Peoples of the River Valleys

Offers a fresh interpretation of the history of the Delaware, or Lenape, Indians in the context of events in the mid-Atlantic region and the Ohio Valley.

Peoples of the River Valleys
The Odyssey of the Delaware Indians

Amy C. Schutt

2007 | 264 pages | Cloth $45.00 | Paper $26.50
American History / Native American Studies
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Table of Contents

Prologue: "Sachems from nine different places"

Chapter 1. Communities and Kin
Chapter 2. Reorganizations and Relationships in the Hudson and Delaware Valleys, 1609-1682
"He knew the best how to order them"
Chapter 3. Sharing Lands and Asserting Rights in the Face of Pennsylvania's Expansion, 1682-1742
Chapter 4. Networks, Alliances, and Power, 1742-1765
"All the people which inhabit this Continent"
Chapter 5: Defining Delawares, 1765-1774
Chapter 6: Striving for Unity with Diversity, 1768-1783

Epilogue: "Sit down by us as a Nation"

List of Abbreviations

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


"Sachems from nine different places"

One day in early January 1633 a Dutch crew of seven men on a whaling vessel called the Squirrel traveled up the Delaware River. Along the way the crew traded with the Indian inhabitants of the area. The Squirrel anchored at the mouth of Newton Creek in the area of present-day Gloucester City, New Jersey, where it was boarded by more than forty Indians, with "a portion of them" commencing "to play tunes with reeds." A sachem attempted to give "an armful of beaver-skins" to the Dutch, an offer that would have signaled the construction of a relationship between allies and trading partners. Suspecting the Indians of recently attacking an English crew, the Dutch refused the gift, which their visitors may have interpreted as a call to war. Indeed, the Dutch accompanied their refusal with a warlike pronouncement, commanding the Indians "to go ashore immediately" or else the sailors "would shoot them all."

The Indians, who came from nearby Mantua Creek, possibly did not take this threat seriously since they significantly outnumbered the Dutch. They also may have known that the Dutch were in a weak position without Native assistance. The Squirrel's crew had used up all their "stock-fish," and their supply of porridge was dwindling. Their survival depended on obtaining food from Indians. Probably used to trading with ships coming down from Manhattan, the Indians did not give up on building a friendly relationship with the Dutch, who might provide access to a variety of European goods. After the Mantua Creek sachem was rebuffed, a leader named Zee Pentor from "the Armewanninge, another but neighboring nation," tried to reopen channels with the Squirrel's sailors. Through his intervention, a second meeting was set near the Dutch Fort Nassau in the country of the Armewanninge (or Arrowamex) just below Newton Creek.

The following day Indians poured into Fort Nassau, with "more and more constantly coming." After the crowd had gathered, "nine chiefs, sachems from nine different places" set out from the fort in a dugout canoe, "a boat hollowed out of a tree," to meet the Dutch aboard the Squirrel. The crew remained suspicious, but the sachems calmed their fears. David de Vries, a Dutch witness of the event, wrote, "The nine seated themselves in a circle and called us to them, saying they saw that we were afraid of them, but that they came to make a lasting peace with us." This time the Indians successfully presented their gift of peltry. Through a designated speaker, "they made us a present of ten beaver-skins," De Vries reported. They seemed to follow a prescribed ritual, with the speaker carrying out "a ceremony with each skin, saying in whose name he presented it." The goal, the speaker explained, "was for a perpetual peace," to ensure that the Dutch would "banish all evil thoughts" and would know that the Indians "had now thrown away all evil."

These few days in the winter of 1633 offer a glimpse at alliance building between Indians and Europeans in the Delaware Valley. The Indians probably saw the act of sitting down with the Dutch as deeply significant. To "sit down" meant to choose peace. The expression symbolized a truce, perhaps leading to an alliance. The meeting with the nine sachems appears to have been a preliminary event preparing the way for a trading partnership. Soon the Indians around Fort Nassau began to trade with the Dutch. They exchanged "Indian corn of different colors" for European cloth ("duffels"), "kettles, and axes." The Dutch also received some additional beaver pelts.

But this event suggests something more than an Indian-European encounter. Embedded in the event is a story of Indians' contacts with other Indians.

When relations with the crew of the Squirrel were in jeopardy, Indians from "nine different places" coordinated their actions in order to establish a peace agreement with the Dutch. The Armewanninge leader Zee Pentor stepped forward to help after his neighbors from Mantua Creek, known as "Mantes" Indians, had initially failed to secure the alliance. The collection and presentation of gifts to the Dutch also required a certain amount of cooperation among Indians. The fact that there were ten skins seems significant. Probably nine of them came from each of the sachems and the groups they represented. The tenth possibly represented the joint donation of the assembled Indians, with a single presenter acting and speaking for all. What is only hinted at here, but should not be overlooked, are the ways in which alliances among Indian groups preceded and accompanied alliances between Europeans and Indians. When they met with the Dutch, Indians apparently had already established some sort of agreement among communities and sachems, symbolized by their leaders' sitting down together in a circle aboard the Squirrel.

