Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

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A Short History of the Lenni Lenape


In a book titled, “On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory” author Andrew Newman discusses the account of Lenape/Delaware Indian history in their own words. He says that the Lenape described an event many of us have become familiar with over time. He stated (based on their story) that:

  “Many hundred years ago, they had lived in a very distant country in the Western part of                       the American continent…and after a large migration had settled in the region of the                               Atlantic seaboard spanning the Hudson and Delaware Rivers”. 

As was discussed in last weeks posting, the Native (or Indian) populations throughout the continent held stories of their origins that either led them to believe that culturally, as a people, they had been placed in one particular spot by their creator(s) and did not migrate from elsewhere. Many archaeologists suggest that Native people had traveled into the North American continent on foot through the Bering Strait or possibly across/or used ice sheets (glaciers) as guides that spanned the Atlantic from Europe to the North American coast. It seems from the perspective given from Newman’s account that the local Lenape population had believed they did migrate from a more western portion of the continent. In a moment, I will discuss a bit about the Lenape origin story.

First, let’s find out how the Lenape/Delaware Indians got their name. The Lenni Lenape name actually derived from two name meanings: Lenni, meaning: genuine, pure, real, and/or original; and Lenape, meaning: Indian or man. This information comes from the Lenape Talking Dictionary. ( The term Indian is not an original native First Nations term, but may have been added later to distinguish the group based on the cultural adoption of the misused title from European populations.

The name Delaware is also not an original native First Nations term. Thomas West 3rd Baron De La Warr, was the first English governor of Virginia. The name Delaware was given to the river in Virginia, but then also applied to the Native people (by Europeans) inhabiting the area surrounding the river at the time of contact in the 16th and 17th centuries. The name eventually stuck with the group and they were interchangeably called Lenni Lenape (or Lenape) and Delaware Indians.

The location which the Lenape inhabited was originally called Lenapehoking. This area which encompassed the mid-Atlantic coastal areas of New Jersey, Southern New York, Northern Delaware, Eastern Maryland, and Eastern Pennsylvania. This Algonquin linguistic group, the Lenape, people define the name to mean, “In the land of the Lenape”.

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Here is the Lenape origin story as told by Robert Red Hawk. (This information can be found at

                “At one time everything was dark. There was nothing. But there was a spirit in that nothingness, and it would have remained that way, but the spirit fell asleep. As he slept, he dreamed. He dreamt of a world: mountains, sky, the ocean, all of the fish in the ocean, all the birds in the sky, all the trees, the deserts, all of the animals on the earth. He dreamed of man. He dreamed of ceremony: of people drumming and singing. But then, he awoke, and because it was just a dream, everything was still black. But because the seed had been planted in him, that dream, he started to manifest it. The first thing he did was create helpers—spirits: the grandfather of the North, the Grandfather of the East, the Grandmother of the South, and the Grandfather of the West. And they, in turn, put their dreams and thoughts into creating the Earth, the stars, the sun, and the heavens. They added their gifts, and more was created. And everything the Creator dreamed came true. And one of the last things that they did was dream a special tree—a shimmering tree. And from that root, the first man arose. The tree bent down and kissed the ground. And where it kissed the ground, the first woman came. And everything was good—everything was good and perfect, and everyone had a job from the creator. Squirrels were given the task of collecting nuts and burying them to make trees grow. Deer were sent to go through the underbrush and eat and make room so that the trees could grow. Man’s job was to take care of the earth—to be a caretaker of the land. As time went on, there was a great problem that arose among the people. There was a certain charm—it was the tooth of a giant naked bear. When you had this tooth, you could have lots of magic powers. The people started to fight each other over the tooth. They fought so hard and so long, that some of the people started moving. This is why we have different languages. But, when the creator saw what was happening, he sent a spirit being to help the people, Nanpush. 

