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Native American Society

Delaware Indians


In the 17th century, these Native American Indians lived in what is now New Jersey, Delaware, Eastern Pennsylvania and Southeast New York. They called themselves the Lenni-Lenape or the Lenape and were given the English name Delaware by European settlers because they lived in the vicinity of the Delaware River.  Their English name was given to several closely related Native American groups of the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock.

The Delaware evolved into a loose confederacy of three major divisions: the Munsee (wolf), the Unalachtigo (turkey), and the Unami (turtle). They occupied the territory from which most of the Algonquian tribes had originated and so they were accorded the respectful title of “grandfather” by these tribes.

Delaware traded with the Dutch early in the 17th century.  They sold much of their land and began moving inland to the Susquehanna valley. In 1682 they made a treaty of friendship with William Penn, which he honored. In 1720 the Delaware fell victim to Iroquois attack and were forced to move into what is now Ohio.

The western Delaware sided with the French in the last of the French and Indian Wars; they took part in Pontiac's Rebellion, and sided with the British in the American Revolution. Some of the Delaware in Pennsylvania had been converted to Christianity by the Moravians.

In 1782 a peaceful settlement of Christian Delaware at Gnadenhutten was massacred by a group of white men. Anthony Wayne defeated and subdued the Delaware in 1794, and by the Treaty of Greenville (1795) they and their allies ceded their lands in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They then crossed the Mississippi River and migrated to Kansas and then to Texas. They were later moved to the Indian Territory and settled with the Cherokee.

In 1990 there were close to 10,000 Delaware in the United States, most of them in Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Approximately 600 Delaware live in Ontario, Canada.

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