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Map depicting approximately where different Lenape languages were spoken

The Lenape (pronounced /lɛnəpi/, /lɛnapeɪ/, or /ləˈnɑpi/) are a group of several organized bands of Native American peoples with shared cultural and linguistic characteristics. Their name for themselves (autonym), sometimes spelled Lennape or Lenapi, means "the people." They are also known as the Lenni Lenape (the "true people") or as the Delaware Indians. English settlers named the Delaware River after Lord De La Warr, the governor of the Jamestown settlement. They used the exonym above for almost all the Lenape people living along this river and its tributaries.

At the time of European contact in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lenape lived in the area they called Lenapehoking, roughly the area around and between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers. This encompassed what is now the U.S. state of New Jersey; eastern Pennsylvania around the Delaware and Lehigh valleys, and the north shore of Delaware; and southern New York, especially the lower Hudson Valley and New York Harbor. They spoke two related languages in the Algonquian subfamily, collectively known as the Delaware languages: Unami and Munsee.

Lenape society was organized into clans determined by matrilineal descent. Territory was collective, but divided by clan. At the time of European contact, the Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture, their primary crop being varieties of maize. They also practiced hunting and the harvesting of seafood. They were primarily sedentary, moving to different established campsites by season.

After the arrival of Dutch settlers and traders in the 17th century, the Lenape and other tribes became heavily involved in the North American fur trade. This depleted the beaver population in the area, proving disastrous for both the Lenape and the Dutch settlers. The Lenape were further weakened by new infectious diseases, and by conflict with both Europeans and traditional Lenape enemies, the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock. Over the next centuries, they were pushed out of their lands by Iroquoian enemies, treaties and by overcrowding by settlers, and moved west into the Ohio River valley. In the 1860s, most Lenape remaining in the Eastern United States were sent to the Oklahoma Territory. In the 21st century, most Lenape now reside in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, with some communities living also in Kansas, Wisconsin, Ontario, and in their traditional homelands.



Early Indian "tribes" are perhaps better understood as language groups, rather than as "nations." At the time of first European contact, a Lenape individual would likely have identified primarily with his or her immediate family and friends, or village unit; then with surrounding and familiar village units; next with more distant neighbors who spoke the same dialect; and ultimately, while often fitfully, with all those in the surrounding area who spoke mutually comprehensible languages, including the Mahican. Among other Algonquian peoples, the Lenape were considered the "grandfathers" from whom all the other Algonquian peoples originated. Consequently, in inter-tribal councils, the Lenape were given respect as one would to elders.

Those of a different language stock – such as the Iroquois (or, in the Lenape language, the Minqua) – were regarded as foreigners. As in the case of the Iroquois, the animosity of difference and competition spanned many generations, and tribes became traditional enemies. Ethnicity seems to have mattered little to the Lenape and many other "tribes". Archaeological excavations have found Munsee burials that included identifiably ethnic Iroquois remains interred along with those of ethnic-Algonquian Munsee. The two groups were bitter enemies since before recorded history. Intermarriage clearly occurred. In addition, both tribes practiced adopting captives from warfare into their tribes and assimilating them.

Overlaying these relationships was a phratry system, a division into clans. Clan membership was matrilineal; children inherited membership in a clan from their mother. On reaching adulthood, a Lenape traditionally married outside the clan, a practice known by ethnographers as, "exogamy". The practice effectively prevented inbreeding, even among individuals whose kinship was obscure or unknown.

Early Europeans who first wrote about Indians found matrilineal social organization to be unfamiliar and perplexing. Because of this, Europeans often tried to interpret Lenape society through more familiar European arrangements. As a result, the early records are full of clues about early Lenape society, but were usually written by observers who did not fully understand what they were seeing. For example, a man's maternal uncle (his mother's brother), and not his father, was usually considered to be his closest male ancestor, since his father belonged to a different clan. The maternal uncle played a more prominent role in the lives of his sister's children than did the father. Such a concept was often unfathomable to early European chroniclers.

Land was assigned to a particular clan for hunting, fishing, and cultivation. Individual private ownership of land was unknown, but rather the land belonged to the clan collectively while they inhabited it.[1] Clans lived in fixed settlements, using the surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting until the land was exhausted. In a common practice known as "agricultural shifting", the group then moved to found a new settlement within their territories.

The Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture to augment a mobile hunter-gatherer society in the region around the Delaware River, the lower Hudson River, and western Long Island Sound. The Lenape were largely a sedentary people who occupied campsites seasonally, which gave them relatively easy access to the small game that inhabited the region: fish, birds, shellfish and deer. They developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources.

By the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Lenape were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique. This extended the productive life of planted fields.[2][3][4][5][6][7] They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bays of the area,[8] and, in southern New Jersey, harvested clams year-round .[9] The success of these methods allowed the tribe to maintain a larger population than nomadic hunter-gatherers could support. Scholars have estimated that at the time of European settlement, there may have been about 15,000 Lenape total in approximately 80 settlement sites around much of the New York City area, alone.[10] In 1524 Lenape in canoes met Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to enter New York Harbor.



European contact

Benjamin West's painting (in 1771) of William Penn's 1682 treaty with the Lenape

The first recorded contact with Europeans and what is presumed to have been the Lenape was in 1524 when the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was greeted by Native Americans arriving by canoe, after his ship entered what is now called Lower New York Bay.

The early interaction between the Lenape and Dutch treaders in the 17th century was primarily through the fur trade, specifically the exchange of beaver pelts by the Lenape for European-made goods. According to Dutch settler Isaac de Rasieres, who observed the Lenape in 1628, the Lenape's primary crop was maize, which they planted in March. They quickly adopted European metal tools for this task.

In May, the Lenape planted kidney beans near the maize plants, which served as props for the climbing vines. The summers were devoted to field work and the crops were harvested in August. Most of the field work was done by women, with the agricultural work of men limited to clearing the field and breaking the soil. Hunting was the primary activity during the rest of the year. Dutch settler David de Vries, who stayed in the area from 1634 to 1644, described a Lenape hunt in the valley of the Achinigeu-hach (or "Ackingsah-sack," the Hackensack River), in which one hundred or more men stood in a line many paces from each other, beating thigh bones on their palms to drive animals to the river, where they could be killed easily. Other methods of hunting included lassoing and drowning deer, as well as forming a circle around prey and setting the brush on fire.

Dutch settlers founded a colony at present-day Lewes, Delaware on June 3, 1631 and named it Zwaanendael (Swan Valley).[11] The colony had a short existence, as in 1632 a local tribe of Lenni Lenape Indians wiped out the 32 Dutch settlers after a misunderstanding over defacement of the insignia of the Dutch West India Company escalated.[12] In 1634, the Susquehannocks went to war with the Lenape over access to trade with the Dutch at Manhattan. The Lenape were defeated, and some scholars believe that the Lenape may have become tributaries to the Susquehannocks.[13] Afterwards they referred to the Susquehannocks as "uncles."

The quick adoption of trade goods by the Lenape, and their need for fur to trade with the Europeans, eventually resulted in disastrous over-harvesting of the beaver population in the lower Hudson. With the fur source exhausted, the Dutch shifted their operations to present-day Upstate New York. The Lenape population fell, due to infectious disease and decline. Differences in conceptions of property rights between the Europeans and the Lenape resulted in widespread confusion among the Lenape and the loss of their lands. After the Dutch arrival in the 1620s, the Lenape were successful in restricting Dutch settlement to Pavonia in present-day Jersey City along the Hudson until the 1660s. The Dutch finally established a garrison at Bergen, allowing settlement west of the Hudson within the province of New Netherlands.

Beginning in the 18th century, the Moravian Church established missions among the Lenape.[14] The Moravians required pacifism, as well as a structured and European-style community for Native Americans who lived in the missions.[15] Their pacifism caused conflicts with British authorities, who sought aid against the French and their Native American allies during the French and Indian War. The Moravians' insistence on Lenapes' abandoning traditional practices alienated mission populations from other Lenape and Native American groups. The Moravians stayed with their missions, following Lenape relocations to Ohio and Canada. Moravian Lenape who settled permanently in Ontario were sometimes referred to as "Christian Munsee."

Lapowinsa, Chief of the Lenape, Lappawinsoe painted by Gustavus Hesselius in 1735.

The Treaty of Easton, signed between the Lenape and the English in 1758, removed them westward, out of present-day New York and New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, then Ohio and beyond. Sporadically they continued to raid English settlers from far outside the area.

