Aldrich History Project

Chapter II

Indian Occupation

Indian Occupation--The Lenni Lenapes--Their Origin--Country Occupied by Them--The Iroquois--Their Clan System--The Five Nations--The Lenapes Conquered--The Delawares--Other Tribes--Iroquois Successful--The Six Nations--Shawnees.

At the time the first settlers came to that part of our country now included within the boundaries of the State of Pennsylvania, the territory was found to be in possession of a tribe of Indians known as the Lenni Lenapes, which by themselves being interpreted, means, "original people." Among the European settlers they were styled the Delawares, from the fact of their inhabiting the region of the Delaware River. In other localities they were known as the Algonquins. Tradition, so long and frequently related concerning them that it seems to be an established fact, credits them with having come from the far western country, even beyond the borders of the Mississippi River; that about the time they reached the Mississippi in their journey eastward, they fell in company with another tribe distinct from themselves, called the Mengwe. The latter had in view the same end sought by the Lenni Lenapes--a home in the country farther east. Rumors sent in advance reported the country bordering on the river and to the east of it, as inhabited by a people of vast strength, who dwelt in strongly constructed fortifications and entrenchments. A request was made of them that the newcomers might settle in their country. This was refused by the Allegewi, the occupants of the region, but permission was given that the Lenapes and the Mengwe might pass through their country and settle in the country still farther east. Deceived as to the number of emigrants in the eastward-bound body, or else with treachery afore-thought, the Allegewi made a fierce attack upon the Lenapes and slaughtered many of them before the entire tribe had crossed the river. The Mengwe, who had remained neutral during the fight, formed an alliance with their companions, the Lenapes, and waged a fierce and bloody war against the treacherous Allegewi, and drove them from the country. The Allegewi suffered great loss by this war and fled to the country southward. The Lenni Lenapes also lost many warriors in the strife, and claimed that brunt of the battle fell upon them, while the Mengwe hung in the rear. Gradually the now conquering forces worked their way eastward, maintaining friendly companionship, the Mengwe making a choice of the territory bordering on the Great Lakes, while the Lenapes followed the streams running to the eastward and occupied the country from the Hudson River to the Chesapeake Bay, including the shores of the four great rivers--the Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, and the Potomac--making the country of the Delaware the chief center of their vast possessions. That portion of the Lenapes that reached and occupied the Atlantic slope, became in time divided into three clans, or smaller tribes, to sit: The Unamis or Turtle tribe, Unalachtgo or Turkey tribe, and the Minsi or Wolf tribe, otherwise known as Monsey or Muncy. The Wolf or Monseys, being more warlike and fierce than the other tribes, occupied the territory farthest inland, that they might defend the border against any depredations of the Mengwe, who, although they engaged with the Lenapes against their common enemy, the Allegewi, were still distrusted by them on account of the doubtful interest they took in the war on the Mississippi. The possessions of the Lenapes extended from the Hudson southwest, including the Susquehanna valley and the valley of the Juniata. The three principal tribes, Turtle, Turkey, and Minsi, of the Lenapes, were afterward sub-divided into other tribes or clans, each assuming a separate name, as locality or circumstance might suggest. Some of these subordinate tribes were known as the Shawnees, the Susquehannas, the Nanticokes, and the Neshamines.

