The Wyoming Valley played host to several indigenous nations and peoples in some capacity from the pre-colonial period through 1776. Each of the individual nations in this section had a different relationship with the Wyoming Valley. However, most – not all – shared a common reason for being in the area. This reason was displacement from their traditional homes, and the Wyoming Valley’s serving as a place of refuge.
The natives of the Wyoming Valley shared several common and core cultural characteristics. They came from seasonally nomadic hunter-gatherer groups who did do some small scale farming. Their political structures were very egalitarian and democratic with sachems and chiefs representing the people and having serious limitations to their power. Further, women typically exercised final say over important decisions. This was because native societies were almost all matrilineal, meaning that kinship comes from one’s mother. This is in contrast to European civilization which is patrilineal, seen through the practice of the father’s surname being passed down to children. In a matrilineal native society, a married couple would live amongst the wife’s kin. Women were free and powerful in native society, capable of divorcing at will and making important decisions. While women certainly had autonomy and freedom, they also had a great deal of responsibilities from which their power derived. Native life was virtually always dictated by gender roles. Men would simply hunt and make war. Women, on the other hand, would do everything else. This included farming, which was seen as bizarre by Europeans. The reason for this is that on a spiritual level man was understood as taker of life, while woman was understood as giver of life. Thus, spiritually it made sense that women were responsible for the small scale farming in native society. Further, because the women were the ones at home raising the children and taking care of the village while men were away hunting or making war, it made perfect sense that they would have greater say over political matters because they understood what was going on in their community better than the men. Hence their equality and power. Finally, these native groups practiced animistic, pantheistic religions. They believed everything had a spirit, whether it be a rock, an animal, or a person. As a result, their daily lives were filled with ritual and respect for the world around them. However, they did typically understand themselves as “the people,” while opposing tribes were sometimes understood merely as bad spirits giving the appearance of people. This distinction between nations who saw each other as not “the people” obviously lended itself to fairly constant violence and warfare between tribes across the Americas from, one can imagine, the pre-colonial period through colonization. In fact, natives were often quite brutal to outsiders, but tremendously loving toward their own kin. Early colonial captivity narratives typically paint the picture of native men as fierce, harsh warriors, but also loving, tender fathers and husbands.
The peoples of the Wyoming Valley more or less shared these common traits. However, there were some variations and unique elements of certain groups, which are noted under their respective tabs.
Please note that for the purposes of this website, the northern Lenape, historically from northern New Jersey, southern New York, Manhattan, and northeastern Pennsylvania will be referred to by their language – Munsee (or Monsey) as they are often identified by historians. While the southern Unami-speaking Lenape historically from southeastern and central Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware, on the other hand, will simply be referred to as Lenape. The intermarrying of tribes of predominantly Munsee/Lenape heritage that occurred in the Wyoming Valley will be referred to as the Wyoming Delawares.