“The Indians of New Jersey – Dickon Among the Lenapes” by Mark. R. Harrington (Jiskogo)

The Indians of New Jersey: Dickon Among the Lenapes

This book was published in 1938. It’s about half fiction and half ethnography. The combination works! Amazon lists it as being for ages 9 – 12 years, but I wouldn’t call it a children’s book. 

The plot… In 1692, an English ship bound for the Jamestown, Virginia, colony (established only 5 years previously) is struck by a storm and young Dickon is washed overboard near what is now the New Jersey shore. He is found by the native Lenape residents and taken to Turtle Town on the western (Pennsylvania) bank of the Delaware River. 

Dickon fears for his life, but the village leaders decide he is human (not a demon!) and keep him alive. His initial status is that of a slave or servant.  He is handed over to an old woman who lives alone. She is good natured and instructs Dickon in both Lenape language and a wide variety of skills and chores that are important in the village. Dickon and “Granny”, as he thinks of her, become close, and when she dies, he grieves. 

Eventually, Dickon is formally adopted into the community, which numbers (I think) fewer than 100 people. He lives in Turtletown for about two years, before being “rescued” by an English ship.

One thing to keep in mind is how badly the English Jamestown colony was doing at that early date. They were starving on land that supported the native population in good health, and their understanding of the original culture was minimal.

I wondered, as I read descriptions of hunting, gardening and wood gathering, if the Turtletown community described was pushing against its ecological limits.

Dickon Among the Lenapes book is wonderfully descriptive, enhanced by numerous drawings (by Clarence Ellsworth) and maps. Supplementary material includes introductions from 1938 and 1963, plus ten pages of commentary on the Lenape language, with vocabulary. The 1963 introduction was written by Rutgers University scholar Mary Gaver. The curious reader is directed to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton and institutions in New Brunswick and Newark.

Harrington, who died in 1971, wrote as follows: “To The Survivors and Descendants of the Lenape Who Unfolded to Me Their Heritage, This Book is Affectionately Dedicated”. He names two Lenapes and one Seneca who assisted him in his research and writing. I was surprised that the two Lenapes did not live on historically Lenape land, but rather in Oklahoma and Canada. In addition to the Lenape name “Jiskogo”, Harrington was given names by three other tribes. His field work was extensive and very thorough. 

Harrington wrote a second novel describing Dickon’s further adventures among other tribes in the Iroqois Confederacy. I hope to find a copy.  

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