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The Hackensack was the name given to a band of Lenape, a Native American people. "Hackensack" was a European derivation of the Lenape word for what is now northeastern New Jerseymarker along the Hudson River and Hackensack Rivers.

Territory and Society

Hackensack territory shown in relation to other groups
A phratry of the Lenape, the Hackensack spoke the Unami dialect, a member of the Algonquian language family. They were part of a group known as the people down river, and identified themselves with the totem of the turtle Their territory has been variously spelled Ack-kinkas-hacky, Achkinhenhcky, Achinigeu-hach, Ackingsah-sack (among others) and translated as place of stony ground or mouth of a river. It included the areas around the Upper New York Baymarker, Newark Baymarker, Bergen Neck, the Meadowlands, and the Palisadesmarker and overlapped that of other Unami: the Raritan on Staten Islandmarker/Raritan Baymarker, the Acquackanonk on the Passaic River, and the Tappan along the Palisadesmarker and Pascack Valley. . These groups, along with the Wappinger in the Hudson Valley and Canarsee and Rockaway on Long Islandmarker were sometimes collectively called the River Indians.

In the 1600s the Hackensack numbered about a thousand, of whom 300 were warriors, and their sachem (or high chief) was Oratam (born circa 1576). It is likely that he was also sagamore of the Tappan, a distinct but intimately related group. A seasonally migrational people, the Hackensack set up campsites and practiced companion planting to supplement foraging, hunting, fishing, trapping, and shellfishing. The terrain was quite diverse: massive tidal flats and oyster beds, forested mountains, and level land that could be cultivated. Ackensack, their semi-permanent village, would be relocated every several years to allow the land to renew itself. Its locations mostly remained between Tantaqua and the middle reaches of the Hackensack River. Their summer encampment and council fire was located at Gamoenpa, the big landing-place from the other side of the river. At Hopoghan Hackingh, or land of the tobacco pipe, they collected soapstone to carve tobacco pipe.

The society of the Unami was based on governance by consensus. A sagamore, though very influential, was obliged to follow decisions of the council. Those with the totem of the turtle were held in great esteem by Lenape groups, particularly as peacemakers. The word caucus may come from the Algonquian caucauasu meaning counselor.

New Netherland and Province of New Jersey

Hackensack lands became part of the colonial province of New Netherland after the first exploration of the area by Henry Hudson, who had sailed up the river which bears his name, anchoring at Weehawken Covemarker in September 1609. Living close to the province's capital, New Amsterdam (at the tip of Manhattanmarker), the Hackensack had early and frequent contact with the New Netherlanders, with whom they traded beaver, pelts, sewant, manufactured goods, including firearms, gunpowder and alcohol. They also "sold" the land for settlements at Pavonia, Communipaw, Harsimus, Hobokenmarker, Weehawkenmarker, Constable Hook, Achter Col, Vriessendael. In 1658, Director-General of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant re-negotiated the purchase of all the land from "the great rock above Wiehacken", west to Sikakesmarker and south to Konstapels Hoeck. The area became collectively known as Bergen with the founding of a village at Bergen Squaremarker in 1661. In 1666, the Hackensack sold the land that would become the city of Newarkmarker to Robert Treat and in 1669, Oratam deeded a vast tract of land (2200 acres) to Sara Kiersted (who had mastered the Lenape language and acted as interpreter) between Overpeck Creek and the Hackensack River. He also brokered many land sales, and treaties between the native and colonizing peoples, including those that ended Kieft's War and the Esopus Warsmarker.In a series of essays published in 1655, David Pietersen de Vries, who had established a homesteadmarker at Vriessendael, described his observations of the Hackensack.

The British take-over of New Netherland between 1663 and 1674 coincided with Oratam's death (who is said to have lived into his 90s). The government of the newly formed province of East Jersey quickly surveyed, patented, or deeded lands throughout Hackensack, Tappan, and Raritan territory. In most cases, the Lenape were compensated for sale of the land. Both the land at Newarkmarker and West Essex were sold to Englsih-speaking settlers by the Hackenack.

Delaware Indians

It appears by the lack of their being mentioned in documents after that period that the Hackensack had died, removed themselves, integrated into European settler society, or became tributary to other Lenape groups such as the Ramapough Mountain Indians and Munsee. By the mid-1700s most Lenape had become known as the Delaware Indians, after Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr and governor of the Jamestown Colonyor had been dispersed further west. They were signatories to the Treaty of Easton, an attempt by the British to control lands they had gained in the French and Indian War, as well as an attempt by the Native Americans to restrict further European migration inland.

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