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New Jersey Indian Land Cessions

 Native American Nations | Indian Land Cessions in the United States                   

It may be stated at the outset that, as a general rule, the policy adopted by the proprietors and settlers of the province of New Jersey, in dealing with the Indians in regard to their lands, was just and equitable, though passing, in the course of its history, under different governments. Occasional injustice was done, and complaints were made by the natives, but a disposition was generally manifested on the part of the authorities to amend the error. During the contests between the Dutch and the Swedes, it is probable that the rights of natives were not as strictly observed as they should have been; nevertheless, the contending claims were all to some degree based on purchases or pretended purchases from them.

The Dutch, as has been shown in the section relating to New York, usually purchased of the Indians the lands they wished to occupy. Whether this rule was observed in taking possession in 1623 (or 1624) of the land on which Fort Nassau (near Gloucester) was built, does not appear from any records examined.

In 1627 (according to some authors, later according to others) the Swedes made their appearance in this region, and soon thereafter purchased of "some Indians (but whether of such as had the proper right to convey is not said) the land from Cape Inlopen to the Falls of Delaware, on both sides the river, which they called New Swedeland stream; and made presents to the Indian chiefs, to obtain peaceable possession of the land so purchased."1

There is, however, considerable doubt as to the correctness of this statement, as George Smith2 asserts that the Swedes made no settlements on the Delaware until after 1631.

It appears that during the contest between the Dutch and the Swedes, each party decided to pursue the policy of obtaining additional grants of lands from the Indians as the one most likely to strengthen its claim upon the river. There is evidence that both parties conceded the possessory right to be _in the natives, and, although using it for selfish purposes, respected it. As the policy of the Dutch, who gained and hell control of the province until it was acquired by the English in 1664, has been referred to under New York, it is unnecessary to add further evidence on this point.

The province having been granted to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, they appointed Philip Carteret as governor. Although there was no provision in the concessions for bargaining with the Indians, Governor Carteret, on his arrival, thought it prudent to purchase their rights. He ordered that all settlers were either to purchase of the Indians themselves, or if the lands had been purchased before, they were to pay their proportions. In 1672 particular instructions were given that the governor and council should purchase all lands from the Indians, and be reimbursed by the settlers as they obtained grants or made purchases from the proprietors. This course had the effect to render the Indians, as a general rule, quiet and peaceable neighbors during the early days of the colony. By "The concessions and agreements of the proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants," March 3, 1676, which was substantially a constitution, it is agreed (chap. xxvi):

When any lands is to be taken up for settlements of towns, or other ways, before it be surveyed, the commissioners or the major part of them, are to appoint some persons to go to the chief of the natives concerned in that land, so intended to be taken up, to acquaint the natives of their intentions, and to give the natives what present they shall agree upon, for their good will or consent; and take a grant of the same in writing, under their hands and seals, or some other public way used in those parts of the world: Which grant is to be registered in the public register, allowing also the natives (if they please) a copy thereof; and that no person or. persons take up any land, but y order from the commissioners, for the time being.3

In a memorial by the proprietors of East New Jersey, addressed to. the Lords of Trade in 16997 they ask, among other things, that "the proprietors shall have the sole privilege as always hath been practiced of purchasing from the Indians, all such land lying within East Jersey, as yet remain unpurchased from them." This request was granted. The same request was repeated in 1701 by East Jersey and West Jersey jointly.

In 1677 commissioners were sent by the proprietors of West Jersey with power to buy lands of the natives; to inspect the rights of such as claimed property, etc. On September 10 of the same year they made a purchase of the lands from Timber creek to Rankokas creek; on September 27, from Oldman's creek to Timber creek, and on October 10, from Rankokas creek to Assunpink. In 1703 another purchase was made by the council of West Jersey of land lying above the falls of the Delaware; another at the head of Rankokas river, and several purchases afterward, including the whole of the lands worth taking up, except a few plantations reserved to the Indians.4 Previous to this, in 1693, Jeremiah Bass, attorney for then West Jersey Society, made a purchase on their behalf of the lands between Cohansick creek and Morris river. Other purchases, not necessary to be mentioned here, were made before and afterward.

The two divisions having been united into one province in 1702, by order of Queen Anne, Lord Cornbury was appointed governor. One of the numerous instructions given him is as follows: "You shall not permit any other person or persons besides the said general proprietors or their agents to purchase any land whatsoever from the Indians within the limits of their grant."

In 1703 the following act was passed:

AN ACT for regulating the purchasing of land from the Indians.

Whereas, several ill disposed persons within this province have formerly presumed to enter into treaties with the Indians or natives thereof, and have purchased lands from them, such person or persons deriving no title to any part of the soil thereof under the Crown of England, or any person or persons claiming by, from or under the same, endeavoring thereby to subvest her Majesty's dominions in this country.

SEC. 1. Be it therefore enacted by the Governor, Council and General Assembly, note met and assembled, and by authority of the same, That no person or persons what so ever, forever hereafter, shall presume to buy, take a gift of, purchase in fee, take a mortgage, or lease for life or number of years, from any Indians or natives for any tract or tracts of lands within this province, after the first day of December, 1703, without first obtaining a certificate under the hand of the proprietor's recorder for the time being, certifying such person path a right, and stands entitled to a propriety, or share in a propriety, such person or persons shall produce such certificate to the governor for the time being, in order to obtain a license to purchase such quantities of land or number of acres from the Indians or natives aforesaid, as such certificate mentions.

