Searching for Native Americans Living in New Jersey During the American Revolution

Searching for Native Americans Living in New Jersey During the American Revolution

By Robert Fenster

In a typical high school U.S. History course, the study of Native Americans is relegated to the initial encounters with a couple of interruptions to the timeline to focus on atrocities like the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee. In the Advanced Placement curriculum, the chronology starts in 1491, with a single thematic focus titled “Native American Societies Before European Contact.” The remaining handful of references to Native Americans are all in relation to their interactions with Europeans, often focusing on their victimization.[1]

Cognizant of my own complicity in this historical injustice, I seized the opportunity to take part in Telling Our Story: Living in New Jersey Before and During the American Revolution. My initial goal was to learn more about the Lenape in New Jersey around the time of the American Revolution. Unfortunately, I learned that the vast majority of the Lenape had left the state by the 1770s. Finding Native Americans in New Jersey who served in the war was going to prove difficult. Although I might have had more success finding Native Americans who fought in a New Jersey battle — on either side — my preference was to learn about those who lived here at the time, whether they served or not.

My initial search turned up three soldiers from New Jersey listed as Native Americans in government documents — William Cuffey, William Holmes, and Oliver Cromwell.[2] All three were most likely Black men who might have had some Native ancestry, but the documentation is sketchy at best. I didn’t feel comfortable with the evidence I had to conclusively state any were of Native American descent, so I turned my focus elsewhere.

As part of the participation in the grant, the goal was to find two distinct individuals to focus on. It would turn out that although the men who I profiled led very different lives, they had a considerable amount in common, including spending time at The College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and suffering unfortunate treatment from those of European descent, one worse than the other. Despite the negative outcomes for each, I was able to focus on their exercise of agency to provide a greater perspective on their life experiences.

The first individual I researched was George Morgan White Eyes, whose larger story required an examination of the life of his father Koquethagechton (aka White Eyes). As spokesman for his people, Koquethagechton addressed the Continental Congress in 1776 and ultimately negotiated a unique treaty at Fort Pitt in 1778, promising the creation of a Lenape state in Ohio Country and representation in Congress in exchange for hosting and guiding U.S. troops battling the British and Native American enemies in the war. Ultimately the land was granted, but not the other provisions. The premature death of White Eyes at the age of 48 was initially falsified as being the result of smallpox, but the truth ultimately came out that he had been assassinated by a member of the American militia in Michigan.

Young White Eyes’ mother, Rachel Doddridge, had her own compelling story. A British-born white woman who was kidnapped and raised by the Lenape, was given multiple chances to leave and live among Americans or British people once more, but opted to stay living among the Lenape. She too would be murdered by white men, a decade after her husband’s demise.

Care of their young son went to George Morgan, a U.S. Indian agent and a close friend. Young George Morgan White Eyes had, of course, been named after Morgan. After showing tremendous academic skill, Young White Eyes would be sent to study in New Jersey, with his expenses being paid by the Continental Congress after George Morgan exhorted the Congress for “a continuance of the patronage of Congress to this worthy orphan whose father was treacherously put to death at the moment of his greatest exertions to serve the United States.”[3]

Young White Eyes would receive assistance for a number of years, but ran into trouble at Princeton more than once, and evidently became somewhat disillusioned after learning the truth about his parents’ deaths. In a remarkable series of letters, he wrote directly to President George Washington about his needs and wishes for his future which ranged from wanting to finish his education elsewhere to getting a job to finally returning to his people.[4] Although it took some time, Washington did intercede on his behalf and helped fulfill that final wish. Unfortunately, the life of George Morgan White Eyes ended in tragedy as he drunkenly picked a fight with a young white man who, in self defense, killed his attacker.

The violent deaths of all three of the members of the White Eyes family is a triple tragedy, but not without moments of achievement and agency — Koquethagechton’s advocacy for his people, Rachel Doddridge’s decision to remain living as a Native American, and George Morgan White Eyes’ participation in the direction of his life make them more than mere victims.

Although the family’s story was absolutely worth telling, I was hoping to find someone who lived in New Jersey for a longer period of time. In my research I found a number of interesting events that happened up to and during the Seven Years’ War, including diplomatic conferences held in Crosswicks, New Jersey and Easton, Pennsylvania in the mid 1750s, leading to the significant reduction of Native lands. When I learned that Brotherton, the first Native American reservation in the colonies, was created in South Jersey in 1759, I was hopeful I could find a person who lived there between its creation and dissolution in 1802.

The person who I focused on was Shawuskukhkung or Bartholomew Scott Calvin. Once again the story needs to start at least a generation earlier (and in his case could go back several generations and be historically powerful). His father Stephen Calvin chose his name as a tribute to his conversion to Presbyterian theology. Stephen was integral in the aforementioned negotiations that led to the creation of Brotherton. Bartholomew was only three years old, but among the 200 Native Americans who settled there. Like George Morgan White Eyes, he attended Princeton for a time, but with his bills being paid by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The outbreak of the American Revolution terminated his studies, and at some point he enlisted in the military, serving in the Pennsylvania Line. I was only able to determine that he saw active duty in 1780, but further records or writings were elusive.

            After the war, Bartholomew would become a teacher, educating not only children from the reservation, but white children from the surrounding towns. Unfortunately, Brotherton’s life was short-lived due to a combination of bad luck, bad environment, and bad neighbors. By 1801, only 63 adult residents were left in Brotherton. Bartholomew and other leaders on the reservation made the difficult decision to accept an invitation to merge with the Stockridge Indians near Oneida Lake in New York. Two decades later the merged groups of Native Americans would move to Michigan finding life on the east coast no longer desirable.

Bartholomew would eventually return to New Jersey at age 76 to address thestate legislature asking to sell their retained rights of hunting and fishing on their lands to the State of New Jersey. He 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.”[5]

In the end the State of New Jersey paid $2,000 (rough equivalent of $70,000 in modern currency) to officially end any Native American claims in New Jersey. I found the speech fascinating. Did Bartholomew Calvin genuinely believe what he was saying about the fair and equitable treatment by the state of New Jersey or did he choose a strategy he thought most likely to result in a positive outcome? Either way, he advocated for his people and was able to bring them something in the waning days of his life.

There are undoubtedly many more stories of New Jersey Native Americans from this time period that can be told, whether they are among those living in Brotherton, those who assimilated into New Jersey life, or those who served on either side of the American Revolution. There is ample work to be done by historians here.





[5] Barber, J. W., Howe, H. (1868). Historical Collections of New Jersey: Past and Present, Containing a General Collection of the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, Etc., Relating to the History and Antiquities…. United States: J.W. Barber.

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