Wyoming Delawares

The term “Delawares” is another name for the Lenape Nation. However, the term “Wyoming Delawares” is the best possible term to express the complex community that developed and evolved out of the ever-changing environment of the Wyoming Valley spurred by the arrival of European colonists. As people from several different nations arrived in the Wyoming Valley as refugees due to being, essentially, defeated in their traditional homelands, they intermarried and created complex new communities. In particular, members of the Lenape, Munsee, Conoy, Nanticoke, Susquehannocks, and Shawnee, for example, intermarried and gave rise to an ethnogenesis, or new ethnicity. The Lenape were the largest of these groups, and the cultural practices of the new ethnicity most closely resembled the southern Lenape. 

The Wyoming Delawares, while maintaining mostly a Lenape way of life, did exhibit some practices that clearly pointed to a developing, new culture. Such practices could be understood as developing out of both intermarrying with different cultures and out of the need for new strategies of dealing with colonists. Two key elements of Wyoming Delaware life demonstrate movement away from prior Lenape practices. The first is new spiritual beliefs, which can be better understood by examining the section of this website titled “Native Resistance to Conversion” under the “Christianity and Colonization” page. The second is the practice of mourning war.

Prior to the 18th century intermarrying with other nations and the ethnogenesis of the Wyoming Delawares, the Lenape (and northern Munsee Lenape) did not practice mourning war. Such a practice was prevalent in the Haudenosaunee culture as well as a practice of the Susquehannocks, likely due to their history of conflicts with the Haudenosaunee. However, the new kinship bonds formed between Lenape and Susquehannock as well as likely small bands of Seneca, Conoy, Shawnee, and Nanticoke natives seem to have solidified the practice of mourning war within the predominantly Lenape-heritage Wyoming Delawares. However, this is probably not the only explanation of the adoption of mourning war by a people previously deeply committed to peacebuilding and staunchly opposed to mourning war.

As the situation in the eastern woodlands became more and more grim for native peoples, mourning war might have emerged as a strategy that seemed necessary for survival. One can easily imagine that southern Lenape pushed off their homelands in southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware and forced into the Wyoming Valley as refugees might have opted to practice mourning war as a last resort, seeing that their previous strategies had resulted in devastation and displacement. Thus, it is unclear just how much the Wyoming Delawares practiced mourning war as a result of complex new kinship bonds and as a result of desperate strategizing in a new homeland. Both options likely played a significant role in the adoption of the practice. However, regardless of the cultural elements at work to produce such a behavior, the reality is that the previously anti-mourning war Lenape now practiced mourning war with force.  The unjust, disruptive environment created by European colonists was the catalyst for this cultural adaptation. 

The most famous local example of Wyoming Delaware mourning war practice is the case of Frances Slocum. Frances Slocum was born in Wilkes-Barre in March of 1773. Her grandfather was Isaac Tripp, the first settler of Scranton, and she came from the prominent Slocum-Tripp Quaker family. At the age of four, a group of three Wyoming Delawares attacked her home, presumably because they believed that members of the Slocum family were present at a recent armed conflict between settlers and natives related to the Revolutionary War. Frances hid under a stairway during the attack and was not noticed until the Natives were leaving the scene. The Natives kidnapped Frances and her brother Ebenezer, and as they were leaving their mother came running from the woods to save them. Fearing that her son Ebenezer would be killed for not being able to keep up with the Natives due to having a disabled leg, Mrs. Slocum begged them to spare him. This came at a cost, as the Natives did spare Ebenezer, but kept Frances. The pain for Mrs. Slocum was only made worse by the fact that Frances was reportedly her favorite child.

For years, the Slocum family searched for Frances, offering substantial rewards, but no Native ever cashed in on it. It seems that Frances’ red hair afforded her a place of distinction among the Natives because, according to G.S.C., it “was so unusual as to be esteemed a mark of distinction.” It is interesting to speculate whether this could be part of the reason she was spared in the first place, however it seems more likely that Frances’ abduction was in accordance with the tradition of mourning war prevalent among tribes of the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of North America. It was not until 1835, fifty-seven years after her abduction, that she was rediscovered by white society. Colonel George W. Ewing, a fur trader, was traveling through Indiana when he stopped at a place called the “Deaf Man’s Village” on the Mississinewa River. It had been the home of a man whose name was pronounced “She-pan-can-ah” and was deaf and deceased, leaving behind a widow named Ma-con-a-qua. Ewing suspected she was not ethnically a Native and got her to tell her life story – it turned out she was Frances Slocum.

Ewing was able to arrange a meeting between Frances and her surviving siblings. Maconaqua received them stoically, and turned down their offers to return east. However, she did remember some of the little of her childhood that she spent in the Wyoming Valley, that her family were Quakers, and one word – “Slocum.” Frances Slocum should perhaps be better remembered by her Native name – Maconaqua – as this is the name she went by for most of her life. Further, when given the opportunity to return home, she did come to the independent conclusion that she should stay in Indiana among the Natives, as she had fully become one. She died on March 13, 1847 in Reserve, Indiana, and was survived by four children and seventeen grandchildren.

The great question that arises out of the story of Maconaqua, or Frances Slocum, is how she ended up married to a member of the Miami tribe in Indiana. Was she sold or married off by the Delawares so that it would be harder for those searching for her to find her? Did the tribes come together as a result of displacement, conflict, and the need to survive? This is a great mystery. If it could be solved or further explored, it could reveal new insights into the culture and history of the Wyoming Delaware people. However, what one can certainly conclude is that people previously opposed to mourning war – namely the Lenape and Munsee who constituted the majority of the new Wyoming Delawares – practiced it quite violently by the mid to late 1700s. The natural conclusion is that the immensely destructive forces at play in colonialism brought out this practice from these people. In order to survive in the valley, they adopted this practice mostly associated with their warlike neighbors the Susquehannocks and the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois. Thus, colonialism in the Wyoming Valley, and this is largely generalizable to most cases of colonialism anywhere, not only devastated the material and spiritual well-being of the native inhabitants, but it also corrupted their moral system that grounded their identity. No longer were the Lenape in the region self-identifying as peacemakers. Instead, they were engaging in a violent practice opposed to peace.