Nanabush went atop one of the mountains and started a fire. It was the first sacred fire that was ever made. From that fire, he sent up smoke. And all the people from all over saw that smoke, and they came to see what the smoke was. Nanapush reached down and came up with a stone. It was a soapstone. And from that soapstone he fashioned a bowl. And then he took from a branch of the sumac tree. He made a stem and fashioned that and put that together with the bowl. Then he reached down and the creator gave him a sacred plant. And they called it tobacco. Nanapush held that pipe up and told the people, “Whenever there’s discord, whenever you hold council, whenever you want to come together, and bring you minds together as one, take this tobacco, put it in a pipe, and smoke it. And that smoke will go into you and when you blow it out your thoughts your prayers will all intermingle together. And you’ll be able to make decisions that are right for everyone and everything. Nanapush comes back into our stories a lot. One of them is an emergence story. As I told you before the people originally started fighting over the tooth of that naked bear but what happened was there was some evil spirits here. One of them was a giant toad. He was in charge of all the waters. There was also a giant snake. They started fighting over that tooth and the great frog ate the snake and ate the tooth. The snake jabbed him in the side and all those waters started coming out in a big flood. Nanapush again came and he saw everything was being destroyed. He came upon a mountain and he started gathering all the animals and sticking them in a sash. Eventually he got to the top of this mountain and there was a cedar tree. He started climbing the tree. As he climbed, he would snap cedar bows off and stick them in his belt. He got to the top and what he did was he took his bow and started plucking on his bow and he sang a song and all the waters stopped rising. Then Nanapush asked of the animals, who will let me put all the cedar branches on top of you so that all the animals can go on top of you? And the turtle said, you can put them on me and I’ll float on the water and you can put the branches on me. So they did. That’s why we call this land turtle island. Then Nanapush said, “Well, we gotta make it a little bigger than it is—turtle’s only so big, even a snapping turtle’s only so big—so they had to go down and get some of the old earth under the water and put it up on top of the turtle. So first guy that goes down, the beaver, says I’m gonna go down. Beaver went all the way down. He comes up dead with no soil. Nanapush breathes some more life into him and brought him back to life. Then the bird nation came up and the loon said, ” I wanna go down. I wanna go down and see if I can do it.” Loon went down; he was down for a long time. He came back up dead. So Nanapush breathed into him. So finally the little bitty muskrat said, Let me try.” So he went down. And poor little muskrat, he was down for the longest time, and he come up dead, but on his nose was some of the old earth. So he breathed into the little muskrat and they put the earth on the back of the turtle.

And he told the muskrat he would always be blessed and his kind would always thrive in this land. Then Nanapush took his bow out again and started singing a song. And as he sang the turtle’s back grew and grew so much that you couldn’t even see from one end to the other anymore. And it kept growing. Nanapush says I wonder how long we should let this turtle grow. I’m gonna send out each of the animals. He sent the bear out. Bear came back 2-3 days later and said, “OK I got to the edge.” He sent the deer out. Deer came back two weeks later and said, “I made it to the edge.” Finally they sent the wolf. The wolf went. They waited for the wolf to come back. They waited months. They waited years. The wolf didn’t come back. That’s how big the land got. In fact to this day wolves at night will often howl, and what they’re howling for is they’re calling for their ancestor who went off to see if he can find his way back home again. That’s the story of how the earth was first made and how the first pipe came to our people and how the first flood came and we re-emerged from the flood”.

Some of the creation stories differ depending on the geographic location or assimilation of individuals within their tribe into other bands/tribes/nations. The Lenape were not limited to living in one area, but inhabited many areas on the eastern seaboard. Earlier, I discussed the regions where they lived before and during the colonial period. Eventually, due to European settlement, the Lenape migrated or were displaced out of their original territory (from about 1600 to 1900) and forced to move in areas north, south, and/or west. These locations included Ontario, Canada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri, Louisiana,  Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas.


