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Map depicting approximately where different Lenape languages were spoken
The Lenape ( , , or ) are a group of several organized bands of Native American peoples with shared cultural and linguistic characteristics. Their name, sometimes spelled Lennape or Lenapi, means "the people." They are also known as the Lenni Lenape (the "true people") or as the "Delaware Indians." This last name was assigned to almost all the Lenape people living along the Delaware River, which English settlers named after Lord De La Warr, the governor of the Jamestown settlementmarker.

At the time of European contact in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lenape lived in the area known as Lenapehoking, roughly the area around and between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers. This encompassed what is now the U.S. state of New Jerseymarker, eastern Pennsylvaniamarker around the Delaware Valley, the north shore of Delawaremarker, and southern New Yorkmarker, especially the Hudson Valley and New York Harbor. They spoke two related languages in the Algonquian subfamily, collectively known as the Delaware languages: Unami and Munsee.

Lenape society was organized into clans determined by matrilineal descent. Territory was collective, but divided by clan. At the time of European contact, the Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture, their primary crop being maize. They also practiced hunting and the harvesting of seafood. They were primarily sedentary, moving to different established campsites by season.

After the arrival of Dutchmarker settlers and traders in the 17th century, the Lenape and other tribes became heavily involved in the North American fur trade. This depleted the beaver population in the area, proving disastrous for both the Lenape and the Dutch settlers. The Lenape were further weakened by new infectious diseases, and by conflict with the Europeans and their traditional enemies, the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock. Over the next centuries, they were pushed out of their lands by treaties and by overcrowding by white settlers. In the 1860s, most Lenape remaining in the Eastern United Statesmarker were sent to the Oklahoma Territory. In the 21st century, most Lenape now reside in Oklahomamarker. Some live in Kansasmarker, Wisconsinmarker, Ontariomarker, and in their traditional homelands.


Early Indian "tribes" are perhaps better understood as language groups, rather than as "nations." At the time of first European contact, a Lenape individual would likely have identified primarily with his or her immediate family and friends, or village unit; then with surrounding and familiar village units; next with more distant neighbors who spoke the same dialect; and ultimately, while often fitfully, with all those in the surrounding area who spoke mutually comprehensible languages, including the Mahican. Among other Algonquian peoples, the Lenape were considered the "grandfathers" from whom all the other Algonquian peoples originated. Consequently, in inter-tribal councils, the Lenape were given respect as one would to elders.

Those of a different language stock – such as the Iroquois (or, in the Lenape language, the Minqua) – were regarded as foreigners; often, as in the case of the Iroquois, the animosity of difference and competition spanned many generations. Ethnicity seems to have mattered little to the Lenape and many other "tribes". Archaeological excavations have found Munsee burials that included identifiably ethnic Iroquois remains interred along with those of ethnic-Algonquian Munsee. The two groups were bitter enemies since before recorded history, although intermarriage, perhaps through captive-taking, clearly occurred.

Overlaying these relationships was a phratry system, a division into clans. Clan membership was matrilineal; children inherited membership in a clan from their mother. On reaching adulthood, a Lenape traditionally married outside of the clan, a practice known by ethnographers as, "exogamy". The practice effectively prevented inbreeding, even among individuals whose kinship was obscure or unknown.

Early Europeans who first wrote about Indians found matrilineal social organization to be unfamiliar and perplexing. Because of this, Europeans often tried to interpret Lenape society through more familiar European arrangements. As a result, the early records are full of clues about early Lenape society, but were usually written by observers who did not fully understand what they were seeing. For example, a man's closest male ancestor was usually considered to be his maternal uncle (his mother's brother) and not his father, since his father belonged to a different clan. Such a concept was often unfathomable to early European chroniclers.

Land was assigned to a particular clan for hunting, fishing, and cultivation. Individual private ownership of land was unknown, but rather the land belonged to the clan collectively while they inhabited it. Clans lived in fixed settlements, using the surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting until the land was exhausted. The group then moved to found a new settlement within their territories.

The Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture to augment a mobile hunter-gatherer society in the region around the Delaware River, the lower Hudson River, and western Long Island Soundmarker. The Lenape were largely a sedentary people who occupied campsites seasonally, which gave them relatively easy access to the small game that inhabited the region: fish, birds, shellfish and deer. They developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources.

