The Delaware Indians

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Treaty of Penn with Indians
The Treaty of Penn with the Indians, by Benjamin West, depicting Penn negotiating with Tammany

Associated with the early history of the Delawares are thoughts of William Penn, and of his peaceful intercourse with, and powerful influence over, the wild natives with whom he treated. At the first settlement of the country by Europeans, the tribes of this nation occupied no small portion of the present state of Pennsylvania, but their principal settlements lay between the Potomac and the Hudson. Situated between the great northern and southern confederacies, they were in turn at enmity and engaged in wars with either party; but, at an early day, they were in a measure subdued and reduced to a state of inferiority by the Six Nations.

The conduct of Penn towards the Indians has ever been spoken of with high admiration; and we are assured that his care for their interests, and anxiety to secure their rights, and to protect them from wrongs and aggression, caused his name to be idolized among the Delawares. Upon obtaining the immense grant from the crown, named Pennsylvania at the time of its bestowment, his first thought was to draw up a table of “conditions and concessions,” for the government of those who should adventure with him in the settlement of the wilderness. He expressly stipulated, in behalf of the Indians, that their persons and property should be protected by the same laws and penalties as those of the whites; that overreaching in trade should be avoided by the conduct of all sales in market overt; that a jury of six whites and six Indians should pass upon matters in dispute between individuals of the different races; and that the interest of the Indian should be made the special care of every magistrate.

In the autumn of 1682, Penn came over from England to regulate his new colony, and especially to confirm the friendly relations existing with the Indians inhabiting his territory. In Clarkson s Memoirs of Penn, the following mention is made of his grand treaty with these native proprietors. From religious scruples, he did not consider his claim, by virtue of the king s grant, to be valid without the assent of the occupants, and he determined to make honorable purchases of all that he should require. Arrangements had been made, by commissioners, previous to Penn’s arrival, for a great meeting, for the purpose of ratifying the proposed sale. “He proceeded, therefore, (at the appointed time,) accompanied by his friends, consisting of men, women, and young persons of both sexes, to Coaquannoc, the Indian name for the place where Philadelphia now stands. On his arrival there he found the sachems and their tribes assembling. They were seen in the woods, as far as the eye could carry, and looked frightful, both on account of their number and their arms. The Quakers are reported to have been but a handful in comparison, and these without any weapon so that dismay and terror had come upon them, had they not confided in the righteousness of their cause.”

The conference took place upon the site afterwards occupied by the town of Kensington, a few miles above Philadelphia, and called, by the Indians, Shackermaxon. “There was, at Shackermaxon, an elm-tree of prodigious size. To this the leaders, on both sides, repaired, approaching each other under its widely-spreading branches.” Penn wore no ornament, or symbol of authority, except a blue sash. Standing up before the assembly, he directed the articles of merchandise brought for the purchase, to be spread before him, and, displaying the engrossed copy of the treaty, awaited the movements of the Indian chiefs.

“One of the sachems, who was chief among them, put upon his own head a kind of chaplet, in which there appeared a small horn. This, as among the primitive Eastern nations, and, according to scripture language, was an emblem of kingly power. Upon putting on this horn, the Indians threw down their bows and arrows, and seated themselves round their chiefs, in the form of a half-moon upon the ground.”

The interpreter now announced the readiness of the chiefs to listen, and Penn proceeded to read and explain the provisions of the treaty. He premised that he and his people used no warlike implements, but that all their desire was for peace and concord. By the articles of agreement, the Indians were to be allowed to retain possession, for all needful purposes, even of the land sold, and particular specifications were inserted, touching the manner in which their rights should be enforced.

He then made the stipulated payments; distributed additional presents; and, laying the parchment on the ground, proceeded to say that “he would not do as the Marylanders did, that is, call them children or brothers only; for often parents were apt to whip their children too severely, and brothers sometimes would differ: neither would he compare the friendship between him and them to a chain, for the rain might sometimes rust it, or a tree might fell and break it; but he should consider them as the same flesh and blood with the Christians, and the same as if one man s body were to be divided into two parts.” Handing the parchment to the chief sachem, Penn then desired him and his associates “to preserve it carefully for three generations, that their children might know what had passed between them, just as if he had remained himself with them to repeat it. ‘This, says Voltaire, ‘was the only treaty between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and that never was broken.”

After accounts of the Indians, as given by Penn and his associates, in which the estimable points of native character are pleasingly portrayed, contrast strangely with the maledictions and bitter expressions of hatred which too many of the early chroniclers heap upon their Indian enemies. Never was a truer saying than the Spanish proverb, ” he who has injured you will never forgive you.”

The name by which these Indians have ever been designated, was bestowed upon them by the English, from Lord De la War: in their own tongue they were called the Lenni Lenape, (Original People,) as the chief and principal stock from which mankind in general had sprung.