According to many Lenape people and scholars, there were 3 main groups. The Munsee (Munsi), Unami, and Unalactigo. Their differences were based on the dialect of the Algonquin language they spoke and their their geographic location. Their shared practice of living in a matrilineal clan system gave them a commonly shared cultural identification as Lenape people. Their three clans were the Turtle, Wolf, and Turkey. There were subdivisions among the three based on their tribal affiliation, band, and village. This allowed them to each have certain unique characteristics, all-the-while still identifying as Lenape.

The language dialects, called Munsee, Nanticoke, and Unami which were spoken during the colonial period, are now considered “dead” languages. This is not necessarily true. Although they were distinct and separate in their language, efforts are being made to combine what is known from the old dialects into one unified language. There are some elders in the Ontario, Canada community of the Lenape who still speak in the Munsee dialect.

Next week, we will learn a little more about the cultural traditions of the Lenape and how they are still being used today.

Written by: Sarah Krykew


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Brief Origins of Native People and Archaeology in Pennsylvania



To start off the series, it might be worth mentioning that the history of native people in the Pennsylvania region (including New Jersey, New York, and Delaware) has been a rich and diverse one, even within their own particular tribe. The Lenni Lenape who are one of the main groups of native peoples found in this region during the time of colonial settlement, and even today, have a rich history that isn’t presented enough in the retelling of our local history. Let’s begin by talking about the origins of native people in Pennsylvania.


Meadowcroft Rockshelter – Washington County, PA: Earliest recorded archaeological site in North America and Western Pennsylvania (19,400 BCE according to PHMC).

Found in this place: stone tools (Clovis point), largest collection of animal and plant remains (in Eastern North America), firepits (which carbon date from 16,000-14,000 BCE). 


Not found were: any evidence of a written language or currency.

This collection of findings shows us that people were living in our region prior to the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia in 4,000 BCE and the Early Dynastic period of Ancient Egypt in 3,000 BCE. These individuals were seasonal hunter-gatherers. Types of animals they would have hunted were caribou, elk, fish, and deer. They also gathered a variation of seasonal plants such as hawthorn plums and blackberries.

Two other archaeological sites, ShawneeMinisink in Monroe County (12,000 BCE according to PHMC) and Shoop in Dauphin County (9,000 – 9,500 BCE according to the State Museum of Pennsylvania) show similarities between the groups living in each region based on their hunting migration patterns.


The Paleoindian period dates to the Pleistocene or Ice Age. Even though glaciers melted up to Canada, the average temperatures in Pennsylvania were at least 10 degrees cooler than they are presently and the Pennsylvania region was covered by a spruce-pine forest with limited quantity of oak or other deciduous trees – like we find today.

There are disputed routes from where the Paleoindian population may have migrated from. This picture presents a commonly known migration route, originally developing in Africa and eventually crossing over from Asia into North America. There are however arguments between those in the archaeological community about individual people groups using watercrafts to sail along the Atlantic during the ice age, using glaciers as a land guide. Many native people have their own origin stories about how they were always part of the land they lived on since the time of their creation. Will we ever know for sure?



The archaeological record is fascinating and something that takes time to figure out. Archaeologists use a number of techniques in order to understand their findings with each site they dig.

Some of the dating techniques used in archaeological study are (but not necessarily all used in the archaeology of Pennsylvania):

◊ Aerial Photography

◊ Radio Carbon Dating (C-14)

◊ Thermoluminescence

◊ Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

◊ Dendrochronology

◊ Stratigraphy

◊ Argon-Argon Dating

◊ Uranium Series Dating (Daughter Deficiency/Daughter Excess methods)

◊ Style Analysis

◊ Relative Dating

◊ Paleontological Method

◊ Potassium – Argon Dating

◊ Archaeomagnetic Dating

◊ Fission Track Dating

◊ Obsidian Hydration Dating

◊ Fluorine Dating

◊ Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL)

◊ Rehydroxylation Dating

Past archaeological study was not utilized as a way to understand people groups the way that it is done presently. Little was thought of native peoples without a written language and who according to past archaeologists, used primitive tools, shelters, and clothing from their surroundings. Luckily, that has changed. Preservation is something any serious archaeologist is interested and is the key element to efficient and truthful archaeological study.