During the French and Indian War, the Lenape initially sided with the French. However, such leaders as Teedyuscung in the east and Tamaqua in the vicinity of modern Pittsburgh made the shift to trying to build alliances with the British. After the end of the war, English settlers continued to kill Lenape, often so heavily that people claimed that the dead since the wars outnumbered those during the war.[16]

In 1763 a Lenape known as Bill Hickman warned the English colonists in the Juniata River region that the Lenape would soon attack them. Many Lenape joined in Pontiac's War, comprising many of the Native Americans who besiged Pittsburgh.[17] In April 1763 Teedyuscung was killed when his home was burned. His son Captain Bull responded by attacking New England settlers, sponsored by the Susquehanna Company, who lived in the Wyoming River Valley.[18]

The Lenape were the first Indian tribe to enter into a treaty with the United States government, with the Treaty of Fort Pitt signed during the American Revolutionary War. The Lenape supplied the Continental Army with warriors and scouts in exchange for food supplies. They may have been misled by an undocumented promise of a role at the head of a future Native American state.[citation needed]

19th and 20th centuries

In the early 19th century, the naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque claimed to have found the Walam Olum, an alleged religious history of the Lenape, which he published in 1836. However, only Rafinesque's manuscript exists; the tablets upon which his writings were allegedly based either were never found, or never existed. Most authorities and scholars now consider the document a hoax.[19]

Similarly, decades after the decline in population of Native American on Long Island in New York, amateur anthropologist Silas Wood published a book claiming that there were several tribes traditional to Long Island; later collectively called them the Metoac. Modern scientific scholarship has shown that two linguistic groups represented two cultural identities on the island, not "13 tribes" as asserted by Wood.[20][21] Native Americans living on the west end of the island were bands of Lenape. Wood either created the myth or misinterpreted place names for that of "tribes."

The Lenape were progressively crowded out by European settlers and pressed to move over a period of 176 years. Their main body arrived in the northeast region of Oklahoma in the 1860s. Along the way many smaller groups left, or were told to stay where they were. Consequently today, from New Jersey to Wisconsin to southwest Oklahoma, there are groups who retain a sense of connection with ancestors who lived in the Delaware Valley in the 17th century and with cousins in the Lenape diaspora. The two largest groups are the Delaware Nation (Anadarko, Oklahoma), and the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville, Oklahoma), the only two federally recognized Delaware tribes in the United States.[22]

Most members of the Munsee branch of the Lenape live on three Indian reserves in Western Ontario, Canada, the largest being that at Moraviantown, Ontario where the Turtle clan settled in 1792.

The Oklahoma branches were established in 1867, with the purchase of land by Delawares from the Cherokee Nation; two payments totaling $438,000 were made. A court dispute followed over whether the sale included rights for the Delaware as citizens within the Cherokee Nation. The Curtis Act of 1898 dissolved tribal governments and ordered the allotment of tribal lands to individual members of tribes. The Lenape fought the act in the courts but lost, and in 1867 the courts ruled that they had only purchased rights to the land for their lifetimes. The lands were allotted in 160-acre (650,000 m²) lots in 1907, with any land left over sold to non-Indians.

In 1979, the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs revoked the tribal status of the Delaware living among Cherokee in Oklahoma, and counted the Delaware as Cherokee. The Delaware got this decision overturned in 1996, when they were recognized by the federal government as a separate tribe.

The Cherokee Nation filed suit to overturn the recognition of the Delaware. The tribe lost federal recognition in a 2004 court ruling in favor of the Cherokee Nation, but regained it on 28 July 2009. On July 28, 2009, the US Department of the Interior notified the tribal office in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, that the Delaware were again a federally recognized tribe.[23] The tribe reorganized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Members approved a constitution and bylaws in a May 26, 2009 vote. Jerry Douglas is serving as tribal chief.[22]

In 2004 the Delaware of Oklahoma sued the state of Pennsylvania over land lost in 1800. This was related to the Walking Purchase of 1737, an agreement of doubtful legal standing.[24][25]

Lenape nations today

Lenni Lenapes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are not officially recognized as tribes by the United States. This means they do not have reservation land or their own government system, though they still practice the Lenape culture. A small, unrecognized Native American community known as Lenapehoking for Lenni-Lenape Indians is in West Philadelphia.

Sticker by the Delaware Valley's Lenape Indians in 2008 claiming West Philadelphia is their home.


Ontario, Canada:


New Jersey:

Notable Lenape


The Delaware feature prominently in The Last of the Mohicans and the other Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper.

The Delaware are the subject of a legend which inspired the Boy Scouts of America honor society known as the Order of the Arrow.

