In 1973, Jim and Margaret Hogan purchased their own piece of rural Burlington County, New Jersey. For $9,000, the couple secured themselves 1.5 acres of what was once part of Brotherton, the only reservation for Native Americans the state has ever had.
Jim Hogan, who is now an 84 year-old father of five and grandfather of seven, said:
“We didn’t know that when we bought it. A family from Pennsylvania sold it to us. It was all commercially zoned and we thought this area, on a major highway, would be the next Cherry Hill.”
It turns out the Hogans were wrong. Jim, who is now retired from his career as a construction-equipment salesman, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the area is still quite rural. In fact, his own property was never developed, save for a small farmstand he built and used briefly.
“We tried to sell this land on and off, and after the last sale fell through in 2017, we decided to donate it to the Indians for a dollar,” Jim said. He added, “The history of the United States and the Indians is not too good, and we wanted to do something for them.”
So on September 4, 2018, the Hogans conveyed the deed to their property to the Brotherton Indian Reservation organization.
Brotherton was once home to about 200 Leni-Lenape—or Delaware—people. Over time, the reservation’s population dwindled until, in 1802, the state of New Jersey began to sell pieces of it to private buyers while residents migrated to other indigenous communities.
Joseph Littlefeather, who was recently elected chief of the Sandhill Lenape Cherokee Tribe, said:
“I want to thank him for doing this. We want to put a farm stand on the land, and eventually open an office there, so people who live down there don’t have to travel so far.”
However, Joseph Barton, mayor of Tabernacle—the small town within which the land in question sits—said he wasn’t aware that the deed had been transferred:
“Unless the [new owners] have some sort of federal exemption, they would have to come before our zoning and planning board, as well as the Pinelands Commission, with any plan for building something there.”
The fact that there are no federally recognized Native American tribes in the state of New Jersey doesn’t stop the local indigenous population from organizing. “We don’t receive any money from the State of New Jersey and we don’t have anything to do with the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Littlefeather said of the group of hundreds of descendants of a group often referred to as the Brotherton Indians.
“It still is the Brotherton Reservation,” Littlefeather said. “They sold property that wasn’t theirs to sell.”
Littlefeather and others aren’t looking to kick the non-native residents off of their former land. “We’re not going to go down there and throw everybody out of their houses,” he said. But if descendants of the Brotherton Indians are able to reestablish themselves on even a little bit of their native land, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.
And Jim Hogan agrees:
“I would love to see them be able to come back. The Indians were here before anybody else. They should be able to use this ground.”