12,000 years ago, during the warm period of the Ice Age, the earliest people arrived by raft to hunt and live on the island. They became known as the Lenni-Lenape.
A 1901 article clipping from an unidentified newspaper describes the discovery of three skeletons in perfect state of preservation along with “bone ornaments” and other “trinkets”, all of which were attributed to Delaware Indians.
The 17th century brought Europeans who traded, lived and farmed on the island. The Dutch, Swedes, the Dutch again, the English, and then the Dutch again, and then the English again, almost always fought with one another for control.
Artifacts of the Lenni-Lenape found in the 1890s by Charles Abbott, can be seen at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. These artifacts are part of a collection called the Wealthy Dutch Trader’s House.
The wealthy Dutch trader, Alexander d’Hinoyossa, also a Dutch Governor, settled on the island in 1659 with his wife and 7 children. He built a house with imported brick, farmed and cultivated the woodland, diked the marshes and meadows and even built a fort at the island’s south end point onto which there were four cannons “to command both channels of the river and down it as far as his Shott would reach”. He had African slaves. There are no records describing his relationship with the Lenni-Lenape.
However, there are records of Peter Alricks, a charismatic Dutch businessman who served as an official under d’Hinoyossa before the English took over the island in 1665. Many of the English who settled on the island were “Americans” from New England seeking refuge from the harsh climate up there. When they learned about how helpful and flexible Alricks could be, and the good relationship he had with Native Americans, they hired Alricks to help them with their relationship with the Lenni-Lenape. His compensation from the English settlers, was title to the island.
Alricks repaired the buildings, and brought Dutch servants to farm the land.
Again, a trading post was established on the lower end of the island. It is believed to have been located in one of the houses built by d’Hinoyossa. The trading post did well for it was in the path of travel from New Amsterdam to the Pennsylvania settlements and Virginia.
Alricks had two caregivers, Peter Veitscheeder and Christian Samuels who were hired to oversee the plantation located at the lower end of the island. One day in 1670, while Alricks was travelling to Manhattan, the two were attacked and brutally murdered by two Lenape, Tashiosycam and Wywannattamo while they were working in the fields. After the murders, Tashiosycam and Wywannattamo proceeded to burn the trading post. They then crossed the river into Burlington City where they ransacked and plundered a popular tavern “leaving a flaming arrow in a fiery apostrophe of hate”. The tavern shut down for several months after the violence. The murders were the first to be recorded in New Jersey.
The violence was provoked by the death of Tashiosycan’s sister. Tashiosycan blamed his sister’s death on the Europeans. While plotting the revenge it is said that he said, “The Manito hath kill’d my sister and I will go and kill the Christians”. It is unclear if Tashiosycan’s sister was assaulted or if she died of smallpox. But most historians believe it was small pox that killed Tashiosycan’s sister.
The murders brought anger and fear. When Alricks returned to the area, he warned the Governor that the Lenape were planning an uprising. The Governor then mobilized the civilians into a state of preparedness. Provisions of powder and bullet were allotted to all able-bodied men. An embargo was placed on corn and other staples. The sale of gunshot and liquor to the Native Americans was expressly forbidden.
But meanwhile, Alrick’s diplomatic talents were working. He gained the trust of a Lenape Chief who confided to Alricks that he was not interested in war. The Chief suggested that there be a “kintecoy”, which is the Lenape word for feast, and “In the midst of their mirth that then one should be hired to knock the murderer on the head”.
The Chief’s form of justice was distasteful to Alricks, but he did convey the message to the Governor. The Governor decided that neither side really wanted war and so he postponed preparations for war.
Soon afterwards, the two murderers were found hiding in the woods. One escaped but the other was shot and killed by a Lenni-Lenape. His body was turned over to the English who carried it to New Castle and hung it up in chains as a graphic example of criminal justice.
This history is a reminder of how misinformation can lead to fear, violence and even war. And how truthful conversation can bring understanding and even halt the possibility of war.
For more stories contact the Island Waters Institute.