Delaware

Delaware (dĕlˈəwâr, –wər) [key], English name given several closely related Native American groups of the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). In the 17th cent., they lived in what is now New Jersey, Delaware, E Pennsylvania, and SE New York. They called themselves the Lenni-Lenape or the Lenape and were given the name Delaware by the settlers because they lived in the vicinity of the Delaware River. The Delaware evolved into a loose confederacy of three major divisions: the Munsee (wolf), the Unalachtigo (turkey), and the Unami (turtle). They occupied the territory from which most of the Algonquian tribes had originated and were accorded the respectful title of grandfather by these tribes. They traded with the Dutch early in the 17th cent., sold much of their land, and began moving inland to the Susquehanna valley. In 1682 they made a treaty of friendship with William Penn, which he did his best to honor. In 1720 the Delaware fell victim to Iroquois attack and were forced to move into what is now Ohio.

The western Delaware sided with the French in the last of the French and Indian Wars, took part in Pontiac's Rebellion, and sided with the British in the American Revolution. Some of the Delaware in Pennsylvania had been converted to Christianity by the Moravians. In 1782 a peaceful settlement of Christian Delaware at Gnadenhutten was massacred by a force of white men. Anthony Wayne defeated and subdued the Delaware in 1794, and by the Treaty of Greenville (1795) they and their allies ceded their lands in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They crossed the Mississippi River and migrated to Kansas and then to Texas. They were later moved to the Indian Territory and settled with the Cherokee. A remarkable history of the Delaware, in the form of pictographs, was located by the French scholar Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1836. Known as the Walum Olum, it depicted Delaware migrations and changes; its claim to antiquity, however, is somewhat doubtful. In 1990 there close to 10,000 Delaware in the United States, most of them in Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Around 600 Delaware live in Ontario, Canada.

Bibliography

See D. G. Brinton, The Lenâpé and Their Legends (1884, repr. 1969); M. R. Harrington, Religion and Ceremonies of the Lenape (1921); F. G. Speck, A Study of the Delaware Indian Big House Ceremony (1931) and Oklahoma Delaware Ceremonies, Feasts, and Dances (1937); C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indians (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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