Delaware Tribe

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Delaware Indians. A confederacy, formerly the most important of the Algonquian stock, occupying the entire basin of Delaware river in east Pennsylvania and south New York, together with most of New Jersey and Delaware. They called themselves Lenape or Leni-lenape, equivalent to ‘real men,’ or ‘native, genuine men’; the English knew them as Delaware, from the name of their principal river; the French called them Loups, ‘wolves,’ a term probably applied originally to the Mahican on Hudson rivers, afterward extended to the Munsee division and to the whole group. To the more remote Algonquian tribes they, together with all their cognate tribes along the coast far up into New England, were known as Wapanaehki, ‘easterners,’ or ‘eastern land people,’ a term which appears also as a specific tribal designation in the form of Abnaki. By virtue of admitted priority of political rank and of occupying the central home territory, from which most of the cognate tribes had diverged, they were accorded by all the Algonquian tribes the respectful title of “grandfather,” a recognition accorded by courtesy also by the Huron. The Nanticoke, Conoy, Shawnee, and Mahican claimed close connection with the Delaware and preserved the tradition of a common origin.

The Lenape, or Delaware proper, were composed of 3 principal tribes, treated by Morgan as phratries, viz: Munsee, Unami, and Unalachtigo, besides which some of the New Jersey bands may have constituted a fourth. Each of these had its own territory and dialect, with more or less separate identity, the Munsee particularly being so far differentiated as frequently to be considered an independent people.

The early traditional history of the Lenape is contained in their national legend, the Walam Olum. When they made their first treaty with Penn, in 1682, the Delaware had their council fire at Shackamaxon, about the present Germantown, suburb of Philadelphia, and under various local names occupied the whole country along the river. To this early period belongs their great chief, Tamenend, from whom the Tammany Society takes its name. The different bands frequently acted separately but regarded themselves as part of one great body. About the year 1720 the Iroquois assumed dominion over them, forbidding them to make war or sales of lands, a condition which lasted until about the opening of the French and Indian war. As the whites, under the sanction of the Iroquois, crowded them out of their ancient homes, the Delaware removed, to the Susquehanna, settling at Wyoming and other points about 1742. They soon crossed the mountains to the headwaters of the Allegheny, the first of them having settled upon that stream in 1724. In 1751, by invitation of the Huron, they began to form settlements in east Ohio, and in a few years the greater part of the Delaware were fixed upon the Muskingum and other streams in east Ohio, together with the Munsee and Mahican, who had accompanied them from the east, being driven out by the same pressure and afterward consolidating with them. The Delaware, being now within reach of the French and backed by the western tribes, asserted their independence of the Iroquois, and in the subsequent wars up to the treaty of Greenville in 1795 showed themselves the most determined opponents of the advancing whites. The work of the devoted Moravian missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries forms an important part of the history of these tribes. (see Gnadenhuetten Missions)

About the year 1770 the Delaware received permission from the Miami and Piankishaw to occupy the country between the Ohio and White river south, in Indiana, where at one time they had 6 villages. In 1789, by permission of the Spanish government, a part of them removed to Missouri, and afterward to Arkansas, together with a band of Shawnee. By 1820 the two bands had found their way to Texas, where the Delaware numbered at that time probably at least 700. By the year 1835 most of the tribe had been gathered on a reservation in Kansas, from which they removed, in 1867, to Indian Territory and incorporated with the Cherokee Nation.

Another band is affiliated with the Caddo and Wichita in west Oklahoma, besides which there are a few scattered remnants in the United States, with several hundred in Canada, under the various names of Delaware, Munsee, and Moravians.

It is impossible to get a definite idea of the numbers of the Delaware at any given period, owing to the fact that they have always been closely connected with other tribes, and have hardly formed one compact body since leaving the Atlantic coast. All the estimates of the last century give then and their connected tribes from about 2,400 to 3,000, while the estimates within the present century are much lower. Their present population, including the Munsee, is about 1,900, distributed as follows: Incorporated with Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, 870; Wichita Reservation, Oklahoma, 95; Munsee, with Stockbridge, in Wisconsin, perhaps 260; Munsee, with Chippewa, in Kansas, perhaps 45; “Moravians of the Thames,” Ontario, 347; ” Munsee of the Thames,” Ontario, 122, with Six Nations on Grand river, Ontario, 150.



MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 17 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/delaware-tribe.htm - Last updated on Nov 28th, 2011


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