«HACKENSACK - HERITAGE TO HORIZONS PUBLISHED BY: THE HACKENSACK BICENTENNIAL COMMITTEE TERRY LARK, EDITOR DR. IRWIN TALBOT, PHD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR ...»
The Lenni Lenapes celebrated a feast similar to Thanksgiving long before any settlers arrived here. The "Annual Ceremony" was held in mid-October at the close of the harvest season. Its purpose was to worship and give thanks to lesser gods and to the Great Manito, god of the harvest, for his goodness throughout the year.
The Ceremony was held in the Big House, a huge bark-covered structure, used exclusively for this event. Since 12 was the Indian's sacred number, the celebration lasted 12 consecutive nights and parts of those days. It centered around 12 masks carved on poles to represent the gods occupying the 12 super-imposed heavens. On different days various rituals were observed by singing, dancing, eating hominy - corn mush - and the animals which the hunters had killed.
When the ceremonies ended, deer skins were distributed to old men and women to fashion moccasins for themselves. The Big House was then closed until the next year.
Lenape Nation About Oratam...
In the 1600s the Colonial Dutch settlers of New Jersey were a shrewd lot of traders and businessmen, but our local Indians produced at least one able leader who could meet them on even terms. He was Oratam, Chief of the Hackensack tribe, a notable man in his day. His profile is shown on the 1976 Bicentennial medallion and through the years has been used as a symbol of the City of Hackensack.
Oratam was an able debater, who quickly recognized that the Dutch were not particularly interested in bloodshed or fighting. By using his knowledge and influence among his own people and often irritable neighboring tribesmen, he was able to negotiate some shrewd bargains with the settlers, including the famous Peter Stuyvesant of Manhattan.
Liquor was the major source of many Indian troubles, therefore the Dutch made an-all out attempt to prevent its sale to the natives. One law, strictly enforced, kept an Indian in jail until he told who sold him the alcohol so the seller could be prosecuted. The Netherlanders, however, were somewhat tolerant and had no objections to Indians drinking as they pleased in remote places in the woods; where they were not so apt to endanger others with knife or gun Long before the advent of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, Oratam became the New
World's first Prohibition agent. His 1622 Commission from the Dutch read in part:
“Whereas, Oratam, Chief of the Hackinghesacky, and other savages, a have complained that selfish people...do carry whole ankers of brandy into their country and peddle it out there from the Director-General and Council of New Netherland, not knowing for the present a better way to stop it, authorise the said Chief... to seize the brandy...and those offering to sell it and bring them here, that they may be punished as an example to others."
As Chief of the Hackensacks, Oratam was a prudent and wise leader who could be decisive when others prompted war and was highly regarded by the Dutch Rulers as well as his fellow Indians.
Oratam lived to the age of 90, dying in 1667; three years after the British had chased the Dutch out of this area.
Indian life was obviously affected by the arrival of the Europeans. Diseases, to which the Indians were not immune, were brought into Bergen County by the settlers. The newcomers cleared the forests to provide wood to build New York City and to supply logs for heat. In their way of life, Indians - our first ecologists - only took what they needed from nature. The settlers were saddened by the fact that the Indians eventually found it necessary to leave this area.
On March 12, 1932, the Legislature in Trenton received a letter from a Lenape, a document that ranks among our great State papers. The following sentences are part of that letter “Not a drop of our blood have you spilled in battle. Not an acre of our land have you taken, but by our consent." The last sentence reads, "Nothing but benison can fall upon her (New Jersey) from the lips of a Lenni Lenape."
Chapter III Hackensack's early settlers...
The first European settlers here were Dutch prospectors coming under the direction of the Dutch West India Company. Men and women from Sweden had also come to New Jersey, but from 1655, when New Netherlands conquered New Sweden, until 1664, the whole of New Jersey was completely under Dutch control.
After Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River in the Half Moon, the Dutch people began filtering into this area because of their desire to trade with the Indians, knowing that furs could be sold in Europe at high prices. In 1614 the Dutch Government, claiming exclusive rights to all traffic in the Hudson River and the surrounding areas, named this territory New Netherlands.
In 1660 they built New Jersey's first settlement, a village named Bergen, on a hill now known as Jersey City Heights. By 1661 this trading post was so crowded it did not have any space inside of its fortifications to place more buildings. Bergen is believed to have received its name from Bergen Op Zoom, an important town on the River Scheldt in Holland.
In 1664 the British began their conquest of New Netherlands and, after a brief struggle against the Dutch, the territory was conceded to England by the States General of Holland. The English were prepared to fight but war was avoided since the Dutch preferred a negotiated surrender.
Late that same year King Charles II of Britain made a most generous grant to his own brother, James, Duke of York, deeding to him a large land tract, New Jersey! The English set up their government, claiming that John Cabot, an Italian navigator in the service of England, discovered this land in 1497.
The Duke of York's grantees, Lord John Berkeley, and Sir George Carteret, seem to have had natural talents as real estate developers when they enthused about their land in a remarkable brochure, "Grants and Concessions," (sometimes called "The Magna Charta of New Jersey") which promised religious freedom to men and women, land ownership, right of assembly, and most of the other civil rights which form the basis of our legal codes in New Jersey in 1976.
In this immediate area a grant of more than 5,000 acres was made in July of 1668 to planters from Barbadoes. Included in the award were the lands between the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, 7 miles along their banks from the junction near Newark. Later, another 6 miles was added by a second grant, subsequently known as New Barbadoes Neck. New plantations started by these men helped them become influential men in the colony. By 1676 a Hackensack land grant was made.
In 1693 the Township of Hackensack was formed. This included all lands between the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers all the way to Bergen Township's boundaries. Curiously, Hackensack today is actually beyond these old boundaries. [Click here for more on Hackensack’s original boundaries].
The fact that the British had conquered New Netherlands made surprisingly little change. The people were expected to swear allegiance to the English King, which most did willingly. Many even welcomed a change in government because the iron-handed rule of the Dutch Director Generals was not pleasing to the rather independent settlers.
The English conquest started a whole new method of government, as exemplified by the establishment of counties within New Jersey in 1682. For the first time individual citizens enjoyed a government brought closer to them. One of the first four counties to be designated was Bergen. Its boundary lines ran from the New York State line to the north, down to Newark and Newark Bay to the south, the lands between the Hudson River to the east and the Hackensack to the west. In 1709 the western boundary was extended to the Passaic River.
The creation of the counties brought into being in 1693 a new political body, the General Assembly. Inhabitants now could select two citizens from each county to represent their interests in the Assembly, a semi-legislative body. By giving the people a taste of direct, representative government, the British unwittingly planted the seed of a desire for complete independence!
"The Proprietors of East Jersey," under British rule, granted large tracts of land in this area to wealthy speculators, some of whom had been associated with the Island of Barbados in the West Indies. One of them, Captain John Berry, received in June of 1699 the land which today is most of the present City of Hackensack. His first grant extended a distance of 2 miles along the river and by a later grant he acquired other lands north of Hoboken in Bergen Township.
The Green, the gift of John Berry of 2 3/4 acres of land to the residents of Hackensack, dates back to 1696. The church site was included in this gift and there were whipping posts and stocks on the Green..
However hard they tried, the planters form the West Indies were unable to develop - in the vastly different climate of New Jersey - a single cash crop such as the profitable tobacco or sugar.
Because -the plantation system could not work, they found it necessary to sell or rent their land for smaller farms.
Meanwhile, Captain Berry had a price to pay for all these land gifts, an annual "quit rent" of 20 shillings. Today this is the equivalent of about $2.25. Though Berry understood this obligation, as a matter principle, he refused to pay and served a prison term in 1685 as a result. Whether it was because of Puritan tradition of land being tenure free from such charges, or whether the new settlers actually couldn't afford to pay, is not clear. Others were encouraged by Captain Berry's actions, and the towns of Newark and Elizabeth also refused to give money to their Proprietors in England.
