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delaware-indians

The Delaware in the 1640s.

 

The Delaware or, as they call themselves, the Lenape (leh-NAH-pay, meaning the “common or ordinary people”), were the Native Americans who lived in and near what is now New York and Philadelphia in the north-eastern US. They had lived there for at least a thousand years when Whites arrived.

Country facts (circa 1500):

  • Name: Lenapehoking;
  • Location: New Jersey and parts of neighbouring states;
  • Population: 30,000 to 85,000, maybe more;
  • Area: about 55,000 sq km;
  • Languages: Munsee in the north, Unami in the south, both Eastern Algonquian languages (related to those that Squanto and Pocahontas spoke);
  • Religion: ethnic;
  • Technology: Eastern Woodlands;
  • Government: decentralized, ruled by sachems (religious chiefs);
  • Currency: wampum, aka “glass beads”.

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The Delaware grew maizebeans and squash, gathered strawberries and hunted deer (pictured), bear and elk. They lived in long houses, sometimes in towns of up to 300.  They were not the wandering bands of hunter-gatherers that most Whites imagine, much less “savages”.

Whites began arriving from Europe in number in the 1600s. Many Delaware died of White diseases, like smallpox, cholera and measles.

Whites got their land in three main ways:

  1. war, preferred by the Dutch but practised by Anglos too, like George Washington, who fought them.
  2. purchase, like when Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of trinkets and glass beads – a statement so misleading as to be a lie.
  3. court cases – where White judges upheld fine print, where the Delaware had few rights or protection. Preferred by Anglos.

Money: mostly wampum, shell beads on a string. Whites sometimes call it “glass beads”, which is like calling their money “pieces of paper”.

The Delaware knew how to fight in the woods better than most White men did, and they even had guns (which were too slow-loading till the 1800s to be much better than bows and arrows). But one thing they did not have were numbers. More and more Whites kept coming over the seas every year. And whatever land Whites could not get by sale or the small print of a contract, they took by force.

An excuse to fight the Delaware could always be found. Once it was because one of them took a peach. Small things like that grew into years of war. Even those who had taken on Western ways were killed. Even those who had become peaceful Moravian Christians were killed. Even women and children were killed. It did not matter to Whites.

lifeam1The Delaware who had lived through the White diseases and the White wars were pushed west bit by bit – through Pennsylvania in the 1600s and 1700s,  Ohio, Indiana and Kansas in the 1800s and so on till most of them came to Oklahoma by the 1860s. Some, though, wound up in Wisconsin, some in Ontario. By 2000 there were about 16,000. Unlike other Native Americans, few married Blacks.

 

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Languages: They spoke Unami and Munsee.  In 2009, Munsee had seven or eight native speakers, Unami had none. You can still hear them in prayers and in place names, like Manhattan, the Poconos, Hackensack, Rockaway, Massapequa, Carnarsie, Parsippany, Minisink, Raritan and Jamaica (in Queens).

Manahatta

Mannahatta in 1609 | Manhattan in 2009. Image Mark Boyer WCS. Click to enlarge.

– Abagond, 2009, 2016.

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