While the Wyoming Delawares deviated from the traditional Lenape peacemaking tradition, one man in particular is remembered for being an attempted peacemaker and advocate for native sovereignty and rights in America, and for being perhaps the most famous Wyoming Delaware. His name was Teedyuscung, and he was the principal chief of the eastern branch of the Delaware nation. He was born around 1700 near Trenton, New Jersey, and was the son of a man named “Old Captain Harris.” Prior to his final decade spent in the Wyoming Valley, Teedyuscung was briefly a Moravian Delaware from 1750-1753. However, there is some debate over just how committed to the faith he really was. It has been argued that Teedyuscung might have seen Moravian conversion as a strategy for survival in the changing Wyoming Valley, rather than a faith he felt conviction for. It is certainly interesting that his move to the Wyoming Valley prompted an abandonment of the faith. The lower Wyoming Valley was certainly a hostile place toward Christianity, evidenced by repeated failed efforts to convert natives in the town of Wyoming. The area was a hotbed for anti-Christian sentiment, playing host to the rise of Neolin and having historical significance as an early site of pan-Indianism (see Native Resistance to Conversion under the Christianity and Colonization tab for a more in-depth look at this topic). Regardless of Teedyuscung’s spiritual development, he helped to solidify the Delaware/Lenape legacy as mediators.

During the French and Indian War, Teedyuscung was a successful military leader. He commanded a force of men consisting of Wyoming Delawares and Delawares from west of the Wyoming Valley, and, as Richard Pointer notes, “raided numerous colonial settlements in northeastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey in late 1755 and early 1756.” However, as Fred Anderson notes in his authoritative work on the French and Indian War titled "Crucible of War,” in “summer of 1756 the eastern Delawares were on the verge of losing their second harvest in a row. Moreover, the interruption of the normal patterns of hunting, as young men went off on raiding expeditions, meant the loss of both the group’s main source of animal protein and the skin and furs that provided its only trading commodities.” Teedyuscung’s people were in dire need. So, he entered into negotiations with the Pennsylvania government. However, as Anderson notes, “Despite the specter of famine that drove him to negotiate, the price Teedyuscung intended to ask for was a steep one: formal admission from the Penns that the Walking Purchase of 1737 had been a fraud, and compensation to his people in the form of a grant of 2,500,000 acres of the Wyoming Valley and adjoining lands, as a perpetual reservation for the eastern Delawares.” This request also risked “the wrath of the Iroquois, who would be officially recognized as having been complicit in the Walking Purchase.”

Teedyuscung’s first meeting with Governor Denny in November of 1756 was promising. Not only did Denny grant trade goods, but he also promised a “large uninhabited country to hunt in, as well as “to consider the charges of fraud impartially at a meeting to be held in the coming year.” Teedyuscung was supported at this meeting by a powerful group of Quakers, whose chief concern was undoubtedly to strike a peace at whatever cost, and four Iroquois chiefs observed the meeting.

Teedyuscung’s promised meeting a year later resulted in the Easton Treaty. The resulting outcome was not an acknowledgment of the fraudulent Walking Purchase (for more on the Walking Purchase see the “Lenape” tab under the “Nations” tab), but a Sir William Johnston was commissioned to examine the nature of the purchase. Nothing ever came of this commission. However, Teedyuscung secured promise of a settlement, again in Anderson’s words, “to be built at Pennsylvania’s expense in the Wyoming Valley – with houses, a trading post, and teachers to instruct his people in reading and writing” in exchange for “a military alliance between his people and the British, under the formal aegis of the Iroquois.” However, this did not perpetually guarantee a large Delaware reservation as he wished. Rather, it was merely a small grant of land. 

Teedyuscung secured some peace and security for his people, demonstrating the Delaware inclination toward negotiation. However, as we know, native inhabitance of the Wyoming Valley would end only a decade or so later. Thus, Teedyuscung’s efforts were largely in vain. Like all other natives across America, Teedyuscung and his people were victims of broken promises and cruelty. 

In April of 1763, Teedyuscung was burned alive as he slept in his dwelling in present day Wilkes-Barre. Some have speculated that Teedyuscung was unconscious from being drunk. He, like many natives, was a victim of alcoholism due to the particularly traumatic life he lived. It is likely that the Susquehanna Connecticut Company, who were land speculators, had something to do with his death. With Teedyuscung died the glimmer of hope that a permanent reservation for the Delawares in the Wyoming Valley would come to be. His death contributed to Delaware anger and later participation in Pontiac’s War. Teedyuscung, I believe, should be remembered for his tremendous efforts to secure peace and sovereignty for his people. Further, his goal of a permanent reservation for Delawares in the Wyoming Valley indicates that the Wyoming Valley may have been seen as the last vestige of what were historically Munsee/Lenape lands, and serves as further evidence that the Wyoming Valley can and should be understood historically as a place of refuge.

The Wyoming Delawares would make their last stand in the Wyoming Valley at the Battle of Wyoming in 1778. Those who survived withdrawal from the region would go on to live on reservations in Canada, Oklahoma, and Kansas, where many descendants of the original inhabitants of the Wyoming Valley can be found to this day. For more on the outcomes for natives after displacement from the Valley, please see the tab titled “Collapse” under the “Understanding the Wyoming Valley” header.

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