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Source: January 1999 Volume 37 Number 1, Pages 22–24

Aboriginal Conditions

Henry Pleasants

Page 22

The Indian tribes who dwelt in the Pennsylvania forests at the time of William Penn's arrival in the province called themselves the "Lenni Lenape" or "Original People;" notwithstanding an obscure tradition among them that their ancestors, ages back, had emigrated here from the Mississippi, and expelled a more civilized nation - probably the "Mound Builders" - the evidences of whose settlements are scattered over several states including Pennsylvania, [1 Jenkins 27, 1 McMaster 210]

One of these prehistoric mounds is referred to in Chapman's History of Wyoming [Valley] as located on the level plain on [the] north side of Toby's Creek in Kingston township, Luzerne County, Pa., about 150 feet from the bank of the creek and half a mile from its confluence with the Susquehanna River. This mound, as described by a visitor in 1817, was of oval form, about 337 feet long and 272 feet in shortest diameter. On the southwest side appears to have been a gateway about 12 feet wide, opening towards the great eddy of the river. When the first settlers came to Wyoming this whole section was covered with a native forest of yellow pine and oak and the trees growing within the mound are said to have been as large as any in other parts of the valley. One large oak which was cut down was ascertained to be 700 years old. The Indians had no traditions regarding the mounds, nor any knowledge of the purpose for which they were constructed. [Chapman Chapters 9 -10]

Page 23

Another of these mysterious elliptical mounds or fortifications is referred to in Miner's letters on Wyoming as existing on the upper flats in Wilkes-Barre, formerly known as Jacob's Plains, about 80 rods from the river towards which a gateway opened. Personal examination by Mr. Miner in 1814 and by testimony of old residents indicated that this mound was similar in size and construction to the one mentioned by Mr. Chapman. He states that huge trees were growing out of the embankment when the whites cleared the flats for settlement. On the bank of the river was an Indian burying-ground of unusual interest, as indicating careful burial in rows and from which were obtained many valuable relics. [Miner 26-27]

These Lenape Indians (generally known as Delawares) spoke the dialects of the common Algonquin language and were separated into three main divisions, of which the tribes of the "Unami" (people down the river) with totem of the Turtle, and of the "Unalachtigo" (tide-water people) with the totem of the Turkey, dwelt between the Atlantic and the Kittatinny or Blue Mountains extending as far south as the Potomac, while the "Minsi" (people of the stony lands) with the totem of the Wolf, the most active and warlike of the whole nation, occupied the mountainous region between the Kittatinny Mountains and the sources of the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers, "kindling their council fires" at the Minisink flats above the Delaware Water Gap.

In addition to these tribes of their own nation, the Lenapes had given hospitable shelter to some of the Shawnee Indians - a restless horde, from the South, whose language bore a similarity to the Algonquin - and had permitted them to settle at the confluence of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers, near the site of the present town of Nazareth, where they established about the beginning of the eighteenth century their village called "Pechoquealin", [Hanna 92 and 142] until proving troublesome to their hospitable neighbors, they were induced to remove to the flats of the Susquehanna Valley below Wilkes-Barre. A few scattered hordes of the "Mingoes" - better known as the "Six Nations," or "Iroquois" - also wandered from place to place amongst the Lenapes, and may be said to form part of the aboriginal population of the Province.

Each of these principal tribes sustained a position of semi-vassalage to the great Indian Confederacy known as the "Five (afterward Six) Nations, consisting of the several tribes or nations of the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, the Senecas, the Mohawks, and finally (about 1712), the Southern Indians from North Carolina and Virginia known as the Tuscaroras.

Page 24

These Indians were called collectively by the Lenapes "Mingoes," and by the French the "Iroquois," and were mainly located between Vermont and Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and the headwaters of the Allegheny, the Delaware and the Susquehanna rivers.

Of the number of Indians in North America at the time of Penn's arrival in 1682, no definite and reliable information seems obtainable; but it is probable that the whole number, in the United States at least, has increased rather than diminished. In Harvey's History of Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley, the number of Lenape Indians in Pennsylvania in 1682 is estimated at 2000.

The authorities for this brief summary of aboriginal conditions are mainly Harvey, Day, Hazard, Hanna, Jenkins and Keith. Mr. Keith's chapter on "The Red Neighbors" is an exhaustive and interesting compilation of authorities on this subject with the benefit of that historian's analysis of the intricate and important evidence adduced.



Chapman, Isaac A. History of Wyoming (Wilkes-Barre : Sharp D. Lewis 1830)

Day, Sherman Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania (1843)

Hanna, Charles A. The Wilderness Trail (New York : 1911)

Harvey, Oscar Jewell History of Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley (Wilkes-Barre : 1909)

Hazard, Samuel (ed.) Annals of Pennsylvania, 1609-1682

Jenkins, Howard M. Pennsylvania -- Colonial and Federal 3 Volumes (Philadelphia : Pennsylvania Historical Publishing Association 1903)

Keith, Charles P. Chronicles of Pennsylvania, 1688-1748 2 Volumes (Philadelphia : Patterson & White Co. 1917)

McMaster, John Bach History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War (1883)

Miner, Charles History of Wyoming (Philadelphia : J. Brissy, Publisher 1845)

*A portion of the chapter titled "Aboriginal Conditions" from the book A Historical Account of the Pocono Region of Pennsylvania by Henry Pleasants (1853-1929) published in 1913.


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