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The Story Of The Discovery Of Scheyichbi

Title:     The Story Of The Discovery Of Scheyichbi
Author: Frank R Stockton [More Titles by Stockton]

The North American Indians, the earliest inhabitants of this country of whom we know anything definite, were great story-tellers; and their histories consist entirely of stories handed down from parents to children, or, more likely, from grandparents to grandchildren, for grandfathers and grandmothers are generally more willing to tell stories than fathers or mothers. And so these traditions, probably a good deal brightened by being passed along century after century, came down to the Indians who were first met by white people, and thus we have heard many of them.

The stories told by the Indians inhabiting the country which is now the Middle States, all agree that their remote forefathers came from some region beyond the Mississippi River. Like the traditions of most nations, these go so very far back that they are vague and misty; but, as this gave the Indians a great opportunity for their imaginations, it is not wonderful that they improved it. These Indians believed that in the very earliest stages of their existence they were all animals, and lived in caves under the earth. They were hunters; but their game consisted of mice, and creatures of that sort. One of them accidentally discovered a hole by which he got out on the surface of the ground; and, finding it so exceedingly pleasant, it was not long before the whole of his tribe came out, and began life in the light of day.

It may be supposed that these animals gradually changed to human beings, and built villages, and planted corn; but in one respect they did not change, nor have they changed at this present day. Many of them still call themselves after the names of animals; and now the greater part of the noted Indians of our country have such names as "Sitting Bull," "Black Bear," and "Red Horse." But the stories say that all of the animals did not come out of their underground homes. Among these were the hedgehog and the rabbit; and so some of the tribes will not eat these animals, because in so doing they may be eating their family connections.

Gradually the ancestors of the Indians who told their stories to the first settlers, and who afterwards called themselves the Lenni-Lenape, moved eastward, and after many years they reached the Mississippi River. By this time they had become a powerful body. But in the course of their journeys they discovered that they were not the earliest emigrants in this direction, for they met with a great tribe called the Mengwe, later known as the Iroquois, who had come from a country west of the Mississippi, but farther north than that of our Indians.

We do not hear that these two great tribes of early Indians interfered with each other; but when the Lenni-Lenape investigated the other side of the Mississippi, they found there still another nation, powerful, numerous, and warlike. These were called the Alligewi, from which we have derived the name Allegheny. At first the latter tribe was inclined to allow the Lenape to pass the river; but after a time, finding that the newcomers were so numerous, they fell upon them and drove them back.

But the Indians at that remote period must have been as doggedly determined to move eastward as are our pioneers to move westward; and they were not to be stopped by rivers, mountains, or savage enemies. The Lenape were not strong enough to fight the Alligewi by themselves, and so they formed an alliance with the Mengwe; and these two nations together made war upon the Alligewi, and in the course of time overcame them, and drove them entirely from their country.

After years, or perhaps centuries (for there are no definite statements of time in these Indian traditions), the Mengwe and the Lenape, who had been living together in the country of the Alligewi, separated; and the Mengwe emigrated to the lands near the Great Lakes, while the Lenape slowly continued their progress eastward.

They crossed the Alleghanies, and discovered a great river, which they called Susquehanna, and then they moved on until they came to the Delaware. This grand stream pleased them so much, that they gave it a name of honor, and called it the Lenapewihittuck, or "The River of the Lenape." Then they crossed the river and discovered New Jersey.

Here they found a pleasant climate, plenty of game, and no human inhabitants whatever. They therefore appropriated it as their own, and gave it the name of Scheyichbi; and any one who endeavors to pronounce this name will be likely to feel glad that it was afterwards changed by the white settlers.

Before this first discovery of New Jersey, the Lenni-Lenape had settled themselves in the beautiful and fertile country about the Susquehanna and the west shore of the Delaware, and here established their right to their name, which signifies "original people;" and if their stories are correct, they certainly are the original inhabitants of this region, and they discovered New Jersey from the west, and took rightful possession of it.

It is a law of nations, founded then upon the same principles of justice as it stands upon now, that discovery by a nation, or the agent of a nation, of unknown lands entirely uninhabited, gives the discoverers the right to those lands; and, in accordance with that law, the Lenape became the discoverers and original owners of New Jersey.

We will not now allude to the rights they then acquired to the country which is now Pennsylvania and other States, because we are confining ourselves to what relates to the country of Scheyichbi, the land where their eastward migrations ceased. Now, they could go no farther towards the rising sun, and they were satisfied to stop.

