Delaware Ceremony, 1762

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“I was present in the year 1762, at the funeral of a woman of the highest rank and respectability, the wife of the valiant Delaware chief Shingask; . . . all the honours were paid to her at her interment that are usual on such occasions. . . . At the moment that she died, her death was announced through the village by women especially appointed for that purpose, who went through the streets crying, ‘She is no more! She is no more!’ The place on a sudden exhibited a scene of universal mourning; cries and lamentations were heard from all quarters.” The following day the body was placed in a coffin which had been made by a carpenter employed by the Indian trader. The remains had been ” dressed and painted in the most superb Indian style. Her garments, all new, were set off with rows of silver broaches, one row joining the other. Over the sleeves of her new ruffled shirt were broad silver arm spangles from her shoulder down to her wrist, on which were bands, forming a kind of mittens, worked together of wampum, in the same manner as the belts which they use when they deliver speeches. Her long plaited hair was confined by broad bands of silver, one band joining the other, yet not of the same size, but tapering from the head downwards and running at the lower end to a point. On the neck were hanging five broad belts of wampum tied together at the ends, each of a size smaller than the other, the largest of which reached below her breast, the next largest reaching to a few inches of it, and so on, the uppermost one being the smallest. Her scarlet leggings were decorated with different coloured ribands sewed on, the outer edges being finished off with small beads also of various colours. Her mocksens were ornamented with the most striking figures, wrought on the leather with coloured porcupine quills, on the borders of which, round the ancles, were fastened a number of small round silver bells, of about the size of a musket ball. All these things together with the vermilion paint, judiciously laid on, so as to set her off in the highest style, decorated her person in such a manner, that perhaps nothing of the kind could exceed it.” Later, “the spectators having retired, a number of articles were brought out of the house and placed in the coffin.” These included articles of clothing, a dressed deerskin for the making of moccasins, needles, a pewter basin. “with a number of trinkets and other small articles which she was fond of while living.” The coffin was then closed, the lid being held in place by three straps. Across it were then placed three poles, 5 or 6 feet in length, “also fastened with straps cut up

from a tanned elk hide, and a small bag of vermilion paint, with home flannel to lay it on, was then thrust into the coffin through the hole cut out at the head of it. This hole, the Indians say, is for he spirit of the deceased to go in and out at pleasure, until it has found the place of its future residence.” Six persons then grasped he ends of the three poles and carried the coffin to the grave. The six consisted of four men, at the front and back, and two women between. ” Several women from a house about thirty yards off, how started off, carrying large kettles, dishes, spoons, and dried elk neat in baskets, and for the burial place, and the signal being given for us to move with the body, the women who acted as chief mourners made the air resound with their shrill cries. The order of the procession was as follows: first a leader or guide, from the spot where we were to the place of interment. Next followed the corpse, and close to it Shingask, the husband of the deceased. He was followed by the principal war chiefs and counsellors of the nation, after whom came men of all ranks and descriptions. Then followed the women and children, and lastly two stout men carrying loads of European manufactured goods upon their backs. The chief mourners on the women’s side, not having joined in the ranks, took their own course to the right, at the distance of about fifteen or twenty yards from us, but always opposite to the corpse.” Thus they moved along for a distance of about 200 yards to the open grave, and when it was reached the lid was removed from the coffin, and “the whole train formed themselves into a kind of semilunar circle on the south side of the grave, and seated themselves on the ground, while the disconsolate Shingask retired by himself to a spot at some distance, where he was seen weeping, with his head bowed to the ground. The female mourners seated themselves promiscuously near to each other, among some low bushes that were at the distance of from twelve to fifteen yards east of the grave. In this situation we remained for the space of more than two hours; not a sound was heard from any quarter, though the numbers that attended were very great; nor did any person move from his seat to view the body, which had been lightly covered over with a clean white sheet. All appeared to be in profound reflection and solemn mourning. . . . At length, at about one o’clock in the afternoon, six men stepped forward to put the lid upon the coffin, and let down the body into the grave, when suddenly three of the women mourners rushed from their seats, and forcing themselves between these men and the corpse, loudly called to the deceased to `arise and go with them and not forsake them.’ They even took hold of her arms and legs; at first it seemed as if they were caressing her, afterwards they appeared to pull with more violence, as if they intended to run away with the body, crying out all the while, ‘Arise, arise! Come with us! ‘ . . . As soon as these women had gone through their part of the ceremony, which took up about fifteen minutes, the six men whom they had interrupted and who had remained at the distance of about five feet from the corpse, again stepped forward and did their duty. They let down the coffin into the earth, and laid two thin poles of about four inches diameter, from which the bark had been taken off, lengthways, and close together over the grave, after which they retired.” The husband, Shingask, then came slowly forward and walked over the poles, and continued on to the prairie. Then a ” painted post, on which were drawn various figures, emblematic of the deceased’s situation in life and of her having been the wife of a valiant warrior, was brought by two men and delivered to a third, a man of note, who placed it in such a manner that it rested on the coffin at the head of the grave, and took great care that a certain part of the drawings should be exposed to the east, or rising of the sun; then while ha held the post erect and properly situated, some women filled up the grave with hoes, and having placed dry leaves and pieces of bark over it, so that none of the fresh ground was visible, they retired, and some men, with timbers fitted before hand for the purpose, enclosed the grave about breast-high, so as to secure it from the approach of the wild beasts.”

