Continuing our look into the First Nations that resided within the Indiana area, we will be exploring the background and culture of the Delaware Tribe, or Lenape. The Delaware tribe, much like the Miami that we explored in our previously blog post, were not originally from the Indiana area, but instead were forced out as a result of external stimuli and armed confrontation. Just as the Miami had fought with the Iroquois tribe in conflicts over possession of fur for trading with Dutch and French settlers and traders, the Delaware were pushed out through a series of conflicts with both European colonists and other tribes.
Specifically, a refusal by Europeans to trade firearms to the Delaware insured that they were not as well armed as other Native tribes. This refusal came from the close proximity of the Delaware to the coastal regions first settled by Europeans and fears that arming the Lenape with modern weapons would pose a serious threat to the colonies, the end result though was to weaken the Delaware in regards to other tribes.
As these other, well-armed tribes sought to expand, they gradually forced out the Delaware people from their original home along the Eastern seaboard and this gradually forced them westward, first to the Ohio region in the 1700’s and eventually arriving in what would become Indiana in approximately 1800 C.E.
Prior to the move to Indiana, the Delaware tribes engaged in treaties with the United State continental army during the American Revolutionary War, making them “the first Indian tribe to enter into a treaty with the new United States government” through the signing of the Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778). In this treaty, and subsequent ones, the Lenape tribe was deeply divided. Members of the tribe were unable to agree on whom, if anyone, they should help during the war and to what extent. While a portion of the Lenape people signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt, others fought against the Americans; leading to the destruction of the village of Coshocton in 1781.
Physically trapped between the British and American forces during the war, and ideologically divided amongst themselves on who, if anyone, to ally with, the Lenape were unable to bring the whole of their people together to deal with one external threat at a time, and were gradually weakened through continual fighting and internal division. This weakening lead to a “crowding out” and eventual displacement of the Delaware people, resulting in relocation to Missouri and Canada.
Culturally, the Lenape people were a matriarchal and matrilineal tribe, a quality that Europeans interacting with and writing about the Delaware, found perplexing and unfamiliar. Additionally, the Delaware tribe were an agrarian-based society the focused on a sedentary lifestyle of large-scale agriculture in the form of farming corn, beans, and squash supplemented through fishing as a resulted of their costal location at the time of first European contact.