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The Americas

North American Native Tribes

 

 

 

Unalachtigo (Delaware / Lenni-Lenape) (North American Tribes)
Incorporating the Chiconessex, Hickory Indians, Nantuxet, Neshamini, Okahoki, Passayonk, Shackamaxon, and Sickoneysinck

Generally speaking, the European settlers in North America coined the phrase 'Indian' or 'Red Indian' to describe the North American tribes they found while they were settling what is now the USA. To the north of this vast collection of varying regions and climates were the native settlements of what is now Canada, while to the south were the various peoples of modern Mexico, most especially the Aztecs. The Unalachtigo were located in the modern state of Delaware, on both sides of the Delaware River below Philadelphia, with their immediate neighbours being the Susquehannock to the west, the Munsee to the north, the Metoac to the east, and the Unami to the south.

The Lenape called themselves 'Lenni-Lenape' (also recorded as Leni-Lenape), which literally means 'men of men', but is translated to mean 'original people'. From the early 1600s, the European settlers called the Lenape people 'Delaware Indians', although there was never a single tribe called either Delaware or Lenape. Overall though, they formed the most important collection of Algonquian groups in the region along the mid-Atlantic coastline, and once had occupied the Lower Hudson river valley, the western part of Long Island, the whole of the modern state of New Jersey, and as far south as Delaware Bay. They spoke two Algonquian dialects - Munsee and Unami.

History suggests that in the dim recesses of time the Lenni-Lenape were united with the Mahican, but split quite early on. Their two main tribes - Munsee and Unami - together with the Unami subsidiary, the Unalachtigo, consisted of a plethora of sub-tribes which have been listed within their appropriate main groups (see the main Lenni-Lenape list, which shows leaders and groups that cannot definitively be associated with any tribe, along with the separate pages for the Delaware tribes themselves). The Lenape had three clans (or phratries) - Wolf, Turtle, and Turkey - which traced their descent through the female line. For example, if a mother belonged to the Turtle Clan, then each of her children also belonged to the same clan. The sons had to marry women from other clans, and their children belonged to their mother's clan. Thanks to this system, affinity with any one clan was no guarantee of affinity with any one tribe. (More information about this people is available via the compendium link, right.)

The Unalachtigo were the 'people near the ocean'. Amongst their many sub-tribes were the Nantuxet, Neshamini, Okahoki, Passayonk, Shackamaxon, and Sickoneysinck, plus the more tentatively-placed Hickory Indians. The Sickoneysinck themselves had a sub-division who were called the Chiconessex. Although a large collective themselves, the Unalachtigo eventually became subsumed into the Unami. There is more than one list of Lenape chiefs available, and not all of them agree. In addition, none of them can be placed amongst the Unalachtigo with any degree of certainly, so the names remain on the main Delaware page instead.

It is thought that the three clans correspond to the three tribes, with the Turtle forming the Unami, the Wolf forming the Munsee, and the Turkey forming the Unalachtigo. However, as mentioned above, thanks to the complexities of the Lenape matrilineal system there could be, for example, Turtle chiefs from all three groups, making any attempt to define clear group boundaries an impossible task. In the 1800s, with the tribal structure breaking down under the weight of European land purchases and laws, chiefs were chosen from local communities or family groups. This continued until the early 1920s when chiefs were elected by the general membership of the 'Nation'.

(Information by Mick Baker, and additional information from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White, 1979, from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne, 1986, from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson, 1993, from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay, 1995, from The Delaware Indians, C A Weslager, and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Lenape Delaware History (FTP), and Lenape Nation, and Delaware History.)

1624 - 1629

Handicapped by their inland location, the Iroquois still have to contend with the powerful Mahican confederacy in order to trade with New Netherland, and it takes four years of war between 1624-1628 before the Mohawk emerge as the pre-eminent trading partner of the Dutch in the Hudson Valley.

Delaware Lenape Indians
This modern illustration depicts a Lenape longhouse with Unami and Unalachtigo Lenape (Delaware) preparing a catch of fish on North America's eastern coastline

The Susquehannock, however, have an easier time against the numerous - but peaceful and disorganised - Delaware tribes who trade with the Dutch along the lower Delaware. The Delaware Lenape - and also the Dutch - are attacked by the Susquehannock from the Susquehanna Valley to the west. Long-time enemies of the Iroquois, the Susquehannock not only seek better access to the Dutch but are concerned that, if the Mohawk defeat the Mahican, they will also seize the Delaware Valley. There have long been wars between the Lenape and Susquehannock, but the sheer numbers of Lenape (three to one) has always been enough to keep the highly-organised Susquehannock at bay.

1628

The competition between the Mohawk and Mahican also affects the Munsee. As early as 1615, the Mohawk had begun taking hunting territory from them which formerly had been shared. As a result, some Munsee support the Mahican during the war, and by 1628 several of the northern Munsee groups have been conquered by the Mohawk and forced to pay tribute. The Unami and Unalachtigo to the south also pay a price for their trade with the Dutch.

1630

By this time, the Susquehannock have forced many Lenape groups either south into what will become the state of Delaware or across the river into New Jersey. The Dutch of New Netherland accept the outcome, but when they begin to trade with the Susquehannock, they are pleased to discover that the Susquehannock (skilled hunters and trappers) have more (and better) furs than the Delaware. However, the compression of Lenape lands greatly affects the Unalachtigo. Seemingly the weakest of the three Lenape groups, they are gradually absorbed by the Unami.

Map showing Lenni-Lenape territory
The Lenni-Lenape were distributed as shown in this map, located mainly in New Jersey and adjacent territories, including the western section of Long Island, with a questionable group of possible Munsee speakers alongside them (click on map to show full sized)

1660s

Following the Susquehannock driving the Lenape to the east of the Delaware River during the 1630s, the Unami absorption of the Unalachtigo is now largely complete. By the time the Susquehannock allow the Lenape to reoccupy the west side of the river during the 1660s, there are really only two divisions: Unami and Munsee. Even the ranks of these large groups are currently being thinned by sweeping epidemic, weakening the native American cause considerably when it comes to withstanding colonial advances into fresh territory.