The name Delaware was given by the Europeans to all the natives living along the Delaware River. There were actually thirty Indian nations living between the Mississippi and the Atlantic Ocean all speaking a common Algonquian language. One of these nations, the Lenni-Lenape, lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York (see map below). Three tribes of the Lenape nation lived on and near Staten Island, the Tappans, Hackensacks and Raritans. They were known as fierce and tenacious warriors when they had to fight; however, they preferred to choose a path of peace with the Europeans and other tribes. (The name Lenape (len-NAH-pay) means “The People” or “Original People.”)
The Lenapes were some of the first people in North America, dating back to about 10,000 BC. At that time, almost half the continent was covered by the Wisconsin glacier. The Lenapes lived on the West Shore of Staten Island and hunted mastodons, giant caribou and other large animals for food and clothing.
As the glaciers receded and the climate moderated deciduous trees like oak and maple began to grow in the region. They used tulip trees to create canoes and “dug-outs” by burning the center of the tree and chopping out the charcoal, creating the shape needed. The Lenapes moved about the area using various parts of the Island as seasonal camps. During the warmer months they would collect shellfish and hunt small animals like white-tailed deer, rabbits, beavers and turkeys that were abundant in the area. The Lenapes did not waste any of the animals they killed. They used the fur for clothing; skins were used for shelter and clothing; bones for tools; deer hooves for glue, and other parts, such as a snapping turtle shell, for toys
As time passed, they adopted the bow and arrow, clay bowls and created crude farming tools. Horticulture allowed people to stay in one area growing corns, beans and squash.
The Lenapes saw their first “white man” around 1500 AD when the colonists came to North America. First sighted by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, the Island remained mostly populated by the Raritans and Unamis Indians until about 1630 when the Dutch attempted to establish settlements there. Called Staaten Eylandt by the Dutch, they failed to maintain settlements. The Indians, feeling threatened,drove each attempt settlers made from the Island.Many of these wars were instigated by the Dutch; in all blood was spilled on both sides in three wars; the Pig War (1641), the Whisky War (1642) and the Peach War (1655). The disputes were finally settled and, in 1661 the Dutch established a lasting colony called Oude Dorp, or Old Town, near South Beach. The Lenapes began trading with the colonists and received metals such as iron, copper and brass that were used for tools and weapons.
They also traded for shirts, kettles, knives, guns and other materials. Many of the early treaties and land sales they signed with the Europeans, were in their minds, more like leases. The early Delaware had no idea that land was something that could be sold. The land belonged to the Creator, and the Lenape people believed they were only using it to shelter and feed their people. When the poor, bedraggled settlers got off their ships after thier long voyage and needed a place to live, the Lenape shared the land with them, whoever, in the mind of the Europeans their gifts were actually the purchase price for the land. As a result, the Indians sold the same land many time leading to disputes that lasted until the 1800s.Many of the Lenape left the Island by the 1670s. Many tribes moved westward first to Ohio, then Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and finally, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) while other tribes moved north to Ontario. The last Lenape was seen on the Island around 1682.