The Native American legacy of New Jersey has been too often overlooked or neglected by present-day residents of our State, and by historians and other scholars in general. For ten thousand years, long before the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China were constructed, cultures and communities flourished in this area. Bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and linked with vast distances via waterways that bear the names Delaware, Hudson, Susquehanna and Ohio, the mid Atlantic region of North America was home to the Lenape Indians, and their Algonquian relations and Iroquois competitors.
In the 1600s, what was to become New Jersey was settled by the Dutch, Swedes and later the English and Scots as part of the colonial era. Tracts of land, both large and small, were usually purchased by the European newcomers from the Native inhabitants. In fact, by law, all Native land had to be first purchased by the Proprietors, and then later resold to colonists. This did not always happen, and in many cases, Indian owners sold to colonists directly. This in turn created confusion as to legitimate title to the land, confusion that would only be permanently settled by the Treaty of Easton in 1758 which relinquished virtually all Indian land claims to the Province of New Jersey.
An important figure in the colonial history of New Jersey was a powerful sachem named Weequehela. His story is pieced together from historical sources including court records, land transfers, government records and newspaper accounts. Perhaps most touchingly, his legacy is still remembered and cherished by the Delaware Indian communities of today. One important element of his ongoing legacy was a letter written by his great granddaughter in the 1860s which has been published in various sources (see below). By the time of his death in 1727, he owned a substantial plantation which included two sawmills along the Manalapan River.
By the early 1700s Weequehela’s property and mill operations were being hemmed in by land grants and settlement, particularly by the Leonard family. This close proximity and desire for additional wood lands created a conflict that erupted into violence in June, 1727 between Weequehela and John Leonard.
Who was this man and why was he so important? Perhaps the best contemporary description comes from Samuel Smith who published the History of Nove Caesarea in 1765. Smith was an important citizen and leader of his day and was well acquainted with the reputation of Weequehela:
The fact was, he was an Indian of great note and account both among Christians and Indians, of the tribe that resided about South-river, where he lived with a taste much above the common rank of Indians, having an extensive farm, cattle, horses and negroes, and raised large crops of wheat, and was so far English in his furniture as to have a house well provided with feather beds, calico curtains, &c. He frequently dined with governors and great men, and behaved well; but his neighbour, captain John Leonard, having purchased a cedar swamp of other Indians, to which he laid claim, and Leonard refusing to take it on his right, he resented it highly, and threatened that he would shoot him; which he accordingly took an opportunity of doing in the spring 1728 , while Leonard was in the day time walking in his garden or near his own house, at South-river aforesaid.
Weequehela first appears in land records in 1675 with a sale located near Shrewsbury. Much of his land sales focused on the Millstone and Manalapan watersheds, near present-day Hightstown, Millstone and Manalapan, New Jersey. He was an associate of men such as John Reid, to whom he sold several tracts, to Doctor John Johnston of Scotschester in Monmouth County (Marlboro Township), father of Andrew and Lewis Johnston. Cited as a Native Sakamaker (sachem or leader), his place of residence is written as Quainheetquas, which may be a variation of a spelling of a bridge near his residence in what is now Spotswood. Ironically, a 1701 deed was confirmed by Weequehela in the presence of Samuel Leonard, uncle of Captain John Leonard, who was fatally assaulted by the Sachem in 1727.
By 1700, Weequehela was the acknowledged leader of the Native Americans living in central New Jersey. He was consulted by New Jersey authorities in 1709 to help enlist Indian warriors for an attack against Canada during Queen Anne’s War and he was involved in several legal actions in which he acted as mediator between Indian and colonist.
At the Court of General Quarter Sessions held at Monmouth Court House in Freehold, Weequehela appeared on February 28, 1720 in a matter that foreshadowed his own experience seven years later. As leader of the Indians residing in central New Jersey, he was called upon by Monmouth County officials to bring in an Indian man accused of firing a gun at a white neighbor. Weequehela brought Welehaley and some other unidentified Indian men to court to answer the complaint of Robert Hubbs for shooting at him. After some discussion, during which Welehaley also complained of the actions of Hubbs, the Indian gave up his gun to the court and the complaint was dismissed on both sides.