The Mengwe became in course of time, separated into five distinct tribes, and were severally known as follows: Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. Although their main line of possessions hovered along the borders of the Great Lakes, their hunting ground reached many miles inland, and they frequently came in contact with the Lenapes of whom they were jealous, and they endeavored to arouse hostilities among the various tribes of the Lenapes, but in this they were unsuccessful. The Lenapes were the stronger and more powerful in point of numbers, and this fact was well known to the Mengwe. They dare not attack them nor wage war against them, nor was their border as carefully and strongly guarded as that of the Lenapes, with the Minsi on their frontier. Having failed in every attempt either to create dissension among the various Lenape sub-tribes, or lead them from their well defended border, the Mengwe called together their several tribes for the purpose of effecting a union for aggressive and defensive warfare. This council having met, it resulted in the creation of that great branch of Indian government known as the Five Nations. By the French they were known as the Iroquois; by the Dutch, Maquas, and by the English, Mingoes. In general, this confederacy was known as the Iroquois Nation, and thus the most skilled historians have been content to designate it. It should be borne in mind, however, that the name "Iroquois" was never used by the Confederates themselves. It was first used by the French, and its precise meaning is veiled in uncertainty. The men of the Confederacy called themselves "Hedonosaunee," which means literally, "They form a cabin," describing in this manner the close union existing among them. The Indian name just above quoted, is more liberally and commonly rendered. "The People of the Long House," which is more full in description, though not so accurate in translation. The central and unique characteristic of the Iroquois league was not the mere fact of five separate tribes being confederated together, for such unions have been frequent among civilized or semi-civilized people, though little known among the savages of this continent. The feature that distinguished the people of the Long House from all other confederacies, and which at the same time bound together all these ferocious warriors, was the system of clans extending throughout all the different tribes.

The distinctive word "clan" has been adopted as the most convenient one to designate the peculiar families about to be described, and is much better than the word "tribe," which usually applies to an Indian people separate and distinct from another.

The whole Confederacy of Iroquois Indians, or people, were divided into eight clans, as follows: Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Deer, Snipe, Heron, and Hawk. Some writers declare that every clan extended through all the tribes, while others assert that only the Wolf, Bear, and Turtle clans did so, the rest being restricted to a less number of tribes. Certain it is, nevertheless, that the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas or Senecas contained parts of the three clans named, and of several of the others.

Each clan formed a family, and all members of it, no matter how widely separated, were considered as brothers and sisters to each other, and were forbidden to intermarry. This prohibition was strictly enforced by common consent. So powerful indeed was this bond of union that linked the whole Confederacy together, that for hundreds of years there was no serious dissension between the several tribes of the Iroquois nation.

In times of peace all power was confided to the "sachems," in times of war to the "chiefs." The sachems were the rulers who exercised civil authority, met in congress, and directed the affairs of the Confederacy. Of these sachems, or rulers, there were fifty in all--of whom the Mohawks had nine, the Senecas eight, the Cayugas ten, the Oneidas nine, and the Onondagas fourteen. Each tribe also had as many was chiefs as it had sachems, and in council each sachem had a war chief standing near to execute his commands.

The Senecas were, by far, the most fierce and powerful of any of the nation, and they were stationed at the western extremity of their dominion to guard that entrance to their domain against intrusion by their enemies.

The dates furnished by various historians as to the several conquests over smaller tribes or nations, by the Five Nations, differ materially. The French accounts tend to show that the Kahquahs were first conquered, and the Eries after them, while others reverse the order of conquest. Be that as it may, both were subjugated by the Iroquois, and Neuter Nation too, in turn, fell an easy prey to their relentless masters. The time of war against the Neuter Nation is given as having occurred about 1642; that of Kahquahs soon after 1650, while some writers assert that between the years 1640 and 1655 the fierce Confederates "put out the fires" of both the Eries and Kahquahs.

After spreading destruction among their enemies nearer home, and bringing them into a state of complete subjection, the Iroquois went forth "conquering and to conquer." They first turned their attention to the tribes inhabiting the rivers of Pennsylvania, the descendants of their old associates and companions, the Lenni Lenapes, more commonly known as the Delawares--on the Allegheny, the Susquehanna, and the Delaware in Pennsylvania; on the Ohio, and even as far west as the Mississippi; on the Potomac and the Savannah in the south, the Iroquois bore their conquering arms, filling with terror the dwellers alike on the plains of Illinois and in the glades of the Carolinas. They passed ruthlessly on over the mouldering bones of the slaughtered Kahquahs to further conquests on the Great Lakes beyond the shores of Lake Superior. They fought and vanquished the Hurons, the allies of the French, and forced them to flee for safety to the frozen region of Hudsonís Bay. They conquered as they went, destroying as a mighty whirlwind villages and inhabitants alike of their people, and stayed only before the steady approach of the sturdy white-faced pioneer.

