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Sussex County, NJ

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The County of Sussex (also known as Sussex County) is the northernmost county in the State of New Jersey. It is part of the New York Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 Federal decennial census, 149,265 persons resided in Sussex County. Sussex County is the 36th wealthiest county in the United States with its median household income being $65,266.

The county was founded on 8 June 1753 from portions of Morris County.  Morris County separated from Hunterdon County which separated from Burlington County in 1713. Originally the area of Sussex County was under the legal jurisdiction of Burlington County which went to the New York line. Warren County was separated from Sussex County on November 20, 1824. The county seat of Sussex County is the Town of Newton.

History

Origin of the county’s name

Sussex County was named by Royal Governor Jonathan Belcher (1689-1757) for Sussex in England which was the ancestral seat of His Grace, Thomas Pelham-Holles, first Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and first Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne (1693-1768), who at the time was the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, and later the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1754-1756, 1757-1762). Pelham-Holles, whose office oversaw British affairs in North America, was Governor Belcher’s political superior. During his term as Governor of New Jersey (1747-1757), Belcher named many municipalities in honor of important British political figures, most of whom were superior to him in rank or precedence. It is believed that he did so in order to curry political favor and regain a level of standing that was diminished from his scandal which precipitated his removal from the Governorship of Massachusetts in 1741.

Sussex, in England, was notable historically as one of the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy (A.D. 500-850), which were later unified under Egbert of Wessex (c. 770-839) into the Kingdom of England. The -sex suffix indicates the Saxon areas, of people from Saxony; Sus-sex for south Saxon, Es-sex for east Saxon, Wes-sex for west Saxon, and Middle-sex, as opposed to the Anglia names, for the areas of the Angles, Anglos, who came from Angle-land in what is now Denmark. Ironically, Sussex is the most northern county in New Jersey.

Paleo Indians, and Native Americans

Sussex County was under the Wisconsin Glacier which lasted from 21,000 B.C to 13,000 B.C. The glacier covered all of Sussex County. This glacier covered the top of Kittatinny Mountain. End moraines are in Stokes State Forest, Augusta, Hampton Twp., and Andover Twp. After the Wisconsin Glacier melted due to a change in climate, plants and grasses slowly grew. The area was still cold, so the landscape was first Tundra and then changed to Taiga Biome/Boreal Forest. The Boreal forest was a coniferous forest in which spruce and other pine trees grew. Grasslands also grew, as the area had various flora communities. Water was still present from glacial melt. By 12,000 BC the glacier retreated to the Catskills and by 8000 BC the glacier was north of the St Lawrence River in Canada.  Between 8000 BC and 6000 BC Boreal and deciduous forests were growing. This is the time period that the Mastodons became extinct.

Mastodons roamed the area. Mastodons were found at Highland Lakes dated 8940 BC  200 years, in Swartswoods Lake, in Liberty Twp. dated 9045 BC  750 years, and Orange County, New York dated 7910 BC± 225 years and 8050 BC  160 years. Caribou bones were found at the Dutchess County Cave near Florida, New York. Paleo Indian sites have been found at the Zierdt site in Montague, the Plenge Site in Great Meadows and at the Harry’s Farm Site in Paraquarry Twp, Warren County, in which charcoal has been dated to 5430 BC 120 years.

Charcoal dated 8940 BC 50 years, has been found at the Paleo Indian camp on Broadhead Creek in Pennsylvania, near the Delaware River. This site is one of the earliest Paleo Indian sites in Eastern North America. The caribou bones found in a cave near Florida, New York, site dated 10,580 BC 370 years. This suggests that Paleo Indians lived in the Sussex County area as far back as 10,310 BC to 10,950 BC. Paleo Indians lived in small groups and followed game. They were hunter-gatherers who made fluted spear points of Jasper and black Chert. Their numbers were not large and this, along with the fact that their sites are several to many feet below the present ground level, is why Paleo Indian sites are hard to find.

The area warmed and deciduous forests began to grow around 8000 BC. Oaks, maples, birch, willows replaced the coniferous forests and big game became extinct. There are different reasons for this, such as over-hunting or lack of food. By 6000 BC the Coniferous forests were almost gone, except for hemlock trees. Different big game lived in that type of forest, such as deer, elk and moose.

