14. Delaware Algonquian

We have reached the state of Delaware and the illusion of state lines simply disappears. In Delaware we find the Assateague and Nanticoke people that we met in Maryland. And when we finally reach New Jersey we will meet the Lenni Lenape, the Nanticoke Lenape, and the Unalachtigo Lenape, all of whom are also found in Delaware. That leaves me with the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape of Delaware for this essay. But what must be kept in mind is that all of these tribes have ancient origins in common with the Lenni Lenape. They were known as the “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by many Algonquian tribes, from the territory of the Yuchi in Tennessee to the Abenaki of New England and west to the Huron. Lenni Lenape means “original people”. It is believed that the Lenni Lenape developed the oldest and most widespread nation in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, reaching back 12,000 years, and in my opinion, millennia more than that. They are my first choice that gives credence to the Solutrean Hypothesis. The Lenni Lenape inhabited present day Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland, the states of Delaware and New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and southeast New York (New York City and Long Island). Their early ancestry links together tribes from the Southeast, New England, and the Great Lakes. The Shawnee of Ohio and West Virginia assert that the Lenni Lenape are their “fathers”. So perhaps you can better understand why state borders have been increasingly problematic for me throughout this project but even more so now that I have reached the state of Delaware.

The Lenni Lenape developed three major dialects and each major group was made up of smaller independent but interrelated communities. One major group, the Munsee, was found near the headwaters of the Delaware River. The Unami (People Down River) and the Unalachtigo (People Who Live Near the Ocean) inhabited the central and southern part of their homeland. Historically, the Lenni Lenape were respected for their hospitality and astute diplomatic skills. Colonists were entirely reliant on them to settle inter-tribal disputes. In the 17th century the English called them Lenape or Delaware because of their settlements along the Delaware River.

The Nanticoke Lenni Lenape of Delaware are the same people we visited on the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland and will visit again in south New Jersey. By 1704 the Nanticoke of Delmarva Peninsula had been confined to reservations along the Broad Creek and Indian River. As we remember, encroachment didn’t stop, the reservations were disbanded, and portions of the tribes remained in the area as isolated groups, assimilated into other tribes or disappearing by the means of intermarriage with colonists. Others made their way into Delaware and south New Jersey, settling on the shores of the Delaware River and uniting with the remaining Lenni Lenape in New Jersey. The British set aside Brotherton Reservation in Burlington, New Jersey in 1758. But encroachment continued and the reservation was disbanded in 1802. The Brotherton people migrated to Utica, New York and joined remnants of the Stockbridge Munsee. Together they eventually relocated to Wisconsin. After the Revolution other groups moved to Canada with the Iroquois. At that point contempt for all things British led to widespread contempt for natives. Some Lenape moved to Ohio and were later removed to Kansas and finally the Indian Territory of present day Oklahoma.

A few stayed, adapting to the dominant white culture where they became farmers and tradesmen. Many Christianized while holding onto their cultural history. Tribal church congregations, while preserving tribal culture, maintained ties with other tribes and formed tribal governments. One such church, St. John’s United Methodist Church of Fordville, New Jersey remains the only Native American Methodist Church in that state. By the 20th century most Nanticoke Lenni Lenape resided in and around Cumberland and Salem Counties in New Jersey and remained associated with the isolated Nanticoke Lenape communities in Sussex and Kent Counties in Delaware.

In 1978 the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape established a tribal government under a 501C3 as a non-profit organization: The Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Indians of New Jersey. Its mission is to promote cultural, educational, charitable, and economic agendas while addressing human rights issues and acquiring land that can be preserved in accordance to Lenni Lenape tradition. In 1982 they were officially recognized by state as the largest tribe in New Jersey. The Nanticoke Lenni Lenape tribe is governed by an elected nine member council. Each must be enrolled in the tribe, membership being determined by both blood quantum and documented descent from core families. There are 3000 enrolled members with an additional 9000 individuals identified as Native American residing in Cumberland County. Cumberland County is a State Designated American Indian Statistic Area, forming part of state and federal recognition of specific areas as having high Native American populations.

Remarkably, the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape people maintain a lasting friendship with Sweden where the tribe remains recognized and acknowledged as a sovereign nation. Not long ago Sweden celebrated a 350 year old Treaty of Friendship with them, dating to the early settlements of Finns and Swedes in Lenape territory before the Dutch and British took over.

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Responses to “14. Delaware Algonquian”

  1. I am a decedent of the Lenni Lenape Tribe. My ninth great grandmother was wed to a captain in New Jersey around the 1700′s their son then married back into the tribe. which was my eight great grandparents. My DNA proves that most of my ancestors were from Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. Which gives credence to the Solutrean Hypothesis

    • It certainly does. I truly believe that the Lenni Lenape are the descendants of the Solutreans. So many of their customs have a tribal European flare. Thank you for your comment.