Sep 172017

The Treaty of Fort Pitt — also known as the Treaty With the Delawares, the Delaware Treaty, or the Fourth Treaty of Pittsburgh, — was signed on this date in 1778. It was the first written treaty between the fledgling United States of America, which at the time was still fighting its war for independence and an indigenous North American group — the Lenape (called Delaware Indians by colonists). Although many informal treaties were held with Native Americans during the revolutionary years of 1775–1783, this was the only one that resulted in a formal document. It was signed at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania, site of present-day downtown Pittsburgh. It was essentially a formal treaty of alliance. I don’t have space to go into an enormous amount of detail concerning the treaty, but the salient point is that North American Indians were considered a thorough nuisance by the British colonists before they tried to break from Britain, but when they needed them as allies, instead of enemies, the colonists signed treaties with them, then broke the treaties when they got what they wanted.

The treaty gave the United States permission to travel through Lenape territory and called for the Lenape to afford colonial troops whatever aid they might require in their war against Britain, including the use of their own warriors. The United States was planning to attack the British fort at Detroit, and Lenape friendship was essential for success. In exchange, the United States promised “articles of clothing, utensils and implements of war”, and to build a fort in Lenape country “for the better security of the old men, women and children … whilst their warriors are engaged against the common enemy.” Although not part of the written treaty, the commissioners intended that the Lenape would become active allies in the war against the British.

The Lenape supposedly perceived the agreement as the right of free passage only of revolutionary troops and the building of a protective fort for British settlers to defend themselves against attack. The US leaders intended to use the fort for offensive campaigns and wrote into the treaty that the Lenape would attack their native neighbors. The treaty also recognized the Lenape as a sovereign nation and guaranteed their territorial rights, even encouraging the other Ohio Country Indians friendly to the United States to form a state headed by the Lenape with representation in Congress. This extraordinary measure had little chance of success, and it’s more than a little likely that the authors of the treaty were knowingly dishonest and deceitful. There are a few historians who argue that it was the Lenape chief White Eyes who proposed the measure, hoping that the Lenape and other tribes might become the fourteenth state of the United States. I think this is highly unlikely given what is known about Lenape concepts of land rights and governance in the 18th century. In any case, it was never acted upon by either the United States or the Delaware Indians.

Within a year the Lenape were expressing grievances about the treaty. A delegation of Lenape visited Philadelphia in 1779 to explain their dissatisfaction to the Continental Congress, but nothing changed and peace between the United States and the Lenape collapsed. White Eyes, the Lenape’s most outspoken ally of the United States, died in mysterious circumstances, and the Lenape soon joined the British in the war against the United States.

The signers of the treaty were White Eyes, Captain Pipe (Hopocan), and John Kill Buck (Gelelemend) for the Lenape, and Andrew Lewis and Thomas Lewis for the US. Witnesses included Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, Colonel Daniel Brodhead, and Colonel William Crawford.

The Treaty of Fort Pitt was the first of numerous treaties signed by the US to further its own interests and then subsequently broken when it needed to clear the land for its own uses.  Now is not the time to delve the long history of abuse of the Lenape by the US. One day I will expand on that theme.

At the time of European contact in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lenape lived in the area roughly around and between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers, encompassing the current areas of the state of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, the north shore of Delaware; and most of southeastern New York. After the arrival of settlers and traders to the 17th-century colony of New Netherlands, the Lenape and other indigenous peoples became extensively involved in the North American fur trade. Their trapping depleted the beaver population in the region, proving disastrous for both the Lenape and the Dutch settlers. The Lenape were further weakened by newly introduced infectious diseases, and by conflict with both Europeans and the traditional Lenape enemies, the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock. If you want to know about perfidy and bad faith in colonial dealings with the Lenape stretching back into the early 18th century look up the Walking Treaty. Over the next centuries, the Lenape were pushed out of their lands by Iroquoian enemies (with US support), treaties, and overcrowding by European settlers, and moved west into the Ohio River valley.

In the 1860s, most Lenape remaining in the Eastern United States were sent to the Oklahoma Territory where they slowly died out. The last full-blooded Unami Lenape, Nora Thompson Dean, whose Lenape blessing name was Weènchipahkihëlèxkwe (often translated as “Touching Leaves” or “Touching Leaves Woman” but she translated it as  “Leaves-that-touch-each-other-from-time-to-time woman”) died in 1984 in Dewey Oklahoma where she was born. Some day I’ll delve into my long history with the Lenape through Touching Leaves and through my former students David and Paul Ostreicher. She served as an ambassador to the modern world of a once-proud nation, taking a remarkable trip from Oklahoma to New York around 1980 when she visited my university, but also paid multiple ritual tributes to her ancestors including making a gift of tobacco to the ocean which she saw in her ancestral homeland for the first time. She felt an enormous burden of responsibility to the spirits of the ancestors which, on her death, could not be taken up by anyone else.

Before I move to a recipe, a small note on the name Lenape. English settlers named the Delaware River for the governor of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and they used the term “Delaware Indians” for the Lenape people living along this river and its tributaries. The called themselves Lenape which means simply “people” or “humans” in Lenape language. This is a common trait for the names of indigenous groups in North America because at the time of colonization they had no concept of nationality or identity via governmental association. Lenape identified primarily with family associations and matrilineal clans, with dialect being a unifying factor for larger groupings. They were, and are, sometimes called Lenni Lenape (“true people”), but this is not a term they used of themselves in any formal way. For some reason it was a term that got publicized and has stuck even though it has no formal legitimacy. Touching Leaves was adamant about this. Legally now the Lenape (represented by descendants that are not full blooded), are known in official US documents as the Delaware Nation.

Obviously, Lenape recipes changed enormously over the centuries from first contact to the 20th century when they were written down.  Boiled cornmeal mush was a daily staple. The common English rendering of the original Lenape for boiled cornmeal is sa’pan. Corn would be dried, ground, and stored even in colonial times.  This could then be boiled into porridge with just about anything added for flavoring that was on hand. Blueberries are abundant in New York and New Jersey and would have been a common ingredient fresh or dried (as would cranberries have been in New Jersey). Maple sap and bear fat were also used as flavorings. Bear fat was rendered, purified, and stored in skin bags.

Deer meat was a common hunted protein, as was squirrel, raccoon, and beaver. It could be boiled or roasted.  Wild greens such as watercress and sorrel along with wild onions could be boiled in with the meat. The Lenape, more than any other northeastern indigenous group, used domesticated plants extensively.  The classic trinity of beans, corn, and pumpkin (or squash), whose amino acids provide complete protein when eaten together, was the gardening norm.  All planted vegetables were eaten fresh in season, and dried for storage for winter consumption.

There you have it. Take your pick. Corn mush with blueberries and maple syrup would be traditional, but I’ll pass on that. I’m not a huge fan of cereal mush of any sort.  I did go blueberry picking every season when I lived in the Catskills, however. It would take me no more than an hour to fill a 10-gallon bucket. I used to make them into blueberry preserves, but there’s nothing wrong with a bowl of freshly-picked berries.