15. New Jersey Algonquian

Perhaps the most intriguing tribe to me is the Lenni Lenape because they figure into so many other tribes’ legends. Remember the Mound Building Yuchi of Tennessee who insisted that the Lenni Lenape were the only people in that region when the Yuchi made their way into Tennessee? The Yuchi referred to the Lenni Lenape as the “Old Ones”. Most oral traditions of the Algonquian claim that they are descendants of the Abenaki, “The Fathers”. But the Abenaki of the New England region claim that they are descendants of the Lenni Lenape, “The Grandfathers”. The Algonquian Shawnee and the Iroquoian Cherokee claim their descent from the Lenni Lenape. The same claim is made by the Huron, Nanticoke, Conoy, and Mohican, and all surviving Algonquian groups. I think if I were asked to pick a candidate as a possible descendant of the Paleo-European Solutreans who migrated from Europe perhaps 26,000 years ago it would be the Lenni Lenape. Unfortunately they were savaged by the English early on, shattered and scattered to the four winds. There are numerous pockets of survivors, some of whom we met in the Delaware essay, but most were absorbed by other tribes long ago. Nevertheless, something of their world survives through the customs remembered by or still being observed by many tribes that claim their grandfathers were in fact the Lenni Lenape.

The Lenni Lenape are known to have had three separate bands or sub-tribes: Munsee, Unami, and Unalachtigo. It is believed that these three groups are synonymous with the three major clans of Wolf, Turtle, and Turkey. Each of these three major clans is further divided into 12 sub-divisions, some if not many are now extinct, but it is thought the clan system was arranged as follows:

1.    Big Feet
2.    Yellow Tree
3.    Pulling Corn
4.     Care Enterer/Cave Enterer (?)
5.    Across the River
6.    Vermilion
7.    Dog Standing by Fireplace
8.    Long Body
9.    Digging
10.    Pulling Up Stream
11.    Brush Log
12.    Bringing Along

1.    Ruler
2.    High Bank Shore
3.    Drawing Down Hill
4.    Elector
5.    Brave
6.    Green Leaves
7.    Smallest Turtle
8.    Little Turtle
9.    Snapping Turtle
10.    Deer
·    Two extinct by 1877 and unknown

1.    Big Bird
2.    Bird’s Cry
3.    Eye Pain
4.    Scratch the Path
5.    Opossum Ground
6.    Old Shin
7.    Drift Log
8.    Living in Water
9.    Root Digger
10.    Red Face
11.    Pine Region
12.    Ground Scratcher

Why the historian (Morgan, 1877) recorded this list and other tribe/band divisions without some explanation as to their meaning seems tragically short-sighted. Each of these clans would have had distinct customs, responsibilities, and rituals associated with the medicine they protected and handled. If this is known today the secrets are well guarded. I could find no further reference or explanation. But each of these clans had a place in the Lenni Lenape Longhouse or Big House ceremony, observed by virtually all Algonquian tribes that shared many of the same beliefs, practices, and rituals.

Membership in a clan was inherited from ones mother and marriage took place only outside of one’s clan. The major band’s chief assigned common territory to the clan. It was “owned” collectively by the clan but the women held the rights to the cultivated areas. The villages were somewhat permanent with communal hunting, gathering, and large scale farming. Men cleared the fields and broke the soil before the women planted numerous varieties of corn in March. Come May they planted beans that climbed up the corn, and squash, planted at the base, shaded the soil and conserved moisture.  The village was moved within its assigned clan territory when the land was played out and needed to lay fallow for a while. The Lenni Lenape also occupied temporary seasonal campsites for hunting, fishing and gathering. Vast quantities of fish and shellfish were harvested from the ocean and bays, and in some regions of south New Jersey this took place year round. Hunting and fishing were primarily the men’s responsibilities. Many native cultures were matrilineal, something that confounded European patriarchs. Accounts are often muddied by this confusion. Europeans tried to trade for land with male chiefs even though the land “belonged” to the tribe’s women. A considerable amount of conflict ensued between Europeans and natives as well as within the clans when not consulted because of this misunderstanding. Prior to contact the Lenni Lenape were a highly successful culture. It was reported that in the area of New York City alone, 15,000 people lived in eighty villages.