In or about the year 1712, the Tuscaroras, who had become involved in a war with the Powhattans, growing out of a dispute over the right of possession to certain lands, were defeated by the Powhattans and fled northward, where they were received by the Iroquois and adopted into the Confederacy, which from this time forth was known as the Six Nations. The defeated Tuscaroras were a powerful tribe, and materially augmented the forces of the Iroquois. The territory occupied by the Tuscaroras before their disastrous warfare was the north part of the Carolinas and the lower part of Virginia.

The full credit for the victory over the vanquished Tuscaroras does not belong wholly to the Powhattans. It is said, by good authority, that the white colonists then settling in North and South Carolina, and Virginia, not only instigated the war against the Tuscaroras, but actually took part against them, and were it not for their white allies, the Powhattans undoubtedly would have been defeated. The Powhattans were a tribe of the Lenni Lenape family.

That the Iroquois so willingly received the Tuscaroras and added them to their great body as a distinct nation, may be accounted for by the fact that while waging their war against the southern Indians, the Tuscaroras were allied to the Iroquois, and gave them great assistance, and the same fact would also account for the eagerness of the Tuscaroras to join the nation after having been so severely beaten by their southern antagonists.

Although the Five Nations had, by force of arms, succeeded in defeating every antagonist in their depredatory excursions over a vast area of territory occupied by their enemies, they by no means entirely subjugated them all or brought them into an acknowledgment of their supreme right to the territory invaded. They destroyed villages and slaughtered inhabitants or compelled them to flee for safety to the mountains; but after the storm of war had passed, these refugees returned to their ruined habitations and sought to re-establish them, still claiming the right of possession and occupancy.

The Iroquois claimed this right by conquest, and proclaimed themselves absolute owners of the whole territory invaded, but were not sufficiently strong, in point of numbers, to occupy more than a small portion of the conquered country.

The precise time in which the conquest over the Pennsylvania Indians was accomplished is not stated by any authority. In, or soon after the year 1655, they started on the warpath in this region, and had concluded their whole conquest, central, west, and south, soon after 1680. The reader has already become aware of the fact that the chief or central point of the Lenni Lenapesí possessions was in the region of the Delaware river, and that the tribe inhabiting that territory were called the Delawares; and further, that all the other tribes in the whole Lenape country were branches of the parent tribe, although known by different names in various localities. In such mention as shall hereafter be made of the occupants generally of this country, the word "Delawares" will be used, unless a particular locality is mentioned, in which case the name of the branch tribe will be given. It may be well to add that the language spoken by the Five Nations was different from that of the Lenni Lenapes.

The particular branch of the parent tribe that occupied the region hereabouts was the Shawnees, otherwise written Shawnese. Their language was the same as the Algonquins, and they are supposed to have been of southern origin. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, by permission of the Proprietary Government, they settled in the neighborhood of Conestoga and Pequea Creeks, where they remained nearly a quarter of a century. They were a migratory people evidently, not content to remain for a considerable time in any locality. They drifted westward, and in 1728 occupied country bordering on the Ohio, and before 1750 a majority of the entire tribe were settled there. Like the Delawares, the Shawnees were under the ruler-chiefs and sachems of the Six Nations, although they had their own chiefs and sachems for local government. The representative of the Six Nations appointed in 1728 to dwell among the Shawnees was Shekelimo. The jurisdiction of Shekelimo also extended over the Delawares. Richard Penn treated with the deputies of the Shawnees, who "were scattered abroad from the Great Island to the Allegheny." The Six Nations, in a message to the governor in 1743, say they had gone to the Juniata to hunt with their cousins, the Delawares, and with their brethren, the Shawnees.

Shekelimo stationed himself on the west bank on the river, a few miles above the present location of Lewisburg, Union county. Here he received a visit from Conrad Weiser in 1733, and whom he accompanied on his journey to Onondaga, the seat of government of the Six Nations. Shekelimo died at the place now called Sunbury, whither he had removed, and was succeeded by his son Tachnachdourus, a chief of rank of the Iroquois, and who was better known as John Shekelimo.

