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The Delaware Indian Tribe

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


When Hendrik Hudson anchored his ship, the Half Moon, off New York Island in 1609, the Delaware stood in great numbers on the shore to receive him, exclaiming, in their innocence, "Behold! the gods have come to visit us!"

More than a hundred years later, the traditions of this event were still current in the tribe. The aged Moravian missionary, Heckewelder, writing in 1818, says:

"I at one time, in April, 1787, was astonished when I heard one of their orators, a great chief of the Delaware, Pachgantschilia by name, go over this ground, recapitulating the most extraordinary events which had before happened, and concluding in these words: ' I admit that there are good white men, but they bear no proportion to the bad; the bad must be the strongest, for they rule. They do what they please. They enslave those who are not of their color, although created by the same Great Spirit who created them. They would make slaves of us if they could; but as they cannot do it, they kill us. There is no faith to be placed in their words. They are not like the Indians, who are only enemies while at war, and are friends in peace. They will say to an Indian, "My friend; my brother!" They will take him by the hand, and, at the same moment, destroy him. And so you' (he was addressing himself to the Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Pennsylvania) will also be treated by them before long. Remember that this day I have warned you to beware of such friends as these. I know the Long-knives. They are not to be trusted.'"

The original name of the Delaware was Lenni Lenape, or "original people." They were also called by the Western tribes Wapenachki, "people at the rising of the sun." When the name "Delaware" was given to them by the whites, they at first resented it; but being told that they, and also one of their rivers, were thus named after a great English brave-Lord De la Warre-they were much pleased, and willingly took the name. Their lands stretched from the Hudson River to the Potomac. They were a noble spirited but gentle people; much under the control of the arrogant and all-powerful Iroquois, who had put upon them the degradation of being called "women," and being forced to make war or give up land at the pleasure of their masters.

During William Penn's humane administration of the affairs of Pennsylvania, the Delaware were his most devoted friends. They called him Mignon, or Elder Brother, "From his first arrival in their country," says Heckewelder, "a friendship was formed between them, which was to last as long as the sun should shine, and the rivers flow with water. That friendship would undoubtedly have continued to the end of time, had their good brother always remained among them."

In the French and Indian war of 1755 many of them fought on the side of the French against the English; and in the beginning of our Revolutionary war the majority of them sided with the English against us.

Most of the memorable Indian massacres which happened during this period were the result of either French or English influence. Neither nation was high-minded enough to scorn availing herself of savage allies to do bloody work which she would not have dared to risk national reputation by doing herself. This fact is too much overlooked in the habitual estimates of the barbarous ferocity of the Indian character as shown by those early massacres.

The United States' first treaty with the Delaware was made in 1778, at Fort Pitt. The parties to it were said to be "the United States and the Delaware Nation." It stipulates that there shall be peace, and that the troops of the United States may pass "through the country of the Delaware Nation," upon paying the full value of any supplies they may use. It further says that, "Whereas the enemies of the United States have endeavored by every artifice to possess the Indians with an opinion that it is our design to extirpate them, and take possession of their country; to obviate such false suggestions, the United States guarantee to said nation of Delaware, and their heirs, all their territorial rights in the fullest and most ample manner as bounded by former treaties."

The treaty also provides that, "should it for the future be found conducive for the mutual interest of both parties to invite any other tribes who have been friends to the interests of the United States to join the present confederation and form a State, whereof the Delaware Nation shall be the head," it shall be done; and the Delaware shall be entitled to send a representative to Congress7
7 It is superfluous to say that these provisions were never carried out.

The Delaware agreed to send all the warriors they could spare to fight for us, and that there should be peace and perpetual friendship.

At this time the rest of the Ohio tribes, most of the New York tribes, and a large part of the Delaware were in arms on the British side. When the war of the Revolution was concluded, they were all forced to make peace as best they could with us; and in our first treaty we provided for the reinstating in the Delaware Nation of the chiefs and headmen who had made that old alliance with us; they having lost caste in their tribe for having fought on our side.

