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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Our Native Americans

By Rod Leith, Borough Historian

An important question was raised recently; what happened to the Indian tribes who once inhabited the Rutherford area of New Jersey?

Historic feast at Thanksgiving

While the final destiny of these tribe members and their families is a mixed story, it is clear from the discovery of Indian artifacts that these indigenous people were prevalent throughout what is now Rutherford and its environs. Remarkable findings of Indian tools and other relics were discovered along Orient Way over a century ago by Theophilus N. Glover and, across town, in the 1930s, Clarence Carl Brog found an Indian axe behind his home on the hill of Francisco Avenue.

Photographs of Indian artifacts found in Rutherford were provided by the Meadowlands Museum.

Brog’s daughter, Vivian Brog George, proudly displayed this ancient axe during a “show & tell” at Union School in the 1930’s. After it was authenticated at the National Museum of the American Indian, Brog’s granddaughter, Kathryn George, donated it to the Meadowlands Museum.

Theophilus Glover, a respected historian of American Indian cultures, believed the Rutherford area was the hunting grounds of the Minsi Tribe, a subgroup of the Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) Nation. However, it is not believed these Indians made a permanent settlement or village in what is now Rutherford. Their settlement was further northwest in what was Minisink in Passaic County. But there is ample evidence of their presence here and in other parts of Bergen County.

“Many Indian relics have been found on the grounds surrounding the famous spring,” stated Jacob H. Vreeland (1836-1925), referring to the Boiling Spring. Vreeland was a landowner and a long-time resident of East Rutherford. According to Vreeland, Boiling Spring Lane, now Union Avenue, was called Old Indian Trail dating to 1671. He recalled finding relics such as flint arrowheads, stone axes, and Indian pipes on the border of Rutherford and East Rutherford, or what is now Rutherford Railroad Station, about where the spring terminated.

Besides the Minsi (or Wolf Clan), the Lenape or Delaware Nation in New Jersey included the Unatactgo (or Turkey Clan) and the Unamis (or Turtle Clan). An important milestone in their ultimate fate came in 1758 with the signing of what became known as the Easton Treaty. This treaty declared that any remaining claims of the Delaware Nation to lands in New Jersey were extinguished, according to Indian historian Frederick Webb Hodge. An important exception was the Indians right to fish in all the rivers and bays south of the Raritan River and to hunt on all unenclosed lands. In addition, the treaty permitted Indians to live on a 3000-acre tract in Burlington County, known as Edge Pillock.

It is unclear how many of the Minsi tribe survived over the next century. Edge Pillock became known as the Brotherton Reservation, under the care of Rev. David Brainerd, Missionary of Indians in New Jersey, and his brother John, both Scottish Presbyterian ministers. Partly due to the enforcement of the more dominant Iroquois Nation, the Lenape Indians agreed to stop selling their lands to white settlers and to maintain peace within the tribes. As early as 1720, the Lenape, which once boasted a population of 10,000, began to go in separate ways; some to Susquehanna, PA; some to Wyoming; and still others to Ohio. Other members of the tribe were removed to lands as far away as Missouri and Arkansas. As of 1820, two bands, numbering about 700, found their way to Texas, according to Frederick Webb Hodge’s studies of the Lenape Tribe.

With Rev. Brainerd’s guidance, members of the principal tribes of Unamis and Munsees, also called Minsi, managed Indian Mills, a grist mill in Brotherton. But with Brainerd’s departure, the reservation began to fail. In the late 1700s, the Oneida, whom the Lenape considered “grandsons,” invited the New Jersey tribe to Stockbridge, N.Y. David Brainerd, who was a Yale-educated minister, died of tuberculosis in 1747. His brother, John, carried on, but the Delaware Indians under his supervision had begun to answer the call of their Lenape kin and settle at Lake Oneida.

In joining with their kin of the New York Indians, these of the Minsi clan became part of what was the most powerful Indian tribe of the Northeast. The Oneida and Tuscarosa tribes had sided with the United States in the Revolutionary War and their assistance to the colonists was considered significant. The New Jersey Indians, who were of the ancient Algonquin stock, still called themselves Lenni-Lenape. Depending on the translation, this could mean “native, genuine men,” or the meaning could be “real men'' or “true men.” It was 17th Century British Lord De La Warr who gave them the name Delaware.

