Native Americans in Pennsylvania

From Pre-Colonial Areas to Post-Independence Movements

Background on Native Americans in Pennsylvania

This map displays the areas of Native American inhabitation in what would become Pennsylvania after the arrival of the Europeans. During this time there were Native American tribes scattered across the entirety of the United States. The area occupied by Pennsylvania now was home to many tribes from as early as 16,000 years ago to about 1680, when William Penn's charter for colonial Pennsylvania took effect. Those tribes migrated widely, fought against other tribes, and interbred in some cases. They had varied cultural characteristics, including spoken languages, agricultural systems and social organization. Some tribes formed affiliations with other tribes, while in other cases large tribes spread into new territories and those peripheral groups developed cultural differences from the original core. The Munsee Delaware tribe shared origins with the Lenape Delaware, but by the time Europeans arrived the two had very distinct ways of living. The Lenape Delaware possessed sophisticated social and political structures and were expert hunters and farmers. Many Native American communities still uphold their ancestors' customs today, but unfortunately they have little opportunity to protect their cultural heritage in Pennsylvania.

The main tribal groups present in what is now Pennsylvania included Iroquois, Munsee Delaware, Lenape Delaware, Erie, Shawnee, and Susquehannock. This map shows one source's (see Credits below) interpretation of their territories, but it is almost impossible to create a definitive map given tribal movements and scant concrete evidence. Native Americans certainly had no tradition of drawing maps of larger ares. Many tribal areas overlapped (they were shared) if the tribes were at peace, while tribes at war probably shifted borders constantly. And many tribes were seasonally nomadic or were nomadic by tradition.

William Penn, with his Quaker sensitivities, followed a policy of treating the Native American with respect as humans. Sadly, most other colonists did not practice the same approach, and were hungry for the land occupied by the natives. The Lenape in particular suffered immensely at the hands of European colonists. They were driven off their land, faced illnesses, and experienced violence. In fact, most Native Americans were forced to leave by force or through unethical trade deals made by the Europeans. An example of this was the "Walking Purchase," when Penn's sons tricked the Lenape Delaware Native Americans out of their land along the northern Delaware River and forced them to settle on land that belonged to the Iroquois. As with most tribal movements after European colonial "deals," the tribes began a process of moving further and further west with every loss of territory.

Tribe LanguageCurrent Status
Erie IroquoianExtinct, with some descendants in other Iroquoian lineages.
Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) IroquoianNumbers in the thousands, mostly in New York and Canada.
Shawnee and Ohio Valley tribes AlgonquianAbout 14,000 live in Oklahoma.
Munsee Delaware (or just Munsee) AlgonquianAbout 3,500 in Ontario, Canada and on their Wisconsin reservation.
Susquehannock IroquoianExtinct, with most wiped out by disease and massacre.
Lenape Delaware, or Unami Delaware AlgonquianAbout 16,000 exist in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania/New Jersey, and Canada.

The interactive symbols on this map represent the locations of Markers and Plaques placed by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Most of these are roadside markers, while the rest are plaques located in or near monuments. The program of placing these markers and plaques began over 100 years ago. Most still use the now-politically incorrect term "Indians."

Some of the markers honor famous Native American leaders and colonial explorers. Of the latter, particular attention is paid to those who sought cooperation with the Native Americans, though such cooperation often came at the cost of the Natives' cultures. The largest proportion of the historical markers show cultural centers and pathways used by Native Americans before European settlement. Many, though, show the locations of forts or battles between colonists or Americans and the Native Americans. In many of those situations the Native Americans were the aggressors, coming of course after decades of mistreatment. The French took advantage of the natives' hatred for British colonists during what became known as the "French and Indian War," predating the American Revolution.

Historical Marker Type Number of Historical Markers
Native American Leaders 9
Colonists or Americans 18
Native American sites and routes 92
Colonial sites and routes
(includes many forts)
(also includes numerous forts)