A Few Highlights In the History of the Interrelated Nanticoke and Lenape Tribal Communities
of Southern New Jersey and the Delmarva.
1608: The Nanticoke encounter Captain John Smith and his men during Smith’s exploration of the Nanticoke River. At the time, the Nanticoke are the dominant tribe on the Delmarva, with a strong Lenape presence extending from New Jersey into Delaware.
1632: After the murder of their chief, the Lenni-Lenape destroy the Dutch fortress of Swaanandel in Lewes, Delaware.
1638: Swedes and Finns establish “New Sweden” in the Lenape homeland in the Delaware Bay area in New Jersey and Delaware.
1642: The Nanticoke and other tribes are declared enemies of the Maryland colony.
1668: A series of treaties are signed between American Indians and the Maryland colony which describe the Nanticoke as the head of a confederation of tribes on the Delmarva.
1682: The Lenape establish a peace treaty with William Penn.
1698: October, The Maryland Government set aside the Chicacoan (Chicone / Chiconi) reservation for the Nanticoke. The Puckamee village on the south bank of the Nanticoke River was simultaneously abandoned and claimed by settlers.
1711: The Broad Creek and Indian River Reservations are set aside by Colonial authorities.
1748: European encroachment and hostilities force many Nanticoke to flee north from Maryland into New Jersey and Delaware, and west into Oklahoma and into Canada. Many become part of existing Lenape migratory and remnant tribal communities.
1758: The Brotherton Reservation is created in Burlington County, New Jersey. Many of the remaining Lenape Indians refuse to move onto the reservation. In 1801, the reservation is sold and the few in residence left the state, although some would later return. Historical references to other Indian tribal communities in New Jersey, especially referring to the Indians of Cohansey Bridge (Bridgeton in Cumberland County, NJ), continue during and after the period. That same year, in Delaware, muster rolls identify several Nanticoke ancestors of the modern communities.
1816-1820: The Gouldtown Church community of Nanticoke and Lenape people is officially established in Cumberland County, N.J.
1855: A Delaware court case identifies various Moor/Nanticoke families.
1877: A school exclusively for “Moor” (Lenape and Nanticoke) children is built at Moore’s Corner, west of Cheswold on Kenton Road. A second school is also built later in Cheswold and a third at Fork Branch. The term “Moor” is used to refer to the Indian Community of Cheswold and generally of Indians in each of the three communities.
1881: The Delaware Legislature lists representatives of the Indian River community in a school tax exemption act due to the “special” status of the racial group.
1888: According to historian J. Thomas Scharf, the so-called “Moors” recognized themselves, and were recognized by their neighbors, as a distinct ethnic group at least as early as a century ago. Scharf described them as having settled in nearby Little Creek [now Kenton] Hundred in about 1710, and remarked that they had owned better than a thousand acres of land among them. The Durham family was among these early settlers.
1892: May 19 article entitled “Kent County Moors” appears in the The Times of Philadelphia, and John Sanders of the Cheswold Community is interviewed. In the article, he indicates that the commonly used term “Moor” is misleading. Sanders states, “We are Indians, and we belong to a branch of the great Delaware [Lenape] Nation, which used to hold all the country from New York to Cape Charles.”
1896: Smyrna Press publishes an article that was either a reprint or based upon an 1895 article in the Philadelphia Press. It identifies the Cheswold Indian community and suggests that the most reasonable reason for the “Moor” designation is due to the former name of the area in which they lived being “Moortown.”
1897: James Mooney, of the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institute writes to a “Mr. Thurman” on June 10th and July 29th regarding isolated Indian communities along the Eastern Seaboard, which he believes are of Native American origin. Listed among these Indian groups are the “Moors” of Delaware in each letter. He appears to use the name to refer to both Kent and Sussex County Delaware communities.
1899: William H. Babcock in American Anthropologist, identifies and describes Cheswold and Millsboro Indian Communities and references the southern New Jersey “party.”
1903: Delaware Legislature on March 20th, in Chapter 470 entitled “Miscellaneous,” identifies all named in the previous 1881 act, and their descendants after them, as “Nanticoke Indians,” and provides for legal designation of that identity for the purpose of “migrating.” Descendants of those listed in 1881 are not limited to the Sussex County Nanticoke Tribe, but include families currently in the Kent and Cumberland County communities in DE and NJ.
1908: M. R. Harrington, curator of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, collects a corn sheller made from a log, splint baskets, and an eel pot from the Cheswold community which are placed in the possession of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York City along with specimens from Indian River.
1912: American Anthropologist includes a report from The Museum Journal of the University of Pennsylania regarding the work of Speck and Wallis among the Nanticokes, identifying the isolate communities in Millsboro and Cheswold, Delaware, as Indian.
1914-1964: The Moor/Lenape School Board Trustees are listed by the State of Delaware. The board is exclusively comprised of members of the Cheswold tribal community.
1921: As the State of Delaware upheld school segregation between whites and blacks, another class was recognized by the following exemption, “The State Board of Education may establish schools for the children of people called Moors. No white or colored child shall be permitted to attend such a school without the permission of the board of Trustees of said school and of the State Board of Education.”
1930: Original Delaware Census records in which the census field worker identified Sussex County tribal families as “Nanticoke,” “Mixed,” or “Indian” are illegally crossed out by a census supervisor and replaced with the misclassification “African” or “Negro” when they are filed with the field office.
1935: Delaware Revised Code (2631, Section 9) equates “Moors” as “Indians” and commits to providing funding for school teachers for them, separate from “White” schools and “Colored” schools.
1946: Anthropologist William H. Gilbert identifies the Bridgeton, Cheswold, and Millsboro communities as Indian isolate groups, describes social dynamics and lists family names, citing overlap between the families.
1959: The Journal-Every Evening of Wilmington publishes an article in which a man identified as a “Delaware Moor” cites that his people started the “Big Thursday” picnic celebration, recalling a gathering of 1,500 “Moors” from Bridgeton and Cheswold in 1934. ”
1967: The Morning News of Wilmington publishes an article which muses on the history of Cheswold and the belief that the Cheswold “Moors” are of Delaware (Lenape) Indian descent.
1972: The January issue of Delaware Today includes an article entitled “Delaware’s Forgotten Minority — The Moors.” The article indicates that the Cheswold community members had a “M” for “Moor” on their driver’s licenses from the 1950s through to the 1970s, when many were changed by the state to “Other.”
1982: New Jersey officially recognizes The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian Tribe and calls on the US Congress to do the same.
1994: Forks Branch area near Cheswold is studied by Delaware historians and archaeologists and determined to have been an Indian enclave related to the current day Cheswold community.
1996: The State of Delaware completes “The Bloomsbury Report,” which identifies an area near Cheswold as a site of Indian activity related to the families in the Cheswold community. It also states that the modern members of the Lenape in Cheswold and the Nanticoke of Millsboro are of common bloodlines from the same general Indian stock.
2000: The U.S. Census Bureau lists Cumberland County, N.J., as a Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape American Indian Statistical Area.
2006: The National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, publishes “We Have a Story to Tell: The Native Peoples of the Chesapeake Region,” a guide for high school teachers that includes the history of the Indian River Community and repeatedly refers to the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape of New Jersey.
2007: The Bridgeton, Cheswold, and Indian River communities were invited guests to the opening reception celebration of the People of the Chesapeake permanent display at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.