The Walam Olum, which purported to be an account of the Delaware's migration to the lands around the Delaware River, emerged through the works of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in the nineteenth century. For many decades, scholars believed it was genuine. In the 1980s and 1990s, newer textual analysis suggested it was a hoax. Nonetheless, some Delaware, upon hearing of it for the first time, found the account to be plausible.

In Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the group of American scalphunters are aided by an unspecified number of Delaware Indians (5-6 minimum), who serve as scouts and guides through the western deserts.

In The Light in the Forest, True Son is adopted by a band of Lenape.

In the 1938 Mark Raymond Harrington book Dickon Among the Indians, a group of Lenape find a young white child. This proceed to raise him as their own. The book goes into detail of Lenape life, society, weaponry, and beliefs, and includes a glossary for many Lenape terms used throughout the book.

Trouble's Daughter: The Story of Susanna Hutchinson, Indian Captive is a young adult novel of a fictional account of the kidnapping by the Lenape Turtle Clan of a daughter of Anne Hutchinson, the religious reformer and founder of the Rhode Island colony.

Moon of Two Dark Horses is a novel of the friendship between a white settler and a Lenape boy at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, part of the Dear America series of fictional diaries, is a novel by Mary Pope Osborne. It tells the story of the capture of a teenage girl and her brother by a band of Lenape, and the youths' gradual assimilation into Lenape culture.

Peter Lindestrom's Geographia America with an Account of the Delaware Indians is one of the few sympathetic contemporary accounts (and most reliable) of Lenape life in the lower Delaware River valley during the 17th century.

Moravian missionary John Heckewelder published a sympathetic account of the Lenape in exile in the Ohio Valley. His account, published in 1818, provides some alternate Lenape tribal history disputing the tributary relationship with the Susquehannock.

See also



  • Adams, Richard Calmit, The Delaware Indians, a brief history, Hope Farm Press (Saugerties, NY 1995) [originally published by Government Printing Office, (Washington, DC 1909)]
  • Bierhorst, John. The White Deer and Other Stories Told by the Lenape. New York: W. Morrow, 1995. ISBN 0688129005
  • Brown, James W. and Rita T. Kohn, eds. Long Journey Home ISBN 978-0-253-34968-2 Indiana University Press (2007).
  • Burrows, Edward G. and Wallace, Mike, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1989 ISBN 0-19-514049-4 Oxford Univ. Press (1999).
  • Dreibelbis, Dana E., "The Use of Microstructural Growth Patterns of Mercenaria Mercenaria to Determine the Prehistoric Seasons of Harvest at Tuckerton Midden, Tuckerton, New Jersey," thesis, Princeton University, 1978.
  • Jackson, Kenneth T. (editor) The Encyclopedia of New York City ISBN 0-300-05536-6 Yale University Press (1995).
  • Jennings, Francis, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, 2000, ISBN 0393017192
  • Kraft, Herbert C. (ed.) A Delaware Indian Symposium [Proceedings]. Anthropological Series no. 4. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical Society Museum Commission, 1974.
  • Kraft, Herbert C. (ed.) The Lenape Indian: A Symposium. South Orange, NJ: Archaeological Research Center, Seton Hall University, 1984.
  • Kraft, Herbert C., The Lenape: archaeology, history and ethnography, New Jersey Historical Society, (Newark, NJ 1986)
  • Kraft, Herbert C. The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 B.C. to A.D. 2000. [Elizabeth, NJ?]: Lenape Books, 2001.
  • Kurlansky, Mark. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 9, 2007). ISBN 978-0345476395
  • Mitchell, S. H. The Indian Chief, Journeycake. Philadelphia : American Baptist Publication Society (1895). Available on the Internet Archive
  • O'Meara, John, Delaware-English / English-Delaware dictionary, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, 1996) ISBN 0-8020-0670-1.
  • Oestreicher, David. "Unmasking the Walam Olum: A 19th-Century Hoax," in Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey, #49, 1994, p. 10-44.
  • Otto, Paul, The Dutch-Munsee Encounter in America: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Hudson Valley (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006). ISBN 1-57181-672-0
  • Pritchard, Evan T., Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York. Council Oak Books: San Francisco, 2002, 2007, ISBN 1-57178-107-2.
  • Richter, Conrad, The Light In The Forest, (New York, NY 1953)
  • Weslager, Clinton Alfred, The Delaware Indians: A history, Rutgers University Press, (New Brunswick, NJ 1972).
  • Wick, Steve. "The First Long Islanders." [Accessed July 30, 2008]