Because terminology was fluid, I do not employ one neat label to discuss the Native peoples central to this book—peoples who came from the Delaware and portions of the Hudson Valley. Indians in these areas shared linguistic and other cultural patterns. Many of them have been called "Lenape" or "Delaware." Given the importance of these terms down to the present day, I have incorporated both. "Lenape," a Native term of self-identification, can be translated as "original person" or "real person." "Delaware" originally referred to Indians associated with the river named for the Virginia governor, Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr; however, it also came to include some peoples with Hudson Valley origins. No term should be used to imply political or tribal unity across an extensive homeland region in the seventeenth century. There were many different communities and political groupings among peoples typically called "Lenapes" or "Delawares," and I stress this diversity by using a variety of group labels (such as "Armewanninge" and "Mantes"), which especially appeared in seventeenth-century records. "Lenapes" or "Delawares" have been placed within the very broad linguistic classification "Algonquian," marking a distinction from neighboring Iroquoian speakers. Because my concern, especially in opening chapters, is not just with Lenapes but also with closely connected Mahicans, I sometimes use the more inclusive term "Algonquian" to refer to Indians from the Delaware and mid to lower Hudson valleys generally. As the story moves forward in time, I rely increasingly on "Delaware," as it gained in importance as an ethnic/political designation in the course of the eighteenth century.

Through years of researching, writing, and revising, I have grappled with the problems presented by the social complexity of the peoples under investigation and the fluid nature of the groups involved. Early on, I viewed my project as one that concerned identity and ethnogenesis, specifically how Indians came together to forge a Delaware identity from the seventeenth into the eighteenth centuries. Nevertheless, the more I pondered the project and talked with others about it, the more I became aware of the distance between myself and the people whose identity I had so confidently expected to reveal. A major difficulty was the shortage of accounts written by colonial-era Lenapes themselves, making it highly difficult to understand their mindsets and personal identities. Also, the hand of European writers lay heavily on the available documents, further obscuring the internal world of Delawares and their identity formation. Often the best-documented Delawares were those who had a relationship with Euro-Americans, requiring speculation about other Delawares who appeared only briefly in records.

Yet, in some ways, the available records were surprisingly useful. True, they were filtered through Europeans' biases, which required me to read skeptically. True, also, they did not answer a number of my questions, so that I often have had to write with the qualifiers "probably," "possibly," and "perhaps" when I would have preferred more definite statements. Nevertheless, a range of commentators usefully reported on actions and words of Lenape/Delaware peoples. Recorders of treaty minutes documented the alliances they formed. Missionaries, especially German-speaking Moravians, detailed the relationships that they constructed. Travelers described how Delawares settled the land and organized themselves into communities. By close readings of numerous documents, I was able to discern patterns of behavior and approaches to relating to others that told a significant story about Lenapes/Delawares over a substantial period of time. From less tangible questions about identity, then, I shifted my focus to Delawares' recorded actions toward other Indians and toward Euro-Americans. Through examining many incidents such as the one involving the Squirrel in 1633, I was struck by the profound significance of alliance formation in the shaping of the Delawares as a people. This story of alliance building appears throughout the following chapters and in two short narrative interludes designed to highlight this process.

Alliances were fundamentally about relationship construction. For the Delawares and their Indian neighbors, success in life required careful tending of a variety of relationships, not just with humans but also with the natural world. Relationships could provide access to power—that is, "successful interaction" or "the ability of an individual to influence other people and other beings." In the Delawares' world, respectful relationships promised a connection with spirit forces that could come to people's aid. Those who built alliances drew especially upon mediation skills. For Indian peoples, mediation was not just a helpful tool; it could also be "a source of influence." Thus, in the eighteenth century, when Delawares thought of ways they could be effective leaders, they sought the roles of mediator and alliance builder.

Delawares organized themselves around kin and community, typically living in relatively small settlements. Nevertheless, their small residential groups were not isolated between 1609 and 1783, the main period I examine. Building networks of communication across a substantial region, moving between and among communities, and constructing alliances and sometimes merging with neighboring Indian groups were approaches that Delawares utilized in the seventeenth century and beyond. Certain of these patterns likely predated the arrival of Europeans, but they played a special role in helping Delawares survive postcontact wars, epidemics, and land dispossession. In response to Euro-American encroachment, Delawares formed alliances to oppose land loss.

Particularly in the mid-eighteenth century, leading up to the American Revolution, Delawares developed explanations about who they were as a people, even though they remained a group with permeable boundaries and even though they were not monolithic in viewpoint and organization. As increasing numbers of Delawares moved west and gathered in the Ohio Valley, their leaders used oral traditions to define their people as alliance builders who had claims to Ohio lands. These alliances involved relations with other Indians and sometimes with Euro-Americans. Delawares turned to the story of their historical connection with the Quakers and the colony of Pennsylvania in defining themselves as alliance makers. Their growing association with Moravian missionaries also became interwoven with this process. Especially in certain periods, however, some Delawares opposed alliance formation with Euro-American neighbors. Too much damage had accompanied Euro-American expansion for these Delawares to embrace such friendships. Delawares' experiences, even before the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in the 1750s, reveal that Pennsylvania was "less peaceful than legend would have it," as tensions over land and trade strained Indians' relations with Euro-Americans.

Over the years Delawares attempted repeatedly to find ways to "sit down" with others in different places and under different circumstances. A Delaware leader might demonstrate a desire for peace by agreeing to "sit down and smoak my Pipe." A negotiator might symbolically prepare a treaty site by telling would-be allies, "I clear the Ground, and the Leaves that you may sit down with Quietness." Chiefs who desired that warriors cease fighting might urge them "to sit down and not to revenge themselves." And even if warriors were intent on fighting, they might promise to "sit down and Listen to their Chiefs" once short-term military goals had been achieved. When Delawares sought a leading role in peacemaking and alliance building, they did so having long invested hope in the possibilities of people sitting down together.