Delaware Indian Tribes

Before Delaware was settled by Europeans, the area was home to the Delaware (also known as Lenni Lenape), Susquehanna, Nanticoke, and other Native American tribes.

There are no Indian reservations in Delaware today. Most Delaware Native Americans were forced to migrate westward when European colonists took over the Delaware area.

Several wars and at least 14 separate epidemics reduced the Delaware indian population by an estimated 80% over the first hundred years of exposure to Europeans.

During the next 50 years, their population was descimated by another 50%. During the next three centuries, white settlement forced the Delaware to relocate at least twenty times.

By 1900 they had lived in: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

However, a government plan to move some of the Delaware to Minnesota was never carried out.

(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)


(Not recognized by the Federal Governemnt)

Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware
Nanticoke Indian Association. Letter of Intent to Petition 08/08/1978; requested petition placed on hold 3/25/1989.




Contact between the Lenape and the Swannuken, “salt water people,” began early. In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian navigator in the service of France, entered New York harbor through the strait which bears his name.

Anchoring off Staten Island, he met native peoples who most likely were Lenape. They were friendly and curious and probably would have remained that way had he not tried to kidnap some of them before departing.

During the next 80 years, most of the coastal Algonquin learned the hard way to beware of the European ships which occasionally stopped to raid their villages for slaves.

Two groups of Native Americans lived in the Delaware region when European explorers first visited the area. The Lenni Lenape lived along the Delaware River; English settlers later called them the “Delaware.”

The Nanticoke lived along the Nanticoke River in the southwestern part of the state. European explorers reached the coast of what is now our nation’s first state during the 16th and early 17th centuries. They found the region already populated by tribes of Algonkian Indians.

These groups of Native Americans were among the first to come into contact with early settlers. The Leni-Lenape tribe lived along the Delaware River to the north.

The Nanticoke tribe occupied the area along the Nanticoke River in the southwestern part of the region. Because they lived close to the Delaware River and Bay, these Native Americans became known as the Delaware. The Delaware called themselves Lenape, which translates into English as either “original people” or “true men.”

The Swedish form was Renape. For many Algonquin, the Lenape were the “grandfathers,” a term of great respect stemming from the widespread belief that the Lenapi were the original tribe of all Algonquin-speaking peoples, and this often gave the Lenapi the authority to settle disputes between rival tribes.

Other names: Akotcakanea (Iroquois), Anakwanoki (Cherokee), Delua (Delaas) (Spanish Texas), Loup (French “wolf”), Mattawa (Mathe, Mathwa) (Nanticoke), Narwahro (Wichita), and Tcakanea (Iroquois).

Nearly 10,000 Delaware are in eastern Oklahoma and, until very recently, were considered part of the Cherokee Nation. After a long struggle with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), they regained federal recognition in September, 1996 as the Delaware Tribe of Indians with their tribal offices in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

The Cherokee tribe filed a lawsuit, saying their separation from the Cherokee tribe violated an old treaty, and their federal recognition was reversed in January, 2008.

A common tradition shared by most Algonquin maintains that the Lenape, Nanticoke, Powhatan, and Shawnee were, at some point in the past, a single tribe which lived in the Lenape homeland.

Linguistic evidence and migration patterns tend to support this, leaving only the question of “when.”

According to an American legend, the Lenape chief Tammany sold Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626 for twenty-five dollars in trade goods.

There are a few things wrong with this story: his name was Tammanend, not Tammany; and he sold Philadelphia to the English in 1682, not Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626!

Despite the European insistence that they were one, the Lenape were not a unified tribe until after they had moved to Ohio in the 1740s. Even then their tribal organization followed the pattern of their traditional clans.

The tribal council was composed of three sachems (captains), one each from the Turtle, Wolf, and Turkey clans with the “head chief” almost always being a member of the Turtle.

These were hereditary positions from selected families but still required election for confirmation. War chiefs, however, were chosen on the basis of proven ability.


Delaware – The Unalachtigo division of the Delaware occupied all of the northern parts of this State when it was first visited by Europeans. (See New Jersey.)

Nanticoke. – Bodies of Indians classed, under this general head extended into the southern and western sections. Unalachtigo and Nanticoke are two forms of the same word though, as differentiated, they have been applied to distinct tribes.


11,000 – 8,500 years ago – Paleo-Indian Culture
8,500 – 1,600 years ago – Archaic Culture
1,600 – 1,000 years ago – Early Woodland Period
1,400 years ago – The Lenni Lenape, Native Americans of the Algonkians, settled along the Delaware.
1,000-400 years ago – Middle Woodland Period of Delaware

PaleoIndian Culture of Delaware

These earliest Paleo-Indian people were hunter-gatherers who used the finely-finished “fluted” points.

Archaic Culture of Delaware

After the Paleo period ended, about 8,500 years ago, Delaware’s residents became more sedentary and more densely settled.

Hardwood forests advanced, supplying smaller game animals, nuts, and berries. This period, known as the Archaic, is characterized by stone tools that exhibit variety of workmanship and diversity of purpose.

Grinding stones, mortars, and pestles appear for the first time on sites of this period, indicating increased reliance upon vegetable foods.

The Woodland I period in Delaware

From about 3,000 BC to about 1,000 AD, is characterized by more sedentary lifestyles, larger populations, and the beginnings of horticulture. During the Woodland periods, local people began to make pottery vessels.

The Woodland II period in Delaware

Agricultural development marked the Woodland II period, which ended with European conquest in the seventeenth century.  

Sources of records on US Indian tribes
Famous Delaware