Hands-on history lesson: Archeologist explores abandoned Lenape reservation

The reservation was abandoned in 1802 when the group of Lenape who remained went north to live with another tribe on New York.
SHAMONG TOWNSHIP, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Every morning this week, archeologist Tony McNichol with the New Jersey Pinelands Commission arrives at a field in Shamong Township.

The field is owned by Shamong Township and leased by a farmer.

It was previously known as the Brotherton Reservation, a Lenape reservation established in 1758 with around 200 people at its peak.

"The Lenape agreed to give away their rights to all land south of the Raritan River for a place to stay, a piece of land here," McNichol said. "They got sort of squelched into small areas and pushed off into small areas pretty quickly after the time of European arrival."

The reservation was abandoned in 1802 when the group of Lenape who remained went north to live with another tribe in New York.

John Brainerd was a missionary who lived on the land on and off while the Lenape were there.

Ground-penetrating radar surveys were already completed to try to determine where to dig.

With the topsoil removed, the focus now is on the yellowish-red subsoil and the features that stand out from the earth around it.

They are looking for the presence of intact, subsurface features that could be associated with the original site like possible structural outlines, pits or privies.

"It's not quite clear yet what it is, but it certainly was made by a human being," McNichol said, holding an item.

Students from Indian Mills School toured the site on Wednesday morning.

They explored how these characteristics shed light on how the Lenape here lived and the structures they may have inhabited.

"It's important to learn this so you can learn what happened in the past because it might help you with the future," said fourth-grader Casey Babbitt.

"If you didn't know about the past of where you live, you wouldn't really like to know how people lived before you, and you kind of need to know that," added fourth-grader Douglas Umbehauer.

By the end of the week, McNichol will map out the features and get a sense of where to dig larger trenches in the future.

"It's a shame really that no one knows about their story here. What they did, how they were trying to hold onto their culture," McNichol said. "It's a lost story. It needs to be told."
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