"It is agreed," says the final Article of the treaty, "that the Delaware chiefs, Kelelamand, or Lieut.-colonel Henry, Henque Pushees, or the Big Cat, and Wicocalind, or Captain White Eyes, who took up the hatchet for the United States, and their families, shall be received into the Delaware Nation in the same situation and rank as before the war, and enjoy their due portions of the lands given to the Wyandotte and Delaware nations in this treaty, as fully as if they had not taken part with America, or as any other person or persons in the said nations."

This Captain White Eyes had adhered to our cause in spite of great opposition from the hostile part of the tribe. At one time he was threatened with a violent death if he should dare to say one word for the American cause; but by spirited harangues he succeeded in keeping the enthusiasm of his own party centered around himself, and finally carrying them over to the side of the United States. Some of his speeches are on record, and are worthy to be remembered:

"If you will go out in this war," he said to them at one time, when the band were inclined to join the British, "you shall not go without me. I have taken peace measures, it is true, with the view of saving my tribe from destruction; but if you think me in the wrong, if you give more credit to runaway vagabonds than to your own friends to a man, to a warrior, to a Delaware if you insist on fighting the Americans-go! and I will go with you. And I will not go like the bear-hunter, who sets his dogs on the animal to be beaten about with his paws, while he keeps himself at a safe distance. No; I will lead you on; I will place myself in the front; I will fall with the first of you! You can do as you choose; but as for me, I will not survive my nation. I will not live to bewail the miserable destruction of a brave people, who deserved, as you do, a better fate."

Were there many speeches made by commanders to their troops in those revolutionary days with which these words do not compare favorably?

This treaty, by which our faithful ally, Wicocalind, was reinstated in his tribal rank, was made at Fort M'Intosh in 1785. The Wyandotte, Chippewa, and Ottawa, as well as the Delaware, joined in it. They acknowledged themselves and all their tribes to be "under the protection of the United States, and of no other sovereign whatsoever." The United States Government reserved "the post of Detroit" and an outlying district around it; also, the post at Michilimackinac, with a surrounding district of twelve miles square, and some other reserves for trading-posts.

The Indians' lands were comprised within lines partly indicated by the Cuyahoga, Big Miami, and Ohio rivers and their branches; it fronted on Lake Erie; and if "any citizen of the United States," or "any other person not an Indian," attempted "to settle on any of the lands allotted to the Delaware and Wyandotte nations in this treaty" the fifth Article of the treaty said-" the Indians may punish him as they please."

Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, all are largely made up of the lands which were by this first treaty given to the Indians.

Five years later, by another treaty at Fort Harmar, the provisions of this treaty were reiterated, the boundaries somewhat changed and more accurately defined. The privilege of hunting on all the lands reserved to the United States was promised to the Indians "without hindrance or molestation, so long as they behaved themselves peaceably;" and "that nothing may interrupt the peace and harmony now established between the United States and the aforesaid nations," it was promised in one of the articles that white men committing offences or murders on Indians should be punished in the same way as Indians committing such offences.

The year before this treaty Congress had resolved that "the sum of $20,000, in addition to the $14,000 already appropriated, be appropriated for defraying the expenses of the treaties have been ordered, or which may be ordered to be held, which have been ordered, in the present year, with the several Indian tribes in the Northern Department; and for extinguishing the Indian claims, the whole of the said $20,000, together with $6000 of the said $14,000, to be applied solely to the purpose of extinguishing Indian claims to the lands they have already ceded to the United States by obtaining regular conveyances for the same, and for extending a purchase beyond the limits hitherto fixed by treaty."

Here is one of the earliest records of the principle and method on which the United States Government first began its dealings with Indians. "Regular conveyances," "extinguishing claims" by "extending purchases." These are all the strictest of legal terms, and admit of no double interpretations.

The Indians had been much dissatisfied ever since the first treaties were made. They claimed that they had been made by a few only, representing a part of the tribe; and, in 1786, they had held a great council on the banks of the Detroit River, and sent a message to Congress, of which the following extracts will show the spirit.