Lenape people wore loin clothes and skirts in the summer and added beaver and bearskins, deerskin leggings, and moccasins in the winter. Men wore headdresses and breast ornaments made from deer hair dyed deep red. Women wore headbands of the same dyed hair and shells. The women painted their skirts and elaborately decorated them with porcupine quills. According to early explorers the quillwork was as fine as any European lace. Winter cloaks worn by the women were made up entirely from iridescent turkey plumes.

The design and construction of the Lenni Lenape longhouse is based completely on the creation myth given to them by the Manitou in dreams. The longhouse re-creates the cosmos, and the detailed design is a specific configuration of sustained power. If you consult the Conner Prairie link provided in the bibliography on my website you will find extraordinary detail in the construction and meaning of the Lenni Lenape Longhouse.

The Manitou is at once one Creator and many. Every individual had his or her own personal Manitou that spoke directly to them. Personal Manitou appeared during prolonged puberty rites that included pronounced fasting and acute isolation. The relationship lasted a lifetime and was revitalized in longhouse rituals once or twice a year. Each Manitou mask was carved into a wooden post and the post was set in the longhouse. An individual could renew his connection to his personal Manitou with a face to face encounter, so to speak, where he could seek guidance and restore his personal harmony with the cosmos.

Longhouse ceremonies included everything from righting wrongs to revivifying transcendental relationships with the spirits that lived in the Manitou masks. The construction of the longhouse made manifest the twelve houses of the cosmos, and the four directions. The east and west doors accommodated the movement of the sun and moon and therefore the direction the people moved in the ceremony that re-created the cosmos.

I have simplified the details of an otherwise extremely complex structure that sustained the cosmos and its power, and that served to create and sustain harmony with the natural and supernatural worlds. Equally complex was the ritual itself with wave after wave of dances during which individuals could stop and commune with the spirits in the masks. Smudges of cedar and tobacco were maintained continuously. Between each round of dancing the floor was tamped down and swept with turkey plumes. Dust was regarded as the negative force released at the moment of Creation.

The twelve individual poles and masks are thought to represent the Seven Thunders, the Four Directions, and the Earth Mother. I won’t speculate on the meaning of the Seven Thunders but know that each had both a human face and an animal face believed to be in control of the weather, to provide rain for crops, and protection from water monsters. It seems a trite generalization for what was obviously a complex, transcendental, sophisticated belief system and practice.

The Lenni Lenape people spoke three main dialects: Unami, Munsee, and Unalachtigo. The name Lenni Lenape is Unami meaning Original or Real People or the Human Beings. They were later referred to as Delaware because they lived along a river named Delaware after Lord De La Warr, governor of Jamestown.

The Lenape area of settlement covered the vast area that stretches from the Hudson River Valley into the Delaware Valley including the state of Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula of Maryland. Early tribes were better understood as language groups rather than separate nations. First contact people identified themselves by family and clan, village, surrounding and related villages, distant villages that spoke the same dialect, and finally all the groups in a region that spoke mutually comprehensible languages, including the Mohican in the north. People of different language stocks eventually were regarded as traditional enemies, such as the Iroquois, but significant intermarriage took place. This was likely due to both tribes’ customs of kidnapping and assimilating those kidnapped into their tribes as full-fledged members, including Europeans and Africans.  All east coast Algonquians believed themselves descendants of the Lenni Lenape who were treated as the elders in inter-tribal councils.

After Europeans arrived the story of the Lenni Lenape becomes as horrific and confusing as all of the other East Coast tribes. First contact was actually with Giovanni De Verrazzano in 1524 when his ship was met in New York Bay by Rumachenanck Lenape people paddling dugout canoes.

