January 6, 1780 – Brotherton Indians in New Jersey Agree Not to Sell Their Land to White Settlers

Brothertown Indians are a Native American tribe formed in the late 18th century from communities of so-called “praying Indians” (or Moravian Indians), an amalgamation of many Algonquin tribes, especially the Lenni-Lenape (or Delaware) Indians of New Jersey.

As the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History reports, New Jersey set aside its first Indian reservation for these converted Indians, known as “Brotherton,” near present-day Indian Mills in Burlington County. Led by the Reverend John Brainerd, a missionary, approximately 200 Native Americans settled at Brotherton and established a community around grist- and sawmills.

The reservation never became self-sufficient, and after Brainerd left in 1777, circumstances became increasingly difficult.

A document produced on thus day in history shows the Indians’ attempt to retain control over the Brotherton land. The residents agreed to stop leasing or selling their lands to white settlers in order to maintain peace within the tribe:

Be it known by this, that it has been in our consideration of late about settling of White People on the Indian Lands, And we have concluded that it is a thing which ought not to be, & a thing that will not be allowed by us, that of Renting or giving Leases for said Lands, hereafter, no, not by the proprietors themselves without the consent of the rest much more by those who has no Claim or Rite here . . . We have come upon those resolutions we hope for our better living in friendship among one another, it may be that there is some which does not like white people for their Neighbours, for fear of their not agreeing as they ought to do. it might be about there children or about something they have about them we know not what, Again it may be the white Man may do something either upon Land Timber or something else which some one of the proprietors would not like & from thence would come great deal of Disquietness.”

But conditions at the reservation continued to deteriorate. In 1802, the New Jersey Assembly agreed to sell the reservation and give the profits to the remaining tribal members. Most of the men and women from Brotherton left New Jersey to join the Oneidas.

The Wisconsin Historical Society recounts that In the 1820s, as white settlers pushed further west, the Brothertons were dispossessed and forced to move again. With their Oneida and Stockbridge neighbors, they came to Wisconsin in the 1820s and 1830s, settling along the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.

via The Algonkian Church History Blog

In 1839 they were the first tribe of Native Americans in the United States to accept United States citizenship and allotment of their communal land to individual households, in order to prevent another removal further west. Most of the neighboring Oneida and many of the Lenape (Delaware) were removed to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in this period.

Unfortunately, allotment divided up the land as private property belonging to each tribal member and took away the right for the Brothertown Nation to govern their own land. This left Brothertown tribal members vulnerable to foreclosure and taxation, with many people losing their land by the end of allotment.

Today, members of the Brothertown Indian Nation live all over Wisconsin and the U.S., with the largest concentration around Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

The Brotherton Indian Nation does not yet have federal recognition, though the Brotherton Tribal Council has been working towards formal recognition since 1996 (and petitioning Congress since the 1870s). The benefits of “official” status include financial support and federal services, which could lead to further economic stability and give more opportunities to preserve Brotherton heritage and identity.

You can visit the Brotherton (now called Brothertown) Nation’s website here.

You can read the document of January 6, 1780 here.

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