A Piece Of Land Becomes A Town

Source: The Teaneck Shopper, Wednesday, October 21, 1970, page 7 - Supplement

The story of a town is the story of a piece of land, the people who have lived there and how they adapted that land to their living purposes.  In the case of Teaneck, it is the story of six and a half square miles of land close to the world's second largest city.

Teaneck did not become a township until 1895, but people had been living in the area for several centuries before.  When the white man came following Henry Hudson's arrival at Sandy Hook in 1609, the land was occupied by members of the Lenni Lenape tribe of the Achinheschacky or Hackensack Indians.  Their domain extended from the home of the Tappaens to the north, south to the Wechquachick near Newark Bay and east to the Great River.  There was an Indian Village on Overpeck Creek in the present Glenwood Park section of Teaneck.

NO ONE KNOWS for sure how Teaneck got its name. The region between the Overpeck Creek and the Hackensack River has been variously called Tee Neck, Tiene Kill, Teen Neck and Tien Neck. The name was sufficiently established to be used in a will written by Jon Loots of Hackensack on Dec. 27, 1728: "To son John (oldest) the land in the hills and Pau1us land on Tien Neck and to share equally the "meadows." The will was witnessed by Jacob Hendrik Banta, Hendrik Banta and Robert Livesay.

ROBERT ERSKINE cartographer to George Washington, put Tee Neck on the map he made of the area in 1778 when it was the first way station on the Continental army's retreat from disaster at Fort Lee to victory in Trenton. 

WHILE THERE have been many explanations as to the origin of the name, the only one having anything to do with tea is that the place was so named because the shape of the land resembled a tea pot! Dr. Truman Michelson of the Bureau' of American Ethnology told Mrs. Geraldine Huston that the name had been too corrupted to be analyzed exactly. He believed the name to be of Indian rather than Dutch origin. Scholars who preferred the origin to be Dutch stated that the translation meant "Land where the willows grow," -- tene, meaning willows in Dutch.

ACCORDING to a Lenape-English dictionary compiled by Moravian missionaries to further their work among the Indians, "Tekene" meant woods, or uninhabited place. "Nek" was the plural of "Ne", thus the word could have been "Tekenek" or simply "The Woods". The Dutch, who Hollandized so many Indian place names, would quite naturally have spelled it "Tiene Neck" or tiny neck.

TEANECK ROAD, mentioned in many old deeds, was originally an Indian trail, following the high ground from Chief Oratam's base in lower Teaneck north into the land of the Tappaens.

AT ABOUT the time the white man was turning his thoughts and ships toward the new world, an Indian named Oratam was rising to leadership near Teaneck. White man had been near the Jersey coast long before Oratam's time. John Cabot and his son Sebastian, commissioned in the service of Henry VII of England, had doubtless passed the New Jersey shore. In 1524 Verrazano, sailing under the French flag reported anchoring at Delaware Bay and Sandy Hook. Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company, cast anchor at Sandy Hook on April 4, 1609. He returned to Holland bearing the news of his discovery for a "new opening for commerce." Nothing was done about it immediately. 

SOME PEOPLE sent out by the Dutch East India Company and later by the Dutch West India Co., settled in New Amsterdam, the present New York City. The first settlement in New Jersey was at Bergen in 1618. Later settlers moved north-ward to this area. In some places they found the land too dry, unlike Holland. This area, with the Hackensack River on one side and Overpeck Creek on the other, suited the Dutch perfectly. As one wag put It, they thrived where they had to build dikes to keep out the river tides and could have water in their cellars 12 months a year!

CHIEF ORATAM and a memorable woman named Sarah Kiersted left incredible marks on Teaneck history. Sarah Kiersted was the wife of Hans Kiersted, a surgeon in New Amsterdam. Oratam was a peace loving sachem and tried throughout his life to keep peace between the Indians and the white men who had introduced the Indians to fire, water, among other things.

HE MET frequently with the white men in New Amsterdam, trying to settle differences by treaty. Sarah Kiersted acted as his interpreter, having learned the language of the Hackensacks. Documents of the Director and the Council of New Netherlands speak again and again of delegations of Hackensack Indians - usually headed by Oratam - visiting New Amsterdam. Mrs. Kiersted served as the chief's interpreter for many years.

ORATAM WAS an old man, nearly 90, when he gave to Sarah Kiersted the hook of land in Hackensack Neck in appreciation of her helpfulness. The Kiersted grant was 2,120 acres between the Hackensack River and Overpeck Creek. It included much of the present day Teaneck. Her rights were confirmed in June, 1669 by Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkley.

THE FOLLOWING year Mrs. Kiersted sold to Laurance Van Boskerk "All that tract of meadow situated in Hackensack Province of East New Jersey Bounded on Ye east by ye River called Overpecke Creek, on ye South by Said creeke, on ye West by ye upland and on ye North by ye Kiersted north -- ernmost lyne containing in estimaccion four hundred and seventy acres" -- for one pound. How's that for a bargain?

MRS. KIERSTED retained title to the rest of the land for a long time. In 1685, the author of a book on "The Model Government of East Jersey" mentioned "A large tract of land for which Mrs. Sarah Kiersted of New York had a patent given by an old Indian Sachem in recompense for interpreting the Indian language, as there was occasion. There are some little families theron."

A HUNDRED years later deeds filed in Hackensack courthouse referred to the Kiersted Patent, including the land on which the Phelps home was located and where the Municipal Building stands today.       

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