Some of you may recall our Author’s Corner interview with Jean Soderlund, author of Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Soderlund is one of the foremost historians of the early mid-Atlantic. Before Lenape Country she was best known for her book Quakers and Slavery: A Divided Spirit and William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania: A Documentary History.
Over at the blog of the University of Pennsylvania Press, Soderlund answers some more questions about her new book. Here is a taste:
In what specific ways did the Europeans and Lenapes work together to collectively develop Delaware Valley society?
After 1654, the Lenapes and Swedish-Finnish community became more closely allied, as they intermarried and depended on one another for support. They respected and did not try to change each other’s culture and religion. They often lived and visited each other in adjacent settlements. When conflict arose over stray livestock or a personal assault, the Lenapes, Swedes, and Finns tried to resolve the issue without further violence. They created a society that favored peace over war, and liberty over slavery, unlike other regions of eastern North America.
How involved was William Penn in communications with the Lenapes?
In 1681, soon after he received the charter for Pennsylvania, Penn sent his deputy William Markham to negotiate with the Lenapes for land. With help from the Swedes and Finns, Markham made several land deals with the Natives. Penn negotiated directly with the Lenapes after his arrival in 1682, and seemed to have great respect for their culture.
At what point did relations between the Europeans and the Lenapes begin to generally deteriorate?
Relations between the Lenapes and the Swedish-Finnish community remained strong into the 18th century. Relations between the Lenapes and the Pennsylvania government started deteriorating soon after Penn left for the first time in 1684 because, according to their custom and the practice of the Swedish and Dutch governments, the Lenapes expected Penn to continue paying annual gifts for use of the land. Penn was broke and could not keep up the payments and, in any case, believed he had paid enough for the land.
This was a disagreement more generally between Native Americans and most Europeans. The Natives did not believe that land was an entity that could be sold; rather they expected gifts in return for its use. Europeans believed they could buy it and wrote deeds that they thought proved their ownership. The Swedes and Dutch in the Delaware Valley, while under Lenape domination, quickly learned the Native tradition. The major split between the Lenapes and the Pennsylvania government occurred with the Walking Purchase of 1737, which defrauded the Natives of their remaining territory along the Delaware River from central Bucks County into the Poconos.