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The Beginning Ramapough Lenape History

Ramapo Torne in Harriman State Park, part of the Ramapo Mountains, New Jersey

The first Europeans the Leanness came in contact with were the Spanish and Potages explorers sailing up the coast.  The first written records of contact, was 1524 when Giovanni da Verrazano anchored briefly in the Narrows.  In 1609 Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of the Dutch East India Company sailed up the Muhheakantuck (Hudson River).  That was when more extensive accounts of the Native People were documented.  Hudsons voyage began and ended in bloodshed.

In his first encounter with Indians, one of his men was kitted when he went ashore on Staten Island.  In the other encounters with the Natives, up and down the river, it was the Indians that suffered.  During the first few years the Dutch and Indians were on friendly terms for the most part.  Some of the traders even took Indian wives, but in 1639, serious trouble developed when William Kieft arrived from Holland.  He was appointed Governor, and he hated the Native People.  He sent troops out into the country to collect taxes from the Indians, who had no idea what the concept of taxation was.  When they refused, they were accused of different petty crimes.  A member of the Raritan Band was charged with stealing a pig from settler.

The cultural heritage of Native Americans is west and far reaching, with more than 500 nations in the United States, each with its own legends and custom.  Originally, Philadelphia was known as Coaquannock, which means Grove of Tall Pines.  Prior to the arrival of British settlers in the 1600s, our Mid-Atlantic Coast was inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Tribe, which became known as the Delaware.  Some legends say that Lenni-Lenape means original people, while other legends translate the meaning of Lenni-Lenape into real men.  The common English name, Delaware, is derived from the name of an early governor of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia:  Lord de la Warr.  After the colonization of America, forced migration pushed members of the Lenni-Lenape as far west as the state of Washington and as far north as Ontario, Canada.  Streets in Philadelphia named in recognition of Native American Tribal Groups include Cherokee St., Delaware Ave., Mohawk St., Mohican St., Lenape St., Oneida St., and Cayuga St., Passyunk, named for a busy thoroughfare, means in the valley.  The diseases brought over on the ships brought an even bigger toll.  Until the White man came, the Natives had never sugared through epidemics like the ones in Europe brought Small Pox, Yellow Fever, and the Plague.  Some Tribes were newly wiped out by these diseases.


Indian deeds which place the Tappan/Hackensack Indians in the Ramapo Mountains by the early 1700’s  the exact location of the latter day Ramapough settlements.  The identification of a John De Fries listed as Indian on the 1760 military muster for New York State who fits into the Ramapough genealogy.  The 1827 letter of Victor Jacquemont, who wrote of a mixed-blood Indian community living in the Ramapo Mountains.  He wrote from a home in the Valley below the mountains where known Ramapough ancestors are documented as living.  An 1870 Federal census and an 1875 New York States census, which documents Indian ancestry of Ramapough individuals who fit into the genealogy.  From 1876-1880 George A. Ford, a Presbyterian Minister, ministered to the Ramapough community, at Brook Chapel Church in Hillburn, New York.  He described the colored community as having considerable American Indian blood, coming down from the early days.  An 1876 Bergan County History, which documents that the half breed remnants of the Hackensack Indians are still living in the Ramapo Mountains.

Several newspaper accounts from old time families which described the continuing presence of a mixed-blood Indian community from the 1700’s in the Ramapough region.  The 1900 history of J.M. Van Valen, which document the Indian ancestry of Ramapouh ancestors, and Frank Speck, based on his eyewitness account as a community with Indian ancestry, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.  Today, the people of the Ramapough Mountains are a unique blend of black, white and Indian ancestry, and the telltale signs of their diverse heritages are etched on their faces.  Their exact origins have been the subject of innumerable studies and reports, none of which can agree on when they came from.

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