Thursday, December 20, 2012

Making reservations: the Lenape at Indian Mills

Post-trip research on one Hidden New Jersey topic sometimes raises questions about other matters. And it sometimes frustrates me - I find out about destinations I'd have liked to check out, had I known they were so close to another place we'd just visited.

Indian Mills is one of those places. Nestled in Shamong Township not far from the Carranza Memorial, it was the site of New Jersey's only Native American reservation, established in 1758. The timing is key here, as it's during the French and Indian War, where, as the name would suggest, the natives sided with the French against the English settlers. Lenape tribesmen in New Jersey sued for peace, agreeing to give up their land rights provided that the legislature provided them a settlement area. The colony purchased 3,000 acres on the Mullica River for the tribe, and by the governor's decree, all natives in New Jersey were required to live within the borders of the reservation. Presbyterian minister John Brainerd joined the community, which he dubbed Brotherton for the brotherhood he hoped it would engender.

Two mills and a house were on the tract when the natives arrived, and ten houses and a meetinghouse were later constructed with Brainerd's guidance. Eventually the community became known as Indian Mills, in recognition of the businesses the natives were striving to run there. Unfortunately, Brainerd became ill and had to leave the settlement, and prospects declined for the natives as the New Jersey government refused their requests for assistance. The reservation never became fully self sufficient, and most of the Lenape left to join the Oneida in upstate New York in 1802, after selling their Indian Mills property back to the state. Whether they did this of their own accord or were essentially forced to, well, that's a matter of whom you choose to believe, but it's been said that New Jersey is one of the few places where natives negotiated the terms of their departure rather than being subjected to violence by white settlers. This would be consistent with the Lenapes' reputation as skilled diplomats who often acted as mediators between warring tribes.

A few Lenape stayed in the Pines, mostly assimilating with their white and African American neighbors. One in particular stands out for her longevity: Indian Ann. Depending on which sources you consult, Ann was born in 1804 or perhaps earlier, possibly to Tamar, the last chief of the local branch of the Lenape. She became known for her basket weaving talents and sold her creations throughout the region.

Besides her status as one of the few left of her tribe in New Jersey, Ann was also known for her three marriages. Her second husband was significantly younger than she and died in service during the Civil War, leaving her with a generous eight dollar per month survivor's pension. According to legend, her third husband was over seven feet tall and tremendously strong.

Ann died in 1890 or 1894 and is buried in the Tabernacle cemetery, where her grave is decorated every Memorial Day to honor her status as the last of the Lenape in New Jersey. However, the tribe has a presence in the state to this day, with several members of the Nanticoke Lenape settled in Cumberland County. That, however, is a story for another day...


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