State of Delaware

Genealogy Trails History Group

Genealogy and History
Volunteers Dedicated to Free Genealogy

Lenape Indians

From a 1908 history.


The native red men found in the State belonged to the general family known as the Lenni-Lenape or Delawares, who comprised in all about forty tribes and were so ancient and extended in range as to have been acknowledged by other tribes as the "original people," and bore the familiar name of the "Grandfathers" of the red men. Of this great Indian family, the tribe of Nanticokes, or "Tide-water people" occupied the lower part of Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland, and were distinctively a fishing and trapping people rather than great hunters or warriors. Among the hills of northern Delaware dwelt kindred tribes of the same great race who were proud to own as their chief the renowned and noble Tamanand, whose most permanent residence is believed to have been in the northerly vicinity of Wilmington. Although the first European settlement in lower Delaware was cut off by the savages in revenge for the white man's hasty violence, subsequent dealings with the red men were peaceable and prosperous. The Swedes who settled here seven years after the massacre of the De Vries colony, anticipated Penn's just and kind treatment of the Indians and lived ever in unbroken friendship with them. All the tribes disappeared from the State during the first half of the last century, the last remnant of the Nanticokes having left the neighborhood of Laurel, in Sussex County, in the spring of 1748.

[History of the State of Delaware by Henry C. Conrad, Volume III, Published by the Author, Wilmington, Delaware, 1908, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

- - 1909 - - ANNUAL VISIT

Nanticoke Tribe of Red Men, of Georgetown, will tender a reception to Great Sachem E. V. Baker, of Selbyville, on his annual visit to the tribe, September 23.
[Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Saturday, September 11, 1909, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]
The Lenape (later named Delaware Indians by Europeans) were, in the 17th century, organized bands of Native American peoples with shared cultural and linguistic characteristics.

Before Delaware was settled by European colonists, the area was home to the Eastern Algonquian tribes known as the Unami Lenape or Delaware throughout the Delaware valley, and the Nanticoke along the rivers leading into the Chesapeake Bay. The Unami Lenape in the Delaware Valley were closely related to Munsee Lenape tribes along the Hudson River. They had a settled hunting and agricultural society, and they rapidly became middlemen in an increasingly frantic fur trade with their ancient enemy, the Minqua or Susquehannock. With the loss of their lands on the Delaware River and the destruction of the Minqua by the Iroquois of the Five Nations in the 1670s, the remnants of the Lenape left the region and moved over the Alleghany Mountains by the mid-18th century. Lenape in canoes met Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to enter New York Harbor, in 1524.

The Lenape were largely a sedentary people who occupied campsites seasonally, resulting in 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 arrival of Europeans, the Lenape were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bays of the area. The success of these methods allowed the tribe to maintain a larger population than nomadic hunter-gatherers were able to support.

Most Lenape Indians were eventually forced to relocate to Oklahoma in the 1860's, where they entered an uneasy union with the Cherokee Nation and regained independent tribal status only in 1996. Other Lenape bands remained scattered in their own traditional lands or along the westward routes, where their descendents still live today. ...

The Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians are often said to be extinct. This is not true--there are 11,000 Lenape people in Oklahoma, where they were sent by the US government (which only recently stopped incorrectly classifying them as Cherokees), and another 5000 Lenape Indian descendents in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There are also 3000 Munsee Delawares in Ontario and Wisconsin, and around 1000 Nanticokes in Delaware.

Notable Lenape

Buckongahelas, Wolf clan war leader
Captain Pipe, Wolf clan war chief
Killbuck (Gelelemend), Turtle clan leader
Neolin, the "Delaware Prophet"
Shingas, Turkey clan war leader
Tamanend, leader who, according to tradition, negotiated treaty with William Penn
Tamaqua, Turkey clan civil leader, aka "King Beaver"
Teedyuscung, "King" of the eastern Delawares
White Eyes, Turtle clan civil leader

Genealogy Trails
Head and shoulders portrait of Black Beaver, Native American Lenni Lenape (Delaware)
wearing short cropped hair, sack jacket and neck scarf. He was a Delaware Indian scout who had volunteered his services to the Union during the Civil War
[Source: Library of Congress, American Memories]

Explanation of the symbols on the Delaware Tribal Seal

Genealogy Trails

Lenni Lenape: Our Indian Name. English translation - common, original or real people.