While the American Indians deeply resented the European grab of their lands and objected to attempts to convert their youth to the white’s man’s religion; they were proud to not have become slaves. In a talk he gave at Rutherford’s First Presbyterian Church, shortly after the 1912 publication of his book, “The Man Farthest Down,” Booker T. Washington recounted his experience teaching Indian youths at Hampton Institute in Virginia. He recalled the Indians responded to kind treatment and resented ill-treatment.

“I knew that the average Indian felt himself above the white man, and, of course, he felt himself far above the Negro,” Washington stated. This was “largely on account of the fact of the Negro having submitted to slavery ---- a thing which the Indian would never do.” Perhaps the closest they came to submitting to a form of enslavement was when Native Americans were required to live on reservations and wear badges when they left their territory. Metal badges were given to local chiefs to issue to their messengers. The messengers were required to wear the badges whenever they traveled outside Indian territory.

During their time in New Jersey and throughout the country, there was a remarkable group of American Indians, both in glorious as well as tragic times.

A recent article in The Record newspaper recounted a horrible outcome in February 1644 when a Dutch military contingent attacked and massacred a Ramapough clan in Pound Ridge or Bedford Village, Westchester County, New York. An Indian count of the dead exceeded 500 hundred men, women and children. The Ramapough, which was a sub-tribe of the Lenni-Lenape Nation, had also inhabited Bergen County. The Pound Ridge massacre was documented in a richly researched book, “Narratives of New Netherland,” a history of the 1609-1664 Dutch period, published in 1909 and available at Bedford Village library.

During this same period, there was a massacre of this same tribe in what was Pavonia (now Jersey City), ordered by William Kieft, the Dutch commander. About a decade later, in this same vicinity, the farm of Walling Jacob Van Winkle, ancestor of Peter S. Van Winkle, was destroyed in an Indian raid. About 100 Dutch were killed and more than 300 are believed to have lost their homesteads. So it seems apparent that bloody atrocities struck against Indians as well as Europeans. Van Winkle blamed Kieft for this event. As a prominent Hollander, he successfully lobbied for Kieft’s replacement.

Bartholomew S. Calvin (1756-1840) served in the Continental Army under George Washington 1775-1783.

Among the leaders of the Lenni-Lenape Tribe was a revered teacher and orator named Bartholomew Scott Calvin (1756-1840), whose Indian name was Shawuskukhkung, meaning “Wilted Grass.” Calvin, whose father was an interpreter for Rev. David Brainerd of the Brotherton Reservation, was a student at Princeton in the mid-1750s. Calvin held the title of chief and represented the tribe in critical negotiations with the New Jersey Legislature.

Elias Boudinot. Photo credit:

An unusual relationship developed between a prominent Rutherford landowner named Elias Boudinot (1749-1821) and a young Cherokee lad named Kuh-le-ga-nah-aka whose nickname was “Buck.” Buck, whose parents called him Gallagina Waite, was supported by Boudinot when the boy was about 15 years old. Buck attended American Boarding School in Cornwall CT on a scholarship supported by Boudinot and the US Government. As an accommodation to his mentor, Buck changed his legal name to Kuh-le-ga-nah Elias Boudinot.

The elder Elias Boudinot held a large land tract between the Passaic and Hackensack rivers, including the vicinity of what became Highland Cross and Woodland Avenue. These lands had been acquired years earlier from a Lenni-Lenape sachem. In 1711, Boudinot sold to Jan (John) Juriance (Yereance), one of Rutherford’s earliest farming families. This tract included a farm acquired in 1893 by Charles Noller. In 1974, Noller’s farmhouse would house the Meadowlands Museum.

Elias Boudinot’s wealth included a large estate in Burlington County. He was well known in government and politics. In fact, Boudinot was a radical who, under the Articles of Confederation, became America’s first president. His benevolence was well known and extended to Alexander Hamilton. When he arrived in America from the Caribbean, a youthful Hamilton was befriended by Boudinot and resided with him at his Burlington estate until he became established.

Meanwhile, young Elias Boudinot married the daughter of a white New England minister. Under a cloud, he left Cornwall, Ct., and returned to his roots in Gordon County, Georgia, where he became a leader of a Cherokee Council. Highly talented as a writer, he became editor of Cherokee Phoenix, believed to be the first American Indian newspaper. He kept the name Elias Boudinot throughout a highly contentious effort to win an agreement on what was called the Treaty of New Echota, between the Cherokee and the U.S. Government. Vicious disagreements among the Cherokee resulted in Elias’s murder in 1839. Nearly a century later, Georgia established a state park that includes the historic site of the Elias Boudinot House.