In 1624 the Dutch established New Amsterdam (present day New York City). The Lenape successfully restricted the Dutch to present day Jersey City for about 40 years but the Dutch finally established a garrison at Bergen within the Province of New Netherland. The local population traded beaver pelts for European goods including metal tools that were quickly adapted for cultivating corn. The Lenape residing in the Lower Hudson Valley near New Amsterdam developed such a taste for European goods they managed to wipe out the entire beaver population. Consequently, the Dutch moved their main operation to upstate New York. The Lenape produced wampum in an attempt to offset the decline in trade but the situation was made far direr by epidemics of measles and smallpox. Lenape tribes caught up in the Dutch debacle included the Acquackanonk on the Passaic River, the Hackensack on the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers, the Tappan (actual name unknown) of the Hudson Palisades in New York and the New Jersey Highlands, the Rumachenanck on the New York Bay, and the Navesink of the Raritan Bayshore near Sandy Hook and Mount Mitchill, New Jersey. As a footnote, Henry Hudson, captain of the Half Moon explored Navesink territory in 1609. When his crew went ashore they were attacked by the Navesink.

The Dutch also founded a colony at Lewes, Delaware in 1631. The Lenape killed thirty-two at the Lewes colony in 1632, a dispute that escalated out the Lenape allegedly defacing the insignia of the Dutch West India Company. The Susquehannock of the same region went to war with the Lenape over access trails that led to New Amsterdam. The Lenape lost and might have become a tributary tribe of the Susquehannock. In 1676 the Iroquois added this group of Lenape to their Covenant Chain and by 1753 they became a tributary of the Iroquois Five Nations just before the French and Indian War broke out. The French and Indian War was part of the Seven Years War in Europe.

Another Unami speaking tribe found farther south on the New Jersey coast was the Kechemeche. They lived in Cape May County, a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. The Kechemeche were encountered by the English about 1600. Their life style was typical of the Lenape people with palisaded villages that included longhouses, farming, hunting, gathering; the proximity to the ocean and the bay greatly supplemented their food supply with fish and shellfish. They were known to collected Cape May diamonds, thought to have magical properties, and used them as trade goods. The Kechemeche often traveled in dugouts along the bayshore and up the Delaware River to visit other groups. They were Turkey Clan people under a sub-chief that lived near Trenton, New Jersey. The Kechemeche traded pelts for European goods and like so many others succumbed to encroachment and disease.

The Munsee speaking Ramapo or Ramapough Mountain Indians were at one time found throughout the coastal Mid-Atlantic and as far north as Connecticut. In the 1700’s Connecticut pressured the Ramapo to sell 20,000 acres to the English. They migrated to the northeast New Jersey and southwest New York Appalachian Mountains. As far as I am able to determine the Ramapo are a tri-racial group that includes remnants of other tribes such as those Tuscarora who didn’t join the Iroquois. It is speculated that early Europeans, probably indentured servants, and freed or runaway slaves fled colonial tyranny for remote frontiers, much as they did in the southern Appalachia. Until 1870 the New Jersey census classified all people of color as black just as the slave states did and the typical challenges ensued with regard to sorting out genealogies and cultures. The Ramapo received state recognition by New Jersey in 1980.

In 1682 William Penn and the Quakers created the English colony of Pennsylvania on the lower Delaware River. Penn immediately signed a peace treaty with the Lenape at present day Penn Treaty Park. More than 20,000 Europeans flooded in and didn’t hesitate to encroach on Lenape settlements and hunting grounds. Although Penn claimed to want a peaceful colony he expected his authority to be respected, demanding that displaced Lenape adapt. And while he enjoyed a reputation of being tolerant and benevolent Penn seems anything but to me, having usurped far more Lenape homeland than the Dutch ever did. In the 1680’s Penn discussed buying land farther north with the Lenape chiefs; land that belonged to other clans. The Colony produced a land deed.  Penn died in 1718 and oversight of the colony was handed over to his sons, John and Thomas. They didn’t even pretend to be decent as their father had, wanting only to find any means possible to steal more land from the Lenape and sell it to settlers. John and Thomas revamped the 1680’s land deed and asserted it was legitimate but the lower Delaware Lenape refused to accept it. This mess became known as the Walking Purchase. The Lenape were driven off but eventually began attacking Pennsylvania settlements with such fury they successfully stopped British expansion during the French and Indian War. The Unalachtigo lived in that area on the west bank of the Delaware River in Delaware and on the east bank in New Jersey, as well as in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. They formed the southernmost group of the three main divisions of the Lenape and spoke Northern Unami. It is unclear to me if they were caught up in the Walking Purchase fraud but the Munsee people were.

