Ramapough Munsee History

The Ramapough are the descendants of the Munsee speaking people. We are the Munsee band who stayed behind. The Ramapoughs stayed here, maintaining a presence in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York for over 11,000 years.

We stayed here to protect our homelands and to protect our rights to hunt, to fish, to gather, and to strip bark from trees on this land – as rights reserved to us in the Treaty of Easton in 1758 by our ancestors.

Split Rock above Mawewi (the Gathering Place).

Our Sacred Journey

Ramapough means downward slanting. That is what our ancestors called the mountain range where we have lived since time immemorial. We have always considered the Ramapo Mountains sacred. They have also offered us a sanctuary from settler treachery these last 500 years.

Europeans have spelled the word Lamowo, Munsee for downward slanting, as Ramapo, Romopeg, Ramopack, Rempoch, or Ramapough. Today we use the archaic spelling to signal this history.

See the full 1716 map here.

In 1644 the Dutch out of New Amsterdam struck our village in what is now called Pound Ridge, New York without prejudice. Under John Underhill’s command, they set fire to our wigwams and decimated our families – including elders, women, and our children – killing approximately 700 of our people.

Throughout history written by different scholars and historians, this event, known as the Pound Ridge Massacre, has been recorded as including other Native bands in the area like Wappinger, Ramapough, and others. This amounts to the same people.

As the flames rose around the wigwams everyone came running out only to bear witness to the long guns and knives. The sight of the Dutch caused our elders, women, and children to return inside of the burning wigwams. They chose to accept their fate on their own terms, not that of those who choose to wrought hell upon them. A field report noted how eerie it was that our people returned to their burning wigwams and that “not one was heard to cry or to scream” as they perished in the flames.

Days after the attack and decimation of our village the men returned to find everyone had been killed and it wasn’t long before revenge was to once again to take place. Many treaties of peace were written and spoken but they were routinely broken. The settlers never upheld their written word as truth because they chose not to create words or strings of wampum from their heart.

It was only greed and the need for more land that kept the colonial machines hard at work.

Hop Grounds deed for what is now the town of Bedford, New York signed by Chief Katonah, Joris, and others, December 23, 1680.
Office of the Bedford Town Clerk.
Conveyance for Norwalk, Connecticut signed by Chief Katonah, September 30, 1708.

One great Chief and protector during this time was Sachem Katonah, son of Onox the Elder and grandson of Ponus. Katonah was Sachem of the Ramapough Indians. The lands he ruled and eventually sold were along what became the border of New York and Connecticut. Every time Katonah sold land, he moved our people to another area within the land he watched over. Time and time again the settlers came seeking more and more land, forcing the sale of all of the land that Katonah controlled and his father Onox, his grandfather Ponus, and his uncle Taphow.

It was this conveying of lands that pushed our people from our ancestral villages, hunting grounds, fishing grounds, planting grounds, and harvesting grounds into the sacred mountains from which we originated. 

Transcript of deed of affirmation for Stamford, Connecticut signed by Chief Katonah, Maanis and others, July 8, 1701.
Stamford City Hall.

Name variations for Taphow Taphance Tapousie Tapphow Tapgow

Taphow was the “Comander in Chief of all those Indians inhabiting the North part of the Jerseyes”. Taphance, Taphow is on Eleven Connecticut land deeds and Sixteen New Jersey land deeds.

Katonah was joined by another chief who went by the name of Maanis. Maanis moved back across the great river that flows both ways, back to the refuge of the mountains that are the birthplace of our people. These Ramapo Mountains still carry the name of our people to this day, even if the spelling is corrupted.

Chief Maanis continued to convey land through several deeds or land patents which included his sons as well. One such conveyance in 1738 ended in 42,000 acres being lost in what today is known as the town of Sloatsburg, New York. Fifty years later, J. G. Pierson petitioned the legislature to name a nearby town Ramapo, New York in recognition that this was our land and we still live on it.

Conveyance of Ramapough lands to Belinda Bayard, August 10, 1700.

The Ramapough Munsee people remain on our ancestral lands. Due to forced migration, the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough is concentrated today in what is now known as Passaic County, New Jersey, with Ringwood as the core area, plus also Sussex County and Orange County. The Wolf Clan is in Mahwah – long our sacred Gathering Place – and Oakland in Bergen County, New Jersey. The Deer Clan is in the towns of Ramapo and Hillburn in Rockland County, New York.

Our Mountain Homeland

When the German surveyor Peter Hasenclever came into the mountains in 1756, we didn’t kill him. He got along with us. We showed him where the Thunder Beings showed themselves, the sacred place covered with hundred-foot-long shards of iron magnetite that protruded from the ground. Our people considered the magnetite our grandfathers. We can only imagine what they thought when European settlers began building their mines and destroying our living relatives.

Our people initially refused to be involved with actual mining, but to survive some of us made charcoal for the furnaces.  Then over time settler society started filling in around us. But we still didn’t leave. We began to work in those industries we had once rejected, or on farms and in mills in order to stay on our land. We didn’t move. The only thing we did was move out of our wigwams and into houses. Some of us even began to also work in the mines, to their deepest depth, so we could stay.

Ramapough homes in 1890.
William “Wild Bill” Mann
William G. Mann
Ramapough miner in 1961.

In 1956 the Ford Motor Corporation built the world’s largest automobile manufacturing plant in Mawah, New Jersey. They also wanted to create a self-contained housing development that would have generated a million dollars a year in property taxes for the town of Ringwood. We were in the way. We refused to relocate and blocked Ford’s plans for a housing development. So in 1964, just months after losing the ability to remove us all to build executive housing, Ford Motor Company decided to dump toxic waste on the Ramapough people instead.

The state of New Jersey and the town of Ringwood gave Ford Motor Company permission to dispose of their paint sludge on sacred lands our people were living on and still live on. This decision has changed our lives forever, perhaps as much as first contact did for our ancestors. We have been fighting for our lands and our lives ever since.

We have lived in this place for an eternity, since time immemorial. Colonizers came to drive us out 400 years ago and they are still trying to drive us out. They took our land to make their mines, their factories, their toxic waste dumps, and their country. But we still live here. We still maintain our culture. We do ceremonies. We go to sacred sites. We honor our ancestors and history on the original pathways we travel through the woods. 

We have been displaced, poisoned, and mocked. We have been called everything except what we are: the original proprietors of this land who have the inherent responsibility to protect it.

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