Delaware - Orientation

Identification. By the end of the eighteenth century the name "Delaware" had become associated with three groups of native people who originally occupied the valley of the Delaware River. The first Europeans called the various people living along the Delaware River by the collective term "River Indians." Years later, when the river was named the Delaware after Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr, the first governor of the Virginia colony, the "River Indians" became known by the same name. The few remaining speakers of the Delaware language and the descendants of these people who still strongly identify themselves as Delaware live in two "communities" in Oklahoma. Like their ancestors, they continue to maintain a dispersed residential pattern, but now the areas between individual households are occupied by other Americans. The concentrations of modern "Delaware" can be found in the northeast of Oklahoma in the Bartlesville area, and in the western part of the state around Anadarko. Although these contemporary Delaware appear quite similar to the other Americans around them, many old cultural traits are embedded in their life-styles.

Location. In aboriginal times the three cultures (Lenape, Munsee, "Jerseys") now popularly known as Delaware occupied separate parts of the river valley. The Lenape, the best known of these groups, are the focus of this description. The Lenape inhabited the area along the west side of the lower Delaware River, from old Duck Creek in northern Delaware up to Tohiccon Creek, which flows south of and parallel to the Lehigh River. Lenape territory ran inland as far as the sources of these feeder streams and all of those in between. Today the remnants of the Lenape traditionalists, including eight people who still speak the language, live in Oklahoma. The people who lived on the east side of the lower Delaware River, occupying all of southern New Jersey south of the Raritan River, are identified only as the "Jerseys" in early documents. When these "Jerseys" left their territory they migrated north and northwest, and most of their descendants now live in Canada. The Munsee, or Minsi, occupied the upper Delaware River drainage. By the end of the seventeenth century they had separated into several groups, some of which moved in concert with the Lenape while other Munsee chose Different cultures to live among. A small group of approximately 250 was still living in Kansas in the 1970s. The true Lenape, often referred to as "Unami" after 1750, became known as the "Turtles." The "Jerseys," who after 1780 were sometimes called the "Unalachtigo," later became known as the "Turkeys," and the Munsee (or Minsi) became identified as the "Wolf.

Demography. In 1600 the total aboriginal population of the foraging Lenape was between 250 and 500. The population of the "Jerseys" was somewhat larger, possibly numbering 800 to 1,000 individuals. The Munsee also may have had as many as 1,000 members, but their early history is less clear. Today, thousands of Delaware maintain an ethnic identity through various organizations. These groups, primarily located in the south-central part of the country, include over 25,000 members. The two largest are the Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma and the Delaware Tribe of Indians, living in northeastern Oklahoma.

Linguistic Affiliation. The languages of the three cultures called Delaware are included within the Eastern Algonkian family. The Lenape and the "Jerseys" spoke dialects of the same language, while the Munsee language was sufficiently distinct that interpreters were required.

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