The Munsee people were one of three main divisions of the Lenape. They formed the Wolf Clan and were the leaders in war councils. The Munsee inhabited the upper portion of the Delaware River and the surrounding area in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. They with the Esopus tribe attacked the Dutch in 1663. In 1740 the Walking Purchase forced the Munsee to move from the Delaware River and settle on the Susquehanna on land assigned to them by the Iroquois. Before long, they moved to the Ohio River and joined the Lenape that had already settled there. Some were converted by the Moravian and migrated into Canada during the Revolution. Other Munsee joined the Ojibwa and Stockbridge people in Wisconsin. The majority stayed with the main tribe on the Ohio and became involved in subsequent wars and removals. By the 20th century the Munsee were found in several areas: the Munsee of the Thames in Ontario, the Stockbridge and Munsee in Greenbay, Wisconsin, and the Munsee (Christian) and Chippewa in northeast Kansas, a group that later dissolved.

At the beginning of the 18th century the Moravian Church had established missions among the Lenape throughout the entire region. Converts among the Indians were expected to be pacifists, unwilling to swear loyalty oaths, and live in villages of European-style homes. These values created conflict between the Lenape and the British who were seeking allies to fight against the French. The Christian Moravian Lenape were further alienated from other Lenape groups for the same reasons. In time the Moravian Lenape were relocated to Ohio and Canada; the Moravian missionaries went with them. Together, they settled in Ontario after the Revolution and were referred to as the Christian Munsee because they spoke Munsee.

Originally the Mohican people were found living in the Hudson Valley along the Mohawk and Hoosick Rivers, their settlements found in sections of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York from Albany to Manhattan. They had contact with the Dutch about 1609. The Mohican were a confederacy of five tribes: Mohican (proper), Mechkentawoon, Wawyachtonoc, Westenhuck, and Wickagjoc.  They experienced centuries of conflict with the Iroquois, Mohawk, Dutch and English, some finally becoming English-Iroquois allies during the French and Indian War and the Revolution; others sided with the Patriots. Ultimately they were finally driven to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and became known as the Stockbridge Indians. In the 18th century the Mohican had developed strong ties with the Moravian Missionaries who took great strides in defending them against exploitation and encroachment. In the 1780’s the Stockbridge group was forced to migrate to western New York and live with the Oneida. They were granted 300,000 acres which sounds generous until you learn that the Mohican began with six million. The reservation, if it actually was one, was called New Stockbridge. Most of the important tribal leaders moved with the tribe to New Stockbridge and maintained a mix of traditional values and Christianity. Between 1820 and 1830 the Mohican Stockbridge were forced to move to Wisconsin under the Indian Removal Act. They settled with the Munsee Lenape and later received federal recognition as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community or the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. The Mohican people spoke a now extinct Algonquian language that was similar enough to Munsee Lenape that the two groups were able to communicate well. I should mention something literary to add to the consuming confusion. James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans, while set in Mohican territory describes Mohegan culture and uses names derived from the Algonquian Mohegan language. The Mohican and Mohegan are two different tribes.