After this food was prepared and passed about, then the presents were distributed, the many things which had been carried by the two men in the rear of the procession. Those who had rendered assistance were given the most valuable and highly prized pieces, but no one was omitted. Articles to the value of about $200 were thus given away. Men, women, and children alike were remembered. At dusk after the burial, a kettle of food was placed upon the grave, and this was renewed every evening for three weeks, after which time, so they thought, food was no longer required by the spirit. When an Indian (lied away from his village,), “great care is taken that the grave be well fortified with posts and logs laid upon it, that the wolves may be prevented from getting at the corpse; when time and circumstances do not permit this, as, for instance, when the Indians are traveling, the body is inclosed in the bark of trees and thus laid in the grave. When a death takes place at their hunting camps, they make a kind of coffin as well as they can, or put a cover over the body, so that the earth may not sink on it, and then inclose the grave with a fence of poles.” These scattered burials, made away from settlements, readily explain the occurrence of the isolated graves often found at the present time, and few if any objects of a lasting nature were deposited with the bodies. Heckewelder did not give the exact location of the burial of the wife of the Delaware chief Shingask, although he gave the date., 1762, and elsewhere in his narrative mentioned living at that time ” at Tuscarawas on the Muskingum.” To have reached Tuscarawas he would have traversed the great trail leading westward from western Pennsylvania, passing the mouth of Beaver River, a stream which flows from the north and enters the right bank of the Ohio 2S miles below Pittsburgh. On the map which accompanied Washington’s Journal, printed in London in 1754, a Delaware -village is indicated on the right bank of the Ohio just below the mouth of the Beaver. Two years later, on a small map in the London Magazine for December, 1756, this Delaware village bore the name Shingoes town, and so it continued on various maps until long after the Revolution, although the name was spelled in many ways. Undoubtedly Shingask of Heckewelder was the Shingoe whose town stood at the mouth of the Beaver, and here occurred the burial of the wife of the Delaware chief, probably when Heckewelder was on his way to Tuscarawas, some miles westward. When Col. Bouquet traversed the same trail on his expedition against the native villages beyond the Ohio he crossed Beaver Creek. This was on Saturday, October 6, 1764, and there were then standing near the ford ” about seven houses, which were deserted and destroyed by the Indians, after their defeat at Bushy Run, when they forsook all their remaining settlements in this part of the country.” The battle of Bushy Run took place during the two clays, August 5 and 6, 1763, and consequently the village at the mouth of the Beaver, evidently Shingoes town, was abandoned the year after it was visited by Heckewelder, but the name continued on certain maps long after that time. Some very interesting references to the burial customs of the people of the same region, more particularly the Delaware, are contained in a work by another missionary. It was said that the place of burial was some distance from the dwellings, and that the graves were usually prepared by old women, as the younger members of the tribes disliked such work. ” Before they had hatchets and other tools, they used to line the inside of the grave with the bark of trees, and when the corpse was let down, they placed some pieces of wood across, which were again covered with bark, and then the earth thrown in, to fill up the grave. But now they usually place three boards, not nailed together, into the grave, in such a manner that the corpse may lie between them. A fourth board being laid over it as a cover, the grave is filled up with earth. Now and then they procure a proper coffin. . . . If they have a coffin, it is placed in the grave empty. Then

the corpse is carried out, lying upon a linen cloth, full in view, that the finery and ornaments, with all the effects left by the deceased, may appear to advantage, and accompanied by as great s number of friends as can be collected. It is then let down into the coffin, covered with the cloth, and the lid being nailed down, the grave is filled up with earth. During the letting down of the corpse the women set. up a dreadful howl, but it is deemed a shame in a man to weep. Yet in silence and unobserved, they cannot refrain from tears. At the head of the corpse, which always lies towards the east, a tall post is erected, pointing out who is buried there. If the deceased was the Chief of a tribe or nation, this post is only neatly carved, but not painted, But if he was a captain, it is painted red, and his head and glorious deeds are pourtrayed upon it, This is also done in honor of a great warrior, his warlike deeds being exhibited in red colors, The burial-post of a physician is hung with small tortoisshells or a calabash, which he used in his practice, After the burial the greater part of the goods left by the deceased are distributed among those who assisted in burying him, and are not related to him, the ceremony is over, the mother, grandmother, and other near relations retire after sunset, and in the morning early, to weep over the grave, This they repeat daily for some time, but gradually less and less, till the mourning is over. Sometimes they place victuals upon the grave, that the deceased may not suffer hunger.” And following this is an account of the mourning for the dead. In the preceding description of the manner in which graves were prepared by the Delaware about the last years of the eighteenth century there is something quite suggestive of the stone-lined graves. In both instances pits were dug, to be lined in earlier days with thin, natural slabs of stone, and later, when boards were obtainable, they were used in the place of stones. Then when coffins were to be had they were looked upon as a ready-prepared grave lining, one which did not require any fitting together when placed inside the grave. And so the grave would be dug of a size to accommodate the wooden lining-the coffin-which had already been fastened together, and when the grave was thus lined the body would be placed within it. Such was the custom and such was the characteristic reasoning of the Indian.



MLA Source Citation:

Bushnell, David I. Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Volume 71. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1920. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 21 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/delaware-ceremony-1762.htm - Last updated on Dec 20th, 2012


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