Passing on New Jersey’s 350th birthday

Carter discusses the Garden State’s brutal roots on the eve of its milestone birthday.  (Kim Iannerone / Staff Photographer)
Carter discusses the Garden State’s brutal roots on the eve of its milestone birthday. (Kim Iannerone / Staff Photographer)

The year 2014 marks the 350th anniversary of the founding of New Jersey, and residents have been invited by the website behind  the official year-long celebratory campaign “NJ350,” officialnj350.com, to “join the party.”

But on Thursday, Oct. 2, history professor William Carter launched the first of three presentations in the “New Jersey’s 350th Anniversary” lecture series by explaining why we should not partake in the state’s big birthday festivities.

“I’m going to talk about those events of the creation of New Jersey from a Native American perspective, specifically those of the Lenape, who have inhabited parts of New Jersey for thousands of years and only recently were completely expelled from the state in the mid-18th century,” Carter said. “We are all living with the legacies of these decisions and these actions that took place 350, almost 400 years ago.”

New Jersey was officially founded in 1664, when the English conquered New Netherlands and renamed the land. The English conquest marks the official beginning of the state’s history, disregarding thousands of years of history of the Lenape who had lived there first, Carter said.

“The coming of Europeans creates a line between history and what’s called ‘prehistory,’” Carter said. “The Native Americans occupied this area, and there was no one to document this, so this whole area was conventionally defined as ‘before-history,’ outside of historical time.”

Senior history and women’s and gender studies double major Caitlin Wiesner agreed with the importance of studying history from the marginalized Native Americans’ perspective.

“It’s definitely important that (the lecture) shed light on the native presence in New Jersey that we don’t really celebrate as part of the 350th anniversary,” Wiesner said. “Even now, Lenape are so marginalized within New Jersey that I was really glad to see attention being brought to these people who really are a part of New Jersey’s history.”

In delving into the state’s history, Carter described the gruesome details of the Pavonia Massacre on Feb. 25, 1643. Eighty to 120 Native Americans, including women and children, were brutally slaughtered in the middle of the night by Dutch armed forces under Willem Kieft — then director of New Netherland — for refusing to pay for protection. Pavonia is now a section of Newport, Jersey City.

“So that’s about one of the earliest recorded events that happened in the present boundaries of New Jersey, not on the New Jersey 350 website that invites you to the party,” Carter said.

When the pacifist Quakers settled in West New Jersey, there was hope for peaceful relations between the Europeans and Native Americans.

“This has been seen as a breakthrough in colonization, that … the Quakers were peaceful,” Carter said. “They famously came and didn’t bring a single gun with them. Who does that? Nobody. Nobody comes and tries to establish a colony without some firepower.”

However, according to Carter, even the Quakers abused their power at times. The Quakers continued to demand more land as time went on, and Native Americans who objected to a purchase would be subject to capital punishment, Carter said.

“So when I think about something like the creation of New Jersey (and) being invited to celebrate the 350th birthday, I think of genocide. I think of dispossession. I think of destruction,” Carter said. “(It) does not feel like a party to me.”