By the arrival of Europeans, the Lenape were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bays of the area,, and harvested clams year-round in southern New Jersey. The success of these methods allowed the tribe to maintain a larger population than nomadic hunter-gatherers could support. Scholars have estimated that at the time of European settlement, there may have been about 15,000 Lenape total in approximately 80 settlement sites around much of what is now the New York metropolitan areamarker, alone. In 1524 Lenape in canoes met Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to enter New York Harbor.


European contact

The early interaction between the Lenape and the Dutch was primarily through the fur trade, specifically the exchange of beaver pelts by the Lenape for European-made goods. According to Dutch settler Isaac de Rasieres, who observed the Lenape in 1628, the Lenape's primary crop was maize, which they planted in March. They quickly adopted European metal tools for this task.

In May, the Lenape planted kidney beans near the maize plants, which served as props for the climbing vines. The summers were devoted to field work and the crops were harvested in August. Most of the field work was done by women, with the agricultural work of men limited to clearing the field and breaking the soil. Hunting was the primary activity during the rest of the year. Dutch settler David de Vries, who stayed in the area from 1634 to 1644, described a Lenape hunt in the valley of the Achinigeu-hach (or "Ackingsah-sack," the Hackensack River), in which one hundred or more men stood in a line many paces from each other, beating thigh bones on their palms to drive animals to the river, where they could be killed easily. Other methods of hunting included lassoing and drowning deer, as well as forming a circle around prey and setting the brush on fire.

Dutch settlers founded a colony at present-day Lewesmarker, Delawaremarker on June 3, 1631 and named it Zwaanendael (Swan Valley).Munroe, John A.: Colonial Delaware: A History: Millwood, New Yorkmarker: KTO Press; 1978; P.9-12.</<>ref>. The colony had a short existence, as in 1632 a local tribe of Lenni Lenape Indians wiped out the 32 Dutch settlers after a misunderstanding over defacement of the insignia of the Dutch West India Company escalated. In 1634, the Susquehannocks went to war with the Lenape over access to trade with the Dutch at Manhattan. The Lenape were defeated, and some scholars believe that the Lenape may have become tributaries to the Susquehannocks. Afterwards they referred to the Susquehannocks as "uncles."

The quick adoption of trade goods by the Lenape, and their need for fur to trade with the Europeans, eventually resulted in disastrous over-harvesting of the beaver population in the lower Hudson. With the fur source exhausted, the Dutch shifted their operations to present-day Upstate New York. The Lenape population fell, due to infectious disease and decline. Differences in conceptions of property rights between the Europeans and the Lenape resulted in widespread confusion among the Lenape and the loss of their lands. After the Dutch arrival in the 1620s, the Lenape were successful in restricting Dutch settlement to Pavonia in present-day Jersey Citymarker along the Hudson until the 1660s. The Dutch finally established a garrison at Bergen, allowing settlement west of the Hudson within the province of New Netherlands.

Beginning in the 18th century, the Moravian Church established missions among the Lenape. The Moravians required pacifism, as well as a structured and European-style community for Native Americans who lived in the missions. Their pacifism caused conflicts with British authorities, who sought aid against the French and their Native American allies during the French and Indian War. The Moravians' insistence on Lenapes' abandoning traditional practices alienated mission populations from other Lenape and Native American groups. The Moravians stayed with their missions, following Lenape relocations to Ohio and Canada. Moravians who settled permanently in Ontario were sometimes referred to as Christian Munsee.

Lapowinsa, Chief of the Lenape, unknown, 1737
The Treaty of Easton, signed between the Lenape and the English in 1758, removed them westward, out of present-day New York and New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, then Ohio and beyond. Sporadically they continued to raid English settlers from far outside the area.

During the French and Indian War, the Lenape initially sided with the French. However, such leaders as Teedyuscung in the east and Tamaqua in the vicinity of modern Pittsburghmarker made the shift to trying to build alliances with the British. After the end of the war, English settlers continued to kill Lenape, often so heavily that people claimed that the dead since the wars outnumbered those during the war. Also, in 1762 many Lenape died of disease.

