-supporting community. Governor Bernard appropriately named the community Brotherton. The Colony erected private homes, a meeting house, a general store, and a sawmill. The Indians kept their rights to unrestricted hunting and fishing. Stephen Calvin, a native interpreter, was the local schoolmaster. This Utopia did not last long, and in 1762 the group petitioned the as- sembly to pay bills for provisions, clothing, and nails.

In 1801 the Indians living at New Stockbridge, New York, invited their kinsmen at Brotherton to join them. The Lenape petitioned the legislature again, and a law was passed in that year appointing three commissioners to dispose of the Brotherton tract at public sale. The land brought from $2 to $5 an acre, enough to pay the Indians' fare to their new home, allow a donation to the New Stockbridge treasury, and leave a remainder that was invested in United States securities.

In 1822 the Stockbridge group moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Ten years later the New Jersey contingent appealed to Bartholomew Calvin, son of their old schoolmaster, for further monetary aid in exchange for the relinquishment of hunting and fishing rights not mentioned in the 1801 settlement. Calvin obtained a legislative grant of $2,000. In a stirring speech of acceptance he said:

"Not a drop of our blood have you spilled in battle; not an acre of our land 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 brethren still remain. Nothing save benisons can fall upon her from the lips of a Lenni Lenape."

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