Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

The History of Delaware County
W.W. MUNSELL 1797-1880

Chapter 1

The Lenapes and Tuscaroras - The First Inhabitants of Delaware County

Electronic text by Bruce & Bunny Lloyd

While the present inhabitants of Delaware County and their Caucasian ancestors and predecessors have made most of its history, the native American or "Indian" race, as predecessors of the soil earlier and from a date indefinitely remote, demand the first notice of the historian

Across this county ran the boundary line not only between distinct tribes, but between two grand divisions of the aboriginal people-the Iroquois and the Lenapes, as they call themselves, or Delawares, as they have usually been known in history. Of the former we have treated in the first pages of this volume, and the latter claim the larger share of our attention at this point.

"The term Lenape," says Schoolcraft," appears to carry the same meaning as inaba--a male,--and the word was probably used nationally, and with emphasis, in the sense of men."

The territory of the Lanapes or Delawares has been defined as extending from the Catskill mountains south to the Potomac with its capital, or central council fire, on the site of Philadelphia. Its northern limit has been roughly assigned as "the heads of the great rivers Susquehanna and Delaware." Here the domain of the Delawares bordered on that of the Mohawks. Among the Lenapes, according to one authority, there was not a man "that did not know the bounds of his own land as accurately as though defined by a surveyor's chain;" but no such exact knowledge of the tribal boundaries has been attained by white students of the subject. Mr. L. H. Morgan, in his "League of the Iroquois," expressed the opinion that a meridian passing about five miles east of Utica would indicate the dividing line between the Mohawks and the Oneidas; and the same line continued south through the western part of Delaware county would separate the Delawares from the Oneidas and their wards the Tuscaroras, who dwelt between the Susquehanna, Chenango and Unadilla rivers. He admitted, however, that the Oneidas sold land on the Mohawk branch of the Delaware as far east as Delhi; and the old Indian settlement of Pakatakan, in Middletown, a little above Margaretville, was said by one of the earliest pioneers of the county to have been a Tuscarora village. Sir William Johnson in 1763 reported that there were 140 of the Tuscaroras, inhabiting "one village six miles from the first Oneidas, and several others about the Susquehanna;" and remarked that they were connected with the "Five Nations, the Oneidas giving them land, and they now enjoy all privileges with the rest." In the same report he estimated the Delawares at 600, "in several villages on and about the Susquehanna, and thence to Lake Erie."

In customs and condition the Delawares closely resembled the Iroquois; their chief difference being the purely democratic system of the former, which lacked the few republican or representative features of the government of the Five Nations.

In our account of the Iroquois on pages 9 and 10, we described their totemic divisions. Those of the Delawares were represented by the tortoise or turtle, the wolf and the turkey. The wolf tribe, calling themselves Minsis, were the most warlike of the three, and took post on the northern border of the Lenape territory, to protect it from the Mengwe, as they called the Iroquois warriors.

The Delawares had a tradition that their forefathers long ago came from the far West, fighting their way through the dominions of the Alleghans, who occupied the country south of the great lakes, including the western part of New York, and to whom have been ascribed the ancient circular earth works found in considerable number within the territory indicated. Similar relics of antiquity would seem to have been found in this county, as shown by the following paragraph from Jay Gould's "History of Delaware County:"

"Near the mouth of the Mill brook, and on the banks of the Delaware, are certain remains which bear strong resemblance to works of art. Many suppose them to have been ancient fortifications or works of defense, but when or by whom they were erected is mere conjecture. I am informed by Mr. Dickinson, who resides near them, that in that vicinity was once found what was supposed to have been a stone battle-ax; and that arrow-heads exist in great abundance in that immediate locality, which strengthens the opinion that they were of Indian occupation. they are two in number, each of a circular form, and have been surrounded by a high embankment, protected by a deep ditch. The one on the east side of the river has been passed over many times with the plow, but much of its original symmetry and form is still visible. The other, on the opposite side, further down the stream, is still surrounded by a deep ditch, filled with growing trees and underwood; but has less regularity, and will not so soon attract the attention of the antiquarian."

A breastwork and ditch surrounding about three acres of land were found at Sidney Plains by the first settlers at that point; the Indians believed the work to be more than five hundred years old. At this place an ancient cemetery was unearthed during the construction of the Midland railroad, there being exhumed with the skeletons of a departed race weapons and implements such as tomahawks, pipes, arrows and cooking utensils of stone or clay.

The routes of communication between the Indian villages were the so-called trails, traversed by solitary runners or war parties in single file until they became well-worn, though narrow, pathways. One of these trails followed either bank of the Susquehanna. At the mouth of the Unadilla the Oneida trail was intercepted. In the angle of the Susquehanna and Charlotte rivers the trail along the south bank of the former divided, one branch taking the direction of Canajoharie on the Mohawk, and the other ultimately leading to Albany by way of the north bank of the Charlotte. Through the eastern corner of the county passed a trail down Schoharie creek to the lower Mohawk castle, at its mouth.

