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?


  1. Vis­it their web­site at
  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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