What is the Delaware Tribe?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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The Delaware Tribe is a Native American group traditionally from the East Coast of the United States. Prior to European contact, they were located in the present-day states of New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Today, the largest concentration of this ethnic group can be found in Oklahoma, the area in which many Native Americans were relocated in the 1800s.

Also known as the Lenape, the name is derived from the culture's word for “the people.” Following European colonization, the group was referred to by their common name due to its proximity to the Delaware River, named after a British Lord. The Delaware Tribe originally spoke dialects of the Algonquin language group, notably Unami and Munsee.

The Delaware Tribe had a long-standing pattern for surviving off of the environment. They sustained themselves through the planting of corn and beans as well as small amounts of hunting and fishing. Delaware Indians lived in large settlements divided into matriarchal clans that each received land from a unified collective.

European contact was first made in 1524. Early French explorers identified Native Americans near the area now known as having been occupied by the Delaware Tribe. A century later, Dutch settlers began to conduct trade with the Lenape, specifically beaver pelts. In the 1700s, the Lenape Indians were targeted by the Moravian Church for conversion to Christianity. This relationship continued as the Delaware Tribe later moved west.


The tribe's relationship with the American colonists and government was a complicated one. They originally sided with the French during the French and Indian War, but quickly changed sides after the English made gains. The tribe then joined Pontiac's War against the British and ultimately supported the colonists during the American Revolutionary War. Lenape Indians helped supply the Continental Army and recognized the new nation prior to its victory.

In the 1800s, the Lenape were slowly being forced from their lands. Many fled to Ontario in Canada, where reserves were set up for the tribe. Later, the remainder left to reservations established in Oklahoma, then-called Indian Territory. Although the Delaware Tribe did not suffer from the same level of genocide as other American Indians, they were forced to purchase their land in Oklahoma from the Cherokee, leaving a question about whether they were part of the Cherokee Nation or not. This debate was ultimately settled and the Delaware Tribe was found to be a separate entity, but federally recognized.


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Post 4

@JimmyT - I highly doubt that this tribe would have been punished for switching sides simply because the British were careful in their relations with Native American tribes and chose not to usually rock the boat with them.

The British understood that there were many Native American tribes that were opportunistic and did not like the white man,but saw they needed to have alliances for their own tribes gains.

I imagine the British would have just brushed off the actions of the Delaware Tribe because they had a tendency to leave the Native American Tribes alone and let them have their own freedoms.

The British actually did not want western expansion of the colonies and this appealed to the Native Americans

greatly, especially ones like the Delaware. That would come as no surprise to me that they would fight for the British. It also comes as no surprise that they would switch sides once it was obvious the Continental Army was going to win so they could at least try to keep their lands.
Post 3

@jmc88 - Are you so sure about that? It probably did work for the Delaware Tribe, but what about other tribes? I have heard stories of tribes being punished for switching alliances in past wars.

I believe that it could be different with the Delaware Tribe because the people that they ultimately supported were the underdog American colonists who needed as much help as they could get regardless of the tribes that supported them having questioned loyalty.

I have to wonder what would have happened if the British had won. Would this particular tribe have been punished?

Post 2

@cardsfan27 - You are absolutely correct. People cannot look at Native American tribes in the same context as you would the white man. The Native American tribes were their own separate people and in reality the white man were invaders.

Since there was no way for the white man to leave Native American tribes ultimately accepted the fact that they would stay and they would simply defend their lands as best they could.

The strategy employed by the Delaware Tribe was a good one because they could constantly keep their territory no matter what the outcome.

They had to be careful not to completely make one side angry, but if they were to provide a lot of aid to the side that won, there is little that can be done to punish them.

Post 1

I have never heard of the Delaware Indian tribe before, but I can see that they were a bit opportunistic in their past.

It seems like once the white man came they saw that they needed to side with whoever was winning at the time and make sure that they were able to make some gains of their own or at least be able to keep what they had left.

I do not see this jumping ship as being too much of a bad idea, because no matter what in the past when there was Native American support for the white man there was a guarantee that if they supported the enemy they would be punished. Jumping ship probably helped them keep their lands longer than they would have by being neutral or staying to one side.

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