A Legend Takes Hold

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Whose Story is Told ?

Journalists and authors have been writing since the 1800s about “wild men,” “savages,” and “outcasts” living off the land in a “degraded state.” They were called the Ramapo Mountain people, or Mountaineers, or Jackson Whites - whatever outsiders decided was the right term - and referred to as “mongrels” belonging to a “degenerate race.” These kinds of stories would have resonated with the racial imaginations of the time, when the Eugenics Record Office was operating in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York (founded in 1910).

This exhibit contains digitized historical materials.  We want to acknowledge that some content displayed in this exhibit contains images and language that are offensive by today's standards, including racist and hateful attitudes towards the Ramapough Lunaape people and other marginalized communities.  We openly reject these biased views.  We recognize that these viewpoints illustrate the perspectives of their time, and such stories cannot be erased when providing a truthful history.  It is necessary  to fully understand this history in order to understand the present.  



The Faith of A Collie by Albert Payson Terhune (1926) page 3. 

This children's book offers a representation of the Ramapough, named as "Jackson Whites" in the text.



“ Thirty-five Miles from New York City, with its manmade skyline, seats of learning and citizens of culture, towers a range of mountains which shelters an assortment of humans…wilder than any people [in] the Tennessee mountains.”

- New York Tribune (1921)



Local journalist John C. Storms, known for taking fanciful liberties with his writing, published a tale in a pamphlet in 1936 that provided an irresistible nugget of local lore, intrigue, and speculation about the origins of the Ramapough. This salacious tale - full of outlaws and prostitutes and the wanton mixing of races - was worthy of any modern day tabloid magazine. It featured British wenches, enslaved African ”prostitutes,” a rouge human trafficking entrepreneur named Jackson, a sunken ship, mercenary soldiers, and a long trek across the wild territory of the new American colonies where farms and fields were pillaged. Storms claimed that the people living in the Ramapo Mountains were formed from this ragtag batch of English and West Indian prostitutes, brought to service the needs of soldiers, Hessian mercenaries, “Red Men,” “Negroes,” and “American Tories.”

This tale had exactly the kinds of elements that would have resonated with the bizarre racial imaginations of the time (Nash, 1995). This was a time of anxieties about whiteness and mixed race populations in an America that contained distinct racial and legal categories such as quadroon, octaroon, and mulatto (which stayed on the census until 1930). The 1930s, when the pamphlet was published, was the heyday of eugenics in America. Charles Davenport, the leader of the American eugenics movement, had recently formed the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at nearby Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York in 1910. This facility was largely financed by Mary Harriman, whose family name marks the large Harriman State Park in New York, located close to Ramapough communities



"Next to being an Indian, the greatest point of distinction for a Jackson White is to be an albino. Whether albinos are numerous in the Ramapos because of persistent inbreeding or because of lack of copper sulphate... is something that science hasn’t settled as yet."

- The New Yorker (1938) 



“ For many years now there have been stories of a degenerate race of people who live an isolated existence removed from the civilized world in New Jersey’s Ramapo Mountains. As far back as the revolutionary war New Jerseyans have heard, and told, tales of a motley group of social outcasts who had taken refuge in the northeastern hills of the state and inbred to the point of mutation.”

- Weird N.J. Website (2012) 

A Legend Takes Hold