THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION OF BERGEN COUNTY
By Kevin W. Wright

Generations of schoolchildren have learned that the indigenous population of New Jersey called themselves the Lenni Lenape. One would search the historic record without success, however, for any confirmation of the use of this name. On June 17, 1654, Johan Rising, Director of New Sweden, defined the Renapi (Lenape) as "the natives who dwelled on the western bank of our [Delaware] river..." At that time, they were represent ed by twelve sachems, or heads of families.' Thus, in the historic record, the name Lenape referred to native inhabitants of a portion of the west bank of the Delaware River and was never used to encompass the entire Algo-nquian-speaking population of the Middle Atlantic coast. Strictly speaking, Lenape means "male." Linnilenape has been translated "Indians of the same nation." In 1818, John Heckewelder reported that "their name signifies 'original people,' a race of human beings who are the same that they were in the beginning, unchanged and unmixed."

Dialectal variations upon the word Lenape (male) exist among all Algonquian speakers. From the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the Montagnais word for "a man" was reported in French sources as iriniou. Since the many Algonquian speakers did not use sounds corresponding with our letters F, L, V, X and Z (using R instead of L), iriniou could also be rendered illiniou. Westward, near the southern shores of Lake Superior, Father Jacques Marquette noted, in 1673, that "when one speaks the word 'illinois' it is as if one said in their language, 'the men,' - As if the other Savages were looked upon by them merely as animals."

The term Lenni Lenape can be a convenient ethnographic tag encompassing independent communities, sharing a common ancestry and speaking dialects of the same Algonquian language, who inhabited the territory lying between the head of tides on the Hudson River and the head of Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River eastward to the Atlantic Ocean and Hudson Valley. It should not imply, however, that individual Lenape identfied themselves with (or gave allegiance to) any cohesive social unit larger than their own family or community of close relations. However, evidence does suggest that some independent, neighboring communities bonded together in loose family alliances or regional groupings, generally distinguished by a common dialect. Adhesion among these communities depended, to an significant degree, upon recognition of consanguinity. The correspondence between family alliances and dialects suggests that subdivision of families and their territorial extension occurred over a considerable period of time. While these family alliances were often cooperative in matters of social and political policy, there is no evidence that individual communities were subordinate to any overarching, hierarchical leadership in their alliances.

Writing in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, John Heckewelder, a Moravian missionary, popularized the tradition that the Lenni Lenape who first settled Scheyichbi (that is, "the land bordering the ocean," now New Jersey) divided themselves into three bodies: the Turtle Tribe or Unamis who settled between the coast and the interior mountains; the Turkey Tribe or Unalachtgo who settled nearest the sea; and the Wolf Tribe or Minsi who, being the most warlike, settled among the mountains near the head of the great rivers, forming "a kind of bulwark for (the others) protection, watching the motions of the Mengwe [Iroquois], and being at hand to afford their aid in case of a rupture with them." These "tribal" names or subdivisions only appeared after the Lenape had withdrawn from their homelands into the interior of Pennsylvania between 1740 and 1760. Unalachtgo has been variously translated as "those who live towards the ocean waves," "those who live detached from the ocean waves" (perhaps in the sense, "those who formerly resided near the ocean waves and "those who live upstream." Unamis has generally been interpreted as "those who live down river." The Minsi take their name from Minisink in the upper Delaware Valley.

Effigy Pipe in BCHS collections

These three subdivisions roughly correspond to three distinct Lenape dialects reported by New Netherlanders in the middle of the seventeenth century: (1) the Loeuaneu (Northem) or Manhattan/ Minisink; (2) the Sanhican (fire-makers); and the Sawanoos (Southern). Any coalescence of the Lenape into these three dialectal alliances was not made by conscious decision, but rather through gradual adaptation to three different resource-areas: (1) the Highlands and Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley; (2) the Piedmont Plateau and Inner Coastal Plain; and (3) the Outer Coastal Plain. These dialectal groupings, however, did not achieve political integration or tribal polities, though they may have loosely corresponded with family alliances. The historic record clearly depicts independent familial communities settled upon their own communal territories, yet sharing some intercommunal territory (such as fishing-place or hunting-ground) with other consanguine families. It is probable that new groups sprang over the course of time as certain bands or families outgrew their available resources and, for their own convenience, chose to settle neighboring spots. "Increasing in numbers, [these new groups] gave themselves names or received them from others." Such group names were supposedly derived from "some simple natural objects, or after something striking or extraordinary..." Thus, the Mahicanni or Mohicans supposedly originated as a detached group who, by intermarriages and mixing two languages, acquired a dialect of their own. Similarly, the Nanticokes, settling Maryland and Virginia, purportedly became a detached and distinct polity.

