Mifflin County PAGenWeb - Native Americans

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Mifflin County Genealogy Project


Mifflin County Native Americans

~Indigenous People of Central PA: The Lenni Lenape and Tuscarora Iroquois~


"There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind- ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory. I will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it, as we too may have been somewhat to blame."
~Chief Seattle, spoken in Suqwamish Salish to the rep. of Pres. Franklin Pierce 
in response to a request to purchase Washington State lands, 1854.

(Read the full speech)


Map of People Found by Original Settlers

Map of North American Tribal Areas
~from the Maryland State Archives

Lenni Lenape means "original people" in Algonquin.  It referred to the people living along the Delaware River Basin area. The Lenape called the river "Lenape-wihittnek", meaning "river of the Lenape."


The village of Ohesson was home to over one hundred Shawnee and Delaware (Lenape) Indians where Lewistown now resides.  Map of Indian Territories (larger view)


It's common knowledge that William Penn was friendly toward the Indians and preferred to 'purchase' lands legitimately (see the history of Mifflin Co.) however, the Indians did not see such transactions in the same light as the Europeans.  A fundamental belief shared by all Indians was that land cannot be purchased since it belongs to no one.  They viewed the treaty as more of a lease or mutual agreement to cease attacks and allow settlement.  The Indians who willingly evacuated agreed-upon lands were being forced out of their new locations and so soon viewed the colonists as having broken these agreements.  Any aggressive actions afterwards towards settlers on behalf of the Indians was not actually due to anger towards individual settlers encroaching on their lands, but was rather an objection to what they considered deceptive and dishonorable behavior of the colonist leaders.  


Although granted the Pennsylvania area land by Charles II, William Penn did not feel it was owned outright.  Believing the land truly belonged to the Susquehannocks/ Lenape, he sought to purchase the land from them honorably but had a difficult job ahead in negotiating with the Indians.  By the time that he arrived on the scene, negotiations with traders had already gone on for some time and opinions of Europeans had been formed.  Also, the Algonquin-speaking nations had formed alliances and lent aid to many Indians forced north to PA, such as Mid-Atlantic Susquehannocks and Shawnee, as lands were seized in those areas.  By then, the Lenape Nation had become used to the practice of Colonist officials promising one thing and delivering quite another.  Yet William Penn's efforts to deal fairly made an impression on the Lenape and he was able to earn their loyalty.  Unfortunately, when he died, the new government was impatient for expansion with new immigrants arriving, filling up the cities and clamouring to officials for land in order to earn a living and support their families. Settlement of Indian lands increased, often taken by force, causing much friction with the Lenape.  The sons of William Penn did their part to undermine the previously good relationship with their infamous "Walking Purchase" of land within the Delaware River Basin.    Lenape Indians moved farther westward and by late 1800's known Lenape remaining were "removed" to Oklahoma but were soon even cheated out of much of this land by corrupt officials of the Dawes Act about the time of the Oklahoma Land Race.  Today, only about 14,000 Native Americans of any affiliation still reside in PA.

The Lenni Lenape Indians are divided by three dialects of the Algonquin language:


group: symbol: translation: original general location:
Munsee wolf
"people of the stony land" upper Delaware River valley
Unalichtigo turkey
"people near the ocean" southern half of NJ 
(eventually absorbed by the Unami)
Unami turtle
"people down river" southeastern/ Bucks Co., PA area


Inhabitants of the Mifflin/ Juniata area prior to European colonization consisted of the following tribes:
(external links)

Lenape Confederacy
(Algonquin-speaking, at war with and then eventually controlled by the Iroquois)
[Of the] Iroquois Confederacy
incl. Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas
Largest and most wide-spread 
(an off-shoot of the Delaware)
(Also called Mingoes, Andastes and Conestogas-
now extinct as a nation
(Iroquois-speaking, last to join the Iroquois Confederacy in 1722 becoming the Six Nations)
Dubbed "Delaware" by settlers referring to those occupying the Delaware River Basin, the Delawares and Munsee or Minsi referred to themselves as the Lenape. The above listed tribes considered the Lenape as the origin of their tribes, giving the Delaware some authority.  The wise women of the Delaware often were called upon to settle disputes.   The Delaware assisted the Munsee and Susquehannock in their war against the Mohawk Iroquois.  When the Susquehannocks were defeated by the Iroquois, control of the Lenape Confederacy passed to the Iroquois.  Looking at this 1719 Map of the King's Territory, the Iroquois were considered owners of a large portion of New England territory.  As allies of the English, the Iroquois were encouraged to dominate the Lenape and other Indians to ensure no alliances were made with the French. Forced north into PA by their enemies, the Catawba, the Shawnee retaliated when the Catawba's numbers were depleted by disease and warfare, hunting them almost to the point of extinction by 1763.

The Shawnee were also enemies of the Mohawk Iroquois until they joined the Munsee and  Delaware in their subordinance under the Iroquois in 1694.  After being robbed of lands by the Walking Purchase,  the Shawnee and Delaware collectively left Iroquois dominance in the 1740s and moved to western PA.

Shawnee History
Info found at First Nations Histories

Shawnee from Handbook of Indians North of Mexico

The first of the Lenape to sign treaties with the Dutch and English/European colonists,  the controlling group of the Lenapes and a great Indian nation stretching from NY to MD, the Susquehannocks were killed off while warring against colonists and other Indians but mainly due to savage bouts of smallpox from frequent proximity and contact with the newcomers.  The last tiny band of Susquehannocks called the Conestogas were murdered by the Paxton Boys, vigilantes from Harrisburg, PA frustrated with PA official's refusal to aid settlers attacked by Indians. 

Tuscaroras were forced north to PA after battles with Carolina, VA & MD colonists and other Indians.  They received lands from the Oneidas in (now) Winchester & Martinsburg, VA and Path Valley, Franklin Co. and Beale Twp., Juniata Co., Pa.
 SC Tuscaroras were crushed by the Catawba and Yamsee who sided with the SC colonists (who later turned on their Indian allies).  The Tuscarora shared the Catawba as a mutual enemy with the Shawnee and Iroquois.


General Links for/about PA Indians:


More Maps:

Main Indian Paths and Migration Trails in PA

1719 Map of the King's Territory | 1720 Map of Lands Claimed by France
University of Georgia Hargrett Library of Rare Books & Manuscripts

 Map of Indian Land Cessations from USGenWeb's Digital Map Library


Mifflin County PAGenWeb




Josie Baughman, Mifflin PAGenWeb County Coordinator


Copyright 2004-2008, Individual file contributors.  All rights reserved.

Page content 2001-2002 Cynthia Rosenberry


This page was last updated 02/13/2008