For more than 12,000 years, the Lenape (Delaware) Indians and their predecessors lived along the rivers and streams of Lenapehoking, the Land of the Lenape. These earliest inhabitants organized themselves into nomadic bands and eventually established permanent villages. The Hackensacks, a clan of the Lenape, inhabited the land that would become the city of Newark.
In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian mariner sailing in the service of King Francis I of France, explored the eastern coast of North America and entered what later would be called New York Bay. Henry Hudson visited the same area in 1609, and the great Hudson River was given his name. A century after Verrazano, settlers from The Netherlands established a town called New Amsterdam, on the island of Manhattan. What we call the New Jersey-New York Metropolitan area, together with the valley of the Hudson River, for forty years would be the Dutch colony of New Netherlands.
In 1664, the English captured New Amsterdam. King Charles II gave New Netherlands, the land between the Connecticut and Delaware rivers, including Long Island, to his brother, James, Duke of York. The Duke, in turn, granted the lands between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers to two of his friends, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, naming them “Lords Proprietors.” This land was named Nova Caesarea, or New Jersey, recalling the island of Jersey in the English Channel, near the coast of France. In August, 1665, the first governor of New Jersey, Philip Carteret, arrived with a great company and established himself at Elizabethtown.
The Lords Proprietors knew that they must have colonists, and they encouraged dissatisfied residents of Connecticut to move to their new colony. These settlers, led by Robert Treat, chose a site near Elizabethtown. They sailed up “ye Pesayak river” in May 1666. The native inhabitants at first refused to let them settle. Negotiations were opened with the Hackensacks, and a title purchased from them on July 11, 1667. Territory extending from the summit of Watchung Mountain, now Orange Mountain, “about seven or eight miles from Pesayak Town,” was purchased for “fifty double hands of powder, one hundred barrs of lead, twenty Axes, twenty Coates, ten Guns, twenty pistolls, ten kettles, ten Swords, four blankets, four barrells of beere, ten paire of breeches, fifty knives, twenty bowes, eight hundred and fifty fathem of wampem, two Ankors of Licquers, or something equivalent and three troopers Coates.” The City of Newark was born.
The settlers considered this a fair purchase, but the majority of the Native Americans did not have the same concept of private property as Europeans. Rather, they considered the land to be held in common. For them a “sale” of land implied only allowing the use of it to another, not alienation of it in perpetuity. The way of life of the native inhabitants was to change forever. Over the years most would succumb to disease or warfare. As their land was lost to Europeans, those who remained began a long, sad migration to the west.
During the colonial period, the great majority of the population of New Jersey was Protestant. Catholics were a tiny minority and there were very few in Newark. Prejudice was even enshrined in the 1776 Constitution of the State of New Jersey, which stated “that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right…(and)…that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect…shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust…” During the American Revolution, General George Washington always showed respect for Catholics. The chief allies of our fledgling republic were Catholic Spain and France. When the Spanish representative, Don Angelo Morales, lay dying at Morristown in 1780, General Washington was present at his side as he received the “Last Rites,” the Sacrament of the Sick. That same year Washington ordered a public observance of St. Patrick’s Day, the first official recognition of this holiday. In spite of these events, the restriction of full religious liberty to Protestants alone remained in the New Jersey Constitution until 1844.
The few Catholics who lived in Newark had to travel great distances for religious services. On occasion, an itinerant priest would visit, celebrate Mass, baptize, officiate at weddings, and hear confessions. Tradition recounts that Rev. Paul McQuaid celebrated the first Mass in Newark sometime in the 1820s. Apparently, this took place in an old stone house, which stood for many years on the corner of High and Orange Streets, or, perhaps, in the Turf House, at the corner of Durand and Mulberry Streets. From 1824, Mass was offered weekly at the home of Charles Durning on Mulberry Street. Durning’s son, Rev. Daniel G. Durning, was the first native of Newark to be ordained to the priesthood.
In 1827, Rev. Gregory Bryan Pardow was sent by Rt. Rev. John Dubois, Bishop of New York, to organize Newark’s first Catholic church, St. John’s. At this time, northeastern New Jersey was part of the Diocese New york, while the remainder of the state was part of the Diocese of Philadelphia. Ground was purchased on Mulberry Street and the church was begun in 1827. In 1842, St. Mary’s on High Street was dedicated by Rt. Rev. John Hughes, Bishop of New York, as a church for German-speaking Catholics.