The Delaware, of Lenape Indians, are Native Americans who reside in Canada and the United States. They were largely eradicated due to the American Revolutionary War and other 19th century Indian removal programs. As their frontier presence provides a narrative and thematic setting for Edgar Huntly, it is worth understanding the tribe's basic history.
Before the Europeans arrived on the American continent, the Delawares lived in an area deemed the Northeastern Woodlands; this is between the Delaware and lower Hudson rivers, including part of Long Island. Lenape groups in the 16th and 17th century included several hundred people. Contact with the Europeans led to the decimation of many of them because of smallpox and other diseases.
Lenape society was matrilineal, meaning children belonged to their mother's family, and that leadership passed from mother to child. A newly married couple lived with the mother's family, and agriculture was managed primarily by women. Such agriculture utilized "three-sister farming," wherein corn, beans, and squash were grown together to make better use of the land and ensure a more plentiful harvest. Meanwhile, men were primarily responsible for hunting and fishing. The Delawares also traded maize and wampum (shell beads) for the Europeans' iron tools.
The first recorded meeting between the Delawares and the Europeans took place in 1524, when Giovanni da Verrazano met the Delaware in the Lower New York Bay area. Throughout the 17th century, the Delawares worked in the fur trade with the Dutch, trapping and trading beaver pelts for European goods. The relationship with the Dutch was not always rosy, however, as the Europeans settled in New Amsterdam. Misunderstandings led to violence in 1632. In 1634, the Susquehannock tribe fought the Delaware tribe over access to trade with the Dutch. The Delawares were defeated and later became a tributary of sorts to the Susquehannock, and participated in the Five Nations up until 1753.
The Delaware population continued to drop due to infectious diseases for which they had no immunity. They were also vexed by the gradual attrition of their land, and occasionally petitioned for grievances because of contracts they signed with the Europeans, which tended to confuse the Delawares with other tribes and hence affect their rights. Many of these grievances were successful in restricting Dutch settlements in the mid-17th century.
Pressure mounted for the Delaware when the neighboring colony of Pennsylvania was begun in 1682, bringing in thousands of land-hungry Europeans. Despite a desire for peaceful relations with the Indians, William Penn put his colony's growth first, and many Indians were displaced.
After William Penn's death, the Delaware were cheated and forced off of their ancestral lands in a scheme called "The Walking Purchase." Despite their resistance, all Delawares who still lived near the river of the same name were driven away by threats of violence. Retaliatory attacks then made the frontier a dangerous place for white settlers.
During the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Years' War), the Delawares initially sided with the French, but some tribal leaders of shifted to ally with the British. The Delawares died in great numbers during this conflict. The Treaty of Easton was signed in 1758 between the Delaware and the British; it required the Native Americans to move westward out of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania into the Ohio area. The treaty inspired even more Delaware raids, and the tribe participated in Pontiac's War of 1763.
In 1778, the Delaware signed a treaty with the new United States government, called the treaty of Fort Pitt. Most of the tribe resided in the Ohio Country at this time, and helped supply the Continental Army with warriors and scouts.
Nevertheless, the period immediately after the Revolutionary War saw more forced westward movement deeper into Ohio for the Delaware. Internal divisions split the Delawares, and their existence in the new nation was just as fraught as their existence in the thirteen colonies was. It is during this period that Edgar Huntly is set.