In 1763 a Lenape known as Bill Hickman warned the English colonists in the Juniata River region that the Lenape would soon attack them. Many Lenape joined in Pontiac's War, comprising many of the Native Americans who besiged Pittsburgh.In April 1763 Teedyuscung was killed when his home was burned. His son Captain Bull responded by attacking New England settlers, sponsored by the Susquehanna Company, who lived in the Wyoming River Valley.

The Lenape were the first Indian tribe to enter into a treaty with the United States government, with the Treaty of Fort Pitt signed during the American Revolutionary War. The Lenape supplied the Continental Army with warriors and scouts in exchange for food supplies. They may have been misled by an undocumented promise of a role at the head of a future Native American state.

19th and 20th centuries

In the early 19th century, the naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque claimed to have found the Walam Olum, an alleged religious history of the Lenape, which he published in 1836. However, only Rafinesque's manuscript exists; the tablets upon which his writings were allegedly based either were never found, or never existed. Most authorities and scholars now consider the document a hoax.

Similarly, decades after the decline in population of Native American on Long Islandmarker in New Yorkmarker, amateur anthropologist Silas Wood published a book claiming that there were several tribes traditional to Long Island; later collectively called them the Metoac. Modern scientific scholarship has shown that two linguistic groups represented two cultural identities on the island, not "13 tribes" as asserted by Wood. Native Americans living on the west end of the island were bands of Lenape. Wood either created the myth or misinterpreted place names for that of "tribes."

The Lenape were progressively crowded out by European settlers and pressed to move over a period of 176 years. Their main body arrived in the northeast region of Oklahomamarker in the 1860s. Along the way many smaller groups left, or were told to stay where they were. Consequently today, from New Jerseymarker to Wisconsinmarker to southwest Oklahoma, there are groups who retain a sense of connection with ancestors who lived in the Delaware Valley in the 17th century and with cousins in the Lenape diaspora. The two largest groups are the Delaware Nation (Anadarko, Oklahomamarker), and the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville, Oklahomamarker), the only two federally recognized Delaware tribes in the United States.

Most members of the Munsee branch of the Lenape live on three Indian reserves in Western Ontario, Canada, the largest being that at Moraviantown, Ontariomarker where the Turtle clan settled in 1792.

The Oklahoma branches were established in 1867, with the purchase of land by Delawares from the Cherokee Nation; two payments totaling $438,000 were made. A court dispute followed over whether the sale included rights for the Delaware as citizens within the Cherokee Nation. The Curtis Act of 1898 dissolved tribal governments and ordered the allotment of tribal lands to individual members of tribes. The Lenape fought the act in the courts but lost, and in 1867 the courts ruled that they had only purchased rights to the land for their lifetimes. The lands were allotted in 160-acre (650,000 m²) lots in 1907, with any land left over sold to non-Indians.

In 1979, the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked the tribal status of the Delaware living among Cherokee in Oklahoma, and counted the Delaware as Cherokee. The Delaware got this decision overturned in 1996, when they were recognized by the federal government as a separate tribe.

The Cherokee Nation filed suit to overturn the recognition of the Delaware. The tribe lost federal recognition in a 2004 court ruling in favor of the Cherokee Nation, but regained it on 28 July 2009. On July 28, 2009, the US Department of the Interiormarker notified the tribal office in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, that the Delaware were again a federally recognized tribe. The tribe reorganized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Members approved a constitution and bylaws in a May 26, 2009 vote. Jerry Douglas is serving as tribal chief.

In 2004 the Delaware of Oklahoma sued the state of Pennsylvania over land lost in 1800. This was related to the Walking Purchase of 1737, an agreement of doubtful legal standing.

Lenape nations today

Lenni Lenapes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are not officially recognized as tribes by the United States. This means they do not have reservation land or their own government system, though they still practice the Lenape culture. The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey have received state recognition.

Oklahomamarker: Kansasmarker: Ontariomarker: Wisconsinmarker: New Jerseymarker:

Notable Lenape


The Delawares feature prominently in The Last of the Mohicans and the other Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper.

The Delawares are the subject of a legend which inspired the Boy Scouts of America honor society known as the Order of the Arrow.

The Walam Olum, which purported to be an account of the Delawares' migration to the lands around the Delaware River, emerged through the works of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in the nineteenth century and was considered by scholars for many decades to be genuine, until around the 1980s and 1990s, when newer textual analysis suggested it was a hoax. Nonetheless, some Delawares, upon hearing of it for the first time, found the account to be plausible.

In Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian the group of American scalphunters are aided by an unspecified number of Delaware Indians (5-6 minimum), who serve as scouts and guides through the western deserts.

In The Light in the Forest, True Son is adopted by a band of Lenapes.

In the 1938 Mark Raymond Harrington book Dickon Among the Indians, a group of Lenapes find a young white child whom they then proceeded to raise as their own. The book goes into detail of Lenape life, society, weaponry, and beliefs, and includes a glossary for many Lenape terms used throughout the book.

Trouble's Daughter: The Story of Susanna Hutchinson, Indian Captive is a fictionalized account of the kidnapping by the Lenape Turtle Clan of a daughter of Anne Hutchinson

Moon of Two Dark Horses is a fictionalized account of the friendship between a white settler and a Lenape boy at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Peter Lindestrom's Geographia America with an Account of the Delaware Indians is one of the few, and most reliable, and sympathetic contemporary accounts of Lenape life in lower Delaware River valley during the 17th Century.

Moravian missionary John Heckewelder also published a sympathetic account of the Lenape in exile in the Ohio Valley. His account, published in 1818, provides some alternate Lenape tribal history disputing the tributary relationship with the Susquehannocks.

See also



  • Adams, Richard Calmit, The Delaware Indians, a brief history, Hope Farm Press (Saugerties, NY 1995) [originally published by Government Printing Office, (Washington, DC 1909)]
  • Bierhorst, John. The White Deer and Other Stories Told by the Lenape. New York: W. Morrow, 1995. ISBN 0688129005
  • Brown, James W. and Rita T. Kohn, eds. Long Journey Home ISBN 978-0-253-34968-2 Indiana University Press (2007).
  • Burrows, Edward G. and Wallace, Mike, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1989 ISBN 0-19-514049-4 Oxford Univ. Press (1999).
  • Dreibelbis, Dana E., "The Use of Microstructural Growth Patterns of Mercenaria Mercenaria to Determine the Prehistoric Seasons of Harvest at Tuckerton Midden, Tuckerton, New Jersey," thesis, Princeton University, 1978.
  • Jackson, Kenneth T. (editor) The Encyclopedia of New York City ISBN 0-300-05536-6 Yale University Press (1995).
  • Jennings, Francis, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, 2000, ISBN 0393017192
  • Kraft, Herbert C. (ed.) A Delaware Indian Symposium [Proceedings]. Anthropological Series no. 4. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical Society Museum Commission, 1974.
  • Kraft, Herbert C. (ed.) The Lenape Indian: A Symposium. South Orange, NJ: Archaeological Research Center, Seton Hall University, 1984.
  • Kraft, Herbert C., The Lenape: archaeology, history and ethnography, New Jersey Historical Society, (Newark, NJ 1986)
  • Kraft, Herbert C. The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 B.C. to A.D. 2000. [Elizabeth, NJ?]: Lenape Books, 2001.
  • Kurlansky, Mark. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 9, 2007). ISBN 978-0345476395
  • Mitchell, S. H. The Indian Chief, Journeycake. Philadelphia : American Baptist Publication Society (1895). Available on the Internet Archive
  • O'Meara, John, Delaware-English / English-Delaware dictionary, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, 1996) ISBN 0-8020-0670-1.
  • Oestreicher, David. "Unmasking the Walam Olum: A 19th-Century Hoax," in Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey, #49, 1994, p. 10-44.
  • Otto, Paul, The Dutch-Munsee Encounter in America: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Hudson Valley (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006). ISBN 1-57181-672-0
  • Pritchard, Evan T., Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York. Council Oak Books: San Francisco, 2002, 2007, ISBN 1-57178-107-2.
  • Richter, Conrad, The Light In The Forest, (New York, NY 1953)
  • Weslager, Clinton Alfred, The Delaware Indians: A history, Rutgers University Press, (New Brunswick, NJ 1972).
  • Wick, Steve. "The First Long Islanders." [Accessed July 30, 2008]


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