As historians like John Heckewelder have well documented, European settlers' dealings with Indians were not always peaceful. Unfortunately, what began as an attitude of gracious offerings of assistance to the colonists, helping acquaint them with such basic things as planting and harvesting, as well as the building of their homesteads and watercraft, turned sour as Indians came to despair over the white man’s greed for landholdings. Indians largely viewed the land as occupiers, not owners. Religion also became a subject of bitter dispute, with Indian leaders objecting to efforts by religious groups like the Moravians to convert young tribesmen.

Massive tracts of land were acquired by white colonists, most from either Holland or England. According to David Pieterszen DeVries, a Dutch settler, the first purchase of Indian lands in New Jersey was made on May 5, 1630, on behalf of a wealthy Englishman named Samuel Godyn. The land was later designated Cape Henlopen on the Delaware River. The Zwanendael settlement, as it was known, was held by Dutchmen for a short five years, but its acquisition was bitterly opposed by the Indians and was later destroyed.

More than a century later, a prominent Sachen, or chief, known as Captahem, granted a deed to Walling Jacob Van Winkle on March 28, 1769, for territory known as Acquackanock. This tract of more than 11,000 acres stretched from the northerly line of Newark along the westerly bank of the Passaic River just beyond Passaic Falls. The same Sachem Capetahem was one of 10 chiefs who agreed to purchase two years prior for land on the Passaic River that allowed the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Newark.

The custom of granting land, which in reality belonged to the Indians and not the grantor, was common among the Europeans, particularly the Dutch and English. There were occasions when Indian sachems resisted the efforts of the colonists and insisted that their lands should be for the use of the “children’s children forever.” On one occasion when the English king sought land near Lake George for the construction of Fort Ticonderoga, a special conference was held at Albany in 1737 between the Sachems and the English-appointed governor to resolve the purchase of land at Sinnekas County.

There were those among the English representatives in America who were not satisfied with the treatment of the Indians. One was James Alexander, a highly respected New York lawyer and member of the State Assembly. Alexander, who was the father-in-law of Walter Rutherfurd, (Senator John Rutherfurd’s father), introduced a bill in the assembly to reduce the number of Indian commissioners from twenty to nine compelling them to hold their meetings “in some proper place for that purpose in a grave and solemn manner and not in a tavern.” Major John Rutherfurd, brother of Walter Rutherfurd, was Commissioner of Indian Affairs in New York from 1742 to 1752.

About 60 Delaware Indians had left Brotherton by 1802, moving to a patch of land near Oneida Lake. After several years, these remaining Delaware Indians were removed to Fox River, Wisconsin, where they purchased land from the Menominee Indians. More recent records indicate that about 40 Delaware remained at Fox River. A group based in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin is still known as Brotherton, according to the American Indian historian, Carl Waldman. But abiding by the agreement with the New Jersey Legislature, these Lenape Indians kept alive the tradition of owning fishing and hunting privileges in New Jersey.

Reenactment of Hackensack Indians

Historians who have studied the area known as New Barbados Neck say it was called Meghgectecock, or originally Musgichteu-cunk, by the Indians. One of the earliest examples of white colonists purchasing Indian territory came in 1668 when William Sandford acquired more than 5,000 acres from the Lenape Tribe known as the Minsi, according to Glover. Now known as Lyndhurst and Rutherford, this land was between the Hackensack and Passaic rivers.

“On the 20th of July (1668), he (William Sandford) purchased from the Indians the title to commence at the Hackensack and Passawack rivers, and to go northward about seven miles to Sanford’s Spring, afterwards Boiling Spring,” according to the records of William Nelson, honorary member Bergen County Historical Society. Consideration to the Indians, included 170 fathoms of black wampum (small cylindrical beads) and 200 fathoms of white wampum. Black wampum was worth double of the white.

This area along the Passaic River was also known as Reef Road. It was used by the Indians as a fording place across the reef, which consisted of a ledge of rocks extending across the river. Elen N. Stetler, a Rutherford native whose mother claimed to have coined the name Delawanna, recalled that her grandfather spoke of the remains of an Indian ford across the Passaic near the foot of Newell Avenue, about where Nereid Boat Club is headquartered.

New Barbadoes Neck (now Rutherford and Lyndhurst)

The Reef Road led to the Roosevelt-Joralemon Shipyard, which included a large tract of land in New Barbados Neck purchased in 1806 by John Rutherfurd. Rutherfurd built his estate called Edgerston there on the banks of the Passaic River. The last of the Lenni-Lenape had long left the area.

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