SEC. 2. Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall presume to buy, purchase, take gift, or mortgage, or lease of any land, contrary to this present act, he or they so offending shall forfeit forty shillings, money of this province for each acre of land so obtained, to be recovered by any person or persons who shall prosecute the same to effect, by action of debt, in any court of record within this province, one half to the use of her Majesty, her heirs and successors, towards the support of the government, and the other to the prosecutor: Provided always. That such purchasers, their heirs and assigns shall forever hereafter be incapable to hold plea for the said land in any court of common law or equity.5

The Indian troubles in :Pennsylvania having caused fear among the people of New Jersey in regard to the disposition of the natives of this colony, and some complaints having been made by them in reference to certain lands, the legislature, in 1756, appointed commissioners to examine into the treatment the Indians had received. In 1757 an act was passed to remedy the grievances by laying a penalty upon persons selling strong drink to them, and declaring all Indian sales or pawns for drink void; that no Indian should be imprisoned for debt; that no traps of larger weight than 3 pounds should be set, and that all sales or leases of lands by the Indians, except in accordance with said act, should be void.

As the Indians specified quite a number of tracts which had been purchased, and others which had not been properly obtained, the commissioners, by the following act, passed in 1758, were authorized to purchase and settle these claims:

AN ACT to empower certain persons to purchase the claims of the Indians to land in this colony.
Whereas, it is the inclination of the legislature of this colony to settle and establish a good agreement and understanding with the Indians who do and have inhabited the same. And as the satisfying their just and reasonable demands will be a necessary step thereto; and as a strict and minute inquiry into their several claims will be attended with great difficulty expense and delay.

SEC. 1. Be it enacted by the Governor, Council and General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same. That it shall and may be lawful to and for the treasurers of this colony, or either of them, to pay unto the honorable Andrew Johnston, Richard Salter, esquires, Charles Read, John Stevens, William Foster and Jacob Spicer, esquires, who are hereby appointed commissioners on the part of New Jersey for this purpose, or any three of them, out of any money in their hands, which now is or hereafter shall be made current for the service of the present war, such sum and sums of money as they may find necessary to purchase the right and claim of all or any of the Indian natives of this colony, to and for the rise of the freeholders in this colony, their heirs and assigns forever, so that, the sum expended in the whole exceed not sixteen hundred pounds, proclamation money, and that the sum expended in the purchase of the claims of the Delaware Indians, now inhabiting near Cranberry, and to the southward of Raritan river, shall not exceed one half of, the said sum: And the receipts of the said commissioners, or any three of them, when produced, shall discharge them, the said treasurers, or either of them, their executors and administrators, for so much as they, or either of them, shall pay out of the treasury y virtue of this act.

3. And whereas, the Indians south of Raritan river, have represented their inclination to have part of the sum allowed them laid out in land whereon they may settle and raise their necessary subsistence: In order that they may be gratified in that particular, and that they may have always in their view a lasting monument of the justice and tenderness of this colony towards them:

Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the commissioners aforesaid, or any three of them, with the approbation and consent of his Excellency the governor, or the governor or commander in chief for the time being, shall purchase some convenient tract of land for their settlement, and shall take a deed or deeds in the name of his said Excellency or commander in chief of this colony for the time being, and of the commissioners and their heirs, in trust, for the use of the said Indian natives who have or do reside in this colony, south of Raritan, and their successors forever: Provided nevertheless, That it shall not be in the power of the said Indians, or their successors, or any part of them to lease or sell to any person or persons any part thereof. And if any person or persons, Indians excepted, shall attempt to settle on the said tract or tracts, it shall and may be lawful for any justice of the peace to issue his warrant to remove any such person or persons from the land. And if any person or persons Indians excepted, shall fell, cut up, or cart off, any cedar, pine or oak trees, such person or persons shall forfeit and pay, for each tree so felled cut up or carted off, the sum of forty shillings, to be recovered before any justice of the peace in this colony, or other court where the same is cognizable, one half to and for the use of his Majesty, his heirs and successors to and for the support of government of this colony, and the other half to such persons as shall prosecute the same to effect.6

In pursuance of this act, the commissioners did obtain releases and grants from the Indians fully extinguishingi as is stated by different authorities, their claims to all lands in the colony.

From the facts set forth above, nearly all of which are matters of official record, it is apparent that the policy adopted and carried out by this colony was just and honorable. Not only were all the lands purchased from the native occupants, but in cases of subsequent disputes and claims the wiser course of yielding in part and buying out these claims was adopted. As a consequence, the people of New Jersey, as a general rule, dwelt in peace and safety when Indian wars were raging in the contiguous colonies.

1 Samuel smith, History of the Colony of Nova Caesaria, or New Jersey (reprint), p. 22.
2 History of Delaware county, Pennsylvania.
3 Smith's History of New Jersey, p. 533.
4 Ibid., pp. 94, 95.
5 Laws of Colonial and State Governments in Regard to Indian Affairs (1832),p. 133.
6 Laws of Colonial and State Governments in Regard to Indian Affairs (1832), p. 135.

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First annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-80

Indian Land Cessions in the United States


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