On the Character of the Delaware Indians

On the Character of the Delaware Indians
On the Character of the Delaware Indians, Compared with That of the Five Nations.
IT is remarkable, that, in the various works which have treated of the mental qualities of our aborigines, but little distinction has generally been made individuals to the whole; as some writers form a character for their white successors, from the combined attributes of the Carolinian, the Kentuckian, and the New-Englander. We should not, however, look for more accuracy in the records preserved of a body of men, who seem to have been generally viewed, in the manner in which our settlers regard the forest, as so much substance of which the ground was to be "cleared"—as the holders of so much "title to be extinguished."

We can discover no good reason for supposing that all Indians must, of necessity, possess the erne character, because they are alike of a copper colour, any more than that the French, English, Scotch, and Germans have an exact resemblance, because they are all white. The Indians are of different races, as is abundantly evinced by their traditions and political institutions, and most conclusively by their languages. There will, we think, be no difficulty in pointing out an equally important distinction in their characters.

Neither would I agree with those who would decry all inquiry into the habits and feelings of Savages, as being matters of an interest inferior to that which we feel in the records of civilized man. The analysis of the human emotions is best performed among the simpler and unadulterated specimens of the species. Physicians tell us that one of the richest sources of physiological facts, consists in the study of those inferior animals which nature presents to our sight, in a progressive series; so, in a less involved state of civilization, we see man, as it were, unravelled, and his real motives and feelings deprived of the complexity of artificial life.

It is not difficult to show; by a reference to historical documents, as well as to tradition, (a tradition unmixed with fable, and extending through but a single century, among a people well aware among the different races of which they were composed. Authors seem to have loosely classed all Americans, and ascribed the peculiarities of tribes and of the duty of discriminating between truth and falsehood,) that a great difference existed between the temper and habits of the natives who occupied our coast, and those of the Five Nations, or the Mauqua race. The former, as is well known, belonged to the various branches of the great Delaware family; whose affinities, quite as real, though not so close, as was ertpressed by the style usually employed by the Indians, extended much further than is commonly supposed. Our distinguished townsman, Mr. Duponceau, has ascertained, as well from the names of rivers,localities, and distinguished men, as from a vocabulary sent him by President Jefferson, that the nation of Powhatan spoke the Delaware language, with a slight dialectic variation; and the account of the language of the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island, written by the celebrated Roger Williams, and just published by the Rhode Island Historical Society, proves nearly the same thing to have been the case with regard to the latter. The Shawanese, who are said to have originally resided on the river Savannah, and derived their name from the same etymology, spoke another dialect of the Delaware. The same, according to a native chief, was the case with most of the Western tribes. On the other hand, the Tuscaroras, who resided upon the frontier. of Virginia and North Carolina, were of the Mauqua stock; and were connected with the Five Nations by language and traditional consanguinity, and about the beginning of the last century, by a political union.

Historical celebrity, and that praise which men attach to warlike exploits, seem to have fallen, in a disproportionate share, upon the Mauquas. Gaining notoriety, at first, from their wars with the Indians in the French alliance, and from the final destruction, by them, of the formidable nation of the Adirondacs or Algonquins,* they soon found themselves engaged in a long and wasting struggle with the European invaders. This lasted, with but little intermission, for thirty-four years; and the Five Nations continued, until the final overthrow of the French power, to be considered the bulwark of the English Colonies against their warlike and politic rivals of Canada. This circumstance engendered a sort of favouritism; and the Mauquas, from their first treaty with the Dutch, were uniformly regarded by the government at New-York as a more important body than any of the Indian nations which surrounded them. For the purpose of extending their friendly influence, as well as in the ordinary course of trade, they were furnished with fire-arms, the effects of which they were prompt to try upon the tribes surrounding them to a great distance. The sudden extension of their military prowess, which immediately ensued upon their being furnished with European arms, is noted, in distinct language, by the historian(2). Placed in a region which commanded a water communication to an immense distance in various directions, and being furnished with the advantage of weapons, they scattered their roving war parties over a great extent of territory, extending, however, chiefly over the Canadian lakes, and down the waters of the Alleghany and Susquehanna; along which they proceeded by means of canoes, which, when not used, were concealed in the woods. In 1684, when William Penn had purchased part of the lands on the Delaware, and wished also to become master of a share of those situated upon the Susquehannah, he found that, for these, he had to deal with the Five Nations(3). No mention is made of any claim laid by these domineering tribes to the Delaware country. In the same manner, the Mohicans were in undisturbed possession of the lower territory on the Hudson river; and the tribes of New England dreaded the Mauquas, not so much in the light of conquerors as in that of beings endowed with unusual ferocity, and reported, not without foundation, to be cannibals(4). Addicted, by long habit, to war, furnished with superior arms, Ad fostered and countenanced in their ambition by the whites, it is perfectly natural that the Mauquas should assume the attitude of conquerors, wherever their force or their local situation might place it in their power. Like the founders of the Mexican empire, driven to despair by the insults of their masters, the Algonquins, they might become distinguished by their ferocity, and, at the same time, by their impetuosity and resolution in war; and when, in after times, they found consequence partly earned by their own exertions, partly thrust upon them by others, they would adopt that policy which induced Governor Clinton to call them, though on a small scale, the Romans of the New World. The mixture of cunning and force, so well expressed in the armorial bearings of King Henry VII, the lion with a fox's tail, has been seldom, if ever, better exemplified than in the career of the Five Nations. They made war their study and delight; they exterminated the Erie Indians; they gradually, by the constant succession of their war parties, dray the western Indians as far as Lake Huron; they held the Mohicans in check by the influence of the whites,* and the Delawares by the singular treaty described by Heckewelder, in which the latter nation became women; they laid to the Susquehannah country a claim which they could well support by their constant incursions; and harrassed in a distressing manner, the tribes on the Alleghany and in the mountains of Virginia.

