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The Lenape Diplomat

Here is my post in honor of this year's Indigenous Peoples' / Columbus Day.

Lenapehoking (Highlighted Area)

Tatamy, also known as Tashawaylennahan, was born sometime between 1690 and 1695 in New Jersey. He was a member of the Munsee branch of the Lenape people.


Before the Europeans stepped foot in the present-day greater Delaware Valley, it was Lenapehoking, the homeland of the Lenape, also called the Leni Lenape, Lenni Lenape and Delaware people. The Lenape shared the same beliefs and culture and spoke different, but related, dialects.


The Lenape men hunted while the women worked in gardens, growing corn, beans and squash. They believed it was their duty to share with each other and guests. In return, guests were expected to share what they had with their hosts, as a sign of their appreciation. Most European settlers, when interacting with the Lenape, took more than they gave.


By the time of the English colonization of Pennsylvania, their numbers had dwindled considerably as a result of war and diseases associated with their seventeenth-century encounters with the Dutch traders. While some Lenape Indians chose to migrate west into the Susquehanna and Ohio Valleys to preserve their way of life, Tatamy was an example of one who chose acculturation and accommodation to their European neighbors. The Lenape that remained in eastern Pennsylvania by the 1740s were often referred to as the "Jersey" or "Forks" Lenape or Delaware people, a reference to their concentration around the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.

Pennsbury Manor (Reconstructed in 1939)

In May 1735, there was a meeting at Pennsbury Manor, William Penn's home on the Delaware River. William had returned to England and died in 1718, but his family retained ownership of the colony of Pennsylvania and his son Thomas became his successor. At the meeting, an alleged draft of a 1686 treaty was produced claiming it would give the proprietors claim to as much land a man could walk in a day and a half. It is no coincidence that this document was produced because the Delaware sachems refused to sell this land to Thomas Penn. Tatamy was present at the meeting at Pennsbury and left a detailed account of the discussions of the interpretation of the alleged 1686 document. He later wrote an account of the Walking Purchase, claiming that the Delaware leaders Manawkeyhicon, Nutimus, and several other Forks Indians were persuaded to sign a document giving the proprietors as much land as a man could walk in a day and a half. Tatamy noted that the proprietors had the land surveyed and cleared before the walk, and that the walk was more of a run. He also claimed that the walkers did not walk along the Delaware River as originally planned, but used a compass to walk a straight line, allowing them to cover far more ground than thought possible. When the purchase was complete, the Pennsylvania authorities forced the Lenape living at the Forks of the Delaware to leave.

Tatamy applied for a three-hundred-acre parcel of land along the Forks of the Delaware in 1733. The Bucks County Deputy Surveyor, John Chapman, was told to make a formal survey by the General James Steel on March 24, 1733 with caution and the consent of the Indians. Tatamy was approved for this land because of his services as an interpreter and messenger and with the help of prominent settlers William Allen and Jeremiah Langhorne. He received his patent on 28 April 1738. Tatamy’s land patent was complicated by the events of the Walking Purchase, but in 1742, all restrictions on Tatamy’s patent were removed, granting him full ownership, making him the first private landowning Indian recognized by the Pennsylvania government.

David Brainerd (1718-1747)

In 1744, Tatamy was in New Jersey helping fellow Lenape settle their own land claims. There he met and worked as an interpreter for Presbyterian minister David Brainerd. The two men traveled extensively in Pennsylvania to bring the Christian gospel to Lenape living beyond the edge of white settlement. Tatamy encouraged other native people to embrace the new faith and live like their white neighbors. In 1745 he had his own conversion experience and was baptized by Brainerd.


After his conversion, Tatamy took the name "Moses," perhaps a biblical reference to Brainerd's hope that Tatamy's people would follow his lead into the Promised Land. That expectation never quite worked out. Although Tatamy continued to assist Brainerd and often preached to the Indians himself, Brainerd's conversion of Indians remained rare. Most of the Lenape he encountered simply preferred the spiritual path of their ancestors to the one offered by missionaries like Brainerd.


Recognizing his abilities as a go-between, Pennsylvania officials hired Tatamy to carry messages to the native people in their province and other colonies. In this capacity he worked with Irish fur trader George Croghan, Pennsylvania diplomat Conrad Weiser and the Oneida sachem Shikellamy to help the people of two different worlds make sense of each other. (For more information about Conrad and Shikellamy, see the early post "Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania Peacemaker"). Tatamy was well-regarded for his honesty and translated at treaty signings, explained the Indian ceremonies and customs that took place at these events to the white representatives, and explained white ways to Indian peoples.


Tatamy married a Lenape woman and had two sons, William and Nicholas, and a daughter, Jemima.


Tatamy's decision to identify himself as a Christian, landowning Indian helped secure his family for a while, but during the French and Indian War, his world began to unravel. He had become convinced that the whites meant to take all the Indians' land. During the War, Lenape attacks on settlements in Pennsylvania brought Tatamy more frustration and sadness. He moved his family across the river into New Jersey for safety, fearing for good reason that both the Lenape and his colonial neighbors might perceive him as an enemy. He later gave a formal account on Indian affairs to Benjamin Franklin, who published it in the Pennsylvania Gazette.


Disillusioned by the duplicity of the Europeans, Tatamy found comfort in liquor and often drank to excess. When drunk, he flew into angry rants and rages.


In July 1757, his anger and depression were compounded with grief when his son William was shot by an Irish boy while on his way to the Council at Easton simply because he looked suspicious. William died shortly after.


In late 1760, Moses Tunda Tatamy died. It was a sad end to a capable and intelligent man.


In 1769, the Pennsylvania Assembly approved the request of Tatamy’s son, Nicholas, for two hundred acres in perpetuity for the services of his father. Nicholas can be traced in the 1790 and 1800 censuses, listing him and his family as white. Moses Tatamy’s daughter, Jemima, received an education financed by the Friendly Association Quakers, but then faded from the historical record. His wife appeared on the 1800 United States Census for Easton, Northampton County and was simply listed as "Widow Tatamy".

In 2003 two Delaware Indian tribes based in Oklahoma claimed the land once owned by Tatamy. At the time of the lawsuit, the land was occupied by Binney & Smith, the maker of Crayola crayons, as well as 25 single-family homes. The tribes went to court to regain title to the land with the intention of opening a casino. A federal judge dismissed the case in 2004, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case in 2006. Both courts agreed that while the Lenape may have been cheated out of their lands through the Walking Purchase, the Penns had the authority to seize the land. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the ruling later that year.


Today, the borough of Tatamy, located in Northampton County, bears his name.

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