The Native American artifacts pictured above are from one of three such collections found in Evesham Township and displayed at the John Inskeep Homestead. Their story, spanning 13,000 years and four archeological periods is an important part of Evesham’s history.
Approximately 13,000 years ago, ancestors of the people known as the Lenape migrated across what was then a land bridge Siberia to Alaska. Over time future generations moved south and east eventually reaching the Atlantic coast between 10,000 – 8,000 BC. Unlike today, the land was extremely cold and covered only by marshland and tundra grasses and inhabited by mastodon, musk-ox and moose. These Paleo-Indians were hunters and gatherers and were proficient with stone implements.
During the Archaic Period, 8,000 to 1,000 BC as the climate gradually warmed and glaciers melted, cold adapted animals became extinct in the area and the tundra was replaced first by pine and spruce forests and eventually by hardwoods. The people who stayed here rather than moving north again with the game are known as Archaic Hunters, Fishers and Gatherers. They perfected spears, traps and nets to hunt and fish more efficiently. They discovered that vessels carved from soapstone and talc did not crack when placed directly over a fire thus soups and gruels became part of the diet. Eventually, women learned to make pottery vessels adding greater options to cook and store food. Archaic Indians normally lived in small family groups or bands and were always on the move searching for food and materials for tools, clothing and shelter.
The Transitional Period spans from 2500 BC to 1000 BC. Recovered artifacts from this period display more specific function and increased emphasis on ritualized behaviors such as burials. Settlements formed along banks of rivers and freshwater swamps. This access to water provided mobility and helped develop trade among the various bands or tribes.
The Indigenous People would go through one more period, known as the Woodland Period from 1000 BC to 1650 AD before their lives were totally disrupted by the arrival of Europeans. Daily life continued to center on the search for food with men hunting, fishing and trapping and women and children gathering edible plants, nuts and fruits. The bow and arrow replaced the spear and horticulture and gardening became part of the culture. Maize (corn) and beans became dietary staples and were eaten fresh as well as dried for later use, as were squash, pumpkin, meat fish, fruit and nuts. Woodland People were eating better and living longer, still primarily in family units. They did not have chiefs, but made decisions by discussion and mutual agreement. They had no concept of land ownership but recognized and respected each other’s use and occupancy of a specific area. Horticulture caused changes in basic living, enabling them to be less mobile but necessitating establishment of a place to store food supplies. Thus more durable bark lodges were built from saplings bent over and lashed to form a dome covered by bark shingles or woven grass mats. A lodge might be occupied by several families all related through the female line. In this matrilineal society, women had respect equal to men and everyone worked together to form a social unit.
The arrival of Dutch, Swedish and English explorers and settlers in the second half of the 17th Century quickly disrupted the peaceful life style of the indigenous people. The Lenape saw themselves as part of the natural world which had been created for the use and enjoyment of all and could not be owned by an individual or a group. The Europeans believed in ownership of land and the natural resources thereon. At first the Lenape willingly shared their land with Europeans, but differences in life style and philosophy made that unmanageable as white settlers claimed more and more property. Natives who had “sold” their land to settlers still believed they had the right to fish and hunt those grounds. Numerous Lenape lost their livelihood or lives over a lack of communication or understanding.
Other factors resulting from interaction with the Europeans also proved detrimental to the indigenous population. Attracted by the shiny glass beads and metal tools of the Europeans, the Native Americans willingly traded furs and pelts to attain these items. The European demand for pelts was such that fur bearing animals became scarce and the Lenape were forced to travel outside their own territorial hunting grounds. This brought them into conflict with other native tribes and bands resulting in fighting and death. Even more deadly were the diseases brought over by the settlers. Having no immunity to such illnesses as smallpox the Lenape population was rapidly decimated. Many others fell victim to the effects of the rum and brandy acquired in the fur trade. By 1745 the native population of New Jersey numbered less than one thousand, a tenth of what it had been before arrival of the Europeans just over 100 years before.
In 1758 at the Treaty of Easton the Lenape and Minisink people gave up title to the lands that they had occupied for thousands of years. In exchange they received 3,044 acres in Evesham Township (now Shamong) known as the Brotherton Reservation. The Lenape were neither prepared for nor interested in a stationary lifestyle centered on agriculture and operation of a sawmill. Some left the reservation and others spiraled into poverty. In 1801 the Brotherton Indians received and accepted an invitation to join a group of Mahicans who were living near Onieda Lake New York. The New Jersey legislature passed an act on December 3rd of that year appointing commissioners to divide the reservation into separate lots of not more than 100 acres and to sell them at public sale. Proceeds of the sale were used to transport the last of the Brotherton residents to Oneida.
Not all the Lenape had moved to Brotherton and some who had moved west or to Oneida returned to their ancestral homeland. They lived in small groups throughout south Jersey or married and assimilated into the community at large. During the late 1950’s and 1960’s, like many American minorities, the Native Americans began to experience an awareness of ethnic and racial pride. On August 7, 1978 the Lenape and Naticoke incorporated as The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe, a tribally controlled community benefit organization centered in Bridgeton NJ. In 1982 the NJ Senate officially recognized the tribe and called on the US Congress to do the same. The Tribe is a sovereign American Indian Nation governed by a nine member Tribal Counsel. They operate a Tribal Center and store in Bridgeton as well as a Tribal House and gathering center. They are dedicated to providing cultural, educational, health, nutritional and outreach services. The Committees on Cultural Retention and Tribal Ceremonies are devoted to the continuance of tribal values and practices. The 2010 U.S. Census documented 25,000 people of Native American descent, from various tribes, living in New Jersey.
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Fleming, George D. 2005. Brotherton New Jersey’s First and Only Indian Reservation and the Communities of Shamong and Tabernacle that Followed. Medford, NJ. Plexus Publishing, Inc.
Kraft, Herbert C and John T. 1991. The Indians of Lenapehoking (The Lenape or Delaware Indians). South Orange NJ. Seton Hall University Museum.
Kraft, Herbert C. 1991. The Lenape of Delaware Indians. South Orange NJ. Seton Hall University Museum
New Jersey State Museum. 2012. New Jersey State Museum’s Archaeological and Ethnography Collection The Story of New Jersey’s Indians. Trenton NJ. New Jersey State Museum
Norwood, John R. 2007. We Are Still Here! The Tribal Saga of New Jersey’s Nanticoke and Lenape Indians. Moorestown, NJ. Native New Jersey Publications.