Native sense

Title of a map of New Netherland, New England and part of Virginia, from John Ogilby’s America (1671).

WILLIAM A. Whitehead’s East Jersey under the Proprietary Governments1 opens with a map of New Jersey, but a map of long and complicated pedigree. Its placement at the front of this octavo volume is itself a cause of some perplexity.

The frontispiece was lithographed from the meticulous pen-and-ink tracing of a section of a much larger production, comprehending an expanse of territory far more vast than what is shown in East Jersey. That more extensive map, engraved for John Ogilby’s folio volume America, an English translation published in London in 16712 of Arnoldus Montanus’s De Nieuwe en Onbekeende Weereld, preceded Whitehead’s book by 175 years. It delineated the entire coastline from New England south to Virginia, incorporating diverse if highly fanciful depictions of rivers, forests and wildlife in the North American interior.3

The Ogilby map, in turn, drew unapologetically from some of the finest New World cartography of the Dutch golden age: it was taken without acknowledgement from Montanus whose model, which accompanied Adriaen van der Donck’s Beschryvinge van Nieuw-Nederlandt printed in Amsterdam in 1656, derived from the work of Claes (Nicolaes) Visscher issued the previous year. Visscher for his part had copied Jan Jansson’s ca. 1650 prototype, itself engraved from a 1648 manuscript map by van der Donck.4

As the principal goals of this mapping tradition had been to advance the colonial ambitions of the Dutch in the Nieuwe Wereld and to impede the competition of their English rivals,5 the decision to perpetuate it at the head of Whitehead’s volume seems ironic. Only Whitehead’s first 30 pages treat directly the period of Dutch dominion, which ended in 1664 when New Netherland yielded permanently (except for a fleeting restoration in 1673-1674) to English rule. It’s more mystifying still that, other than the name of the ill-starred Pavonia settlement in inconspicuously tiny type, the map shows virtually no evidence of Dutch presence or interest in the lands that were to become New Jersey.

Map of New Jersey from Whitehead’s East Jersey under the Proprietary Governments (1846), derived chieflly from the work of Adriaen van der Donck.

What populate the map instead are Indigenous names–group designations that date even further back in the Dutch cartographic tradition, to maps by some of the first Netherlanders to explore these territories and trade with the Indians living in them. The adequacy and accuracy of these markers of Native presence were, even by Whitehead’s day, very much subject to doubt. By thus invoking New Jersey’s first inhabitants, Whitehead signalled that his treatment might embrace those inhabitants’ pre-contact history and customs–something it would not, however, attempt to do.

Almost four years before publication of East Jersey under the Proprietary Governments, Whitehead had written two articles on the Indians of New Jersey for the Newark Daily Advertiser. Much of the first article, which was dedicated to the Dutch and English proprietary periods, he incorporated into his monograph. However, Whitehead centered his studies not on the Indians per se, but on the colonists whose transactions with Native leaders constitute much of the province’s early history.6

Even in the bloodier period of Dutch rule, these transactions consisted mostly of peaceful transfers of land to white settlers, who paid Indians in wampum and European-made trade goods, recording the exchanges in written deeds. In 1630, under patent from the Dutch West India Company, Michiel Pauw by such a purchase “secured an interest” in lands along the west shore of the Hudson river.7 This tract, which he named Pavonia, included Staten Island and the southern half of what became Hudson County. Pauw’s venture was less than successful, and his title reverted to the West India Company. By a 1659 deed, the Dutch obtained a far more extensive tract that included Pavonia; this time Whitehead remarked on the compensation made to the Indians, “sufficiently trifling under any circumstances,” and felt they’d allowed themselves to be swindled.8 When the prevailing peace between Natives and settlers was shattered, it was, Whitehead wrote, due to “the misconduct of the colonists.” The Indians of Pavonia, “more humane than their civilized opponents, spared the women and children” when retaliating for atrocities committed by the Dutch in 1643.9

Land transfers from Indians to colonists continued after the English conquest of New Netherland. Indian deeds proliferated, although the rules under which they could be legally obtained were hotly contested. In Whitehead’s view the English treatment of Natives within the Jerseys, “whatever it may have been elsewhere,” showed “humanity and forbearance.”10

The proprietaries evinced no disposition to deprive the natives of their lands without making, what to their untutored minds seemed adequate remuneration; they protected them from frauds by requiring all purchases of land to be made through the governor and council, and encouraged the exercise of justice, humanity and conciliation in all intercourse with them.11

Such policies were not adopted, however, with Native interests foremost in mind. As instructions to the governor made plain, “a Christian carriage” toward the Natives would “prove beneficial to the planters, and likewise advantageous to the propagation of the Gospel.”12 Settlers’ resistance to heightened regulation, centralization and enforcement of fees by the colonial administration was a thread in Whitehead’s chronicle of East Jersey in the seventeenth century, destined to dominate New Jersey affairs in the eighteenth. Whitehead says nothing, however, of the degree to which the increased restrictions on Indian purchases negatively affected Natives’ ability to secure favorable terms for their lands.13

To the colonial mind, the Natives existed only to facilitate European occupation: in the colonizing literature they were “uniformly mentioned,” observes Whitehead, “as being a benefit rather than an injury to the new settlements, furnishing furs, skins and game, the obtainment of which, without their intervention, would have been attended with difficulty and much loss of time.”14 But in rendering these services Indian traders exposed themselves, their families and their associates to deadly microbes from which they had no natural safeguards. The waves of mass mortality that followed didn’t go unnoticed, though they were poorly understood, and the depopulation of Indian territory certainly contributed to those appeals that circulated among prospective colonists acclaiming “the abundance of land, and the ease with which it can be obtained.”15

Shortly after its founding, and a year before its publication of Whitehead’s study, the New Jersey Historical Society circulated a request for information on an ambitious array of subjects. Among these were the “Indian tribes” that had once made their home within the boundaries of the modern state. The Society welcomed whatever could be learned of “their character, customs, and general history, or when they finally disappeared from the country.”16 Whitehead, with his unparalleled knowledge and unfettered access to colonial-era materials, was well placed to respond to such an appeal. His object, however, was to trace the development of the province and, along the way, “its advancement in the various concomitants of civilization,”17 so that he probably lacked, with other historians of his time, the tools and sensitivities to treat justly those who had stood in civilization’s path.

