Before Moses Byxbe was scheming up plans for what he hoped would become the capital city of Ohio, the land had been home to many generations, dating as far back as 12000 BC. Some of the first known natives in the area were the Adena* (800BC-100AD), who are most well known for their construction of sacred earthen mounds [they, or the Fort Ancient* (1000-1750AD) culture, created the Serpent Mound]. In addition to their artistry (check out this Adena/Hopewell pipe), they were known for their agricultural success and thriving trade routes, which connected them to most of the Eastern half of the current United States. Adena culture is seen in many of the native peoples who would come after them, particularly the Hopewell.
The Hopewell* (200BCE-500AD) people were also known builders and artists. At first, they maintained the networks of trade across a sizeable territory which was also used to share news amongst groups. Over time, and for reasons still not entirely clear, they stopped both mound construction and networking; historians suggest that climate factors, advances in warfare technology, and changing agricultural trends may be the cause.
Delaware County was also once home to the Kaskaskia (“he scrapes it off by means of a tool”) culture, part of the Inoca or Illinois* (“the men”), later known as the Illinois Confederation. The Confederation was a group of about a dozen tribes who lived in an area as far South as what is now Arkansas to mid Iowa and up to Lake Michigan. They all spoke the same language (Algonquian) and lived in villages consisting of longhouses and wigwams, though they were still somewhat nomadic. Each village had its own leadership (with one leader uniting all groups/villages), and they thrived as farmers, hunters, and traders. The arrival of Europeans, and the trading between them and Iroquois* (Haudenosaunee, “people of the longhouse”) of firearms for beaver and other furs, would also irrevocably change the landscape and culture. As animal populations dwindled in Iroquois territory, they pushed into others, resulting in the Beaver Wars (1640ish to 1701). This conflict forced the Kaskaskia into Ohio, where they lived with Miami tribes, until colonizers in the 1830’s made them move again following the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. Kaskaskia descendants are part of the Peoria* (Peouaroua) Tribe of Oklahoma, established in 1854.
The Myaamia (Miami*, “The Downstream People”), originated near Lake Michigan, and were closely related to the Illinois in both language and social structure. They were avid agriculturalists and hunters, adeptly using season changes to collect, prepare, and store foods. French records indicate they moved into what is now Western Ohio in the 1720s, having being forced from their original territory by the Beaver Wars. They welcomed other tribes to their land when they were forced off by continual European invaders, but would have to cede the land entirely after several savage attacks imposed by George Washington’s administration in the 1790s, having been promised territory in Indiana (their ancestors continue to work for federal recognition to this day). Ultimately, colonizers would force nearly all of the Myaamia off of this land as well in the 1830s first to what is now Kansas, and later to Oklahoma, where they remain today.
One of the tribes the Myaamia welcomed was the Lenape (“the grandfathers”), or Delaware*, for which my town/county is named. The name Delaware came from their original territory near the Delaware River, spanning part of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. The name Delaware itself came from the 12th Baron De La Warr, who does not deserve to have his name remembered. An early colonizer, he committed and oversaw atrocities against native peoples like murdering the wife and kids of a Paspahegh chief, burning down Warraskoyack villages, and stealing food.
Lenape settlements have been dated to as far back as 6000 years ago in modern Pennsylvania. With genealogical lines focused on the mother’s ancestry, married couples would live near the wife’s family. Divorces among members could be initiated by husband or wife, though she would maintain ownership of the home. Groups would settle to areas for a couple of decades at a time, until farmed land had lost its use, a practice still used today. Lenape were hunters, gatherers, and farmers, with a government made of individual sachems (chiefs) who were equals in decision-making. Common game included everything from deer, rabbit, and fish to turkeys, eagles, and herons. Crops included corn, sunflowers, or gathered food like berries, roots, clams, and eggs.
Lenape oral history states their grandfatherly title was given by the other Algonquin-speaking peoples as recognition of their status as the oldest to live on the land, and as skilled arbiters, with related peoples living both east and west of the Mississippi River. The Lenape lived in Ohio from the late 1700s until the early 1800s. They were the first tribe to sign a treaty with the newly formed United States government. European and American invaders, disease, war, and false promises of a permanent territory would fracture the culture to many locations across the continent, with members now living in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario (Delaware Six Nations, Delaware Nation at Moraviantown). Three of these are federally recognized: Delaware Nation and the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma, and the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin, although there are other descendants and state-recognized tribes all over North America.
Honoring a home’s true Hearth Story means going all the way back into history. Get curious about who lived there before the first blueprint sketch was made, before the wagons of settlers arrived looking for farmland and homesites, when colonizers invaded and took by force the homeland of the native peoples.
It can feel uncomfortable, confronting this kind of brutal and heartbreaking history; ugly truth that we want to keep removed from the beautiful memories we have of our homes.
Sitting with the land’s memories, both good and bad, is the point, I think – I’m definitely still learning. I hope that this territory acknowledgement can start meaningful conversations about the places I love.
Although I have linked some Wikipedia and Ohio History Central articles, much of the nation’s histories I pulled from the tribes’ own websites (when available), which I have endeavored to adequately link above. I am incredibly grateful to have had access to their beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking stories.
If you’d like to learn more about the native peoples who lived near you, check out Native Land.
Asterisks(*) indicate an anglicized or European-derived name.
Ohio History Central
City of Delaware, Ohio – history
Moses Byxbe: His Impact and Image, care of Five Colleges of Ohio
Delaware County Historical Society