The lands south of the West Branch were placed under control of Half King, a chief of the Senecas, who was properly called Tanacharis. In 1754 his post was located in Aughwick, in Huntingdon county. He lived but a short time, and was succeeded by a chief of the Oneidas called Scarrooydy.

At the time of the treaties with the natives for the purchase of their lands by the proprietaries, the negotiations were made with the sachems of the Delawares. When this became known to the deputies of the Iroquois, they appeared and disputed the right of the Delawares to any territory drained by the Susquehanna River. They contended that the territory was theirs by conquest and they had the disposition of it. The proprietary government then made purchases of both nations until the paramount title of the Iroquois nation was acknowledged by the Delawares. In July, 1742, a conference with the chiefs and sachems of the Six Nations and the chiefs of the Shawnees was held by the governor and council in Philadelphia, which continued several days.

The leading questions presented for consideration and adjustment at this conference were complains on the part of the Indians of intrusions made into their country on the part of white settlers along the valley of the Juniata, a branch of the Susquehanna, and all along the banks of that river as far as Mahaning (Mahoning), and desire that they may be made forthwith to depart, "for they do great damage to our cousins the Delawares." The governor responded that regarding their former complaints of the settlers on the "Juniata and Susquehanna, some magistrates were sent expressly to remove them, and we thought no person would stay after that." The chief replied: "So far from removing the people, they (the magistrates) made surveys for themselves, and they are in league with the trespassers. We desire more effectual methods may be used, and honester men employed."

The governor promised them a redress for their grievances, and at the same time remarked that the Delawares were creating trouble over lands purchased from their ancestors over fifty years before. The chief of the Onondagas, Canassatego, who was the orator of the council, addressed the proprietaries a few days after this in the presence of Sassonan, a chief of the Delawares, and a number of other Indians of that nation, upon the subject complained of by the governor, in which he severely censured them for their faithlessness, and alleged that they had fairly released their lands to the whites and received full pay therefor, but that they had squandered their pay and were now seeking to create a disturbance with the settlers. In closing this somewhat remarkable address, he says: "We have concluded to remove them and oblige them to go over the river Delaware, and to quit all claim to any lands on this side for the future, since they have received pay for them and it has gone through their guts long ago. To confirm to you that we will see your requests executed, we lay down this string of wampum in return for yours." When this address to the governor and council was concluded, Canassatego upbraided the Delawares and ordered them to leave the lands immediately and go either to Wyoming or Shamokin. "You may go," says he, "to either of these places, and then we shall have you more under our eye, and shall see how you behave. Donít deliberate, but remove away and take this belt of wampum."

This speech was interpreted by Conrad Weiser into English, and by Cornelius Spring into the Delaware language, upon which Canassatego, taking a string of wampum, said: "After our just reproof and absolute order to depart from the land, you are now to take notice of what we have further to say to you. This string of wampum serves to forbid you, your children, and your grandchildren to the latest posterity, from every meddling in land affairs. Neither you nor any who shall descend from you are ever hereafter presumed to sell any land, for which purpose you are to preserve this string in memory of what your uncles have this day given you in charge. We have some other business to transact with our brethren, and therefore depart the council and consider what has been said to you.

Conrad Weiser, the interpreter mentioned theretofore, and who took such an active part in the events that occurred during the Indian occupancy, was born in Germany in 1696, but immigrated to this country about 1714. He was a grandson of the celebrated Indian agent and interpreter of that name. Conrad became well acquainted with the language of several Indian tribes and possessed their fullest confidence through his honesty and fair dealing among them. He died possessed of considerable property.



Source: Pages 17-23, History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1887.

Transcribed April, 1999 by Connie L. Robinson for the Clearfield County Aldrich Project
Contributed for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy Project (

Clearfield County Genealogy Project Notice:

These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format, for any presentation, without prior written permission.

Return to Historical Record Index

Return to Aldrich Project Index

Return to Clearfield County Genealogy Project

© Clearfield County Genealogy Project