Lenape Tribe

Lenape Chief Lapowinsa

The Lenape (Delaware) Tribe
Summary and Definition: The Leni Lenape tribe lived along the Delaware River inhabiting New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. The Leni Lenape came to be called the Delaware tribe, after the river they originally lived along. The tribe were forced to continuously cede their lands and migrate due to the encroachment of white settlers.

What was the lifestyle and culture of the Lenape tribe?
The Lenape women planted and maintained crops primarily of corn, beans and squash. The men were responsible for hunting and fishing.  The Lenape numbered over 20,000 and lived in villages of longhouses containing several hundred people, but in the summer they would build temporary camps consisting of birchbark wigwams (wetu) for purposes of hunting and gathering. Their Lenape tribal lands were encroached by several European nations including the Dutch, French, Swedish and the British and their Native Indian enemies were the Mohawk. Early relationships were friendly and based on strong trading links but with the constant flow of Europeans they became involved in various conflicts which resulted in their migration further and further west.  The Lenape fought against the Dutch in Kieft's War (1643–1645) in which they were subjected to the Pavonia Massacre and the Esopus Wars (1659 - 1663). The Leni Lenape tribe then supported the British throughout the long French and Indian Wars (1688-1763). European diseases and constant warfare took a terrible toll on the numbers of Lenape Native Indians and the people became scattered across many present-day states and Wisconsin and Ontario in Canada. The descendants of the Leni Lenape tribe are known today as the Delaware and Munsee Indians and live across many states, with the largest group living near Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

What language did the Lenape tribe speak?
The Lenape tribe spoke in related dialects of the Algonquian language family, Unami  was spoken in the south and Munsee was spoken in the north. The tribe called themselves the 'Leni Lenape' which is derived from the Algonquin words meaning "real men". The colonists and settlers called the people the Delaware tribe reflecting their large settlements along the Delaware River, which was named after Lord de la Ware. The three traditional divisions of the Leni Lenape were the Munsee, Unami, and the Unalactigo who spoke in different dialects and lived in different locations.

  • The Munsee group were the northernmost group of the Lenape who occupied the area where the Delaware River begins, where Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York come together

  • The Unami were the central Lenape group who inhabited occupied the northern region and central New Jersey and “Staten Island”

  • The Unalactigo were southern most Lenape group who lived along both sides of the lower Delaware River, northern Delaware, southeast Pennsylvania, and south Jersey

Where did the Lenape tribe live?
The Lenape are people of the Northeast Woodland Native American cultural group.   The geography of the region in which they lived dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Lenape tribe.

  • The Northeast Woodland region extended mainly across the New England States, lower Canada, west to Minnesota, and north of the Ohio River
  • Land: Lush woodlands, rivers, ocean
  • Climate: The climate varied according to the location of the tribe
  • Land Animals: The  animals included squirrel, white-tailed deer, raccoon, bears, beavers, moose, and caribou
  • Fish and Sea Mammals: Whales, Seal, Fish and shell fish
  • Crops: The crops grown in the area were corn (maize), pumpkin, squash, beans and tobacco
  • Trees: Poplar, birch, elm, maple, oak, pine, fir trees and spruce

What did the Lenape tribe live in?
The Lenape tribe lived in large villages of longhouses in the winter. The Munsee villages were heavily fortified with palisades due to attacks by the Mohawks. The Unami and Unalactigo towns were rarely fortified. The Lenape wigwam was built in the summer with wooden frames that were covered with woven mats, sheets of birchbark and animal skins. Ropes were wrapped around the wigwam to hold the birch bark in place.

Lenape village of longhouses

What clothes did the Lenape wear?
The Lenape clothes were made from animal skins and  included long breechclouts, leggings, long cloaks and shoulder to waist length mantles. These were made from the skins of deer (buckskin) raccoon, otter and beaver. Lenape Women wore wraparound skirts, tunics and cloaks. The Europeans introduced trade cloth to the Lenape tribe who then began to change their traditional style of of dress. Lenape Men removed all facial hair and the men and women often colored their faces with red ocre. Tattooing was also common to both sexes, as were nose rings. Older men wore their hair long, but Lenape warriors usually had a scalp lock decorated with a roach headdress that was often dyed a bright red color. The roach headdress was attached to the scalp-lock and stood straight up from the head like a crest. Sometimes feathers were added as additional decorations.

What did the Lenape tribe eat?
The food that the Lenape tribe ate included the staple diet of the  'three sisters' crops of corn, beans and squash. Tobacco was also farmed by the men.  Fish such as sturgeon, pike and a variety of shellfish such as clams, oysters, lobsters and scallops were an important part of their food supply. The Lenape men also provided meat from deer (venison), black bear and smaller game like squirrel, rabbit, wild turkey and duck. The Lenape food also included nuts, vegetables, mushrooms and fruits (plums, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries).