Findings of the past are important, not only because they tell a story about the individuals who used particular items, it also can teach us a lot about ourselves and our own past. We can also revisit the challenges our ancestors faced and see how they may have dealt with hardship or adapting to their environment. We can recognize the importance of the tools they used from their surroundings or the foods they subsisted on, to give us a better understanding of our own personal health in modern day culture – and focus on how we can adapt our present conditions to the past in order to balance ourselves from the overwhelming modern day.

Next week, I will discuss the Lenape in more detail and give insight into their creation myth story and some information about the areas they populated and some brief cultural history up until the colonization period.


Written By: Sarah Krykew






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Tavern Talks Revisit: Colonial Herbal Remedies

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Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live during a time where germ theory was non-existent and blood letting or using leeches to “remedy” an illness were the norm? Yeah…me either. Most often, the service of healing the sick was left to the housewives and mothers who used a variety of herbs to help with aiding the sick in their treatment of whatever was ailing individuals within their family or community. During our Tavern Talks series, visitors had the opportunity to learn about the powerful healing properties of herbs, flowers, and other plants. Here is a short list of different herbs and how they were used medicinally to treat those suffering from various kinds of illness:

Lemon balm: Digestion.

Sage: Stress/anxiety relief.

Feverfew: Headaches, body aches, and fever (placed on head of individual).

Tansy: Sunburns, cramps, gout, and plague.

CranberriesWounds (mashed and used on the skin directly).

Mint: Skin diseases and indigestion.

Southernwood: Upset stomach.

Morning glory: Laxative (vines only); Backache and broken bones (flowers only).

Calendula: Placed on cuts/sores (Cultivated, dried, ground, and mixed with animal fat).

Comfry: Respiratory issues, fevers, hemorrhoids, ulcers, gangrene (and other skin wounds and sores), broken bones, menstrual problems, and gout  (Used in tea form – both leaves and roots). 

Chickweed: Hoarseness, coughs, and mucus.

Fennel: Indigestion and stomach cramps.

Parsley: Stomach ailments/indigestion and gas pains.

Basil: Used to pull poison from animal bites in the body.

Honeysuckle: Fevers, sore throats, boils and skin sores.

Chamomile: Colds, jaundice, dropsy, body aches.

Rosemary: Painful joints and muscle aches.

ColumbineSore mouths and throat/fast delivery for childbirth.

FlaxRheumatic pains.  (Seed aided in digestion and was used for poultices).


Often, we think of natural remedies as an important step back in time for curing a plethora of ailments. Unfortunately, over time, scientific and medically proven studies have shown our own personal health history, age, pregnancy, and other factors may contribute to a natural remedy being more harmful than helpful. That is why it is so important to ask a doctor when trying any new type of non-prescription medical treatment of an illness. English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, in the 17th century, still recommended the Comfrey roots, “full of glutinous and clammy juice…for all inward hurts…and for outward wounds and sores in all fleshy or sinewy parts of the body…It is especially good for ruptures and broken bones.”  This could have been used both as a tea (orally) or a poultice (outwardly) for wounds. However, there are studies that were conducted in the 70s which suggest comfrey could be harmful to the liver.

Either way, speaking of herbs and the beneficial properties thereof is something that many modern day individuals have began to take interest in once again. Many individuals, not wanting to partake in conventional synthetic or processed pharmaceuticals, have opted out of the modern equivalents of medication that their natural and plant-based predecessors can provide. Some even choose to use prescription medication in combination with a more holistic approach.

Whatever it is you choose, be sure to carefully discuss your concerns with a doctor. If you are just fascinated with herbs, flowers, and other types of plants for study without actually partaking in their use medicinally, that works also! Its amazing to see what nature can provide for us – even if it smells and looks pretty!


By: Sarah KrykewGuide Specialist