The markers of history


I have always felt that the spit of land at the confluence of the Ten Mile River and the Delaware held great spiritual energy. From the stories I had heard, this was where the peaceful Lenni Lenape tribe summered. Traveling north from their winter home in New Jersey, they were the first summer visitors, swimming and fishing in the river and enjoying the idyllic landscape and abundance of flora and fauna. They were soon joined by white settlers who came and built Tusten's first settlement, with a grist mill, a church, a school, houses, farmland. (My stories come from my fourth-grade history class, which featured a year-long exploration of the history of New Jersey. The Lenni are the original people of New Jersey and I went to elementary school there.)

And, according to fourth-grade history lessons and my selective memory, there was trading and commerce between the tribe and the white people. I imagine that the piles of stones that you see in the forests are the remnant symbols of a trading spot.

But, as we learn with age, harmony is not actually the whole of the story.

In James Quinlan’s chapter on the Lenni Lenape, published in his 1873 “History of Sullivan County,” the author tells stories of harmony and treaties, as well as broken trust and carnage.

In the midst of those stories, he is reflective that the history we generally accept “as history,” is a selective retelling of one particular side of the story.

Of his account, he says, “This, it should be remembered, is the white man’s version. Perhaps if the Lenape could have kept the record, they would have told of some things which have been omitted by the pale face. We are more inclined to believe that the whole truth has not been handed down to us concerning these and other troubles with the Indians, because, in cases where we know that strict and impartial justice marked the intercourse of the Europeans with the sons of the forest, and an intelligent view was taken of their idiosyncrasies, the whites possessed their unbounded confidence and friendship.”

I find this paragraph useful as we, as a culture, begin to realize that history is told and remembered by the dominant narrative, and that narrative, often, does not reflect the perspectives of all parties. I like the paragraph because it supports my fundamental value that when people treat each other with “strict and impartial justice" and hold "an intelligent view taken of idiosyncrasies," as Quinlan put it" that people get along. It reinforces my idea that there was a flourishing of people and interaction at the confluence of the Ten Mile and the Delaware.

History is complicated. And at this particular confluence of river, nine to 22 settlers were killed by a band of Indians who were avenging the death of a most beloved chief. No one really knows who started the fire that killed the chief, but competing Indian tribes blamed the death on the white settlers. The chief’s son went on the warpath, vowing to rid the valley of white people. Wiping out the settlement at the Ten Mile River was the precursor to the battle at Cushetunk, (of which Fort Delaware is a replica.) 

The fact that a small village of people were killed with little to no acknowledgement bothered longtime Tusten resident Ralph Huebner.  He brought his concern to the Tusten Historical Society and together they procured funding, permissions and a historical marker to commemorate those lives lost.

Listen to Ralph tell the story. 

For Ralph and the Tusten Historical Society, it is, indeed, an accomplishment to erect a historical marker, specifically with carefully worded language.  

It is important for us to honor all that came before us and continue to uncover the many histories that serve at the foundation of the abundance of the Upper Delaware.

For a bit more about the many sides of history and its implications, you can listen to my casual conversation with Sullivan County Historian John Conway.


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