The assumption of superior rank is so natural a consequence, in the mind of a savage placed in these circumstances, that we certainly need not wonder at their making it with sufficient readiness, when called upon by the whites(3) to use it upon their allies, the Delawares. On the other hand, it may he fairly questioned whether the high predominance in civil polity frequently ascribed to these tribes has an adequate foundation. Proofs of this cannot be drawn from their military successes; for we have seen that, for these, they possessed peculiar advantages. The forms and manger of their association were exactly the same with those employed by the natives of the continent generally. Their meetings for political purposes were composed of chiefs, whose authority in the state was entirely in proportion to their personal influence. No form, however faint, of a representative council, is described among them; and different tribes of their number frequently held partial councils, the resolutions of which were not, in every instance, subjected to a revision by the whole. Repeated instances have occurred, in which a part of the Five Nations has gone to war while the remainder continued at peace. Indeed, their general unison of action was probably in a great measure owing to the simple fact, that they found themselves an insulated people, speaking a common language, and acknowledging a personal consanguinity, amidst a long catalogue of nations who differed from them in both these particulars. From circumstances of this kind they sent an invitation to the Tuscaroras to occupy a seat among them; a measure which would probably have taken place at a much earlier period, had the Mauqua body been so well and so methodically organized as is frequently supposed.

The nations of the sea coast, on the other hand, were people of peaceable and indulgent habits. Having never been reduced to a degrading inferiority, they entertained no peculiar ferocity, and found it seldom necessary to have recourse to war, after their alleged decisive conquest and destruction of the unfortunate Alligewi. They enjoyed, when unmolested by the Mauquas, a territory sufficiently ample for cultivation and hunting; a point well demonstrated by the indifference with which, when well treated, they admitted the white strangers into their soil. "Our brother Onas wants land, we have abundance, and can spare him some." Such was the feeling which they frequently expressed. The benignity with which they entertained the newcomers is attested by numerous records. In New England, their behaviour was always friendly, till their jealousy was aroused; and even when war was commenced, this seemed rather to arise from a fear of injury or contempt from the colonists, who assumed a superiority over them, and employed the captives taken from them as domestic servants, a thing peculiarly hateful to the Indians, than from an unwillingness to allow them a share of their lands. Generous, to .a point of honour, of every thing they possessed, they were proportionably so of their territory, of which they possessed an exuberant supply. And, indeed, it is much to be doubted whether they actually entertained any very accurate idea of property in the soil, or regarded it merely as their occupancy of it affected their present convenience. Many circumstances combine to favour the latter supposition : thus, when Penn made his famous purchases, and the price or presents were exhibited, the latter were distributed among the Sachems residing a great distance round, for the benefit of their respective tribes. Abundant testimony is afforded in the history of New Jersey, tending to show the familiar indifference with which the scattered Indian tribes permitted the formation of settlements among them by the whites. Had the Delawares, at that time numerous and powerful, entertained the least jealousy of the Swedish colony, it would have been impossible for the latter, on such a small scale, to continue to exist; or, if it had preserved its being, this would only have been through the medium of furious and sanguinary wars, of which the history of the colony leaves us no records; and any such suspicion would, again, have effectually prevented the peaceable settlement of Pennsylvania. It may be added that Delawares and Mauquas were frequently found inhabiting the same villages; and names expressive of the latter are found in Thu', Christiana creek was "Mingo creek." Mem. Mist. Soc. Penn. i. 63. the Delaware districts.*

To the settlers in the earlier stages of the colonies, they showed the greatest kindness; frequently hunting for them, and supporting them by this means, through seasons of scarcity. More than one well accredited anecdote is preserved among the traditions of the country, in which Indians have discovered and restored lost children.

Amidst such a race, the establishment of our peaceful ancestry was peculiarly calculated to succeed; and the manners of the mild and benevolent Penn, closely resembling those which they have ascribed to their own Tammany, were admirably suited to create for him the greatest love and veneration. The peculiar mode of worship adopted by his sect, that of silent adoration, was also well suited to their habits; and when he travelled among them, as he frequently did, for the purpose of holding religious meetings, I have no doubt that the Delawares were altogether ready to believe that he moved under the immediate direction of the Great Spirit.

(3) Colden, p. 35.
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