Decision Activity: Shawuskuuhkung – Bartholomew Scott Calvin, Burlington County, 1756 to 1840

Decision Activity: Shawuskukhkung / Bartholomew Scott Calvin

Burlington County, NJ, 1756 to 1840

Shawuskukhkung or Bartholomew Scott Calvin was born around 1756 in Crosswicks, New Jersey. His father Stephen Calvin, was the first generation of his family to adopt a Western name, most likely for the convenience of white people he interacted with, choosing a surname befitting the family’s recent conversion to Presbyterianism. Many of their fellow Lenape (or Delaware) kin had left New Jersey years prior, resettling in Ohio, but a number of families opted to stay and attempt to live among the European settlers.

In 1758, Stephen Calvin was involved in the negotiations in Crosswicks that resulted in Native Americans giving up all land claims south of the Raritan River. At the same time, the remaining Delaware were given 3,284 acres of land in modern day Shamong, New Jersey. Brotherton, as it was called, would be the first Indian Reservation. Whites were prohibited from settling, hunting, or fishing in their territory. The colony and later state of New Jersey would help with enforcement and in fact, would subsidize the community economically for many years.

The Brotherton Reservation was settled in 1759 by 200 Indians. Children were frequently sent to schools for the training of missionaries, which often included forced assimilation into the white culture. The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge took an interest in Bartholomew Calvin and began paying his way to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). However, by 1775 with increasing hostilities arising between the colonies and the government of Great Britain, their funds were needed elsewhere and the young student was left with a difficult decision.

Decision Activity #1

Consider Bartholomew Calvin’s situation. What are the pros and cons of each of the following possible choices?

  • Look for another source of funding for completing his education.
  • Return to his home in Brotherton and figure out what to do with the rest of his life without his degree.
  • Join the military to resist the British government in the hopes that the new country will offer gratitude to the Native Americans who supported the cause (or because he genuinely believed in their fight).
  • Join the military to fight for the British government in the hopes that they win and offer some kind of benefit to his people in exchange for military service.

Little is known about Calvin’s military service. While it is possible that he enlisted as early as 1775, the only fixed date we know is that he was in service for the Pennsylvania Line in September of 1780 and saw active duty.

Meanwhile, conditions were deteriorating in Brotherton. Most of the inhabitants were living in abject poverty while harassment from white locals increased over time. In 1767 and again in 1771, members of the Ohio Delaware tribe, their kinsmen, invited the Brotherton Indians to join them. Apparently, this offer was not to their liking as they instead sought permission from the government of New Jersey to lease some of their land to whites. Despite the rejection of this economic lifeline, the Brotherton Indians opted to stay.

After Bartholomew Calvin’s service in the Revolution concluded, he returned to Brotherton where he became schoolmaster, following in his father’s footsteps. Apparently, many of his students were white locals who he welcomed into his rolls.

But by 1801, only 63 adult residents (down from the original 200) were left in Brotherton. At this time, a group of Mohican Indians living in New Stockbridge near Oneida Lake in the state of New York offered them an unusual invitation: “Kinsmen! Our necks are stretched as long as cranes looking toward your firesides! Pack up your mat and come eat out of our dish!”

Decision Activity #2

Anyone who has moved understands how disruptive and difficult the experience can be financially and emotionally. To move an entire community with the additional uncertainty of joining another group must have been a daunting consideration. That being said, things were looking very bleak for the remaining Delaware in New Jersey. Weigh the consequences of the following choices faced by Bartholomew Calvin and the other people at Brotherton:

  • Stay put. After all, this is the land your father negotiated for. Times may be tough, but who knows what would await us in New York?
  • Take the Stockbridge Indians up on their offer. Although they are not direct relatives, you have enough in common with them that you can make it work.
  • Reconsider the offer from Ohio. Life in the state of New York is not likely to be much better than life in New Jersey.

Calvin and other leaders of the community petitioned the State of New Jersey to allow them to sell their lands to finance the journey. The legislature would allow it, provided that three quarters of the adults in the community consented. It appears that they fell short of the required supermajority, but the sale proceeded in 1802 regardless. A few of the inhabitants of Brotherton chose not to make the journey to New York and became integrated into white communities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Calvin continued as schoolmaster in Stockbridge.

In 1824 most of the community of Stockbridge Indians, which now included at least four different Native groups, moved to a tract of land near Green Bay in what was then considered Michigan Territory. A small number of people who had moved from Brotherton to New York opted to return to New Jersey. Calvin, however, made the trek to the new homeland, but he wasn’t quite done with New Jersey.

In 1832, at the age of 76, he returned to New Jersey as the delegate of the “original people” and addressed the state legislature. Although they had sold the reservation land back in 1802, the right to hunt and fish on that land was still theirs. Perhaps the State of New Jersey would consider buying those rights, and thereby help the remaining Delaware who had gone through so much.

What is the likelihood of success for each of the following strategies:

  • Based on the principles in the Declaration of Independence, demand just compensation for the rights to hunt and fish as well as money for the trouble the Delaware people experienced.
  • Make a speech that is highly complementary of the New Jersey government in the hopes that they’ll be more willing to give the Delaware something for their troubles.
  • Don’t bother. The idea of the government doing anything for the Delaware at this point in time is very unlikely.

In his address to the Legislature, Calvin said the following:

“My brethren, I am old, and weak and poor, and therefore a fit representative of my people. You are young and strong, and rich, and therefore fit representatives of your people, but let me beg you for a moment to lay aside the recollections of your strength and our weakness that your minds may be prepared to examine with candor the subject of our claims… We consider the State Legislature the proper purchaser, and throw ourselves upon its benevolence and magnanimity, trusting that feelings of justice and liberality will induce you to give us what you deem a compensation.”

Perhaps understanding that his bargaining power was rather limited, Calvin left the determination of an amount up to the Legislature, which in turn provided a modest $2,000 purchasing price, the rough equivalent of $70,000 in present day currency.

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