Before William Penn, the Swedes and the colonists stepped foot onto the shores of Delaware County, Native Americans lived and thrived in this region as can be seen through the collections at Delaware County Historical Society.
Through artifacts in the collection and on display in the Museum Gallery plus books housed in the Research Library, visitors can learn how these tribes, particularly the Lenni Lenape, flourished here.
Several books expound on their lifestyle, such as a 1953 signed copy of C.A. Weslager’s Red Men on the Brandywine and John Hill Martin’s Chester (And Its Vicinity,) Delaware County, in Pennsylvania; with Genealogical Sketches of Some Old Families, written in 1877.
Martin speaks of a tribe called the Okehockings, who lived in Chester and had their lodges on the banks of the Ridley and Crum creeks. He also noted a survey warrant dated Oct. 15, 1702. William Penn granted the tribe a reservation of 500 acres near Willistown, Chester County.
Of the Lenni-Lenape, who lived along the banks of the Delaware River, Martin noted they called the river “Lenape Whittuck,” which meant “the rapid stream of the Lenape.”
Red Men on the Brandywine states that the Lenni Lenape villages stretched through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and as far north as New York and that the Swedes called them “Renappi” or “River Indians,” the French called them “Loups” and the English referred to them as “Delaware Indians.”
In his book, Weslager described Native Americans, as “people who understood nature’s delicate balance and appreciated the need for maintaining it. They were true conservationists of all the land’s resources, taking only those things necessary to fill their needs, and allowing nature time to replenish the gifts she gave.”
The books describe what was known about how these tribes lived, how they used tools, and how they buried their dead.
According to Weslager, stone pestles were used for grinding corn and the Native Americans who lived along the Brandywine used arrowheads made of quartz, chert and jasper, some of which are on display at DCHS in the “Another Glimpse of Delaware County’s History” exhibit in the Museum Gallery.
Speaking of an excavation of a grave site of a middle-aged male Native American in 1952, the author shared that two field stones were placed under the deceased’s head as if a pillow and part of the grave floor was paved with similar stones, smaller in size. They also found a variety of items including three European white clay pipes, two gun flints and an embossed brass button.
There were also approximately 61 glass beads found around the man’s neck. These beads were estimated to be from between 1720 to 1740. Believed to have been made by white men, they were of a type widely used at the time by early settlers in bartering with Native Americans.
This and more information regarding Native Americans in Delaware County can be explored at the home of DCHS at 408 Avenue of the States. Please call 610-359-0832 or 610-872-0502 with any questions. DCHS is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays.
Appointments and group/school tours are available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot. Memberships are encouraged and donations are graciously accepted.
DCHS is home to varying Native American artifacts, some of which are on display in the "Another Glimpse of Delaware County's History" exhibit. Come visit!
Native Americans used stones and rocks for many purposes and those found in Delaware County are part of Delaware County Historical Society's collection.