In Whitehead’s lifetime, the numbers of New Jersey’s surviving Indigenous groups had long been negligible, but the plight of Native people was an abiding concern nationwide. American jurisprudence had stripped from Indians the full property rights that colonial authorities by and large recognized. A concerted, if highly controversial, policy of Indian Removal had succeeded the haphazard displacement of Indigenous people by land sales and their devastation by epidemic diseases. And in Florida, Whitehead had seen first-hand the effects of a war to dispossess its Native population.

It is far from clear that the traumatic changes faced by Indian societies in the seventeenth century would have yielded much to the historical methods of the nineteenth, or that Whitehead could have undertaken the study of such a distant past in isolation from present prejudices, and from the traumas of a past far less remote.

Copyright © 2021 Gregory J. Guderian

[1] William A. Whitehead, East Jersey under the proprietary governments: a narrative of events connected with the settlement and progress of the province, until the surrender of the government to the Crown in 1702(hereafter Whitehead, East Jersey) (Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, 1. [New York] 18461, Newark 18752).

[2] John Ogilby, America: being the latest, and most accurate description of the nevv vvorld; containing the original of the inhabitants, and the remarkable voyages thither, the conquest of the vast empires of Mexico and Peru, and other large provinces and territories, with the several European plantations in those parts. Also their cities, fortresses, towns, temples, mountains, and rivers. Their habits, customs, manners, and religions. Their plants, beasts, birds, and serpents. With an appendix, containing, besides several other considerable additions, a brief survey of what hath been discover’d of the unknown south-land and the Arctick region (London 1671).

[3] The bound manuscript of East Jersey, among Whitehead’s papers gathered in Manuscript Group 144 at the New Jersey Historical Society, includes a tracing of the Ogilby map that Whitehead, in a close approximation of his model, entitled: “New Jersey, taken from a map entitled ‘NOVI BELGII Quod nunc NOVI JORCK vocatur, NOVÆ q; ANGLIÆ & Partis Virginiæ Accuratissima et Novissima Delineatio’ in Ogilby’s America printed in 1671.” The map printed at the front of Whitehead’s volume shows perhaps only half the territory in this tracing, which encompasses lands from near Albany in the north to Cape Henlopen in the south, and from the Susquehanna in the west to the Housatonic (here called “Rodenberghs Rivier”) in the east.

[4] The above necessarily oversimplifies the map’s lineage, explored in detail but not always conclusively by I. N. Phelps Stokes, The iconography of Manhattan island 1498-1909 (6 vols. New York 1915-1928) 1:142-148.

[5] See Benjamin Schmidt, “Mapping an empire: cartographic and colonial rivalry in seventeenth-century Dutch and English North America,” The William and Mary quarterly 54:3 (July 1997) 549-578.

[6] G. P., “Glimpses of the past in New Jersey. No. XII – The Indians,” Newark (N.J.) daily advertiser 22 April 1842 (hereafter Whitehead, “Glimpses, No. XII”) 2:1-2; idem, “Glimpses of the past in New Jersey. No. XIII – The Indians,” Newark daily advertiser 26 April 1842 2:1. Insertion into Barber and Howe’s popular Historical Collections of these and others of Whitehead’s early writings must have appreciably broadened their audience, though without credit to their anonymous author: see John W. Barber and Henry Howe, Historical collections of the state of New Jersey; containing a general collection of the most interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc. relating to its history and antiquities, with geographical descriptions of every township in the state (New York 18441), esp. 59-63. Most nineteenth-century New Jerseyans’ knowledge of their Indigenous predecessors was limited to what could be learned from Samuel Smith, The history of the colony of Nova-Cæsaria, or New-Jersey: containing, an account of its first settlement, progressive improvements, the original and present constitution, and other events, to the year 1721. With some particulars since; and a short view of its present state (Burlington, N.J. 1765) 135-150. Smith’s portrayal of Native culture and character was likewise incorporated by Barber and Howe into their Historical Collections 52-59.

[7] Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 17-18, (18752) 18-19.

[8] “It is remarkable that intercourse with the traders had not rendered the natives less liable to be captivated by the articles used in traffic with them, and more observant of the value set upon them by the whites in comparison with the lands they coveted.” Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 21, (18752) 23.

[9] Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 27, (18752) 30. Cf. Whitehead, “Glimpses, No. XII” 2:1.

[10] Whitehead, “Glimpses, No. XII” 2:1.

[11] Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 50, (18752) 58.

[12] Whitehead, “Glimpses, No. XII” 2:1. Cf. Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 50 n.51, (18752) 58 n.1.

[13] Whitehead, “Glimpses, No. XII” 2:1-2. Cf. Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 65-66, (18752) 81-82.

[14] Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 50, (18752) 57.

[15] Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 13, (18752) 14.

[16] Constitution and by-laws of the New Jersey Historical Society. With the circular of the Executive Committee. (Founded February 27th, 1845.) ([n.c.,] 1845) 19.

[17] Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 159, (18752) 233.

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