St. Tammany

Conspicuous among the traditions of the Delawares appears the name of their old chief Tamanend, or Tammany. We have no very specific accounts of the history of this renowned sachem, but the veneration with which the Indians recounted his wisdom and virtues served to raise his character so high with the colonists that he was, in a manner, canonized. The “Home Journal,” of June 12th, 1852, makes the following mention of the singular respect paid to his memory:

“St. Tammany is, we believe, our only American saint. He was the chief of an Indian tribe which inhabited Pennsylvania, while that state was still a colony, and excited so much respect by his virtues and exploits, both among the white and red men, that, after his death, he was canonized, and the day of his birth, the first of May, regarded as a holiday.

“All Christian countries, says the Savannah Republican, have their tutelar saint. England has her St. George; Scotland her St. Andrew; Ireland her St. Patrick; France her St. Crispan; and Spain her St. Jago. In this country we have St. Tammany. Throughout the revolutionary war, the natal-day of this saint was observed with great respect, by the army as well as by the people. It was not till Mr. Jefferson s administration, when General Dearborn was secretary of war, that the observance of it by the army was dispensed with, and the change was made then only with the view of carrying out the system of retrenchment which the president sought to introduce in the administration of the government. The first fort built at St. Mary’s, Camden County, and perhaps the first fort in the state, was called Fort St. Tammany. A gentleman now residing in this city was present, while a boy, at a celebration, by the officers and soldiers stationed at the fort, of St. Tammany’s day. The Maypole used on this occasion was a tree, with its branches and bark removed; and around that the soldiers danced and celebrated the day.”

Moravian Missions

It was among the Delawares that one of the most interesting communities of Christian Indians ever existing in America, was established by the efforts of the Moravian mission. The venerable Count Zinzendorf, David Zeisberger, and John Heckewelder, were zealous and prominent partakers in the work of converting and instructing the Indians. From Heckewelder we have received much minute and interesting detail of the habits of the people among whom he labored, and the humanizing and enduring influence of Christian doctrine, enforced by good example on the part of its preachers.

The circumstances under which the missionary work was carried on were extremely adverse. During the long and bloody French and Indian wars, every tale of border cruel ties and massacre, committed by the savages, would instantly arouse a spirit of retaliation against the whole race, which frequently resulted in the most brutal outrages against the peaceful Moravian Indians. A population of lawless whites inhabited the border country, whom Heckewelder mildly rebukes in the following terms.

“I have yet to notice a class of people generally known to us by the name of backwoods-men, many of whom, acting up to a pretended belief, that an Indian has no more soul than a buffalo; and that to kill either is the same thing; have, from time to time, by their conduct, brought great trouble and bloodshed on the country. Such then I wish to caution, not to sport in that manner with the lives of God’s creatures. Believe that a time will come when you must account for such vile deeds! When those who have fallen a sacrifice to your wickedness will be called forth in judgment against you! nay, when your own descendants will testify against you.”

Division of the Delaware

As the settlements of the Europeans continued to in crease, the Delawares gradually removed from their old quarters, on the river and bay, which bear their name, to the wilderness of the west. No small portion of the tribe was, at the breaking out of the revolutionary war, settled in Ohio, on the banks of the Muskingum, and in the adjacent country.

Every influence was brought to bear by the English emissaries among the Delawares, to induce them to take up the hatchet against the rebellious Americans. The effort was, in part, successful: a large party, headed by the celebrated Captain Pipe, a chief of the Wolf tribe, declared for the king, while those inclined to peace and neutrality, or whose sympathies were on the side of the colonies, remained under the guidance of Koguethagechton Anglice, Captain White-Eyes. The disasters and perplexities in which the nation was involved by such a division might readily be foreseen. Both the opposing leaders were men of talent, energy, and boldness, and each was heart and soul enlisted in the cause to which he had united himself.

It is recorded of White-Eyes that, early in the war, he met with a deputation of the Senecas, (then, as we have seen, in the English interest,) and boldly avowed his own opinion. In reply to the old taunt, thrown out by one of the Iroquois, of former subjection and humiliation, the chief broke forth indignantly: “I know well that you consider us a conquered nation as women as your inferiors. You have, say you, shortened our legs, and put petticoats on us! You say you have given us a hoe and a corn-pounder, and told us to plant and pound for you, you men, you warriors! But look at me. Am I not full-grown, and have I not a warrior’s dress? Ay, I am a man, and these are the arms of a man, and all that country (pointing towards the Alleghany) on the other side of the water is mine!” “White-Eyes was signally successful in his efforts to undeceive the Indians within his influence, who had been tampered with and imposed upon by English agents, or excited by sympathy with the war-party. His death, which took place at Tuscarawas, in the winter of 1779-80, was a very unfortunate event for the Americans. He died of that great scourge of the Indian races, the small-pox.

See Further:



MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 7 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-delaware-indians.htm - Last updated on Feb 18th, 2013


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