They said: "It is now more than three years since peace was made between the King of Great Britain and you; but we, the Indians, were disappointed, finding ourselves not included in that peace according to our expectations, for we thought that its conclusion would have promoted a friendship between the United States and the Indians, and that we might enjoy that happiness that formerly subsisted between us and our Elder Brethren. We have received two very agreeable messages from the Thirteen United States. We also received a message from the king, whose war we were engaged in, desiring us to remain quiet, which we accordingly complied with. During this time of tranquility we were deliberating the best method we could to form a lasting reconciliation with the Thirteen United States. * * * We are still of the same opinion as to the means which may tend to reconcile us to each other; and we are sorry to find, although we had the best thoughts in our minds during the before-mentioned period, mischief has nevertheless happened between you and us. We are still anxious of putting our plan of accommodation into execution, and we shall briefly inform you of the means that seem most probable to us of effecting a firm and lasting peace and reconciliation, the first step toward which should, in our opinion, be that all treaties carried on with the United States on our parts should be with the general will of the whole confederacy, and carried on in the most open manner, without any restraint on either side; and especially as landed matters are often the sub.
ject of our councils with you-a matter of the greatest importance and of general concern to us-in this case we hold it indisputably necessary that any cession of our lands should be made in the most public manner, and by the united voice of the confederacy, holding all partial treaties as void and of no effect. * * We say, let us meet half-way, and let us pursue such steps as become upright and honest men. We beg that you will prevent your surveyors and other people from coming upon our side of the Ohio River."

These are touching words, when we remember that only the year before the United States had expressly told these Indians that if any white citizens attempted to settle on their lands they might "punish them as they pleased."

"We have told you before we wished to pursue just steps, and we are determined they shall appear just and reasonable in the eyes of the world. This is the determination of all the chiefs of our confederacy now assembled here, notwithstanding the accidents that have happened in our villages, even when in council, where several innocent chiefs were killed when absolutely engaged in promoting a peace with you, the Thirteen United States."

The next year the President instructed the governor of the territory northwest of the Ohio to "examine carefully into the real temper of the Indian tribes" in his department, and says: "The treaties which have been made may be examined, but must not be departed from, unless a change of boundary beneficial to the United States can be obtained." He says also: "You will not neglect any opportunity that may offer of extinguishing the Indian rights to the westward, as far as the Mississippi." Beyond that river even the wildest dream of greed did not at that time look.

The President adds, moreover: "You may stipulate that any white persons going over the said boundaries without a license from the proper officers of the United States may be treated in such manner as the Indians may see fit."

I have not yet seen, in any accounts of the Indian hostilities on the Northwestern frontier during this period, any reference to those repeated permissions given by the United States to the Indians, to defend their lands as they saw fit. Probably the greater number of the pioneer settlers were as ignorant of these provisions in Indian treaties as are the greater number of American citizens to-day, who are honestly unaware-and being unaware, are therefore incredulous-that the Indians had either provocation or right to kill intruders on their lands.

At this time separate treaties were made with the Six Nations, and the governor says that these treaties were made separately because of the jealousy and hostility existing between them and the Delaware, Wyandotte, etc., which he is "not willing to lessen," because it weakens their power. "Indeed," ho frankly adds, "it would not be very difficult, if circumstances required it, to set them at deadly variance."

Thus early in our history was the ingenious plan evolved of first maddening the Indians into war, and then falling upon them with exterminating punishment. The gentleman who has left on the official records of his country his claim to the first suggestion and recommendation of this method is "Arthur St. Clair, governor of the territory of the United States northwest of the Ohio River, and commissioner plenipotentiary of the United States of America for removing all causes of controversy, regulating trade, and settling boundaries with the Indian nations in the Northern Department."

Under all these conditions, it is not a matter of wonder that the frontier was a scene of perpetual devastation and bloodshed; and that, year by year, there grew stronger in the minds of the whites a terror and hatred of Indians; and in the minds of the Indians a stronger and stronger distrust and hatred of the whites.

The Delaware were, through the earlier part of these troubled times, friendly. In 1791 we find the Secretary of War recommending the commissioners sent to treat with the hostile Miami and Wabash Indians to stop by the way with the friendly Delaware, and take some of their leading chiefs with them as allies. He says, "these tribes are our friends," and, as far as is known, "the treaties have been well observed by them."

