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History: Indigenous History of Pennsylvania

Original Inhabitants of Pennsylvania

The original inhabitants of what is now Pennsylvania included the Lenape, or Delaware, tribe and the Susquehannock tribe. Other tribes, particularly the Nanticoke and the Shawnee, migrated into Pennsylvania and New Jersey after the Europeans arrived.

In the early 1600s, there were an estimated 5,000-7,000 Susquehannock but by 1700, their numbers had dwindled to 300, most likely brought on by the introduction of European diseases. According to historical accounts in 1763, a mob lynched the remaining 20 known Susquehannock. Descendents of the Susquahannock remain, although there is no known descendant community.

There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Pennsylvania, although the most recent census reports an American Indian population of more than 12,000. The Lenape continue to have a modern presence and are working to preserve the heritage of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.


*Despite being denied land in Pennsylvania, Indigenous Peoples of these lands are present across the U.S. and maintain sovereign nation status:


American Indian or Native American?

American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native are acceptable and often used interchangeably in the United States; however, Native Peoples often have individual preferences on how they would like to be addressed.

The Inuit, Yup'ik, and Aleut Peoples in the Arctic see themselves as culturally separate from Indians.

In Canada, people refer to themselves as First Nations, First Peoples, or Aboriginal.

In Mexico, Central America, and South America,the direct translation for Indian can have negative connotations. As a result, they prefer the Spanish word indígena (Indigenous), comunidad (community), and pueblo (people).

Tribes of Pennsylvania

Northeast tribes are organized by language family: Algonquian or Iroquoian. "The American Indian cultures of northeastern North America [are] also known as the Woodland Indians...." UXL Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes

Tribes in the Algonquian Family are:

  • Delawares (also known as Lenni-Lenape)
  • Nanticoke
  • Shawnee

Iroquois are also known as Haudenosauanee. Tribes in the Iroquoian Family are:

  • Cayuga
  • Erie
  • Mohawk
  • Oneida
  • Onondaga
  • Seneca
  • Susquehannock

What are land acknowledgments?

Land acknowledgments are oral or written statements used to recognize Indigenous peoples as the original stewards of the lands on which a person may live, work, or go to school. Land acknowledgment is a traditional custom that dates back centuries for many Native nations and communities. For example, in Coast Salish communities along the Pacific Coast, another tribe or nation would ask permission to come ashore, thus acknowledging they were visitors to the lands. Acknowledging original Indigenous inhabitants today is often complex because of the centuries of displacement experienced by many Native peoples through (broken) treaties, government policy, and relocation efforts. Throughout their histories, Native groups have relocated and successfully adapted to new places and environments. Many Native peoples are active members of city communities today and many cities are built on top of Indigenous villages and towns.

Learn More: Honoring Original Indigenous Inhabitants: Land Acknowledgment

(9 Min) Native Americans of the Lenape Tribe, early inhabitants of Pennsylvania. From WPSU.

Native American Heritage Programs

  • Native American Heritage Programs shares Lenape (Delaware Indian) culture & contributions of Native Americans.

Lenape Talking Dictionary: The official dictionary of Lenape - the language of the Delaware Tribe.

"Transforming Teaching and Learning About Native Americans" From the National Museum of the American Indian

Selected manuscripts of General John S. Clark, relating to the aboriginal history of the Susquehanna

William Penn; his own account of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians, 1683

The Iroquios of the North East - An exhibit from the Carnegie Museum that examines different aspects of the Iroquios culture.

Delaware Indians - Ohio History Central site provides good background information; discusses the history of the Delawares in Ohio. Related entries include Algonquian Indians, Iroquois, and Shawnee. Some information is pertinent to Pennsylvania. Use search box or search from History > Groups.

First Americans - Choose the Tribes category. There are three hotlinks that pertain to the Iroquios: the squash, the clothing and the longhouse. Other icons are for other tribes. You will need to mouse over the icons to access the information.

Indians of Pennsylvania - Interesting information but may be difficult to use for research. Stories from Pa History.

Learn About Native Americans - Select "Woodland Indians" and follow the arrowhead.

Mohawk Iroquios Village - Information on agriculture, longhouses and the village.

Native American Geneology - Select tribe from list. You may need help to read this.

Native Languages of the Americas Fact Sheet for Kids- Search list for tribe.The fact sheet has questions and answers on specific tribes and nations. Scroll down past the top paragraphs and ads to locate Fact Sheet information.

Native Tech - Includes sketches of traditional clothing. When you are done with your research, play the interactive games. You have to be quick to play the shuttlecock game! Also: recipes and a virtual Woodland tour.

Pennsylvania Indians - textbook exerpt provides an overview of the history of several Pennsylvania tribes.

Pennsylvania Native Americans - Interactive History includes information on the Lenape and Susquehannock.

Primary Sources about how lands in present-day Pennsylvania were acquired from native peoples.

The Published Pennsylvania Archives is a 138 volume set containing reprints of early documents.  The set was issued in multiple series.  The series is described in some detail here. This large collection is available in Murray Library at F146.

Most volumes are available online in HathiTrust.

Database access provided by Murray Library.  These particular resources include collections from throughout the Americas and are not limited to Pennsylvania.

American Indian Histories and Cultures is a digital collection providing insight into American Indians and European/American relations from first contact through the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. Users can explore primary source materials including: manuscripts, artwork, photographs, interactive maps, printed materials and newspapers. Taken from the collections at the Newberry Library in Chicago.
  • American Indian Newspapers This link opens in a new window
    This resource includes 45 titles including bilingual and indigenous language publications from the United States and Canada. Includes some key 19th century titles, but most publications were founded in the 1970s reflecting the rise of the American Indian movement and the proliferation of Indigenous journalism.
  • Ethnic NewsWatch This link opens in a new window
    Includes Native American news sources since the 1990s. A good source for discussion of more contemporary issues.

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