As to the family of Weequehela, there is uncertainty as to who his father was. One possibility is that his father was Matapeck (better known as Metapis). However, a contemporary document identifies his father as Ireesick. From a letter written in 1708 by William Leeds of Burlington County regarding a land dispute:
[Richard] Stout made some pretence to by the Indian Right but he did not of the Right owner for my father [William Leeds] was obliged to buy it of Ireeseek, waquehelas father, and Stout allowed him for so doing. (Quoted in Stillwell’s Historical Miscellany, Vol. III, p. 449)
Iresick Brook in Old Bridge Township, and a tributary to the South River, is likely named after him. He had sold tracts of land in Monmouth County, along the Raritan and South Rivers in Middlesex County, along the Millstone River and elsewhere.
In 1700, Samuel Leonard of Shrewsbury was granted lands including 1,970 acres on the east side of the South River, beginning at the point where the Manalapan and Matchaponix rivers join, then running west one-half mile to present-day DeVoe Avenue, south 6600 feet, east 7788 feet, and then north to Thomas Warne’s grant and the South River. Of this grant, known as Leonard’s Great Tract, forty-five acres were awarded for his brother, John (East Jersey Deeds, G. p. 211). It was this proximity of John Leonard to Weequehela that ultimately led to violence in 1727.
A letter written by Weequehela’s great-granddaughter (daughter of Bartholomew Calvin) in 1864 provides an insight into the remembrance of the Indian King, and his treatment at the hands of the colonists.
To the Rev. Mr. Marsh,
Dear Sir: Your kind and interesting letter was gladly received, after being over a month on its way here. I was joyfully surprised to hear from you and your family after so long a time, especially little Sara, (I must call her little, because it makes me think of gone-by days) and to learn that there is still in existence one of the Brainerd family.
My father said David [Brainerd] had 2 or 3 large churches amongst the Delawares, as they were scattered about in different parts of the country, they being very numerous at that time. Did my father ever tell you why they were so scattered? It was because they did not like their present King [sachem]. Their former King met his fate some years before. I will tell you something about it. He was a poor pagan, living in heathen darkness. It pains my heart to even think of it, although it is said that he was a very honest, upright man in all his dealings, very much loved by his subjects.
Well, there was a white man lived on his land by the name of Leonard, who kept rum to sell the Indians[Leonard operated a tavern at South River Bridge, present-day Old Bridge village in East Brunswick, NJ]. The King used to have spells of drinking, and, when he got sober, Leonard would tell him he had bought a large tract of land of him and this was repeated over and over. At length he got so enraged at him while walking in the garden, when Leonard told how many miles of land he had signed off to him while he was drinking, he told Leonard, “You have cheated me so much; I am a great mind to shoot you.” L. turned round and faced him, opened his shirt bosom, told me, “Now shoot.” He shot him immediately through the breast, as he always carried a loaded rifle. He then gave himself up to the whites; told them not to come with a large company of men to his house and scare his family. “Send only one man and I will saddle my horse and go with him quietly.” But no, they went with a great company. They did not only take him, but they took all his Negroes, his property of all kind, except one old Negro woman and she hid 12 silver spoons. This was all the property the King’s wife had left her, with 4 or 5 small children, one a few days old. The King had been a great friend to the Governor and to all the whites. The Governor used to go and dine with him and he with the Governor. The King’s name was We-queh-a-lah.
His subjects offered to go and take him out of jail by force, that he might go towards the west. But he told them, “No, I have killed a bad man and am willing to hang for it; and, moreover, I want you to live in peace with your pale-faced brethren. If I should run away the pale face would always be killing you. I shall save a great many lives if I am hung, but I don’t want them to hang me. I want them to shoot me like a man. I did not hang that man; I shot him, and if I let them hang me the Great Spirit will take me to the good hunting ground, but if I run away he won’t let me go there and it would not be right for a King to run away,” and many other such words he said. But they hung him before the time. The Governor sent a reprieve, but it was too late. He was dead.
After that they turned his wife out of her home, took all her land, everything she had. She had a great many horses and cattle, a great deal of silver ware; many such things were given to him by the English. She did not live long after her husband’s death. Her children all died soon after, except his only daughter, 3 years old [Sarah Store II, according to family genealogy]. Poor child, she suffered much while a child. Saw her aunt killed by a white man. I will only say she suffered everything but death. This poor child was my father’s mother. She was one of David Brainerd’s converts; one among the first. He was the first white man she could love. . . .