But in 1792 we find them mentioned among the hostile tribes to whom was sent a message from the United States Government, containing the following extraordinary paragraphs:

"Brethren: The President of the United States entertains the opinion that the war which exists is an error and mistake on your parts. That you believe the United States want to deprive you of your lands, and drive you out of the country. Be assured that this is not so; on the contrary, that we should be greatly gratified with the opportunity of imparting to you all the blessings of civilized life; of teaching you to cultivate the earth, and raise corn; to raise oxen, sheep, and other domestic animals; to build comfortable houses; and to educate your children so as ever to dwell upon the land.

"Consult, therefore, upon the great object of peace; call in your parties, and enjoin a cessation of all further depredations; and as many of the principal chiefs as shall choose repair to Philadelphia, the seat of the Great Government, and there make a peace founded on the principles of justice and humanity. Remember that no additional lands will be required of you, or any other tribe, to those that have been ceded by former treaties."

It was in this same year, also, that General Putnam said to them, in a speech at Post Vincennes: "The United States don't mean to wrong you out of your lands. They don't want to take away your lands by force. They want to do you justice." And the venerable missionary, Heckewelder, who had journeyed all the way from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to try to help bring about peace, said to them, "The great chief who has spoken to you is a good man. He loves you, and will always speak the truth to you. I wish you to listen to his words, and do as he desires you."

In 1793 a great council was held, to which came the chiefs and headmen of the Delaware, and of twelve other tribes, to meet commissioners of the United States, for one last effort to settle the vexed boundary question. The records of this council are profoundly touching. The Indians reiterated over and over the provisions of the old treaties, which had established the Ohio River as one of their boundaries. Their words were not the words of ignorant barbarians, clumsily and doggedly holding to a point; they were the words of clear-headed, statesman-like rulers, insisting on the rights of their nations. As the days went on, and it became more and more clear that the United States commissioners would not agree to the establishment of the boundary for which the Indians contended, the speeches of the chiefs grow sadder and sadder. Finally, in desperation, as a last hope, they propose to the commissioners that all the money, which the United States offers to pay them for their lands, shall be given to the white settlers to induce them to move away. They say:

"Money to us is of no value, and to most of us unknown; and as no consideration whatever can induce us to sell the lands on which we get sustenance for our women and children, we hope we may be allowed to point out a mode by which your settlers may be easily removed, and peace thereby obtained.

"We know that these settlers are poor, or they would never have ventured to live in a country which has been in continual trouble ever since they crossed the Ohio. Divide, therefore, this large sum of money which you have offered us among these people; give to each, also, a proportion of what you say you would give to us annually, over and above this very large sum of money, and we are persuaded they would most readily accept of it in lieu of the lands you sold them. If you add, also, the great sums you must expend in raising and paying armies with a view to force us to yield you our country, you will certainly have more than sufficient for the purpose of repaying these settlers for all their labor and their improvements.

"You have talked to us about concessions. It appears strange that you should expect any from us, who have only been defending our just rights against your invasions. We want peace. Restore to us our country, and we shall be enemies no longer.

"* * * We desire you to consider, brothers, that our only demand is the peaceable possession of a small part of our once great country. Look back and review the lands from whence we have been driven to this spot. We can retreat no farther, because the country behind hardly affords food for its present inhabitants, and we have therefore resolved to leave our bones in this small space to which we are now confined."

The commissioners replied that to make the Ohio River the boundary was now impossible; that they sincerely regretted that peace could not be made; but, "knowing the upright and liberal views of the United States," they trust that "impartial judges will not attribute the continuance of the war to them.

"Notice was sent to the governor that the Indians "refused to make peace;" and General Anthony Wayne, a few weeks later, wrote to the Secretary of War, "The safety of the Western frontiers, the reputation of the legion, the dignity and interest of the nation-all forbid a retrograde maneuver, or giving up one inch of ground we now possess, till the enemy are compelled to sue for peace."

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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