The first white settlers on the Hudson and the Delaware found the Lenapes one of the strongest of the native powers, superior perhaps, even to the Iroquois themselves. The circumstances of their subjugation by the all-conquering confederacy of central New York were thus summarized in the figurative speech of one of their old men:

"Clean across this extent of country (meaning from Albany to the Potomac) our grandfathers had a long house with a door at each end, which doors were always open to all the nations united with them. To this house the nations from ever so far off used to resort, and smoke the pipe of peace with their grandfathers. The white people coming from over the great water unfortunately landed at each end of this long house of our grandfathers, and it was not long before they began to pull the same down at both ends. Our grandfathers still kept repairing the same though obliged to make it from time to time shorter; until at length the white people, who had by this time grown very powerful, assisted the common enemy, the Maquas (Mohawks), in erecting a strong house on the ruins of our grandfathers'."

The Five Nations were not likely to remain at peace with a great power on the borders of their land. The chief advantage which they obtained from their association with the whites in the struggle with the Lenapes was a supply of firearms and ammunition, which were unhesitatingly sold them by the Dutch traders on the upper Hudson; while this trade was forbidden at New York, and the Minsis at a later date could only obtain a scanty supply of the wonderful weapons of Europe from the Swedes far down the Delaware. They always eagerly desired them and as late as 1764, after white settlement in Delaware county had begun, Sir William Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs, thought it necessary to make the following suggestion to the Lords of Trade in England: "Rifled-barreled guns should certainly be prohibited. The Shawanese and Delawares with many of their neighbors are become very fond of them, and use them with such dexterity that they are capable of doing infinite damage." Indians and Indian traders are about what they were a hundred and fifteen years ago; and ever and anon we read some other sensible man's protest against supplying hostile savages with rifles, to be handled with "dexterity," not along the Delaware but on the Yellowstone and in "the continuous woods where rolls the Oregon."

It was soon after the Dutch in New York finally abandoned the province to the English that the Delawares were conquered by their northern enemies. The Dutch merchants had tried in vain to make peace between them, deprecating the effect of their hostilities on the fur trade, and entreating the Senecas, who were the aggressors to come to terms with the Minsis, so that the traders might "use the road to them in safety." The conquest of the Delawares was at last complete. The nation was not annihilated, like some of the earlier victims of the Iroquois; but it was made to pay tribute and the warriors who had styled themselves "men" par excellence were thenceforward stigmatized as "women." "We conquered you, we made women of you; you know you are women." exclaimed an Iroquois orator three quarters of a century after the event; and women the Delawares were held for nearly a hundred years. We find it reported in 1721 that they "are exceedingly decreased and being subject to the Five Nations take their rules from them,."

Early in the French and Indian war "the Minsis, strengthened by the Shawanoes or Shawanese, from the South, who had settled among them, attached themselves to the French. Gross frauds had been perpetrated upon them in the transfers of lands, such as everywhere disgraced the English in similar dealings with the Indians; and they were glad of the opportunity afforded to compel redress or obtain vengeance. Under Teedyuscung, their most famous chieftain, they fell upon the border settlements with fire and tomahawk. The disaffected Senecas encouraged and aided them, taking "the petticoat off from them, "giving them the hatchet for the pestle of hominy-pounder and restoring them to their ancient estate as men and warriors. The Minsis burned, slaughtered and scalped along the borders of Ulster and Orange counties until the exposed region was depopulated. In their own words, they "murdered the English from Canastota to Esopus." It was only by the best efforts and the unparalleled influence of Sir William Johnson, together with the exertions of those Iroquois who remained faithful to him, that the Minsis were induced to rest their devastating hand A treaty with them was effected at Johnson's house near Amsterdam, Montgomery county in the middle of July 1756. They had redeemed their manhood and it was acknowledged by the superintendent. "I concluded this treaty," he says, "with taking off the petticoat, or that invidious name of women, from the Delaware nation, * * * and promised them I would use my influence and best endeavors to prevail with the Six Nations to follow my example." Some of the Minsis were given homes with the Mohawks on the Schoharie. Others resumed their devastating warfare on the border settlements, and it was found necessary in 1757 to build a chain of block houses and station garrisons for thirty miles along the frontier of Orange and Ulster. In the autumn of the following year, in a council at Easton, Teedyuscung secured a concession of the rights demanded by the Delawares in regard to their land, and hostilities ceased.

During the Revolution the Lenapes east of the Alleghany mountains sided with the patriots, as did also the Oneidas, and the Tuscaroras, whose descendants have since lived on a reservation near Lewiston, Niagara county. Of the Indians of southeastern New York it is recorded:

"Domestic clans of families of Minsis and Mahicans lingered around their ancient seats for some years after the close of the Revolution, but of the one after another, it is written, they disappeared in the night.' In the language of Tamenund at the death of Uncas: 'The palefaces are masters of the earth and the time of the red man has not yet come again. My day has been too long. In the morning I saw the sons of Unami happy and strong; and yet, before the night has come, have I lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mahicans."

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