Click Here to Return to Index

Click Here to Return To Milestones Vol 6 No 2


The Indian Tribes of Western Pennsylvania form Day's Historical Collections of Penna (1843)

Milestones Vol. 6. No. 2--Spring 1980

The Indian tribes who dwelt among the primitive forests of Pennsylvania, -as well as those of Deleware, New Jersey, and a part of Maryland,-called themselves the Lenni Lenape, or the original people This general name comprehended numerous distinct tribes all speaking dialects of a common Ianguage, (Algonquin,) and uniting around the same great council-fire. Their grand council-house, to use use their own expressive figures, extended from the eastern bank of the Hudson on the northeast, to the Potomac on the southwest. Many of the tribes were directly descended from the common stock; others, having sought their sympathy and protection, had been allotted a section of their territory. The surrounding tribes not of the confedercy, nor acknowledging allegiance to it, agreed in awarding to them the honor of being the grandfather--that is the oldest residents in this region. There was an obscure tradition among the Lenni Lenape, that in ages past their ancestors had emigrated eastward from the Mississippi, conquering or expelling, on their route, that great and apparently more civilized nation, whose, monuments, in the shape of mounds, are so profusely scattered over the great western valley, and of which several also remain in Pennsylvania, along the western slope of the Allegheny Mountains.

The Lenni Lenape nation was divided into three principal divisions-the Unamis, or Turtle tribes, the Unalachtgos, or Turkeys, and the Monseys or Wolf tribes. The two former occupied the country along the coast, between the sea and the Kittatinny or Blue mountain, their settlements extending as far east as the Hudson and as far west as the Potomac. These were generally known among the whites as the DeIaware Indians. The Monseys or Wolf tribes, the most active and warlike of the whole, occupied the mountainous country between the Kittatinny Mountain, and the sources of the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, kindling their council-fire at the Minisink flats on the Deleware above the water-gap. A part of the tribe also dwelt on the Susquehanna, and they had also a village and a peach orchard, in the Forks of the Delaware where Nazareth is now situated. These three principal divisions were divided into various subordinate clans who assumed names suited to their character or situation.

The Shawanos, or Shawanees, a restless and ferocious tribe, having been threatened with exterimination by a more powerful tribe at the South, sought profection among the friendly nations of the North, whose language was observed to bear a remarkable affinity with their own. A majority of them settled along the Ohio, from the Wabash to near Pittsburg. A portion
was received under the 'protection of the Lenni Lenapes, and permitted to settle near the Forks of the Delaware, and on the flats below Philadelphia. But they soon became troublesome neighbors, and were removed by the Delawares, (or possibly by the Six Nations) to the Susquehanna valley, where they had a village at the Shawnee flats, below Wilkesbarre, on the west side of the river. During the revolution, and the war of 1812, their name became conspicuous in the history of the northern frontier.

The Lenni Lenape tribes consisted, at the first settlement of Pennsylvania of the Assunpink, or Stony Creek Indians; the Rankokas, (Lamikas or Chichequaas;) Andastakas, at Christina Creek near Wilmington; Neshaminies, in Bucks Co.; Shackamaxons, about Kensington; Mantas, or Frogs, near Burlington; the Tuteloes; and the Nanticokes, in Maryland and Virginia) (the latter afterwards removed up the Susquehanna;) the Monseys or Minisinks, near the Forks of the Delaware; the Mandes, and the Narriticongs, near the Raritan; the Capitanasses; the Gacheos, the Monseys, and the Pomptobs, in New Jersey. A few scattered clans, or warlike hordes, of the Mingoes, were living here and there among the Lenapes.

Another great Indian confederacy claims attention, whosee acts have an important bearing upon the history of Pennsylvania. This confederacy was originally known in the annals of New York as the Five Nations; and subsequently, after they had been joined by the Tuscoras as the Six Nations. As confederates, they called themselves Aquanuschioni, or United People; by the Lenapes-they were called Mengue, or Mingoes, and by the French, the Iroquois. The original Five Nations were the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, the Senecas and the Mohawks. In 1712 the Tuscaroras, being expelled from the interior of North Carolina and Virginia, were adopted as a sixth tribe. The language of all the tribes of the confederacy, except the Tuscaroras, was radically the same and different from that of the Lenni Lenape. Their domain stretched from the borders of Vermont to Lake Erie, and from Lake Ontario to the head waters of the Allegheny, Susquehanna, and Delaware rivers. This territory they sstyled their long house. The grand council fire was held in the Onondaga valley. The Senecas guarded the western door of the house, the Mohawks the eastern , and the Cayugas the southern, or that which opened upon the Susquehanna. The Mohawk nation was the first in rank, and to it appertained the office of principal war chief; to the Onondagas, who guarded the grand council-fire, appertained in like manner the office of principal civil chief, or chief sachem. The Senecas, in numbers and military energy, were the most powerful.

The peculiar location of the Iroquois gave them an immense advantage. On the great channels of water conveyance to which their territories were contiguous, they were enabIed in all directions to carry war and devestation to the neighboring or to the more distant nations.

