Indian History

The first inhabitants arrived perhaps as early as 11,500BC, when nomadic hunters and gatherers roamed the late Ice Age landscape. Theirs was a tough life. They wore skins for protection against the frigid weather, and hunted in migratory bands the big game of the Ice Age.

As the glacial ice sheets retreated, climate and environmental changes between 8000 and 1000BC may have resulted in the formation of distinct Indian societies, or “tribes.”  From approximately 1000BC to AD1000, there were signs that the Indians were establishing semi-permanent communities. In some places, horticulture and long-distance trade were introduced. The local Indians settled into a sedentary lifestyle based primarily on corn, beans and squash.  

All in all, there may have been from thirty to forty tribes living along the waterways of Chester County. The Brandywine Indian tribe may have been the largest, and it occupied the land around what they called the Wawassan creek.

There were four Indian villages and campsites in or near what was to become Pocopson Township.  Two were on the Brandywine: one just north of the current Route 926, and the other northeast of Route 52. A third was around Marshallton, and a fourth just over the line in Newlin Township, along with a burial ground.

These Indians were part of a tribe which had occupied the territory for thousands of years. Although there were a large number of natives, they were usually found in scattered tribes living in some river or creek valley. They called themselves “Lenni Lenape,” which in their language meant simply “common people.” (Later English settlers would call them the “Delawares” after the river they lived near.)  A Lenape village might consist of 50 to 200 people who lived in round or oval houses or wigwams.  There were no windows, and  a roof consisted of tree bark or woven grasses. A hole in the roof let out the smoke from an open fire.

They moved with the seasons.  Men and boys hunted deer, bear, beaver and turkeys, cleared land for farming and made tools and weapons from bone, wood and stone.  Women and girls planted and raised corn, beans, pumpkins, squash ad sweet potatoes, and gathered nuts, berries, herbs and roots from the forest.  They also tanned hides and sewed them into clothing.

When European fur traders started their early exploitation of this area in the 1640’s, there were perhaps 12,000 Indians living locally. The beginning of the fur trade also began a change in the Indians’ aboriginal life. They trapped the beaver around the Susquehanna and traded with the Swedish and Dutch settlements in order to satisfy the European style of wearing hats made from beaver pelts. In return, the Indians received European iron goods and weapons.

These native Indians found their lives changed unalterably with the increasing presence of the Europeans. When traders offered cheap metal tools, trinkets, beads and mirrors for fur pelts, the Indians believed they were getting magical tokens of authority and influence. The Lenapes were impressed, but so were their neighbors, like the belligerent and well-organized Susquehannocks, who essentially took over in the 1630’s. The Lenape stayed, but as subjects to their stronger brethren. They continued to occupy their small villages, close to a stream that furnished them fish, surrounded by woods that were home to birds and animals, and close to some fields cleared to grow their corn, squash and beans.

In the 1680’s, there were an estimated 30 to 40 stream tribes in the Delaware Valley, sharing a common language but otherwise socially and politically independent of the others.  Each autonomous tribe continued to have its own chief or elder; there was no single chief of the Lenni-Lenape, not even a council of all the tribes.

But more substantial changes evolved, springing from misunderstanding the Europeans.  First, the Indians did not understand the Europeans’ concept of land ownership.  Indians would trustingly fix their marks to treaties they couldn’t read, thinking merely that they were agreeing to share the land with their trading partners and new friends.  After all, land had been given by the Creator for everyone’s use. Later, to their sorrow, they learned that the white man wanted to own the land.

Second, the Indians had no experience with liquor, so no idea of the benefits of moderation.  Too often, they discovered they had been cheated after drinking to excess.

As more and more Europeans came—first more Swedish and Finnish settlers, then the Dutch and finally the English--most of the Leni-Lenape gravitated (or were forced) out of the area. The last of this nation, however, stayed until her death in 1802 at age 71.  She was known as “Indian Hannah,” and traveled around the region widely selling baskets. In today’s terms, she would have been known as an “Indian activist,” since she was vocally proud of her heritage.  She spoke out emphatically on the wrongs done her race, and the misfortunes that had befallen them.

A historical plaque on Indian Hannah Road, close to the Pocopson-Newlin border, marks her passing: “In a rude cabin across the vale lived ‘Indian Hannah,’ who died in 1802, last of the Leni-Lenape in Chester County.”  For information can be found at