My great-grandfather told his people before he died they must go west, where there was no pale faces to sell them rum and cheat them out of their lands. Some of them went off before David came amongst them. But after the Brainerds finished their labors amongst them, they went off west to the Ohio or White River country in small bands or companies. Father’s oldest brother [Hezekiah Calvin, a former Wheelock student, and leader of the Brotherton Reservation] went with them. I am happy to say that many of them carried with them the good seed that was sown in their hearts to the far west.
The last company that was left in New Jersey my father brought to New Stockbridge in the State of New York, but they have all nearly died off; some went to Kansas and they are dead. There are none here in this place; only my family….
The Agent is about to make a Treaty with us. I do not know where we shall go next; perhaps to Nebraska, but it does not trouble me in the least. My greatest trouble is where I shall go when I leave this world. . . . Pray for me and my family that I may hold out to the end. Pray for my boys that they may give their hearts to God.
From your sincere friend,
Keshena, Shawano Co., June 20, 1864
When Leonard was shot, Weequehela was immediately arrested and a special trial held in Perth Amboy. On June 23rd he was tried and one week later, he was executed. There is no record of the trial, although other contemporary court documents do exist, and there is no record of Governor Burnet’s alleged reprieve. What may be deduced is that Weequehela’s trial was handled in an expedient, and likely extralegal manner with the consequence that the old king was now considered to be expendable. Authorities were so concerned about the proceedings that two companies of militia were called out “to Protect the Sheriff and Officers from any Insult of the Mob or Indians.” (The American Weekly Mercury, July 6, 1727)
From a news account dated August 21, 1727, there was a report from New Jersey that a number of Indians “are come to the Plantation of the late King Wequalia (who was executed for the murder of Capt. John Leonard) in order to Crown a New King in the Room of said Wequalia” (New England Weekly Journal, August 28, 1727)
After Weequehela’s death, Andrew Woolley was named king, and over the next three decades, he was the primary signatory on many deeds. For example, land at Cattail Creek and the Assanpink in Monmouth County was deeded by “King Andrew Woollee” in 1743. Woolley was Weequehela’s sister’s son, which may indicate the traditional Native American custom of leadership passing through the female line. In 1739, Woolley and others, deeded Weequehela’s land to Andrew and Lewis Johnston for what was to become large portions of Spotswood and Helmetta. By 1746 his widow and other relations were prominent members of the Bethel Indian Mission established by David and John Brainerd in present-day Monroe Township, and later held land at the Brotherton Reservation in Burlington County. A map from circa 1760, thirty-three years after Weequehela’s execution, shows Sarah Weequehela’s lot at Brotherton.
Weequehela had one daughter who lived well into old age and who eventually moved to upstate New York by 1802. Mary married Stephen Calvin, noted school teacher of Bethel and Brotherton, and in turn, had many children. The following is from the information found in the Foster Collection at the PA Historical Society, from notes written by Dr. James Alexander in 1832 who interviewed Bartholomew Calvin and from the 1801 petition to dissolve Brotherton, this is the data I’ve gleaned.
Weequehela m. Sarah. In 1766, two Indian women were murdered at Moorestown, NJ. Could these be some of the women Mrs. Peter’s referred to in her letter?
Children: 4 or 5 small children (Peter’s letter), only one daughter survived:
Mary m. Stephen Calvin; their children:
Hezekiah Calvin, b. ca. 1747 (he was prob. between 10 and 12 when he went to Wheelock’s school in 1757]. He was a teacher at Ft. Hunter, NY by 1765 and was in love with Mary Secuter, a Narraganset & fellow-Wheelock student. He was imprisoned for forging a pass for a black person. By the 1770s he is at Brotherton. According to Peter’s letter, he moved west. His name dissappears from Brotherton records after 1788.
Bartholomew Calvin. b. ca. 1761 at Crosswicks according to himself. He was 71 in 1832. I still haven’t found any military service info and he was part of the Brotherton ruling council as early as 1777. He is still doing business in NJ in 1805 over the Weekping/Coaxen tract.
Stephen Calvin. He appears on the 1801 petition to sell Brotherton, he made his mark. I am assuming this was a son of Stephen and Mary.
Mary Calvin, Jr. }
Rebecca Calvin. } one of these daughters, who ever was the youngest, was married to Daniel Simon, a Narraganset minister. Rebecca’s name appears last on the list; perhaps she was the daughter.
There is also a Nathan Calvin on an 1802 document.
For more info on some of Weequehela’s descendents, please see: