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The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape People (also known as Nanticoke Lenape Indians) are a tribal confederation of the core families of the Nanticoke of the Delmarva Peninsulamarker and the Lenni-Lenape of Southern New Jerseymarker and Northern Delawaremarker. The history of the tribe in its homeland goes back over 12,000 years. The Tribe is made up of the Nanticoke and Lenape descending from those who remained, or returned, to their ancient homeland after many of their relatives suffered removals and forced migrations to the mid-western United States and Canada. The Nanticoke and Lenni-Lenape people were among the first to resist European encroachment upon their lands, among the first to sign treaties in an attempt to create a peaceful co-existence… and, were among the first to be forced onto reservations on the Delmarva Peninsula and in New Jersey, disbanded and long forgotten in the public memory. The tribe's current headquarters is in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe stands out as an American Indian Nation that passed tribal law forbidding the tribe's participation in casino gaming. Tribal Law No. 2006-1 - An Act Banning Tribally Owned or Operated Businesses Involving Vice - "precludes the tribe, and any of its subsidiaries, from establishing any business that derives its profit from casino style gambling, the sale of cigarettes, cigars, alcohol or pornography". The tribe's opposition to gaming is the reason that tribal citizens are quick to point out the difference between the historic Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe and a recently formed smaller group from the same area in southern New Jersey calling itself the "Unalachtigo Band of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation," which advocates gaming and is not affiliated with the state recognized tribe.

Lenape heritage in Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware

The Lenape ancestors of the modern tribe are those who inhabited New Jersey, Delaware, Southeastern New Yorkmarker and Eastern Pennsylvaniamarker at the time the Europeans came, called themselves “Lenni-Lenape,” which literally means "Original People" or "Common People." From the early 1600’s, the English settlers called the Lenape people “Delaware Indians.” The ancestors of the Lenni-Lenape lived in the area for as much as 12,000 years.

Three main Lenape dialect clans, each made up of smaller independent but interrelated communities, extended from the northern part of the tribe's ancient homeland at the headwaters of the Delaware River down to the Delaware Bay. The Munsee (People of the Stony Country) lived in the north. The Unami (People Down River) and Unalachtigo (People Who Live Near the Ocean) lived in the central and southern part of the homeland.

The peace-loving Lenni-Lenape are considered the most ancient nation of the Algonquian language family. The Lenape are still called the “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by many tribes and are considered to be among the most ancient of the Northeastern Nations, spawning many of the tribes along the northeastern seaboard. The Lenape were often called to settle disputes among neighboring tribal groups and were admired by European colonist for their hospitality and diplomatic skill.

Nanticoke heritage from the Delmarva into Southern New Jersey

The Nanticoke ancestors of the modern Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribe are those who dwelled along the Indian River in Southeastern Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Called the “Tidewater People,” the Nanticoke, like many of their neighboring tribes, have ancient origins in common with the Lenape, originating from among them.

The Nanticoke were among the first of the Northeastern Nations to resist European colonial intrusion into their homeland as early as the 1650s. After years of struggle, Nanticoke people still survive today in Delaware, New Jersey and are also throughout the United States and Canada.

Nanticoke migration began in the early 1600s from the Eastern Shore of Maryland through Southeastern Delaware. By the 1800s many were along the shores of the Delaware River. As a result of this migration, Nanticoke people united with the Lenni-Lenape Indians who remained in New Jersey.

As early as 1704, Nanticoke living in the Delmarva Peninsula, who had lived there for thousands of years, were restricted to the Chicone (Chiconi), Broad Creek and Indian River Reservations by the British colonial governments. Also, the Brotherton Reservation (1758-1802) in Burlington County, New Jersey which was intended to be a safe haven for some of New Jersey's Lenape Indians. All of these reservations failed to protect the tribal residents and were disbanded, leaving the Nanticoke and Lenape to struggle to maintain what bits of the ancient homeland that they could. Indian communities remained in the areas of the former resevations, becoming "isolate" groups, keeping to themselves...and, sometimes being forgotten or misidentified by the larger non-Native communities.

Isolated group remains after many migrate

Because of continuing conflict with European settlers encroaching upon Tribal lands, many of the Tribe’s members were killed or removed from their homelands. Many either moved to Canadamarker, Kansasmarker, Oklahomamarker and other areas, or faced elimination. Some were able to continue to live in the homeland, however, they lived in constant fear. Those who remained survived through attempting to adapt to the dominant culture, becoming farmers and tradesmen. Many Nanticoke-Lenape Indians embraced Christianity while not forgetting or devaluing many ancient tribal ways. In fact, it has been through several tribal congregations that Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape have been able to preserve their culture, maintain ties with nearby related tribal communities, and continue a form of tribal governance. One of the historical tribal congregations, Saint John United Methodist Church of Fordville, New Jersey has the distinction of being the only designated Native American Church in New Jersey by the United Methodist Church. By the 1900s, most of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe’s population resided in and around Cumberland and Salem Counties in New Jersey, remaining closely related to the isolated Nanticoke and Lenape tribal communities in Sussex and Kent Counties in Delaware.

Continuing Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal activity

In 1978, The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe established a tribally governed 501(c)3 non-profit community benefit agency, “The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey,” which is chartered exclusively for educational, social, and cultural purposes, to promote the welfare of Native Americans who reside in the Delaware Valley; to extend charity in all forms to those Native Americans in need, giving priority to Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians residing in the Delaware Valley; to establish cultural and instructional facilities; to improve health and welfare, housing, human rights, and economic security; to acquire and preserve land and water areas in a natural scenic or open condition consistent with the heritage of the Native Americans who reside in the Delaware Valley. In 1982, the Tribe received official recognition from the State of New Jersey, via Senate Concurrent Resolution Number 73, which was later reaffirmed through tribe's statutory inclusion on the New Jersey State Commission on American Indian Affairs (New Jersey Public Law 1995 c. 295; New Jersey Statutes 52:16A-53 et. seq.). The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape enjoy friendly relations with the nation of Sweden, which acknowledges its tribal identity and sovereignty, recently celebrating its more than 350 year old treaty of friendship with the Tribe, extending back to the days of the early settlement of the Swedes and Finns in the Land of the Lenape, before Dutch and British colonial powers settled in the area. This intergenerational friendship has continued with the descendants of the early Swedish settlers who still live in the Lenape homeland.

The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe, the largest American Indian Tribe in New Jersey, is governed by a nine member elected Tribal Council. All council members must also be enrolled citizens of the tribe, which includes the requirement of having met the mandatory tribal Indian blood quantum and documenting core family ancestry. The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe consists of over 3000 enrolled citizens in over 1500 households, with many more non-enrolled Nanticoke-Lenape descendants and extended family still living in Southern New Jersey and the surrounding area, who participate in tribal activities. According to the 2000 United States Census, an additional 9000 non-enrolled tribal descendants also live in the Cumberland County New Jersey area, which is a declared State Designated American Indian Statistical Area (SDAISA).

External links


Babcock,William H. The Nanticoke Indians of Indian River, Delaware. “American Anthropologists, New Series,” Vol. 1, No. 2. Apr.,1899

Fitzgerald, Neil. Delaware's Forgotten Minority - The Moors., “Delaware Today” January 1972 issue, 10

Gilbert, Jr., William Harlen. Social Forces, Vol. 2, No. 4. University of North Carolina Press, May 1946

Gilbert, William H. Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States. “Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institute” provided to the Library of Congress, 1948

Heckwelder, John. History Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States. Philadelphia, PA: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, ed. 1876.

Heite, Edward F. and Cara Lee Blume. A Community on McKee Road, “Delaware Department of Transportation Archaeology Series No. 109.” Prepared by Heite Consulting. Camden, Delaware 1994

Heite, Edward F. and Cara Lee Blume. Mitsawokett to Bloomsbury: Archaeology and History of an Unrecognized Indigenous Community in Central Delaware. “Delaware Department of Transportation Archaeology Series No. 154.” Prepared by Heite Consulting. Camden, Delaware 1998. Available online from URL =

Heite, Edward F. and Louise Heite. Delaware's Invisible Indians, parts 1 & 2. Database Online URL= and

Kraft, Herbert C. The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 B.C. – A.D. 2000. Shamong, NJ: Lenape Books, 2001.

Norwood, John R. We Are Still Here: The Tribal Saga of New Jersey's Nanticoke and Lenape Indians. Moorestown, NJ: Native New Jersey, 2007. Database Online URL=

Porter, Frank W. III. The Nanticoke. New York, New Haven, London: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987

Scharf, Thomas. A History of Maryland From The Earliest Period to the Present Day, Vol.1. Baltimore, MD: John B. Piet, 1879

Speck, Frank G. The Nanticoke Community of Delaware. New York: The Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1915

Speck, Frank G. The Nanticoke and Conoy Indians. Wilmington, Delaware: The Historical Society of Delawaremarker, 1927

Tayac, Gabrielle Ph.D. and Edwin Schupman. We Have A Story To Tell: The Native Peoples of the Chesapeake Region. Edited by Mark Hirsch. Washington, DC: The National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 2006

Weslager,C. A. Delaware’s Forgotten Folk: The Story of the Moors and Nanticokes. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1943

Weslager, C. A. The Nanticoke Indians Past and Present. Newark, DE: The University of Delaware Press, 1983

Zeisberger, David. David Zeisberger’s History of the Northern American Indians, edited by Archer Butler Hubert and William Nathaniel Schwarze. Lewisburg, PA: Wennawoods Publishing, 1999

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