A search of the earliest documents tums up a diversity of small groups or bands, generally known by their places of residence. According to Johan De Laet's Nieuwe Wereldt (1625), the Manatthans occupied the east side of Port May (New York Bay), upon the main land. They were described as "a bad race of savages, who have always been very obstinate and unfriendly towards our countrymen," but who nevertheless sold Manhattan Island to the Dutch. Manatthan is a corruption of menach'hen, signifying island. In his Historisch Verhael, published semi-annually between 1621 and 1631, Nicolaes Van Wassenaer reported that "the Manhates are situate at the mouth" of the Hudson River." In 1626, Director-General Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan and established Fort Amsterdam. The first settlers found "land fit for use, deserted by the savages who formerly had fields there." After the sale of their island home to Minuit, the original inhabitants of Manhattan took up residence across the river on Bergen Neck After selling the southern tip of this peninsula from the Kill van Kull northward to Wiehawken in1630, the Manhattans apparently blended into the Tappans and vanished as a distinct group.

In February 1624, Van Wassenaer's Historisch Verhael, based upon logs of the first Dutch seafarers to visit the region, reported "the Mechkentowoon, Tapants [residingl on the west side" of the Hudson River. The meaning of Tappan is somewhat obscure: it is probably a dialectal variation upon Petapan, meaning daybreak dawn, used in the directional sense of easterly. According to De Laet's Nieueu Wereldt (1625), the Tappaans were a nation of savages inhabiting the first reach of the Hudson River, on the west side, "where the land is low." In 1640 this stretch of lowland at Tappan was described as "a large flat of about two or three hundred morgen of clay soil [that] lies under the [Palisade] mountains, three or four feet above the water." Thereabouts was "also much maizeland...too stony to be ploughed': and a creek later named Sparkill which "comes from the highland" and runs across the river flats. In April 1640, Captain David De Vries purchased this lowland in addition to his plantation at Vriessendael (now Edgewater, New Jersey). The Tappans occupied the northern valley of the Hackensack River, south to French Creek at New Bridge (which forms the present boundary between Teaneck and New Milford). Their territory also extended south upon the tableland atop the Palisades toward Wiehawken. Eastward across the Hudson River, other allied families of this dan were known as Wappinks or Wappingers (Eastemers).

According to the 1633 version of De Laet's Nieueu Wereldt, the Machkentiwomi, neighbors of the Tappaans, lived "over against" the Manhattans on the west side of the Hudson River. Their name derives from machkachtaeuunge, meaning red bank of a river. Where was Machkachtaeuunge? According to the deed of Daniel Honan and Michael Hawdon, dated June 5, 1696, a tract of vacant land in Orange (now Rockland) County, New York, was commonly called Kackyacktaeueke. Presenting another version of this place-name, the Return of a Survey for 7,470 acres, dated April 25, 1710, issued to Elias Boudinot, John Auboyneau, John Barberrie and Peter Fauconnier mentions "an Indian field called Maygahgtayako" situated on the southwest side of Pascack Brook in present-day Spring Valley, New York. This Indian plantation, variously known as Kackyacktaweke, Hackyackawack or Maygahgtayako, is the origin of the historic toponym Kakiat. These place-names appear to be approximations of Machkachtawunge, thus placing this band near the head of the Pascack Creek and perhaps southward. Furthermore, in 1657, Augustine Herrman purchased a tract of land lying west of the mouth of the Raritan River running to a creek (?) at the uppermost end of the Great Marsh called Mankachkewachky, which runs northwest up into the country. Mankachkewachky appears to be another approximation of Machkachtawunge. Therefore, the Mechkentowoon resided upon intertidal lands bordering Newark Bay and its tributaries, the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers.

According to De Laet's Nieueue Wereldt (1625), the Sanhikans were "deadly enemies of the Manhathans, and a much better people; they [as well as the Aquamachuques] dwell within the sandy hook, and along the [Raritan and Newark] bay, as well as in the interior of the country." The Dutch Figurative Map (circa 1614) shows that they occupied the western margins of Bergen Neck. If their homelands overlapped, then it is likely that the Mechkentowoon were closely related to the Sanhikans, whose territory extended southwest along the Inner Coastal Plain to Assinpink Creek (earliest known as Sankikan Kill) near the Falls of the Delaware. Swedish geographer Pieter Lindestrom identified Sanckhickan as a neck of land (now Falls Township) on the west side of the Delaware River, between two islands called Menahanonck (Bile's Island) and Kentkateck (Moon Island). Consequently, the Sanhicans were also identified as a nation of Indians inhabiting the South (Delaware) River, according to De Laet's Nieueue Wereldt (1625, 1630). Their name means fire-makers.

