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99 ~ Before the Dutch Arrived


In Blog 2, I wrote about the early people who lived near Blawenburg. Recently I learned more about these people, so I have revised the original blog to share more information about our past. In this blog, I focus on the Lenni Lenape and refer to this Native American tribe as Lenni Lenape or Lenape.


When we think about the settlement of Montgomery Township (1702) and Blawenburg Village (1818), we usually think of the Dutch and English settlers. But these European immigrants were not the first to live on these lands. The original dwellers lived in this area thousands of years ago. It isn't clear whether the first inhabitants came from the west crossing to North America from Siberia or from Northern Europe across the frozen Arctic. There is much we don't know about the earliest inhabitants, but we do know that the early Lenni Lenape lived in the northeastern part of America over 12,000 years ago.


Lenni Lenape Time Periods

Archeologists have established three distinct periods of time when the Lenni Lenape and their ancestors lived in this area.


Paleo-Indians – 10,000 to 8,000 BC

Primitive Paleo-Indian Tools


These ancient ancestors lived over 12,000 years ago when it was very cold. There were no hardwood forests. Instead, they had marshlands, tundra, and evergreen trees. The animals in this area had adapted well to this cold. They were animals you might expect to live much farther north—woolly mammoth, mastodon, musk ox, caribou, and moose-elk.


Archaic Hunters, Fishers, and Gatherers – 8,000 to 1,000 BC

Archaic Hunter, Fishers and Gatherers tools


The second period was warmer, and descendants of Paleo-Indians migrated to the northeast from the south and west. While still quite primitive, these people brought new ideas for tools and weapons. They sought shelter in caves and other rock formations


The Woodland Period - 1,000 BC to 1,600 AD 

 This period was one of advancement for the Lenape. The climate warmed, enabling hardwood trees to develop into forests filled with animals they used for food, clothing, and shelter materials. There was an advancement in horticulture, and they were the first known group to engage in farming. They ate better and lived longer than their ancestors. When we see depictions of the Lenape, it is likely this group that is referenced.


The Historic Period - 1600 AD

When the European explorers, who were originally from the Netherlands, Sweden, and England, first settled in America, they brought substantial change to the Lenape tribes. There were vast differences in the lifestyle between the explorers/settlers and the Lenape, which led to friction between the people. For example, the Lenape believed that no one owned the land. They said owning land did not differ from owning the air or water. The immigrants wanted to own land, so they made deals with the Lenape, got land grants from the British leaders, or just took over Lenape lands.


Evidence of Local Early Dwellers

There is evidence in neighboring Hillsborough of early human tools and mammoths, so it is likely Montgomery Township had earlier settlers than current history reveals. The Hopewell Museum has an artifact that looks like a spear tip or an arrowhead that is carbon dated to 7,000 BC. Over 30 years ago, a collection of arrowheads found on the Ten Broeck farm in Montgomery Township was donated anonymously to the Van Harlingen Historical Society. They were professionally assessed and found to be mainly from the Late Woodlands period—1000 AD. - 1600 AD. Some arrowheads were found to be from several distinct time periods, from 3,500 to 2,500 BC.

Who Were the Lenni Lenape?


Who Were the Lenni Lenape?

Map of Lenapehoking


There were three native American families east of the Mississippi River—the Iroquois, the Algonquin and the Mohican. The Lenape tribe is a division of the Algonquin Nation and there are subdivisions of the Lenape. Collectively, these Lenape subtribes were called the Delaware tribe. They lived in New Jersey, New York, southwestern Connecticut, eastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware. There were three subtribes in New Jersey:

  • Munsee or Minsi in North Jersey, "people of the stony country"

  • Unami in Central Jersey and South Jersey, "people down the river"

  • Unalachtigo at the Jersey shore, "people who live near the ocean"


Each tribe had their own seal represented by an animal in their area.

  • Munsee - wolf

  • Unami - turtle

  • Unalachtigo - turkey


In recent times the seals were combined into one seal for the Delaware tribe, which still exists, to show the seals of their Lenape ancestors.

A recent Delaware tribe seal showing the wolf, turtle, and turkey symbols.


While Lenape ancestors live in many areas today, two remaining tribes live in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.


Lenape means "true people" and they call their homelands Lenapehoking. There are many reports that a Lenape village was close to Blawenburg near Washington Well Farm on Route 518 next to Bedens Brook.


These subtribes were not political. In fact, they were not one unified group. They lived in smaller groups, close to rivers and tributaries. In addition to Bedens Brook, Lenape may have had encampments near Rock Brook north of Blawenburg. They would live in their villages in the winter, early spring, and into early fall. Then they would migrate to the cooler shore in the warmer weather to fish and raise vegetables.


Because of their improved horticultural knowledge, the Lenape near Blawenburg would farm the small valleys between Blawenburg Ridge (Route 518) and Sourland Mountain to the north and between Princeton Ridge and Blawenburg Ridge to the south. They had three major crops: corn (maze), squash, and beans, which they called "Three Sisters".


The early Lenape people had no written language. They relied on oral communication to tell their stories. Within the subtribes of the Lenape, there were different dialects, so the Unami may not have understood the Munsee when they met.


