The Original People

The following sections are reproduced from Grace Trott Roper‘s historical retrospective on how the Borough of Belmar came to be. The original booklet is © Copyright 1978 by Grace Trott Roper, Belmar, NJ and was printed by Hoffman Press, Belmar, NJ.

Duplication or reproduction is not permitted

 The Indians of Shark River were The Lenni Lenape Nation with Traditions that showed they came from the Hudson Bay Area. They were of The Algonquin Race and the tribe‘s name was the “UNAMI” or “TURTLE CLAN.” Lenni Lenape when translated means Original People. The Lenni Lenape family was distinguished for its gentleness, its inate spirituality and its reverance for nature. They wore very little clothing and it was made from animal skins. The furside was worn out in the summer and turned in, in the winter. The squaws *sometimes wore skirts made from Turkey feathers. They wrote on birch bark in what was a pictorial shorthand. They did no weaving or decorative pottery work.

The Indian chieftain was Wanamassoa. The records show he sold land to Galvin (Gowan) Drummond in 1687.

The names of the permanent Indian Camping Grounds back of the hill and the summer campsite in Belmar are no longer known.

The tribes dwellings were long, low arched structures called wickams. During times of famine, the natives ate snakes, eagles, and skunks. The usual food however was fish, wild game and bread made from corn meal and water. This was made into a thick mush and hung in a skin bag. This was later made into a little cake when needed. These cakes were later used by the early settlers on their long journeys and who called them “Journey Cakes.” Later the name became Johnny Cake according to our grandparents.

Migratory Indians descended on Belmar every Spring and stayed until Fall, thus it was a summer resort long before the advent of Columbus. It is not strange that the Indians chose this as their campsite. Because of its geographical position the Indians in their periodical wanderings, between the Great Lakes and the Coast crossed New Jersey by a direct route from Pennsylvania to the Raritan Bay and from there they just wandered down the coast.

The only permanent village site in the Shark River District in 1722 so far as the records show was a farm owned by a Hurley, located on Shark River. This was the home of Indian Will who died in 1800. What is now the section of Belmar along the river was at that time used as a temporary village and campsite.

A map of 1881 shows but three farms on the land directly south of Shark River. One belonged to Dick Newman, one to Dennis Newman and the third to Peter White. However, in May 1872 when Wm. L. Heyniger came to this district he recalled four farmers, the three mentioned and a fourth, Joseph Newman. All this land was purchased in 1820 from Andrew Bell. This same land was later sold to the Ocean Beach Association. Peter White one of the original owners of more than half of the Belmar Area died in 1884.

It is to be noted that as late as 1887 Indians under chief Masta were encamped at 9th Avenue doing basket weaving and fortune telling.