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The Lenape for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

Mar 12

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The Lenape are an illustrative example of the Native American Societies before European Contact topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



Susie Elkhair of the Lenape
Susie Elkhair of the Lenape Tribe 1926/public domain


The history of the Lenape is deeply rooted in the vast territories of the northeastern United States, where their ancestors have lived for thousands of years. Originally occupying present-day New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware, the Lenape, also known as the Delaware, were part of the larger Algonquian-speaking cultural group. Their ancestral lands had abundant resources, allowing them to thrive as hunter-gatherers and farmers.


The community, organized into clans, followed a matrilineal kinship system where descent and inheritance were traced through the mother’s lineage. Men played a central role in hunting, fishing, and communal tasks like constructing shelters and crafting tools. At the same time, women were essential to cultivating crops like corn, beans, and squash – known as the “Three Sisters”. Their dome-shaped wigwams covered with bark provided shelter throughout the seasons, serving as the focal point of family life. Tools such as bows and arrows, fishing nets, and woven traps were crafted to support their daily activities, reflecting the community’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in utilizing their natural environment.

Leadership among the Lenape was decentralized, with each band or clan having its own leaders who were typically chosen based on their wisdom, experience, and ability to guide the community. Leadership roles were often hereditary within certain families, but individuals could also rise to leadership through acts of courage or exceptional skill.


The warriors of the Lenape were renowned for their bravery and skill in battles. They played a vital role in defending their communities, asserting territorial claims, and negotiating alliances with neighboring tribes. Central to their warrior culture was “counting coup,” a practice where warriors demonstrated bravery and honor by touching their adversaries in battle without causing harm. “Counting coup” symbolized the warrior’s ability to defeat their opponent through courage and skill rather than violence. It earned respect and recognition within the tribe. Beyond their martial skills, Lenape warriors also served as diplomats and mediators, maintaining peace and resolving disputes among neighboring tribes.


Religion held a central place in Lenape life, and they had a deep spiritual connection to the natural world. They believed in a Creator and spirits that inhabited the land, water, and sky. Ceremonies and rituals were performed throughout the year to honor these spirits and seek their guidance. The Big House ceremony, held annually in the autumn, was a significant event where the Lenape expressed gratitude for the harvest and sought blessings for the year.


The changing seasons dictated the rhythm of life for the Lenape. Winters were spent in smaller family groups, dispersing for hunting and seeking shelter in temporary encampments. Summers, however, were a time of gathering and communal activities as families converged at designated fishing and agricultural stations along the rivers.


Trade was pivotal in Lenape society. They exchanged furs, shells, agricultural products (corn, beans, and squash), and crafted items with neighboring tribes such as the Iroquois Confederacy, the Susquehannock, and the Powhatan. These networks fostered alliances, enriched their culture and contributed to their thriving way of life.


Printable Reading Passage on the Lenape

The Lenape FREE Reading Passage


Do you want to watch a video about the Lenape?




Native American Societies Before European Contact

Period 1

AP U.S. History


the Lenape

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

Mar 12

4

0

0

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