Delaware - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Lenape were foragers with a seasonal pattern of band aggregation and dispersion geared to effective recovery of naturally available resources within their range. In the early spring they set up their summer stations to take advantage of six species of anadromous fish which spawned in the fresh waters of the Delaware valley watershed. In March the shad were the first of these to arrive from the sea, with a run often lasting as long as four weeks. The other five species came in sequence throughout the summer and into early fall, with the last species spawning in September and October. These fish, plus the catadromous eel and migratory waterfowl resources, provided an abundant and extremely rich protein source for nearly eight months of the year. The winter months, during which deer hunting was the principal activity, were less rich, but sufficient to supply the population with food needs when supplemented/by extensive gathering. Aside from the period from 1640 to 1660 when Lenape bands cash-cropped maize, complex technology was available only through the sale of a few furs and the barter of venison and other native-made Products. After 1680 the Lenape became important in the fur trade, but the demand for this resource had declined. Lenape became known as expert and reliable guides and were Important in opening the frontier straight out to the Pacific Coast. Lenape adoption of the horse in the eighteenth century facilitated their movement west, and they also became horse Traders of note.

The independence and individuality that characterized the foraging ancestors of these people are reflected today in a number of economic factors. Private ownership of their own homes, a reluctance to be part of big businesses, and avoidance of financial encumbrances make the Delaware appear to be secure members of the American mainstream. Although many collectively receive government payments for old treaty obligations, there are none of the difficulties that are noted among other Native American groups where such support has become the mainstay of the economy.

Industrial Arts. The aboriginal Lenape were extraordinarily skilled at leather and quillwork and at carving wooden objects that were often traded to the colonists. Outstanding early examples of these crafts exist in European museum collections. Basketry was one of the skills used by Lenape settled among the seventeenth-century colonists, but aspects of this skill may have been European imports. Much later, ribbon-work applique became a major technique for decorating clothing among the Lenape as it did among many other Native American peoples.

Trade. The Lenape always maintained a relatively low level of trade, both with their aboriginal neighbors and with the later European colonists. Although industrially produced metals, cloth, guns, and glass were immediately of interest to the Lenape, their low level of demand never generated a largescale trading dependence as was often the case with other Native cultures.

Division of Labor. The women of the matrilineal Lenape performed traditional female roles and did whatever gardening was done at their summer stations, including preparing the small plots. Their gathering also included nestlings and eggs, and they shared in harvesting fish during the big runs. Men focused on fishing and were of greater economic importance during the winter hunting when they provided most of the winter food supply. These male roles expanded over the years as men became full-time trappers, guides, scouts, and horse traders.

Land Tenure. Land usage was held in common among all the members of the band, which could be equated with the core members of the lineage and their in-marrying spouses. The aboriginal lands were sold by each of these bands, with all the adult males (over thirteen or fourteen years of age) signing the land transfer documents. After 1740 most of these groups held land in common among much larger social units, equated with towns. Land sales were made by these larger groups, and sometimes by a series of these groups acting as a single political body.

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