These Lenape, or "Grandfather Tribe" as they were often called, were not merely cruel and ignorant savages: they had many admirable traits of character, and some of their manners and customs might well have been imitated by those who found them here.

They had an admirable system of government; and at regularly appointed periods their wisest men met at the great "Council House" to make laws, and arrange the affairs of the nation. Their conduct in their councils was far more decorous and becoming than that we often hear of among legislators of the present day, whether they are met together in Congress, Parliament, or Reichstag. These chiefs, chosen for their wisdom and experience, treated each other with the highest regard and respect. When one of them arose to address his fellow-legislators, every man in the council room paid the strictest attention to what he said; and interruptions, jeers, and ridicule, such as legislators often make use of at the present day, were totally unknown among these grave and earnest Indians.

There can be no doubt that the Lenape were superior to other Indian nations, and worthy of the proud title which they gave themselves; and in later years, when the river was named after Lord De la Warre, and they were called the Delawares, they were considered the noblest of the Indian tribes.

I dwell upon the good qualities and high character of the Lenape, because it was from their main body that numerous tribes came across the Delaware River, and became the first Jerseymen, or, if any one likes it better, Scheyichbians. They settled in many pleasant places, building wigwam villages, many of which have since grown into modern towns, and still bear their old Indian names. In fact, the modern Jerseyman has had the good sense to preserve a great many of the names given to rivers, mountains, and villages by the first owners of the soil.

But, after all, Scheyichbi was not sufficiently discovered and settled for the purposes of civilization, and its fertile soil waited long for the footsteps of the new immigrants. These came at last from the east.

About the end of the fifteenth century there was a strong desire among the maritime nations of Europe to find a short passage to China and the East Indies. It was for that reason that Columbus set out on his expedition; but with his story we have nothing to do, for he did not discover the continent of North America, and in fact never saw it. But after John Cabot and his son Sebastian, then looking for a passage to Cathay in the interest of the King of England, made a voyage to North America, and had contented themselves with discovering Newfoundland, Sebastian came back again, and accomplished a great deal more. He sailed along the coast from Labrador to the southern end of Florida, and in the course of this voyage discovered New Jersey. He made a map of the whole coast, and claimed all the country back of it for the King of England.

There is no proof that Cabot knew whether this country had inhabitants or not. He saw it from his ships; but he did not make any attempt to settle it, and thus establish a legal right to the soil. He simply declared it the property of the Crown of England, and it is upon this claim that England afterward based her right to the eastern coast of North America.

And so New Jersey was discovered from the east.

About a quarter of a century after Sebastian Cabot's voyage, the French took up the idea that they would like to discover something, and Francis I. sent an Italian mariner, named John Verrazano, across the Atlantic Ocean.

After having sailed far enough, John Verrazano discovered the coast of North America, which he called "a new land never before seen by any man, ancient or modern." He took possession of it in the name of his king, and, in order to settle the matter, called the whole coast New France. There is reason to believe that Verrazano discovered the southern part of New Jersey, for in sailing northward he probably entered Delaware Bay.

But it appears that New Jersey was not yet sufficiently discovered, and after having been left for a long time in the possession of its true owners, the Lenni-Lenape, it was again visited by Europeans. In 1609 the celebrated Henry Hudson, then in the service of the Dutch East India Company, started westward to try to find a northwest passage to China. In those bygone days, whenever a European explorer set out to find an easy passage to the East, he was very apt to discover New Jersey; and this is what happened to Henry Hudson. He first discovered it on the south, and partially explored Delaware Bay; then he sailed up the coast and entered New York Bay, and sailed some distance up the river which now bears his name.

Hudson did more for New Jersey than any of the other discoverers, for his men were the first Europeans who ever set foot upon its soil. Some of them landed in the vicinity of Bergen Point, and were met in a friendly way by a great many of the original inhabitants. But the fact that he found here possessors of the soil made no difference to Hudson: he claimed the country for the Dutch. Five years afterwards, that nation made a settlement at New York, and claiming the whole of the surrounding country, including New Jersey, gave it the name of New Netherland.

Thus was New Jersey discovered on the north; and after the efforts of four nations,--the Indians first, the English under Cabot, the French, and the Dutch (for Hudson was now in the service of that nation),--it may be said to have been entirely discovered.

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Frank R Stockton's short story: Story Of The Discovery Of Scheyichbi