The Lenape that had been driven into the area of Pittsburgh and Ohio began the French and Indian War as allies to the French in hopes of driving out the English settlers. But in time they became allied to the British, led by Teedyguscung in the east and Tamaqua near Pittsburgh. After the war settlers flooded in and continued to slaughter Lenape until they had killed more than war had. In 1758 the Treaty of Easton required the Lenape to leave Pennsylvania and New Jersey and settle in the Ohio Country but not all of them went. About 1763 some of the Lenape joined Pontiac’s War with other tribes and attacked Pittsburgh. Teedyguscung was killed and his son, Captain Bull in revenge, attacked settlers from New England who had resettled to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania sponsored by the Susquehanna Company. However, most of the Lenape at that point were living in the Ohio Country and supplied the Continental Army with warriors and scouts to acquire food and provide a level of security.

The Ohio Country Lenape were divided about the Revolution concerning which side to which they would ally or to just remain neutral. The villages were situated between the colonists at Fort Pitt and the British and their Indian allies of the Fort Detroit area in Michigan to the west. Those against the colonists moved closer to Detroit and settled on the Sandusky and Scioto Rivers. The Lenape who remained near Fort Pitt signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt in 1778 hoping to establish the Ohio Country as part of the US and exclusively Indian. The Moravian Christian Lenape remained neutral. Chief White Eyes who had signed the treaty died in 1778 and his village, Coshocton, went to war against the Americans shortly after his death. Daniel Brodhead, stationed at Fort Pitt led a party in 1781 and destroyed Coshocton. Survivors fled north. Brodhead and his troops left the Moravian alone because they were unarmed pacifists. But the violence escalated. The colonists hated all Indians in general for the actions of a few. The tribes hated each other because some allied with the Continental Army, some allied with the British, and only a few decades earlier some had with the French. The Moravian influx of the 1770’s had further divided the Lenape with their insistence that converts abandon traditional beliefs for those of Christianity. Some groups just wanted to put an end to the encroachment. Even families became divided as seen with the story of Killbuck. Killbuck ended up resenting his grandfather for having allowed the Moravians to move into the Ohio Country. During the French and Indian War Killbuck assisted the English by leading a supply train from Fort Pitt to Fort Sandusky. He became a leader and once the Revolution began he found his people trapped between the British in the west and the colonists in the east. At the beginning Killbuck and his people remained neutral but in 1778 he allowed Americans to cross Lenape land to attack Fort Detroit. In return, Killbuck requested protection from the English. A fort was built near Coshocton, named Fort Laurens. Meanwhile the Wyandot, Mingo, Munsee, and Shawnee allied with the British. They believed that the British would honor the 1763 proclamation that limited British settlement to the eastern piedmont beyond the Appalachian Mountains. In 1779 the British planned an attack on Fort Laurens, demanding that the neutral bands side with them. Killbuck warned the Americans and saved the fort. But Fort Laurens was abandoned in 1779, putting the Lenape in a terrible position. Having lost their protectors the Lenape were faced with attacks from the British, attacks from the colonists, and attacks from the tribes that had taken either side. Killbuck who had hoped his position of neutrality would save his people from destruction, in the end, failed to do so. In 1792 a reservation called Moraviantown in Ohio was settled by the Lenape Turtle Clan.

During the course of nearly two centuries Europeans pushed the Lenape out of the East Coast and Ohio and drove them farther west. Most of the Munsee Lenape left the US after the Revolution because they had been British allies and settled on three reservations in Ontario. Two groups, the Brotherton of New Jersey and the Stockbridge-Munsee of Massachusetts migrated to Oneida County, New York in 1802. Due to pressure from state and local governments both moved to Wisconsin after 1819.

The 1818 Treaty of St. Mary’s in St. Mary’s, Ohio forced the Lenape to cede their land in Indiana for land west of the Mississippi River. The treaty included a $4000 annuity. In the next few years they settled on the James River and Wilson Creek in Missouri. The Lenape were allotted two million acres and eventually occupied 40,000. Many Lenape also helped explore the west as trappers for mountain men and as guides for hunters and wagon trains. They were Army guides and scouts during the Second Seminole War, helped lead Fremont’s expeditions, and assisted in the conquest of California during the Mexican American War. But even with all of that help and participation the 1829 Treaty of James Fork forced the Lenape west where they were given one million acres in the Indian Territory (later Kansas) in exchange for their Missouri land. In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act creating the Territory of Kansas. Settlers flooded in and negotiated with the tribes about removal. While reluctant, encroachment, stolen livestock and timber along with white squatters pressured the Lenape to leave Kansas in accordance to removal policy set in place.

