March 22, 2023

“Welcome to Princeton, Settled in 1683” Sign Appears to Be Accurate

To the Editor:

Did anyone “live” in Princeton before 1683, either Indigenous or European? This question is raised by a letter in Mailbox, March 15 [“Welcome to Princeton’ Signs Should Recognize Lenni Lenape as Initial Inhabitants”]. Although I am not a historian by profession, I enjoy history and enjoy it even more when it is accurate. Having grown up on the other side of the Sourland Mountains, I have had an interest in the Lenape people since childhood.

The people commonly referred to as Lenni Lenape were also known as the Delawares, and for good reason. They controlled a large area including parts of what are now Delaware, Pennsylvania, Southern New York, Staten Island, and, of course, New Jersey. According to available information, their settlements were primarily in the Delaware Valley, coming eastward seasonally only to hunt and fish. Archaeologic findings as close to Princeton as Plainsboro are thought to be indications of a camp rather than settlement. It appears that no evidence has yet been found in Princeton to indicate that a Lenape settlement was ever established here.

In addition, archaeological evidence indicates that an earlier Indigenous people occupied this space prior to the Lenape. Their tools were of different material and they, unlike the Lenape, did not use pottery. Evidence suggests that the Lenape, consistent with their own cosmology, the Wolam Olam, originated far north of the Mid-Atlantic, migrated south, and displaced the prior occupants of the land.

Since neither the Lenni Lenape nor their predecessors left evidence of a settlement, the “Welcome to Princeton, Settled in 1683” sign appears to be accurate and gets my vote.

Marc I. Malberg, M.d.
Autumn Hill Road