Skippack Historical Society

Nash, Charles E. "The Lure of Long Beach". Long Beach Island, NJ: The Long Beach Island Board of Trade, 1936. p11-14

Ruth, John L. "Maintaining the Right Fellowship". Herald Press: Scottdale, Pa. 1984 P116-7, 135, 195.

Lenni Lenape

Indian Culture Of Skippack

Taking a walk through a field or in the woods of Skippack, you might wonder how long have people walked around this same land. From archaeological digs, there is evidence that man inhabited this mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, several thousand years before the white man arrived. One previous culture was the Lenni Lenape Indian tribe, also heavily active in the Skippack area.

The Lenni Lenape Indians were of the great Algonkin family of Indians. According to different translations, the name Lenni Lenape signifies "pure Indian" or "original". The many tribal branches lived along the Atlantic seaboard. They lived near water (rivers, creeks, etc.) for the easily acquired food supplied by nature- plants, animals, and for irrigation. They were "dark-eyed, black haired with animal oils smeared on their skin, stained in fantastic and symbolic designs with mineral or vegetable dyes." (Nash 11)

"William Penn writing of the Indian houses speaks of their being fashioned like English barns…". An early immigrant to Philadelphia mentions that young trees were bent to a common center, and a shelter formed with the branches and covered with bark. "All the early writers agree that the interior of these Indian houses were intolerably dirty and that scarcely any attention was paid to the most elementary laws of sanitation". They write that the Lenni Lenape were generous people, and "he invariably motioned his guest to the mat in the center of his wigwam- the seat of honor." It was the Indians who invented the dish called "succotash", of boiled corn and beans. (Nash 12)

Polygamy was permitted but the Lenni Lenape was a wiser man. It is said that 'owning to the trouble and plurality of women, polygamy was but little practiced.' (qtd in Nash 12) When the Indian boys reached 16 to 18 years, they were initiated into the tribe, "if found to be proficient in all manner of tribal physical exercises, fishing and hunting." (12) The women bore the brunt of daily life in the wilds. They worked to plant and reap and carry the burdens of day to day activity. (Nash 12) It would have been considered a severe breach of etiquette for a gentleman Indian to relieve a lady Indian from her stone hoe. (Nash 13) When the Indian maidens reached 16 years, they began looking for a beau. She advertised that by wearing a crown of red or blue bay leaves. The boys would notice the "walking advertisements" and chose the one that suited, then make the arrangements with the family and the Medicine Man. The ceremony was simple. When the relatives gathered, the young brave would hand a bone to his mate, and she would hand him an ear of corn. This exchange signified that the man would provide the meat and the lady would supply the bread necessary to maintain the newly established family. (ibid)

A map of Indian land cessions shows that an agreement with William Penn was made in 1683. It covered most all of the area which now includes Montgomery County. This agreement allowed settlers to farm and live peacefully within those boundaries. Another agreement in 1684 covered upper Montgomery and a small portion of Lehigh, while a later agreement in 1718 extended the coverage southwest towards Lancaster and the Susquehanna River as a boundary.

William Penn's sons were the "Proprietors of Pennsylvania" after his death. They wanted to prepare to sell more frontier land areas of Pennsylvania. To do that, they needed to define vague boundaries of the old Indian treaties made by their father. One treaty began in a line at the Delaware River near Wrightstown and north through Bucks County. The boundaries of this treaty were defined in what is known as the "Walking Purchase" of September 19-20, 1737. The treaty with the Indians was covering the distance that one could walk in two days time. The Penn brothers had trained runners to "walk" two days from the river. One of them went twice as far as the Indians had expected in the old treaty of 1686. This questionable type of dealing may have begun the breakdown of trust between the Indians and the white man. Settlers along the frontier were noticing an increase toward hostility. (Ruth 116-7)

In 1756, Indian attacks were occurring in Pennsylvania that caused fear among those settlers living in outlying areas. At the old Skippack Mennonite meetinghouse, deacons Valentine Hunsicker and Christian Meyer were collecting relief donations for the refugees losing or fleeing their homes. Andrew Ziegler, son of settler Michael Ziegler, led a gathering about a Quaker sponsored project to collect money for the Indians, as a means to pacify them. Later in Skippack, Andrew would be appointed Mennonite Bishop, in 1763. (Ruth 135)

In Skippack, the 1684 agreement with the Indians saw most all of the tribe withdraw to lands north and west of here. Not all the Indians left the area. There are accounts of Indians working with early settlers during the early half of the 1700's. These may have been older Indian men or women that were not able to travel far with the tribe, or they just chose to stay on their homeland. There are stories that tell of an Indian that was paid by a farmer to carry his grain, by the sack, to Farmar's Mill in Whitemarsh. According to author John Ruth, an old Indian squaw was said to have been well known by early German settlers, so well that Bishop Henry Hunsicker of Skippack preached the funeral sermon for her, about 1812. She was said to be "the last local Indian squaw". (Ruth 195)

Another story is of an Indian sitting on a log by the Skippack Creek, when a settler joined him to sit on the log, the Indian continued moving himself closer and closer until the settler was off the end of the log. The Indian told the settler that was an example of what the white man was doing to the Indians, squeezing them off their homeland.

Indians are buried in the area. The forgotten cemetery off of Perkiomen Creek Rd., near Rainbow Ridge Circle, is said to have possibly several Indians buried there with early settlers. It is known as the "Pawlings-Schwenk cemetery". There are brown fieldstones which may be marking graves of Indians and slaves. And there is a known Indian grave buried in the woods near Woxall, visited by the writer.

Many thousands of artifacts were left behind by this culture when they departed Skippack. This is evident by a few residents who have found hundreds of artifacts including the many types of arrowheads, parts of tools, toys, beads, and more. This indicates heavy or frequent activity in Skippack by the Indians. It is possible that the Indians were hurried in leaving or that the items left behind were not important to take with them. One resident has found 300 items from his backyard garden alone!

Considerations to the remains of the Lenni Lenape Indians have been overlooked. Current soil conservation and development practices do not give any value to this early culture and signs of their existence that might tell us more of their way of life and activities throughout Skippack. Sites in the area have been thought to be dense Indian settlements or communities. The Skippack Creek and the Perkiomen Creek may have been highways for Indian traders traveling by canoe, from settlement to settlement. Today, little documentation exists of the Indian's activity in Skippack, all we have are the artifacts that were left on the ground.

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