Ramapough Lenape Indian Tribe of New Jersey

Published on October 21, 2010 by John

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A Member of the Ramapough Lenape Tribe

A Member of the Ramapough Lenape Tribe

The Ramapough Mountain Indians (also known as Ramapo Mountain Indians, or the Ramapough Lenape Nation) are a group of approximately 5,000 people living around the Ramapo Mountains of northern New Jersey and southern New York. Their tribal office is located on Stag Hill Road on Houvenkopf Mountain in Mahwah, New Jersey. As of January 2007, the Chief of the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation is Dwaine Perry. The Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation are described as the descendants of the Lenape (including the Hackensack, Tappan and Rumachenanck/Haverstroo peoples), and the Munsee (Minisink) people, with varying degrees of Tuscarora, African, Dutch, and other Caucasian ancestry. The Ramapough have common ancestry with the Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin. The Ramapough ancestral language was Munsee, but the community was known to have spoken English and Jersey Dutch in the past. Today they speak English. The Ramapough are engaged in an effort to revitalize the Munsee language among their members.

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The Ramapough have been identified by the state of New Jersey by Resolution 3031 as an Indian tribe since 1980. They were also recognized by the State of New York by Resolution 86 in 1979. “The Ramapough have been repeatedly and consistently identified as an Indian entity since 1900 by historians, anthropologists, various other scholars, journalists, and federal and state reports”. In August 2006, Governor Jon Corzine formed the New Jersey Commission of Native American Community Affairs. Their task was to investigate issues of civil rights, education, employment, fair housing, environmental protection, health care, infrastructure and equal opportunity confronting New Jersey’s three indigenous Native American tribes and other New Jersey residents of Native American descent. The report was delivered on December 19, 2007 and cited “lingering discrimination, ignorance of state history and culture, and cynicism in the treatment of Indian people.”

The New Jersey citation read: “Be it resolved by the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey (the Senate concurring): 1. That the Ramapough Mountain People of the Ramapough Mountains of Bergen and Passaic counties, descendants of the Iroquois and Algonquin nations, are hereby designated by the State of New Jersey as the Ramapough Indians”. New York has a bill pending to recognize the Ramapough people as Native Americans.

Earlier exonym

Until the 1970s, the tribe was frequently referred to as the “Jackson Whites”, which, according to legend (folklore or myth) was shorthand for “Jacks and Whites”. Belief was that they were descendants of runaway and freed slaves (“Jacks” in slang) and whites (including Dutch settlers and Hessian soldiers) who had supported the British during the American Revolution. They fled to frontier areas of the mountains after the end of the war. There is no documented proof of slaves, freed or runaway, nor of Hessian soldiers’ marrying into the tribe.

The group rejects this name and its associated legends as pejorative. On July 30, 1880, The Bergen Democrat was the first newspaper to print this term. As an article written in 1911 pointed out, this was a title of contempt. The Mountain People themselves didn’t recognize this name, it being used only among their neighbors. New Jersey Historian David Cohen found that the old stories about these people were legends, not history. He stated, “It became increasingly obvious that, not only was the legend untrue, it was also the continuing vehicle for the erroneous and derogatory stereotype of the Mountain People”. Although Cohen took credit for this statement, Miles Merwin documented the issue in his article, “The Jackson Whites”, published in 1963.

Historical perspective

A number of local historians and genealogists have written about the Ramapough people.
Below is a summary of findings:

Noted scholar on New Jersey’s native people, Herbert C. Kraft stated, “The origins of these people are very controversial, but it is clear that some are descended from local Munsee-speaking Indians who moved into the isolated Ramapo Mountains seeking a haven from the Dutch and English settlers in the latter half of the seventeenth century. It is theorized that many Esopus joined with the Ramapough Mountain Indians of New Jersey following the wars, as some Wappingers had done after Kieft’s War in 1643. Kraft says about Cohen’s claim, “Cohen acknowledges that a gap exists in the genealogical record between about 1790-1830 that prevented his assembling with exactitude individual relationships between most of the Hackensack Valley settlers and those of the Ramapo Mountains”. Kraft was not able to establish a genealogical connection between the present-day Ramapough and colonial-era Indian tribes.

The Algonquian Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council website states “The Quinnipiac/Quiripi (Mattabesec) defended the eastern half of southern New England with the Wampanoag as part of our alliance. The Munsee Bands protected the western half. This evolved to include the Iroquois in the Dawnland Confederacy, and the Renapi contingency was known as the Wappinger-Mattabesec Confederation (i.e., Western CT, Eastern NY, and N. NJ). The Ramapo Mountain Region in N. NJ became a refugium after the forced removal of our ancestors began”.

James “Lone Bear” Revey, Chairman of the New Jersey Indian Office, which was ‘the headquarters for those of us who are descended from the original Lenape people’, wrote “The Mountain Indians included those Delaware Indians who in Colonial times retreated into the Pohacong and Schooley Mountains in northwestern New Jersey, and those Minisink, Pompton (Wappingers), Hackensack and Tappan Indians who remained in the mountains of the northeastern part of the state. The Raritan included those Indians who still lived on Staten island, New York, and in parts of Burlington, Monmouth and Middlesex Counties in East Jersey”.

Evan T. Pritchard, a professor of Native American history and of Micmac (Algonquin) descent wrote, “The Ramapough, or ‘mountaineer Munsee’, on the other hand, never disappeared. Their people still occupy the southwest portion of the point of Rockland County, on all sides of Ramapo Mountain. Ramapough means ‘slanting rock’…the main Ramapough Lenape villages in New York were Hillburn, Johnsontown, Furmanville, Sherwoodville, Bulsontown, Willowgrove, Sandyfields, and Ladentown. Better known, however, as Native American strongholds, are the towns just south of the border, namely Stagg Hill and Ringwood. “Whites have always tried, and continue to try to portray the Ramapough as foreigners: Dutch, blacks, Tuscarora, Gypsies, or Hessians. However, they are the only actual non-foreigners to be found still living in community in and around New York’s metropolitan region”.

