In the fall of 1682, under the branches of a mighty elm tree that grew along the Delaware River, the chiefs of the Lenape (represented by their spokesman Chief Tamanend) met with William Penn.  A  Treaty of Friendship was made between.

On March 4-6, 2010 the Penn Treaty Museum, an online museum, in partnership with the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation and members of the Religious Society of Friends, came together in Philadelphia to commemorate the principles of fairness, peace and social justice symbolized by the Treaty Tree.

The Great Elm stood majestically at Shackamaxon, a sacred gathering place for our people. It was a living reminder of the hope of “living as one flesh and one blood . . . as long as the creeks and rivers run and the sun, moon and stars endure.” On March 5, 1810, the Treaty Tree fell in a storm and became a national story printed in newspapers of the time. Two hundred years later, using spoken word and American Indian dancing and drumming, the story was told of how a simple act of friendship under the canopy of the Great Elm, sealed with a wampum belt, represented the best of our human spirit.

At the Penn Treaty Museum sponsored events, The Chiefs of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation and the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware were joined by dignitaries from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the regional vice-president of the National Congress of American Indians, and Lenape/Delaware people.

Dr. Gregory Schaaf of the Center for Indigenous Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a keynote speaker and presented on the significance of wampum belts and peace trees, with a special focus on the 1682 Treaty of Friendship that paved the way for the founding of Pennsylvania.  The Atwater-Kent Musuem loaned the original belt given by Chief Tamanend to William Penn the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for display during the celebration.

Gregory Schaaf, Ph.D, Director of the Center for Indigenous Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will discuss the significance of wampum belts and peace trees, with a special focus on the 1682 Treaty of Friendship that paved the way for the founding of Pennsylvania.

Lenape Artifacts

Images of Lenape Artifacts shared by the

National Museum of the American Indian

Capturing the Beauty of Pow Wow

Music by the Red Blanket Singers, Images by Cara Blume

Images by Cara Blume

Hidden in Plain Sight

Immanuel Mission Church, Kent Co., DE

Indian Mission Church, Sussex Co., DE

St. John Church, Cumberland Co., NJ

By 1800, the majority of those in the tribal communities had been converted to Christianity, while still maintaining many traditional Nanticoke and Lenape spiritual values.  Each of our three interrelated Nanticoke and Lenape tribal communities sustained their internal governance through tribal congregations.  Through the 1800’s and 1900’s, tribal control over the congregations was fiercely guarded by each tribal community, sometimes putting them at odds with denominational leadership…

…We have our own church buildings and government… Others may come as often as they choose and are quite welcome and a good many do come, but no strangers are admitted to membership or can have any voice in the management. A number of years ago the Methodist Conference succeeded in taking one of our churches from us, down in Sussex, but our people immediately built another for themselves and connected themselves with the Methodist Protestants. That is why we want no strangers to join our church here; that occurrence was a lesson to us.”  (John Sanders, a  Kent County tribal elder, in an 1892 article published in The Times of Philadelphia)

Tribal churches in Cumberland County (New Jersey), Kent and Sussex Counties (Delaware) have all been documented and acknowledged as Historic American Indian Congregations.

Nanticoke and Lenape School Children c.1942

Nanticoke School Children c.1915

In Kent and Sussex Counties, Delaware, tribally controlled segregated schools were established by the communities in the mid to late 1800’s and continued as Native American public schools, with tribal school boards, into the mid 1900’s.  The issue of tribal education resulting in an 1881 Delaware statute  that listed tribal leaders in Sussex County, Delaware.  Public support for tribally controlled segregated schools in Kent and Sussex Counties is well documented in state statutes and reports.

Social organizations, exclusive to tribal people, rose within the tribal communities. 

In spite of the government effort to eradicate American Indian identity through racial persecution and intentional misidentification in New Jersey and Delaware, from the 1750’s on, public records continued to identify our ancestors and report on our communities.  Lists of our tribal families are compiled in government documents, statutes, research reports, and studies from the 1880’s through to the modern era.

The Keepers of the Land

Benjamin West Painting of the Shackamaxon Treaty of 1682

Our ancestors were variously referred to as the “Siconese,” Sewapois,” “Narraticons,” “Cohansies,”  “Bay Indians,” “Kuskarawoaks,” and several other regional names.  In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch, Swedes, and British all set up colonies in our homeland.

By 1740, masses of our relatives had begun to migrate away, being pushed west and north.  We are the Lenape and Nanticoke people who remained in our ancient homeland, intermarrying between three tribal communities since before the establishment of the United States.  We are those who kept watch over the land of our ancestors.

Lenape Forced Migration

Our families occupied reservations and “Indian Towns” during the colonial era.  As early as 1704, our people lived on the Broad Creek, Chicone and Indian River reservations on the Delmarva, with some of our families also coalescing in  an area that would be called “Cheswold” near Dover, Delaware.  The Brotherton Reservation was established in New Jersey in 1758, but few of colony’s tribal people chose to take up permanent residence there, many continued to live in small tribal communities that were in the midst of non-Native colonial towns like those in and around Bridgeton; by the time the Brotherton Reservation was disbanded in 1802, there were only seventy Indians still living there.

By the early 1800’s, our tribal families made up reclusive tribal communities in southern New Jersey and central and southern Delaware.  Generations of intermarriage resulted in a blend of Lenape and Nanticoke bloodlines in each of the communities.