They also left pictograms and stone carvings of important things in their lives. Since the 1800s, archaeologists have sought Lenni Lenape artifacts. The earliest evidence of their living here is from 12,000 years ago. If you think of world history, the Lenni Lenape were active long before the pyramids in Egypt (2500 BC) or the Aztec pyramids in Mexico (900 BC) were built. They lived in the northeastern United States longer than any other known group of immigrants to this day.

The Lenape wore blankets or animal skins to cover their upper body, deerskins fastened to their legs with thongs, and deerskin moccasins. They liked to decorate their attire with quills and wampum beads.


Lenape houses were called wigwams. They used saplings for the basic frame and covered the exterior with bark or mats made of cattails. Families lived together in the same wigwam. If the family was large, they would build a similar, but larger, house known as a long house.


Lifestyle Changes

The Lenape were generally a peaceful group. Having only other Lenape around for centuries, they got along. When the settlers arrived and the Lenape had to live in ever-changing proximity, conflicts arose. The Dutch were the first to arrive and live among the Manhatta Indians in what is now Manhattan. Next came the English, who took control of the colony. The Dutch immigrants moved south and west into north and central New Jersey. As the immigrants moved into new lands, more Lenape were displaced and more problems occurred. Their different views of land ownership were the big cause of friction.


But the biggest problem for the Lenape was the diseases the Europeans brought to America. They had no exposure, thus no immunity, to diseases like measles, typhus, and smallpox. Once exposed, large numbers of Lenape died. The introduction of guns and alcohol by the Europeans also had detrimental effects for the Lenape.


These factors led to the decline of the Lenape. When the Dutch became established in the 1600s, the Lenape population had dropped to about 2,000. Some European immigrants viewed this decline as happening "at the hand of God". They viewed the Lenape as heathens, "disciples of the Devil".


This feeling about the Lenape promoted violence by some immigrants. In 1643, Governor Willem Kiefy from the Netherlands approved the massacre of Munsees near

Hackensack and the Manhatta in New Amsterdam (now New York). Eighty Munsees and 30 Manhatta were killed.


By the first half of the 18th century, land speculators combed Somerset County and "acquired" blocks of land through grants from the English leadership. The land speculators also made deals with the remaining Lenape to get land very inexpensively. In the Blawenburg area, many Lenape abandoned their land before the speculators sold property to the Dutch farmers. In the early to mid-1700s, the Blawenburg settlement farmers were Nevius (later Van Zandt), Blaw, and Covenhoven. When they arrived, the Lenape had moved west and north. Ultimately, groups settled in Canada and Oklahoma.


The only lasting contribution remaining in Blawenburg from the days when the Lenni Lenape lived nearby is the road that is the backbone of the village. It has gone by different names at different times—County Route 518, Blawenburg-Rocky Hill Road, and Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike. But this road was established by the Lenni Lenape many hundreds of years ago. Known as the Wissamonson Path, it began at the Delaware River near Trenton, came north on Route 31, traveled through what is Main Street in Pennington, turned east on what is now Route 654 into Hopewell, merged with Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike through Blawenburg, and on to Rocky Hill.


The European arrival in the early 1600s interrupted the peace enjoyed by the Lenni Lenape. Their Lenapehoking lands were taken, disease claimed many lives, and they were ultimately displaced. This is not a new story. It was repeated in other areas among other Native American tribes and nations, as immigrants felt they had greater rights than the people who first lived in America. The effects of this disruption are still felt today among Native Americans. Humans have a real problem getting along and sharing their bounty with others.



  1. In 1832, the Lenni Lenape accepted $2,000 to relinquish their hunting and fishing rights in Somerset County.

  2. publications in the 19th century, people referred to all Native Americans as savages. Even the US Constitution referred to them in this way.

  3. The Unami liked to travel seasonally, seeking food and cool water near the ocean in the summertime. Sound familiar? I wonder if they said they were going "down the shore" when they traveled east in the summer?

  4. Take a look at the Wikipedia site below. It lists towns that were named from Lenape language with their meanings. For example:  Metuchen means "dry firewood", and Raritan may have meant "river behind the island" or "forked river".





"Arrowheads and Other Lenape Artifacts," Van Harlingen Historian, Newsletter of the Van Harlingen Historical Society, Belle Mead, NJ, Fall, 2021, p 4-5.


Clark, Grace, Havens, Jessie, and Hoagland, Stewart, Somerset County 1688-1938: A Chronology with Tales from the Past, A Bicentennial Project sponsored by the Somerset Messenger-Gazette and Ray Bateman and Associates, January 1976.




Kraft, John. "Learning Lenape."

"Lenni Lenape, The Indians of Central New Jersey from the Unpublished Manuscript of the Late Andrew D. Mellick, Jr." Somerset County History Quarterly, Somerset County, NJ, V1, 1912, p14-23.

Luce, T. J., New Jersey's Sourland Mountain, Sourland Planning Council, 2001

Smith, Taylor, "Lenni Lenape: The Original Residents of New Jersey," Princeton Magazine, Princeton, NJ, 2021.

Walker, Edwin R. Indians, “The Lenni Lenape,” An address before the New Jersey Historical Society of Newark, October 31, 1917.



Lenape house - West Philadelphia Collaborative History

Three images of early tools:


Editor—Barb Reid

Copyright © 2024 by David Cochran.  All rights reserved.






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