What weapons did the Lenape use?
The weapons used by the Lenape warriors included war clubs, tomahawks, battle hammers, bows and arrows, knives, spears and axes.

Lenape History: What happened to the Lenape tribe?
The following Lenape history timeline details facts, dates and famous landmarks of the people. The Lenape timeline explains what happened to the people of their tribe.

Lenape History Timeline

  • 8000 BC: Leni Lenape Native Americans occupied New Jersey for thousands of years before European colonization

  • 1609: Henry Hudson was hired by the Dutch East India Company to explore the east coast of North America

  • 1614: The New Netherlands was established

  • 1620: The Great Migration of English colonists and the encroachment of Native Indian lands in New England begins

  • 1634: Epidemics of smallpox and measles are spread by the Europeans

  • 1636: Connecticut was settled by colonists, led by Thomas Hooker

  • 1638: New Sweden colony was established  by Peter Minuit along the lower Delaware River from 1638 to 1655. The Lenape in Manhattan sold their lands to Peter Minuit for trade goods worth about 60 guilders (24 dollars)

  • 1639: Willem Kieft arrived in New Netherland to take up his appointment as Governor General of New Netherland

  • 1641: Lenape warriors rebelled against the Dutch when the livestock of colonists destroyed some cornfields of the Raritan Lenape Indians, who lived on Staten Island at the mouth of the Hudson River

  • 1641: Willem Kieft placed a bounty on Raritan scalps, making it profitable for Dutch settlers to kill local Native Indians

  • 1643: Kieft's War (1643–1645) erupted between New Netherland settlers and the native Lenape population in New York

  • 1643: The Pavonia Massacre occurred on February 25, 1643 when Dutch soldiers tortured and murdered Lenape men, women and children. Pavonia was the first European settlement on the west bank of the Hudson River that was part of the province of New Netherland

  • 1643: On October 1, 1643, a force of united Native Indian tribes attacked the homesteads at Pavonia, most of which were burned to the ground.

  • 1647: Peter Stuyvesant is appointed as Willem Kieft's successor

  • 1653: Pavonia became part of the newly formed Commonality of New Amsterdam. Settlers were granted great tracts of Lenape lands

  • 1655: The Dutch conquest of New Sweden

  • 1655: The Peach Tree War. Pavonia was attacked by approximately five hundred Lenape warriors, killing over 100 settlers on September 15, 1655

  • 1659: The Esopus Wars (September 1659 - September 1663) were two localized conflicts between the indigenous Esopus tribe of Lenape Indians and colonialist New Netherlanders in and around Kingston, New York

  • 1664: In September 1664, the Dutch ceded New Netherland to the English

  • 1664: The New Jersey Colony was founded by Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret

  • 1682: The Pennsylvania Colony was founded by William Penn

  • 1682: The Leni Lenape, severly diminished in number by warfare and disease, signed treaties of friendship with William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, who established the English colony on the Delaware River. The Quakers spread Christianity amongst the Lenape

  • 1688: The French and Indian Wars (1688-1763) begin marking the outbreak of King William's War (1688-1699) and the western Lenape sided with the French

  • 1702: Queen Anne's War (1702-1713)

  • 1740: Moravian Missions (1740-1837) in Pennsylvania were established by missionaries from Germany

  • 1744: King George's War (1744 - 1748)

  • 1754: French Indian War (1754 - 1763), also known as the 7 year war, was the fourth and final series of conflicts in the French and Indian Wars fought between the British and the French. Both sides were aided by Native Indian allies

  • 1758: The Treaty of Easton between the Lenape and the colonists, required the Lenape to move westward, out of present-day New York and New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oklahoma

  • 1763: French and Indian War ends in victory for the British ending the colony of New France

  • 1763: The Lenape in Ohio fought the British in Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763 - 1766) A shaman known as Delaware Prophet played an important role in the conflict.

  • 1776: The American War of Independence (1775 - 1783)

  • 1778: The Lenape were the first tribe to sign a treaty with the U.S. government at Fort Pitt in 1778 during the American War of Independence

  • 1785: The Lenape supported the Miami tribe in Little Turtle’s War (1785 - 1795)

  • 1811: The Lenape supported the Shawnee tribe Tecumseh’s Rebellion (1811–1813)

  • 1830: Indian Removal Act

  • 1835 Most of the Lenape tribe in Delaware had been removed to a reservation in Kansas

  • 1845: The population of the Lanape had dropped to less than 2,000 people living in both the United States and Canada.

  • 1867 The Lenape tribe were moved from Kansas to Oklahoma Indian Territory

Lenape History Timeline

Native American Indian Tribes
Native Indian Tribes Index

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