Delaware (people)

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DELAWARE INDIANS, Native Americans who call themselves Lenape are the largest native group to survive from the mid-Atlantic region, primarily because they neither fought a major war nor fell victim to slave raids. Moreover, they held an annual rite of thanksgiving called the gamwing (big house rite), which provided a cultural focus that sustained them through continual adversity. Their aboriginal lifeline was the river named for them that has branch drainages covering New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and adjoining sections of New York, Connecticut, and Delaware.

The Delawares' traditional culture was based in the village with farm fields and hunting territories within a watershed. Kinship was traced through the mother, and eachlocal segment of a matrilineal clan belonged to one of three overarching units (a phratry) whose emblems were the Wolf, Turtle, and Turkey. Their economy mixed fishing and maize farming with hunting. The two largest political divisions that survived into the twenty-first century are the Monsi of the northern homeland and the Unami of the south. Survivors of coastal groups were briefly known as Unalachtigo.

While the Spanish, Swedes, Germans, English, and French all had contact with the Delawares, the religious influences of the Quakers and Moravians had the greatest impact. Some Delawares converted, but those religions also became foils for prophets periodically revitalizing their lifeways. John "Moonhead" Wilson continued this tradition into the 1900s as he simultaneously advocated Catholicism, the Ghost Dance, and the beginnings of the Native American Church (peyotism).

Forced into Ohio, the Delawares divided by 1800. Most Monsi moved into Ontario. The Unami continued to Indiana, where they went through a major religious revival, then to Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, where they were forced to join the Cherokee Nation in 1867. The splinter "western" Delawares, who had allied with Caddos in Texas, were forced into Oklahoma in 1859. In 1996 the Delaware majority, with ten thousand enrollees, returned to sovereign status, though the Cherokees continued to oppose them in federal court.


Goddard, Ives. "Delaware." In Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant et al. Vol. 15: Northeast, edited by Bruce Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Miller, Jay. "The Delaware as Women: A Symbolic Solution." American Ethnologist 1, no. 3 (1974): 507–514.

———. "The 1806 Purge among the Indiana Delaware: Sorcery, Gender, Boundaries, and Legitimacy." Ethnohistory 41, no. 2 (1994): 245–266.


See alsoCherokee ; Indian Religious Life ; Indian Removal .

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Delaware Confederation of Algonquian-speaking Native Americans. The main members were the Unami, Munsee and Unalachtigo, who occupied territory from Long Island to Pennsylvania and Delaware. Under pressure from settlers and the Iroquois Confederacy, they migrated to the Ohio region in the 18th century. They lost these lands by a treaty of 1795, and subsequently became widely scattered.


Delaware (people)