Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Pennsylvania. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Pennsylvania.
Native Americans lived in the area that became Pennsylvania hundreds of years before European settlers entered the region. The two primary groups were the Algonkian and Iroquois. Algonkian tribes included the Delaware, Nanticoke, and Shawnee. The Susquehannocks were an Iroquoian tribe that lived along the Susquehanna River.
These early inhabitants traveled by canoe or on foot. They lived in houses made of bark and wore clothing from the skins of animals. Arts such as pottery making and weaving were also practiced. Although some farming was done, most food was acquired through hunting and gathering.
The Delawares, calling themselves Leni-Lenape or "real men," originally occupied the basin of the Delaware River and were the most important of several tribes that spoke an Algonkian language. Under the pressure of white settlement, they began to drift westward to the Wyoming Valley, to the Allegheny and, finally, to eastern Ohio. Many of them took the French side in the French and Indian War, joined in Pontiac's War, and fought on the British side in the Revolutionary War. Afterward, some fled to Ontario and the rest wandered west. Their descendants now live on reservations in Oklahoma and Ontario. The Munsees were a division of the Delawares, who lived on the upper Delaware River, above the Lehigh River.
The Susquehannocks were a powerful Iroquoian-speaking tribe who lived along the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania and Maryland. An energetic people living in Algonkian-speaking tribes' territory, they engaged in many wars. In the end, they fell victim to new diseases brought by European settlers, and to attacks by Marylanders and by the Iroquois, which destroyed them as a nation by 1675. A few descendants were among the Conestoga Indians who were massacred in 1763 in Lancaster County.
The Shawnees were an important Algonkian-speaking tribe who came to Pennsylvania from the west in the 1690s, some groups settling on the lower Susquehanna and others with the Munsees near Easton. In the course of time they moved to the Wyoming Valley and the Ohio Valley, where they joined other Shawnees who had gone there directly. They were allies of the French in the French and Indian War and of the British in the Revolution, being almost constantly at war with settlers for forty years preceding the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. After Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers (1794), they settled near the Delawares in Indiana, and their descendants now live in Oklahoma.
The Iroquois Confederacy of Iroquoian-speaking tribes, at first known as the Five Nations, included the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. After about 1723 when the Tuscaroras from the South were admitted to the confederacy, it was called the Six Nations. The five original tribes, when first known to Europeans, held much of New York State from Lake Champlain to the Genesee River. From this central position they gradually extended their power. As middlemen in the fur trade with the western Indians, as intermediaries skilled in dealing with the whites, and as the largest single group of Indians in northeastern America, they gained influence over Indian tribes from Illinois and Lake Michigan to the eastern seaboard. During the colonial wars their alliance or their neutrality was eagerly sought by both the French and the British. The Senecas, the westernmost tribe, established villages on the upper Allegheny in the 1730s. Small groups of Iroquois also scattered westward into Ohio and became known as Mingoes. During the Revolution, most of the Six Nations took the British side, but the Oneidas and many Tuscaroras were pro-American. Gen. John Sullivan's expedition up the Susquehanna River and Gen. Daniel Brodhead's expedition up the Allegheny River laid waste to their villages and cornfields in 1779 and disrupted their society. Many who had fought for the British moved to Canada alter the Revolution, but the rest worked out peaceful relations with the United States under the leadership of such chiefs as Cornplanter. The General Assembly recognized this noted chief by granting him a tract of land on the upper Allegheny in 1791.
Other Tribes, which cannot be identified with certainty, occupied western Pennsylvania before the Europeans arrived, but were eliminated by wars and diseases in the 17th century, long before the Delawares, Shawnees and Senecas began to move there. The Eries, a great Iroquoian-speaking tribe, lived along the south shore of Lake Erie, but were wiped out by the Iroquois about 1654. The Mahicans, an Algonkian-speaking tribe related to the Mohegans of Connecticut, lived in the upper Hudson Valley of New York but were driven out by pressure from the Iroquois and from the white settlers, some joining the Delawares in the Wyoming Valley about 1730 and some settling at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Two Algonkian-speaking tribes, the Conoys and the Nanticokes, moved northward from Maryland early in the 18th century, settling in southern New York, and eventually moved west with the Delawares, with whom they merged. The Saponis, Siouan-speaking tribes from Virginia and North Carolina, moved northward to seek Iroquois protection and were eventually absorbed into the Cayugas. In the latter part of the 18th century there were temporary villages of Wyandots, Chippewas, Missisaugas, and Ottawas in western Pennsylvania.
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