The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape People are the descendants of the core families of the Nanticoke of the Delmarva Peninsula and the Lenni-Lenape of Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware.
The history of our tribe in its homeland goes back over 12,000 years. We are the descendants of those Nanticoke and Lenape who remained, or returned, to our ancient homeland after many of our relatives suffered removals and forced migrations to the mid-western United States or into Canada.
Our ancestors were those who inhabited New Jersey, Delaware, and Eastern Pennsylvania at the time the Europeans came. We called ourselves “Lenni-Lenape,” which literally means “Men of Men”, but is translated to mean “Original People.” From the early 1600’s, the European settlers called the Lenape people “Delaware Indians.”
The peace loving Lenni-Lenape are called the “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by many other tribes and are considered to be among the most ancient of the Northeastern Nations, spawning many of the tribes along the northeastern seaboard. The Lenape were often called to settle disputes among neighboring tribal groups and were admired by European colonist for their hospitality and diplomatic skill.
Our Nanticoke ancestors, called the “Tidewater People,” dwelled along the Nanticoke River in Southeastern Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Our Nanticoke ancestors were among the first of the Northeastern Indian Nations to resist European colonial intrusion into our homeland as early as the 1650’s.
A little known fact is that as early as 1704, our ancestors living on the Delmarva Peninsula, who had lived there for thousands of years, were restricted to the Chicone (Chiconi), Broad Creek and Indian River Reservations by the European Colonial Governments. Also, The first Indian Reservation, created after the establishment of the United States, was the Brotherton Reservation (1758-1802) in what is now Indian Mills in Burlington County, New Jersey and was intended to be a safe haven for some of our ancestors. All of these reservations failed to protect our people and were disbanded, leaving our ancestors to struggle to maintain what bits of our ancient homeland that they could.
Nanticoke migration began in the 1600’s from the Eastern Shore of Maryland through Southeastern Delaware. By the 1800’s many were along the banks of the Delaware River. As a result of this migration, Nanticoke people united with the Lenni-Lenape Indians who remained in New Jersey. It was difficult during those years to maintain community, but the Tribe persevered.
The first treaty that was signed by the United States government, after its Declaration of Independence, was with the Lenni-Lenape (also called “Delawares”) in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. The revolutionary government promised that if the “Delawares” helped their fight against the British, they would be given statehood in the future… a promise that was not kept. Because of continuing conflict with European settlers encroaching upon Tribal lands, many of the Tribe’s members were killed or removed from their homelands. Some were able to continue to live in the homeland, however, they lived in constant fear. Those who remained survived through attempting to adapt to the dominant culture, becoming farmers and tradesmen. It was not until 1924 that Congress recognized Native American people as citizens of the United States. And, it was not until 1978 that Congress signed into law the “American Indian Religious Freedom Act,” giving the Native Americans the right to practice their religious beliefs.
By the 1900, most of the Tribe’s population resided in and around Cumberland County in New Jersey. After years of struggle, we still survive today!