Nature had endowed them with a height, strength, and symmetry of person which distinguished them, at a glance, among the individuals of other tribes. They were as brave as they were strong; but ferocious and cruel when excited in savage warfare; crafty, treacherous, and overreaching, when these qualities best suited their purposes. The proceedings of their grand council were marked with great decorum and solemnity. In eloquence, in dignity, and profound policy, their speakers might well bear comparison with the statesmen of civilized assemblies. By an early alliance with the Dutch on the Hudson, they secured the use of firearms, and were thus enabled, not only to repel the encroachments of the French, but also to exterminate, or reduce to a state of vassalage, many Indian nations. From these they exacted an annual tribute, or acknowledgment of fealty; permitting them, however, on that condition, to occupy their former hunting-grounds.

"The humiliation of tributary nations was, however, tempered with a paternal regard for their interests in all negotiations with the whites, and care was taken that no trespasses should be committed on their rights, and that they should be justly dealt with." To this condition of vassalage the Lenni Lenape, or Delaware nation, had been reduced by the Iroquois, as the latter asserted, by conquest. The Lenapes, however, smarting under the humiliation, invented for the whites a cunning tale in explanation, which they succeeded in imposing upon the worthy and venerable Mr. Heckewelder, the Moravian missionary. Their story was, that by treaty, and by voluntary consent, they had agreed to act as mediators and peacemakers among the other great nations, and to this end they had consented to lay aside entirely the implements of war, and to hold and to keep bright the chain of peace. This, among individual tribes, was the ususal province of women. The Delawares, therefore, alleged that they were figuratively termed women on this account; but the Iroquois evidently called them women in quite another sense. "They always alleged that Delawares were conquered by their arms, and were compelled to this humiliating concession as the only means of averting impending destruction." In the course of time, however, the Delawares were enabled to throw off the galling yoke, and at Tioga, in the year 1756, Teeduyscung extorted from the Iroquois chiefs an acknowledgement of their independence.

This peculiar relation between the Indian nation that occupied, and that which claimed a paramount jurisdiction over, the soil of Pennsylvania, tended greatly to embarrass and complicate the negotiations of the proprietary government for the purchase of lands; and its influence was seen and felt both in the civil and military history of Pennsylvania until after the close of the revolution. As the details are fully given in the subsequent pages, it is not necessary to enlarge upon the subject here.

The term savage, applied to the aborigines, is naturally associated with the ideas of barbarism and cruelty-to some extent perhaps justly; yet a closer acquaintance often discloses in them traits that exalt the human character and claim the admiration or sympathy of civilized man. The Indian considers himself created by an almighty, wise, and benevolent Spirit, to whom he looks for guidance and protection; whom he believes it to be his duty to adore and worship, and whose overruling providence he acknowledges in all his actions. Many Indians were in the habit of seeking out some high mountain from whose lonely summit they might commune with the "Great Spirit," and pray to him. But while they worshipped the Creator, they were not unmindful of their duties to their fellow-creatures. They looked upon the good things of the earth as a common stock, bestowed by the Great Spirit for the benefit of all. They held that the game of the forest, the fish of the rivers, and the grass or other articles of spontaneous growth, were free to all who chose to take them. They ridiculed the idea of fencing in a meadow or a pasture. This principle repressed selfishness and fostered generosity. Their hospitality was proverbial. The Indian considers it a duty to share his last morsel with a stranger.

When the early settlers of Pennsylvania first landed, the Indians received them with open-hearted kindness, cheerfully supplied their wants, and shared with them the comforts of their rude and humble dwellings. They considered the persons of their new guests as sacred, and readily opened with them a traffic for useful or ornamental articles in exchange for land and furs. Wm. Penn says of them, in his letter to the Society of Free Traders, "In liberality they excel; nothing is too good for their friend; given them a fine gun, coat, or other thing, it may pass twenty hands before it sticks; light of heart, strong affections, but soon spent. The most merry creatures that live, feast and dance perpetually; they never have much, nor want much; wealth circulateth like the blood; all parts partake; and though none shall want what another hath, yet exact observers of property. Some kings have sold, other presented me with several parcels of land; the pay, or presents I made them, were not hoarded by the particular owners; but the neighboring kings and their clans being present when the goods were brought out, the parties chiefly concerned consulted what, and to whom, they should give them. To every king then, by the hands of a person for that work appointed, is a proportion sent, so sorted and folded, and with that gravity, that is admirable. Then that king subdivideth it, in like manner, among his dependants, they hardly leaving themselves an equal share with one of their subjects; and be it on such occasions as festivals, or at their common meals, the kings distribute, and to themselves last. They care for little, because they want but little; and the reason is, a little contents them. In this they are sufficiently revenged on us; if they are ignorant of our pleasures, they are also free from our pains. They are not disquieted with bills of lading and exchange, nor perplexed with chancery suits and exchequer reckonings. We sweat and toil to live; their pleasure feeds them; I mean their hunting, fishing, and fowling; and this table is spread everywhere. They eat twice a day, morning and evening,- their seats and table are the ground."