Roger D. Joslyn, a certified genealogist with over 30 years’ experience in the New York and New Jersey area (and one of 50 people recognized as a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists), submitted a certified report to the BAR tracing the Indian ancestry of the Ramapough tribe to the 18th century.

John “Bud” Shapard, the former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, went on record supporting the Ramapoughs, stating their case for Federal recognition as a Native American tribe was “well-documented.”
The Ramapough claim to Indian tribal heritage is disputed by the historian David S. Cohen. Cohen works as a Research Associate at the NJ Historical Commission. According to Cohen, his genealogical research “established that their ancestors included free black landowners in New York City and mulattoes with some Dutch ancestry who were among the first pioneers to settle in the Hackensack River Valley of New Jersey”.
Cohen’s work was criticized by two of the foremost genealogists in the United States, Alcon Pierce and Roger Joslyn. When Cohen was contacted by Roger Joslyn and WWOR-TV in 1995 to discuss his claims, he refused to respond. Cohen states that “gaps in the genealogical records and the fact that the federal censuses for 1790-1830 are missing prevent establishing positively the exact relationship between many of the these colored families in the mountains, and the earlier colored families of the Hackensack River Valley”. The State of New Jersey prohibited free blacks from owning any land. Cohen states that there is “an oral tradition of Indian ancestry among the Ramapo Mountain People as early as the eighteenth century”. Cohen also states that “Some Indian mixture is possible, however, because Indian and colored interracial matings probably were not recorded in the Dutch Reformed Churches”. Cohen had no professional credentials in genealogy. The BIA found much of Cohen’s genealogical work lacking. Contrary to Cohen’s statements, the United States Department of Justice acknowledged in court that the Ramapough are Indians.

Benson Lossing, in his book “Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution Volume I, chapter XXXII”, dated 1850, wrote, “Along the sinuous Ramapo Creek, before the war of the Revolution broke out and while the ancient tribe of the Ramapaughs yet chased the deer on the rugged hills that skirt the valley, iron-forges were established, and the hammer-peal of spreading civilization echoed from the neighboring crags”.

Edward J. Lenik is an archeologist and author of Indians in the Ramapos. Lenik writes, “The archaeological record indicates a strong, continuous and persistent presence of Indian bands in the northern Highlands Physiographic Providence-Ramapos well into the 18th century. Other data, such as historical accounts, record the presence of Indians in the Highlands during the 19th and 20th centuries. Oral traditions, and settlement and subsistence activities are examined as well. Native American people were a significant element among the primary progenitors of the Ramapo Mountain People…”

C.A. Weslager, past-president of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, stated in his book Magic Medicines of the Indians, “In the early and middle part of the nineteenth century the Indian descendants were largely found in the northern counties- Warren, Morris, Sussex, and Passaic.” He further wrote, “The people of the northern counties were descended from Delawares and Munsie, with Tuscarora admixture. The Tuscarora, members of a southern tribe, migrated to New York state to join the Six Nation Iroquois, but a number of migrating families settled in New Jersey”.

William Harlan Gilbert, Jr. was an anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. In 1948 he wrote, “The Jackson Whites are a mixed blood group, descendants of white, Indian, and in some areas Negro ancestors”.

John W. DeForest, historian, wrote in his book “History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850″, published in 1851, “The Ridgefield clan called themselves the Ramapoo Indians. About the beginning of the last century they were under the government of a Sachem named Katonah. On 10 October 1708, Chief Katonah and his people sold their land for 100 pounds. The tract was estimated to contain 20,000 acres (81 km2), no reservation was made, and the Ramapoos went their way into the wide world, to seek a home where it might be found”.

Edward F. Pierson, published “The Ramapo Pass” in 1915, and cited “a tribe of the Delaware called the Ramapos once inhabited this area. These Ramapos were sufficiently numerous to cope with the Mohawks”.
Foster H. Seville, Ethnologist of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (now called The George Gustav Heye Center), examines and authenticates two intact dugout canoes found in Witteck Lake, near Butler, N.J., as Ramapo origin, possibly 1,000 years old. They were exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History in N.Y.C. and in Hackensack, N.J. Saville stated “The Ramapos were a branch of the Hackensack Indian, who in turn were of the Councils of the Delaware”. Another intact Dugout Canoe was found in 1911 in Bethel, Connecticut after a drought. It is possibly Ramapo and is now held with the anthropology collections at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut.
Alanson Skinner, Assistant Curator of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History and author of “Indians of Greater New York”, wrote “Those Indians most closely related to the Mohegans and Mahikans became part of the mongrel remnants of those people known as Brothertowns and Stockbridges. Thy rendered signal service to Washington in his campaign at Harlem Heights and Brooklyn, and at the close of the Revolution were granted lands in the West, in Wisconsin, and there, on the edge of the Menomini Reservation, and on the shores of Lake Oshkosh, their degenerate remnants may yet be found. A few linger in Connecticut, a few on Long Island, a few in the Ramapo Mountains, all mixed with the blood of Negro and Caucasian. The rest are with the Delawares and the Iroquois in New York, Canada, and Oaklahoma”.

The Stockbridge Munsee Community of Wisconsin, The Munsee-Delaware Nation of Canada, and the Six Nations of Canada have all urged the US Government to recognize the Ramapough based on the historical records.

Source: wikipedia.org

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