In the 1860’s conjoined bands of Lenape arrived in Oklahoma. They had left behind relatives that had been scattered throughout the eastern US and Canada. Two tribes of the Oklahoma Lenape received federal recognition about 1867: The Delaware Nation (Anadarko, Oklahoma), and the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville, Oklahoma). Some were required to purchase land from the Cherokee Nation Reservation which created disputes between the Lenape and Cherokee regarding Lenape rights within the Cherokee Nation. The Curtis Act of 1898 dissolved the tribal governments and allotted 160 acres to the individual tribal member families by 1907, after which the government sold off the “surplus” land to non-Indians. In 1979 the US Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked the tribal status of the Lenape living with the Cherokee in Oklahoma and proceeded to count them as Cherokee in the census. The Lenape had the decision overturned in 1996 and were recognized by the federal government as a separate tribe. This recognition was later lost in 2004 in favor of the Cherokee Nation but regained again in 2009. In 2004 the Delaware Nation filed suit against Pennsylvania seeking to reclaim the 315 acres lost in the 1737 Walking Purchase but the suit failed.

Some of the Missouri Lenape migrated into Texas about 1820 and settled along the Red and Sabine Rivers. They lived quite peacefully and shared their land with other immigrating tribes and the Spanish in the area. This peace continued after Mexico won its independence from Spain. The new governor was impressed by the kindness of the Lenape but never granted them legal title to their land. In 1835 the Texas Revolution recognized land claims with a treaty in 1836 in order to enlist the support of the tribes but the treaty was never ratified by the Texas government. Even so, the Lenape remained friendly after the Republic of Texas won. President Sam Houston continued good relations with the tribes and sought Lenape help in 1837 to protect the frontier from tribes farther west. The Lenape joined the Texas Rangers. Houston tried to get Lenape land claims recognized but failed to do so. The next president, Lamar, opposed all Indians. He considered them illegal intruders and ordered the Lenape on the Red River removed to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. A few stayed. In 1841 Houston was elected again and he reinstated the former peace policy. A new treaty was drawn up with the Lenape and other tribes at Fort Bird in 1843, enlisting their help in making peace with the Commanche. The Lenape settled on the Brazos and Bosque Rivers and persuaded the Commanche to attend a peace conference in 1844. Texas became a state in 1845. The Lenape continued as interpreters, scouts, and diplomats for the Army and Indian Bureau. They helped the government settle more communities and led expeditions. But in spite of all that in 1854 the US government forced the Lenape onto the Brazos Indian Reservation near Graham, Texas, and forced others to remove to Oklahoma.

The Powhatan Renape Nation of New Jersey was recognized by the state in 1980. It is thought to be a remnant group referred to by Ralph Lane in 1586 as Renapoak. Renapoak was a term used by the inhabitants of Roanoke Island for those living on the mainland. The Renape/Renapoak people were assigned 250 acres by the state, called the Rankokus Indian Reservation in Medford and Morrisville, New Jersey. To the best of my knowledge the state took back all but five acres to which I can only say, so much for 20st century treaties.

As it pans out today there are three federally recognized Lenape tribes: the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Oklahoma), the Delaware Nation (Oklahoma), and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community (Wisconsin). In Ontario we find the Munsee-Delaware Nation, the Moravian on the Thames First Nation, and the Delaware of Six Nations Grand River. State recognition can be found in New Jersey with the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Indians of New Jersey and the Ramapough Lenape Nation. The state of Delaware recognizes the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware. Unrecognized communities still live in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and New England. There are Lenape communities within the cities of Tulsa, Oklahoma, New York City and Philadelphia.

Leave a Reply


* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

Current day month ye@r *

There aren't any comments at the moment, be the first to start the discussion!