The Lenape, Mohicans and Iroquois were native to New York State

Left, Mohican chief Etow Oh Koam in a painting commissioned by Queen Anne on a 1710 visit to London by four Native American leaders (New York Public Library); center, the 1735 painting by Gustavus Hesselius depicts Lapowinsa, a chief of the Lenape (Library of Congress); right, this 1910 photograph captures an Iroquois woman making corn meal (New York State Archives).

Native Americans lived in the region since the end of the Ice Age, thousands of years before European explorers arrived upon these shores. Various tribes populated parts of what is now New York State:

The Lenape (leh-NAH-pay) occupied a territory they termed Lenapehoking that stretched from present-day Ulster County and New York City to New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and eastern Delaware. Translated roughly as “the original people,” the Lenape were referred to by European colonists as the Delawares. The 1735 painting seen above center depicts Lapowinsa, a chief of the Lenape.

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The clan occupying the Hudson Valley region spoke a dialect known as Munsee. They were known alternatively as the Munsee Indians, the Esopus (“small river”), or the Esopus Munsee. Esopus was the name Henry Hudson gave to what is now Kingston, The word still refers to a neighboring town and a 26-mile creek flowing into the Hudson River. 

The Lenape followed a matrilineal lineage. Unlike some cultures, women were not treated as a man’s property and were considered the owner of the home. 

The Mohicans (or Mahicans) lived north of the Lenape from what is now Kingston up to Lake Champlain, west to the Schoharie Valley, and east into Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont. The Mohican and Munsee dialects were similar, part of the Algonquian language group that covered much of the Northeast. 

In the painting above left of Mohican chief Etow Oh Koam commissioned by Queen Anne during a 1710 visit to London by four Native American leaders, the carved wooden ball-headed club signified his status as a warrior. Dutch portrait artist John Verelst is thought to have added the red cloak with gold edging in irder to emphasize the chief’s high social standing to a European audience. 

A tribal map showing the vast territory of the Lenape covering parts of present-day New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. (Wikimedia)

The Iroquois refers to a confederacy of five tribes — Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, and Mohawk — between the Adirondack Mountains and Niagara Falls in Upstate New York. The Tuscarora later joined as the sixth member. Four tribes’ names are current New York State counties. 

The term Iroquois was a derogatory word coined by the French. The British referred to the group as “The League of Five Nations.” 

In the year 1609, when Henry Hudson famously sailed up the river the Lenape called Mahicannituck (“The River that Runs Both Ways”), some 6000 to12,000 Native Americans lived along its banks. The indigenous people were drastically impacted by contact with the Europeans. Tools, clothes, blankets, weapons, utensils, beads, liquor, and other goods could be acquired by trading for abundant local resources like beaver skins, which were in high demand in Europe for fur hats. As more colonists arrived, the vast territories on which Native Americans had farmed, hunted, fished, and lived without private ownership for generations were given borders and land titles.The infectious diseases such as smallpox, measles, diphtheria, and scarlet fever that the settlers btought with them killed thousands. Missionaries preached conversion from traditional practices to Christianity.  

“Indian removal” policies in the 1800s forced Native Americans to relocate to unfamiliar territory with poor soil west of the Mississippi River, far from their ancestral lands. Promised services were rarely provided, treaties were broken, and abject poverty became rampant. 

Despite laws guaranteeing self-government and federal funding, Indian reservations still struggle with poverty, addiction, and legal battles over land. Most of the remaining Lenape in the U.S. today live in Oklahoma on land purchased from the Cherokee, who were forcibly moved there in the 1830s on a tragic march known as the Trail of Tears. A small population of Mohicans occupy a reservation in Wisconsin, and thousands of Iroquois remain in New York State. 

Many indigenous names remain in use in the Hudson Valley, including Ashokan (“Place of Fish”), Mohonk (“Place of Bears”), Poughkeepsie (“Reed-Covered Bridge by the Small Water Place”), and Tappan (“Rolling Stream”). 

To see sample pages and information about supporting this 475-page book featuring 950 images that will be released in December 2021, please visit:  HudsonValleyHistoryAndArt.com.

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