Delaware: The English named the river our ancestors lived along after Lord De La Warr and called the people by the same name.

Turtle, Wolf, Turkey: These are the three clans of the Lenape people.

Peace Pipe: Represents our history as leaders in peace.

Cross: Represents our history in religion.

Mesing Face: Ceremonial mask used in the Big House ceremonies, represents the spirit of all living things.

Prayer Sticks: 12 prayer sticks used on the 9th night of the Big House ceremony which lasted 12 nights.

Fire Drill: Was used in ceremonies to start fires.

Colors: Red, white and black were colors used in Aboriginal times; red from berries, white from chalk, and black from charcoal.

Information from the TRIBAL WEB SITE at and used with permission

The name DELAWARE was given to the people who lived along the Delaware River, and the river in turn was named after Lord de la Warr, the governor of the Jamestown colony. The name Delaware later came to be applied to almost all Lenape people. In our language, which belongs to the Algonquian language family, we call ourselves LENAPE (len-NAH-pay) which means something like "The People." Our ancestors were among the first Indians to come in contact with the Europeans (Dutch, English, & Swedish) in the early 1600s. The Delaware were called the "Grandfather" tribe because we were respected by other tribes as peacemakers since we often served to settle disputes among rival tribes. We were also known for our fierceness and tenacity as warriors when we had to fight, however, we preferred to choose a path of peace with the Europeans and other tribes.

Many of the early treaties and land sales we signed with the Europeans were in our people's minds more like leases. The early Delaware had no idea that land was something that could be sold. The land belonged to the Creator, and the Lenape people were only using it to shelter and feed their people. When the poor, bedraggled people got off their ships after the long voyage and needed a place to live we shared the land with them. They gave us a few token gifts for our people's kindness, but in the mind of the Europeans these gifts were actually the purchase price for the land.

Our Delaware people signed the first Indian treaty with the newly formed United States Government on September 17, 1778. Nevertheless, through war and peace, our ancestors had to continue to give up their lands and move westward (first to Ohio, then to Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and finally, Indian Territory, now Oklahoma). One small band of Delawares left our group in the late 1700s and through different migrations are today located at Anadarko, Oklahoma. Small contingents of Delawares fled to Canada during a time of extreme persecution and today occupy two reserves in Ontario (The Delaware Nation at Moraviantown and The Munsee-Delaware Nation).

Lenape Hach Ki? - Are You A Lenape?
The Delaware Tribal website was established several years ago, and since then we have had numerous e-mail inquiries about genealogy. Many are from people in the eastern part of the United States, but we do receive inquires from all over the country. Many of the messages say things like, "I was told by my grandparents that our family always lived in the East and that we have Lenape blood. Would you look them up and see if I am part Lenape?"

It would be nice if there was a master roll of everyone who has any degree of Lenape blood, but there is not. Our rolls here only go back in time to 1862 when our own ancestors, on their forced exodus from the East, were living in Kansas.

In order to be enrolled on our tribal roll, your ancestor(s) by blood must have been living in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1906, and enrolled on our official tribal base roll. This is a requirement set forth by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and follows THE CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS, PART 83 - PROCEDURES FOR ESTABLISHING THAT AN AMERICAN INDIAN GROUP EXISTS AS AN INDIAN TRIBE.

We are sorry that we cannot be of help to many of you who might have Lenape blood, but there are no sources of which we are aware to look for your ancestors' names. We can only suggest you do regular genealogical research through the libraries and Federal Census records. Good luck on your quest.

Thank you. (tribal web site--

State of Delaware Home Page

Genealogy Trails

Copyright © Genealogy Trails