These quit rents, common until 1748, were so unpopular as to inhibit the growth of the Hackensack area. Other matters influenced growth of this area in the early 1700s, including the efforts of a Secaucus land owner who wanted New Barbadoes Township, then part of Essex County, to become part of Bergen County as it did (the transfer took place on January 21, 1710).
The added population necessitated building a new courthouse, which in turn stimulated other new development. The courthouse was built in 1715 on Justice of the Peace Barent Kool's land.
That same year a ferry landing was located at a site called Penungum a few miles out of town, from which a road ran north through marshes of the Quackasack Section. There were many orchards and farms along the river. In 1715 there was but one doctor in town, Dr. Van Emburgh, two blacksmiths, one shoemaker, a machinist's shop, and a few farms. The new courthouse and the earlier completion of the new Dutch Reformed Church in 1708 helped Hackensack and Bergen County to attract more settlers. The county population totaled 2,637 in 1726, increasing to 4,095 in 1737.
But there were hard times, too. Able bodied men, resentful of being required to serve for 2 years on road building projects, produced bad roads. The resulting poor travel facilities failed to encourage trade with the large New York City market The 1700s produced the impending threat of a slave revolt. There are not many records to describe the lives of free African Americans in Bergen County, but a few documents tell of both free blacks and slaves living in Hackensack. The law as well as the customs of the time allowed the harsh treatment of slaves. Fear on the part of the white man made him excuse unfair trials of blacks when the courts accepted hearsay and gossip rather than facts and evidence. Punishments ranged from 100 lashes to immediate hangings. One of the original members of the Dutch Reformed Congregation in Hackensack was Jochem Robertse, a black freeman. His daughter, Mary, was the second child ever to be baptized at the church. The records on freemen are scarce because they were not mentioned in public records until after the American Revolution By the late 1600s, as the white people saw the black population increasing faster than their own, uneasiness set in and more laws were passed restricting the activities of blacks. Slave courts were set up to try capital crimes in 1714. The 1726-1737 census showed Bergen with the lowest population of any county in the East Division of New Jersey, but the largest slave population of any county in the entire colony. Feelings of insecurity led to great injustices.
One case Involved William Provoost, whose widow later became the wife of Aaron Burr. (After a wedding in the Old Dutch Church in Paramus, the Burrs lived in the Hermitage now being restored, in Ho-Ho-Kus.) The harsh punishment of their slaves kept things quiet for about six years. The burning of seven barns in the area was reported in such newspapers as The New York Journal and The Boston Weekly Postboy, with hearsay and rumors exaggerated in the press. For the fires, Ben and Jack, both slaves, were burned at the stake in Hackensack near the river.
A sad commentary on man's behavior toward his fellow man can be noted in several such cases where hasty convictions led to unjustifiable punishment. The first time the court records showed an indictment against a white man for abusing a slave was in 1773 in Saddle River Township, when several whites were charged with beating a slave.
During this general time period between the French and Indian War and the Revolution, Hackensack's economy was still closely tied to that of New York City. A road and ferry network connected Hackensack and New York to the East and with the more rural areas north and west of the village. Many local merchants, too generous in granting supplies on credit during the French and Indian War, were unable to last in business for more than a year, precipitating a general recession which caused many sons of tradesmen to leave the village in order to seek fortunes in larger communities. New arrivals, some of whom were Scotch-Irish immigrants, took the places of those who had moved away. These newcomers brought their Scotch Presbyterian Religion with them.
In the 1750s, the town government had no mayor or other central--authority, only a clerk who registered brand marks, an assessor, a collector, -two overseers of the poor, and overseers of the roads and surveyors. Residents would take turns filling these township posts.