In 1628, Isaack De Rasiere stated that Staten Island was "inhabited by 80 to 90 savages, whe support themselves by planting maize. He reported that Bergen Neck, being "the northwest lane opposite to Manhatas," was "inhabited by the old Manhatesen they are about 200 to 300 strong men and women, under different chiefs, whom they call Sackimas." This count possibly included the Tappans, who also inhabited Palisades mountain north of Wiehawken and who were closely related to the Manhattans. Bergen Neck, mistaken for an elongated island, was "more mountainous" than the opposite bank of the Hudson, and so was called Bergen (Mountains). West of Bergen Neck, the tidal waters of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, commingling in Newark Bay, were thought of as a "little river, which we call 'Achter Col'," meaning "behind the neck of land."

Thereabouts, "there is a great deal of waste reedy land; the rest is full of trees, and in some places there is good soil, where the savages plant their maize, upon which they live, as well as by hunting." Those who inhabited the periphery of this waste reedy land became known as the Hackensacks. Achkinckeshacky or Acking-sack, (later Hackensack) is an approximation of Achsinnigeu-haki, meaning stony ground. More exactly, this sandstony ground is Teaneck Ridge, forming the backbone of a lobe of land once called Old Hackensack Neck. The Hackensacks occupied the necks of land about Newark Bay, north and northwest to the heads of tide on the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers. In 1668, the lobe of land (New Barbadoes Neck) situated between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers was called Meghgectecock. This is perhaps an approximation of masgichteu-cunk, where May-apples grow. The May-apple, sometimes known as Indian-apple, is a moist-woodland perennial that bears edible yellow berries.

The Manatthan, Tappan, Rumachenanck (Haverstraw), Pequannock and Minisink communities apparently spoke the Lowaneu (Northern) dialect and were allied. Deed references (1714) indicate that the Pequannock community held hunting territory in the Upper Delaware Valley near Minisink. Elders of the Tappans and the Pequannock were also described as sachems of the Minisinks. On the other hand, the Hackensacks were related to the Matouwak of Long Island and had their winter hunt there. The Hackensacks, whose territory extended along the tidal lowland from Teaneck southwest to Newark, probably belonged to the family (and dialectal) alliance known as the Sanhicans. In 1628, the Manhattans and related tribes lived "in a state of constant enmity" with the Sanhicans and the paths leading from Raritan Bay to the Trenton Falls were consequently "but little used." Between 1628 and 1640, the Sanhicans were driven away from the west shore of Raritan Bay by a band of Wisquaskecks, known as the Roaton or Raritanghe, who removed from their territory north of Manhattan across Staten Island and into the lower Raritan Valley. By July 1640, the Raritans were described as "a nation of savages who live where a little stream [the Raritan River] runs up about five leagues behind Staten Island." At a peace conference with the Dutch in 1649, Pennekeck, sachem of Achter Col (Newark Bay), "said the tribe called Raritanoos, formerly living at Wisquaskeck had no chief, therefore he spoke for them, who would also like to be our friends..." Their intrusion was apparently contested unsuccessfully by Sawanoos (Southern) Lenape and Sanhicans. Consequently, the Hackensacks were separated from other Sanhican communities.

In 1664, Oratam agreed to sell the lower half (Kiersted Patent) of Old Hackensack Neck to Director-General Peter Stuyvesant. Oratam's people then established villages (villages = Uteneyik, later Teaneck) northward at New Hackensack in the vicinity of Fycke Lane, overlooking the confluence of the upper branches of Overpeck Creek, and upon the bluff at Brett Park. When New Hackensack, extending from about Forest Avenue to French Creek, was sold to Lawrence Van Buskirk & the Dutch Company in 1676, the Hackensacks moved westward across the river, probably into the present precincts known as Fairmount in the City of Hackensack and neighboring Cherry Hill in River Edge. In September 1685, Major John Berry complained of their residence thereabouts, saying "that the Indians would not sell above half of the lands in my patent, but kept it to their own use and planted thereon."

Return to Research