Eventually, the Lenape settled in the area, though the time of their arrival is unknown. Before the Lenape arrived in Sussex County, other native Americans occupied the area. The Lenape lived in river valleys, in flat flood plains. They were hunter-gatherers. With the advent of clay pottery around 1200 BC and the bow and arrow around 800 to 1000 AD, the Lenape were intensively gathering, Populations increased faster. Many types of nuts were available to them such as acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beech nuts, chestnuts, and butternuts. Game was plentiful everywhere, such as deer, bear, elk, beaver and squirrels. Fish in the rivers were caught in nets or by hand and there was also shellfish.

The Lenape lived in long houses which were made of trees. These trees were cut down by fire. There was a small door at the end of the long house. In the roof there was a small hole to allow smoke to escape due to fires in the house.

By the time the Dutch and other Europeans arrived in the very late 17th century to early 18th century the region was settled by the Lenape. They were living in extended family camps which were near each other along the river valleys. These camps were fairly permanent although they may have migrated in search of food during different seasons. With the slow rise of agriculture around the year 1000, camps slowly became more stable. Population increased due to the ability to store food in pottery and procure game with the bow and arrow. The family clans were harmonious with each other. The Lenape had a trail that went from the Delaware River through Culvers Gap to Augusta, east of Newton, to Cranberry Lake and then to Stanhope. From there it probably went to Landing and to the Rockaway River near Rockaway. In Denville the trail may have divided, one going to Morristown and the other going to Parsippany (Philhower 1924). The Lenape trail is also shown on William Fadden’s map.

The Little Ice Age may have also affected settlement of Sussex County. Beginning in the early 17th century, winters became longer and summers shorter. Frosts lasted longer into the growing season and started earlier in the autumn. This would affect the growing of crops by settlers. Several years of crop failure or low production may have sent settlers back to the warmer climate of the coastal areas. The Kittatinny Valley and the Flatbrook Valley would have definitely been affected by the temperature change, as these areas are among the coldest in the state. This cold would also have affected Lenape populations, particularly due to corn crop failures, caused by early frosts in August or late frosts in June and the inability to fish due to the freezing of the rivers or lakes for long periods.

Various game went into a semi-hibernation during cold periods, which made hunting more difficult. Nut trees and nut crop production also would have been affected by the late frosts or freezes in May or June. All these factors would have resulted in starvation among the Native Americans. This Little Ice Age lasted until about 1850.

In 1664, the English gained control of New Netherland and relations with the Native Americans became better. Land purchases in the early 18th century and the Walking Purchase of 1737, in which 3 men started walking north on September 19, 1737, from Neshaminy Creek, Pa., northward. With them were three native Americans to observe. After a day and a half, one man walked past Port Jervis, New York area, in which the Native Americans were forced to sell all of this land, which was hundreds of square miles. This was land of all of eastern Pennsylvania. The Native Americans moved to the Ohio Valley or Canada. Due to this, relations with the English became poor. When the French and Indian War started in 1754, some Native Americans sided with the French.

By the 1750s, nearly all Native Americans were gone from Sussex County. This was due to the land purchases, starvation due to the Little Ice Age, or diseases that the Native Americans contacted from the Europeans. The Native Americans were separated from Asia and Europe for thousands of years and did not have immunities. Nearly half of Native Americans died from disease. During the 1750s the Native Americans moved to western Pennsylvania, the Ohio Valley and to Eastern Canada.

European Settlement

Between 1611 and 1614, three Dutchmen, A. Block, H. Christiaensen and C. Mey surveyed land between the 40th and 45th parallels along the Atlantic coast and named the area they surveyed New Netherlands. In 1614, a Dutch fort was established on Castle Island on the Hudson River near Albany, New York. This fort was called Fort Nassau. In 1615, three Dutchmen left Fort Nassau and traveled southwest to the Delaware River and followed the river downstream. In 1616 they were captured by Native Americans near the confluence of the Schuykill River and Delaware River, south of Easton, Pennsylvania. The route the three men traveled is unknown, but they may have traveled through Sussex County or Pennsylvania. This is the earliest record of Europeans traveling in or near Sussex County. In 1625, a Dutch fort was built on the southern end of Manhattan Island and named Fort Amsterdam.

