The Lenape (Delaware Indians) called the island Aquehonga Manacknong. The first part means "high, sandy banks", owing to the island's coarse mid-Atlantic soil, and the second part means "as far as the place as the bad woods", perhaps referring to the interior, which is swampy and today constitutes a preserve called the Greenbelt. The first permanent settlement of the island seems to date back to 3,000 BCE, although there is evidence of human presence dating all the way back to 12,000 BCE.

The Lenape settled along the coast, with the Hackensack occupying the north, the Raritan the south, and the Tappan the east (now you know where all those funny place names come from!). All three belonged to the Unami, a subdivision of the Lenape whose totem was the turtle.

While Staten Island is stereotyped as being mostly landfill, the borough was downright rural until the building of the Verrazano Bridge. After that, the small farms disappeared. The Lenape farmed the island long before the bridge was even a sketch on a napkin. They also hunted local animals, which ranged from wild turkey and deer to wolves, oppossum, and bears. They collected shells along the coast and made them into wampum, which was traded for flint (not locally available). Fishing also provided a source of food and trade. Staten Island is located south of Manhattan, along the northeastern coast of New Jersey, and naturally picked up some of the trade from Indians making the circuit of New York Harbor.

The Lenape, however, no longer live on the island. In 1670, the land was sold to the English Governor Francis Lovelace, nine years after the first successful European settlement (by the Dutch, at "Oude Dorp", in what is now the community of South Beach), and thirty one years after fighting between Lenape and Europeans began.

The Staten Island Lenape were forced west and south, into New Jersey, and seem to have been absorbed into the local population. Later, most of the Lenape were moved to reservations in the Midwest, far away from the sandy banks of the mid-Atlantic coast.

For more on the Lenape: