My Nanticoke Native American Heritage


Published under: Shamanism

I never felt that I belonged in my birth fam­ily. From an early age, I sensed that I was dif­fer­ent and some­how out-of-place.  I was the dark-haired child in a house­hold full of blonds. My dad had dark hair, too — but, he was always away at sea — work­ing to sup­port our fam­ily. It took me years to dis­cover that what I had inher­ited from him went way beyond my looks and disposition.

While my mother’s well-documented fam­ily tree stretched back to include Dutch set­tlers arriv­ing in New Ams­ter­dam in the 1600’s — my dad’s fam­ily was much more of a mys­tery. I remem­ber him show­ing me an old sepia-hued pho­to­graph of a hus­band and wife who looked very Native Amer­i­can. They had dark eyes, dark com­plex­ion, and long dark hair. Evi­dently, my great, great, great grand­mother was a Nan­ti­coke Indian.

Nanticoke Indians of Delaware

Nan­ti­coke Indi­ans of Delaware

The Nan­ti­coke Indi­ans of south­ern Delaware 1 - also known as the Tide­wa­ter Peo­ple - are an Algo­nquian tribe that was first encoun­tered by Cap­tain John Smith in 1608. They lived on the penin­sula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesa­peake Bay – but, in the late 1700’s many of them moved up the Susque­hanna where they ulti­mately became affil­i­ated with the Iro­quois. 2

The Nan­ti­coke were dis­tin­guished from neigh­bor­ing tribes by their darker com­plex­ion. Accord­ing to their tra­di­tion they inter­mar­ried with a crew of Moor­ish sailors — Span­ish Pri­va­teers aka pirates – who became ship­wrecked along the south­ern coast of Delaware. 3

Although the Nan­ti­coke fished and trapped for sub­sis­tence – these were unset­tled times and their way of life was being turned upside down by the encroach­ing Euro­pean set­tlers. Accord­ing to a mis­sion­ary who wrote about Native Amer­i­can cul­ture at the time

They are also said to have been the inven­tors of a poi­so­nous sub­stance, by which they could destroy a whole set­tle­ment of peo­ple, and they are accused of being skilled in the arts of witchcraft…I have known Indi­ans who firmly believed that they had peo­ple among them who could, if they pleased, destroy a whole army, by merely blow­ing their breath towards them. 4

Now that’s some pow­er­ful magic.  Knowl­edge that was prob­a­bly used for both good and evil – depend­ing on whose side you were on.

My inher­i­tance reflects the vic­to­ries, defeats, and hard won bat­tles of all my ances­tors. These karmic traces inform who I am and how I see the world. In this legacy is a gift that’s long­ing to be expressed through me. How lucky am I to be part of this family?


Notes:

  1. Visit their web­site at http://www.nanticokeindians.org
  2. The Nan­ti­coke Com­mu­nity of Delaware,” by Frank G. Speck.  The Museum of the Amer­i­can Indian Heye Foun­da­tion. New York, NY. 1915, page 6.
  3. Ibid., p. 43.
  4. Account of the His­tory, Man­ners, and Cus­toms of the Indian Nations who once inhab­ited Penn­syl­va­nia and the Neigh­bor­ing States” by John Heck­ewelder. Philadel­phia, 1818.


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