Governor Kieft’s War of 1643 to 1645, the Esopus War of 1655 to 1660, and the Peach War of 1655 to 1657 would have prevented colonization of New Netherlands, which today is called Sussex County. There were also hostile relations between the Dutch and Native Americans.

On August 27, 1664, three English ships approached Fort Amsterdam and the fort was surrendered to the English. The English now controlled New Amsterdam and Sussex County was now under control of the colony of New York. Relations with the Native Americans improved for a while.

The French and Indian War started in 1754 and lasted until August 1765. The French wanted North America for the fur trade. Native Americans who were cheated out of their land by the English and other Europeans. Native Americans, the Lenape and the Shawnee sided with the French who promised them that their lands would be returned. Even though a treaty was signed on February 10, 1763 the war continued until August 1765, as communication was poor at the time This war had an effect on colonists who lived in Sussex County. Small forts or fortified homes made a line from Phillipsburg to the Port Jervis area. Seven fortified homes stood along the Delaware River in the Sussex County area from Walpack Bend to Port Jervis. These eight forts are shown on the map drawn by Jonathon Hampton in 1758.

Fort Reading was 12 miles (19 km) north of Easton, near Belvidere. The next was Col. Van Camps Fort, 18 miles (29 km) north of Fort Reading. Col. Van Camps Fort was just south of Walpack Bend. Fort Walpack was 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Van Camps Fort in the river bend at Walpack. Fort Shapnack, also called Head Quarters, was 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Fort Walpack. Fort Nominack was 8 mikes north near Nominack Island. Shipeconk Fort was 4 miles (6.4 km) north. Coles Fort was 8 miles (13 km) north of Shipeconk Fort. The most northern fort was Fort Gardner which was 12 miles (19 km) north of Fort Cole. Fort Gardner was near the NJ and NY state line. Later the line was drawn further south, so Fort Gardner is northeast of Port Jervis, New York. (NJCD and Kraft 1976). According to historians today there was sixteen forts or fortified homes. Indian raids took place on farms of colonists in western Sussex County, Pennsylvania and New York State along the Delaware River. Farm houses and barns were burned and people were killed. Due to this, settlement of Sussex County came to a halt as no colonists wanted to venture into the northwestern part of Sussex County during this war.

The first known settler was a blacksmith who purchased land from the Lenape near Port Jervis in 1698. He purchased land in New Jersey that later became part of New York State when the state border changed in 1769 to a place further south than what it was originally. The Lenape sold him the land as his skills as a blacksmith were highly valued, since he could make iron pots, axes, and knives that no Native American could make. After this, settlement probably occurred along the Delaware in Montague around 1705 to 1710. Settlement probably occurred in 1714 in Walpack and a church was built there in 1716.

Permanent farms started to appear in the flat areas of the county where the land was fertile and near streams for water. Some land was previously cleared by Native Americans, while other areas were natural fields due to natural fires or flora selection. Game was still plentiful, as were fish and waterfowl. Houses were built of stone or tree logs.

A map by William Fadden in 1778 shows several roads going through western Sussex County. The map does not show the Paraquarry Mine or a road that leads to the Paraquarry area. Instead the map shows a road that goes from the Port Jervis area south along the eastern side of the Delaware River to Minisink Island. At Minisink Island the road forks three ways. One road goes through Culver’s Gap. The second road goes south to the village of Walpack, where it turns west and crosses the Delaware River at Walpack Bend, continues along the western side of the Delaware River, and proceeds south. The third road crosses the Delaware at Minisink Island and goes along the western side of the Delaware River in a southward direction.

Civil War

During the Civil War, approximately 2000 residents entered Union service, per “Sons of Sussex”, a 2010 listing by Lisa E. Heuslein and John C. Rights available at the Sussex County Library in Frankford.

Seal of Flag

Location in the state of New Jersey

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