  1. ^ see New Amsterdam for discussion of the Dutch "purchase" of Manhattan
  2. ^ Stevenson W. Fletcher, Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life 1640-1840 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1950), 2, 35-37, 63-65, 124.
  3. ^ Day, Gordon M. “The Indian as an Ecological Factor in the Northeastern Forests.” Ecology, Vol. 34, #2 (April): 329-346. New England and New York areas 1580-1800. Notes that the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribe in New Jersey and the Massachuset tribe in Massachusetts used fire in ecosystems.1953
  4. ^ Russell, Emily W.B. Vegetational Change in Northern New Jersey Since 1500 A.D.: A Palynological, Vegetational and Historical Synthesis Ph.D. dissertation. New Brunswick, PA: Rutgers University. Author notes on page 8 that Indians often augmented lightning fires. 1979
  5. ^ Russell, Emily W.B. "Indian Set Fires in the Forests of the Northeastern United States." Ecology, Vol. 64, #1 (Feb): 78 88. 1983a Author found no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas, but they did burn small areas near their habitation sites. Noted that the Lenna Lenape Tribe used fire.
  6. ^ "A Brief Description of New York, Formerly Called New Netherlands with the Places Thereunto Adjoining, Likewise a Brief Relation of the Customs of the Indians There." New York, NY: William Gowans. 1670. Reprinted in 1937 by the Facsimile Text Society, Columbia University Press, New York. Notes that the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribe in New Jersey used fire in ecosystems.
  7. ^ Smithsonian Institution - Handbook of North American Indians series: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15 - Northeast. Bruce G. Trigger (volume editor). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. 1978 References to Indian burning for the Eastern Algonquins, Virginia Algonquins, Northern Iroquois, Huron, Mahican, and Delaware Tribes and peoples.
  8. ^ Mark Kurlansky, 2006.
  9. ^ D. Dreibelbis, 1978.
  10. ^ Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, 1999.
  11. ^ Munroe, John A.: Colonial Delaware: A History: Millwood, New York: KTO Press; 1978; P.9-12.
  12. ^ Cook, Albert Myers. Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware 1630-1707. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912. p. 9
  13. ^ F. Jennings, p. 117
  14. ^ Gray, Elma. Wilderness Christians: Moravian Missions to the Delaware Indians. Ithaca. 1956
  15. ^ Olmstead, Earl P. Blackcoats among the Delaware: David Zeisberger on the Ohio frontier. Kent, Ohio. 1991.
  16. ^ Amy C. Schutt. Peoples of the Rivers. p. 118
  17. ^ Schutt. People of the River, p. 118
  18. ^ Schutt. People of the River, p. 119
  19. ^ Oestreicher, David, 1994
  20. ^ Strong, John A. Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Heart of the Lakes Publishing (March 1997). ISBN 978-1557871480
  21. ^ Bragdon, Kathleen. The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Northeast. Columbia University Press (January 15, 2002). ISBN 978-0231114523.
  22. ^ a b Delaware Tribe regains federal recognition. NewsOk. 4 Aug 2009 (retrieved 5 August 2009)
  23. ^ Delaware Tribe of Indians’ federal recognition restored. Indian Country Today. 7 Aug 2009 (retrieved 11 August 2009)
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ S. H. Mitchell (1895)

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Proper noun




  1. A group of native American people who were living in what is now New Jersey and along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, the coast of Delaware, and the lower Hudson Valley and New York Harbor in New York, at the time of the arrival of the Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  2. The languages spoken by all of this group; Delaware
  3. The language spoken in the southern range of this group in coastal Delaware, southern New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania; Unami.


  • (people): Lenni-Lanape, Delaware
  • (language group): Delaware
  • (southern language): Unami




Lenape (plural Lenapes)

  1. A member of any tribe of this group.

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|200px|A map of the area where the Lenape lived.]] The Lenape, Lenappe, Lenapi or Lenni Lenape (meaning "the people" or "true people") are a group of several bands of Native American people who share cultural and linguistic traits. They are also known as the Delaware Indians. They spoke two similar languages known as the Delaware languages: Unami and Munsee. The Lenape lived in the area called Lenapehoking, roughly the area around and between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers. These areas are known today as the U.S. states of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania around the Delaware and Lehigh valleys. It is also the north shore of Delaware and much of southeastern New York, mostly the lower Hudson Valley and Upper New York Bay.


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