Local Sketches By Joseph H. West

[The following originally appeared in the Allentown Messenger dated July 14, 1904. Politically incorrect to a fault, but worth repeating nonetheless.]


Story of the Last of Our Indians


The Indians here were of the Delaware tribe, and belonged to the great Lenape tribe. They were not as fierce as those farther north and west. Perhaps the Delawares felt obliged to be docile on account of their having been inveigled into assuming the character of the “woman” in suing for peace during a war with the Mengive, early in the 17th century, but I prefer to think that the just dealings of the Quakers with them was the cause of their docility.


No Indian warwhoop disturbed the rest of the Quaker pioneer. Much of our soil was bought of them for a lot of fishhooks, jewsharps, red paint, pipes, bells, needles, looking glasses, scissors, combs, awls, petticoats, rum, knives, powder, lead, etc., but the red men considered it a fair price.


There are not many of them here when the whites came, but the researches of Dr. [Charles Conrad] Abbott show that they were once more numerous. Many of their spear and arrowheads and tomahawks have been and are still being found, but they never used them here against the whites, but in killing game and in wars among themselves, perhaps, in the misty past. The few found here were kindly treated by the whites, but like the most of the race, they were of a stolid and unsocial nature [probably for their own safety]. They were not invited to social gatherings, and if the chief was ever feasted here, it was an exception or for a purpose.


The old Nottingham Town book records that in 1695, at a public meeting of the settlers, it was decided to continue to cultivate the good will of the Indians. Nottingham was then the political name of the section now Hamilton Township.


We have retained their names of many of our streams and the Indians were known to the whites by the names of the streams along which they lived, such as “Crosswicks Indians,” “Assanpink Indians,” etc.


The attempts to Christianize them was not successful. No doubt the early Quakers and churchmen made first regular missionary was David Brainerd, who had labored among Indians in the north, but hearing of some Indians at Crosswicks, he came here in 1746, when only a few of them were left.


David Brainerd was a young Presbyterian minister and a native if Connecticut. It seems that the remnants of red men lived then about Crosswicks and farther east, and while he found only a few families at first, his earnest efforts called them from all around.


The names some of these Indians bore have preserved, and were evidently to them by whites. Prominent among them were “Bill News,” “Gabriel Mitop,” “Zeb Conchee,” “Peepy,” “George Wheelright,” etc.  Brainerd remained with them, attending to their temporal affairs and even paying some of the debts they had contracted by their drunken habits. They claimed to own a lot of land some distance from Cranbury [Thompson Park near Jamesburg], and Brainerd proposed to gather them there.


At this time a condition bordering on anarchy existed in many parts of the State among the white settlers, caused by disputes between the Proprietors and people over land titles and quitrents. Organized bands of whites overran the country, driving off some settlers who had taken deeds of the Proprietors and breaking open jails and releasing those who had been confined for like disorders. The State could not preserve order. The rioters claimed that they could and would defend anyone who had an Indian title against the Proprietors’ claims, and said that they could have the assistance of a hundred Indians if necessary. This was just at the time that Brainerd was removing his flock from Crosswicks to the land they claimed near Cranbury [along the Old York road], and the peaceful whites there thought that these Indians were the “hundred” that were to help the rioters, and their consternation was greatly increased when an Indian appeared among them who wore a “blue-laced coat” which he said the governor of Canada had given him.


The people of Cranbury insinuated that the missionary, Brainerd, was training the Indians to cut people’s throats, and demanded that they claimed, holding that other Indians had disposed of these lands long before. But the gentle Brainerd located his flock and named the place Bethel.


But the health of the beloved pastor soon gave way and consumption claimed him as one of its many victims. At his earnest request, his brother, John Brainerd, took his place and a church was built at Bethel, but the Indians’ title to this land was soon attacked in the courts and in a few years they were dispossessed.


If the Crosswicks Indians all went to Bethel, it appears that many of them returned. The Legislature being evidently ashamed of the treatment of the red men, or fearing their hostility, selected commissioners to inquire into the matter, and these men met the Indians at Crosswicks in the winter of 1756. Their grievances were that the whites cheated them when they were drunk, destroyed their deer by iron traps and occupied some small tracts of land they said they had never sold in the vicinity of Allentown and on Crosswicks creek.


The State Assembly in 1757, imposed a fine on persons convicted of making the red men drunk and regulated the setting of traps, etc. Another meeting was had with them at Crosswicks in 1758, and finally a general settlement was made with them, the State buying 3,000 acres of land in the lower part of Burlington county, assisting them to move there and to erect suitable buildings. But they did not seem satisfied. Only about 60 persons went there and 20 others went to land owned by “Sachem Charles’” family further down.


In 1802 they sold out by permission and moved to the lakes, they then numbering about 75. This was not the last of them, for in 1832, the New Jersey tribe being then reduced to about 40, and then living in the Green Bay section of the Great Lakes, sent an agent to our Legislature. They held that they had never sold the right to hunt and fish on unenclosed lands in our State.


This agent was a chief, and bore the dignified name of Bartholomew S. Calvin. He had been educated at Princeton and studied there till the war of the Revolution cut off the funds of the Scottish Missionary Society, which had paid his way. He had also taught school among this race and had white scholars also. When he appeared before the Legislature, in 1832, he was 71 years old. That body gave him, as a memorial of kindness, $2,000, and he filed a full relinquishment of the rights of his tribe.


But when the Indians went to the reservation in Burlington county [Brotherton or Shamong], all did not go well there, and they went to the lakes, in 1802, some stayed behind and ended their days in Jersey. Some intermarried with the colored people, and some of us can remember persons who had the blood of the Lenapes.


It used to be freely stated that some whites married Indian wives, and that the descendants of such are with us today. If so, they ought to be as proud of it as were some Virginia families of the descent from Pocahontas, for she was also a Lenape.


During their stay with us some of the Indians became very much degraded on account of their thirst for rum, and although the aboriginal lords of the soil, they were known in some parts of the State to sell their children for liquor [even time can’t forgive the pejorative sentiments expressed here].