John Smith made a quick voyage around the rim of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608 and described some of the tribes and villages he encountered. Early Swedish and Dutch records exist describing life along the Delaware Bay side of the peninsula. But most Europeans had little interest in the history and culture of the peoples they encountered in this "new" world.
By the mid 1600's, encroachment by whites and blacks seeking land for cultivation began to increase and the native peoples found themselves being pushed from their traditional homes and lifestyles.
While many tribes had moved freely up and down the peninsula for centuries, some now began to leave the Delmarva in earnest. Nanticoke Indians who originally lived along the Nanticoke River in Dorchester Co., MD. found themselves slowly being pushed up the river into Delaware. More southern tribes were forced north. Some moved up the Susquehanna River into Pennsylvania seeking the protection of the more powerful Iroquois Confederation.
Those that remained behind found themselves pushed into more and more fragmented and marginal existences. In 1742, after many years of oppression, we find one of the last desparate acts of the native people to defend the loss of their homes-- Winnasoccum .
Messowan, a Shawnee war captain, appeared at Chicacoan, a reservation along the Nanticoke River. He asked the tribes to gather in the Pocomoke Swamp for a tribal meeting to plan a revolt against the whites. For six days, hundreds of Indians met to discuss their grievances and what could be done to re-gain their lands. The final decision was that the tribes would join with Messowan to fight.
White settlers however noticed the disappearance of the Indians and the entire plot was eventually exposed. The conspirators were arrested and on July 24, 1742 a treaty was drawn up. The Indians returned to their villages, promising never again to plan insurrections but white colonists were outraged and made life unbearable for the Indians that remained.
Many decided to give up their homes and leave. They followed their relatives north into Pennsylvania. Some continued north into NY to live with the Iroquois, some moved west with departing Lenapes.
Not all of the Indians left the Delmarva, however. Some had intermarried with whites and/or free blacks, some had converted to Christianity and adopted European ways, most had settled into quiet lives, trying to avoid conflict with whites.
It was at this time, the early 18th century, that our mixed blood communities began to form in Kent and Sussex counties: they converted to Christianity, acquired small farms and, in general, lived and worked along side their white neighbors. In fact, the early records often make no mention of their racial background at all. But from the pattern of their marriages and the circle of their aquaintances, we can see that they viewed themselves, even then, as a separate and unique community.
The Sussex Co. community formed along the north shore of the Indian River, near the site of the old Indian River Reservation. This community, near the present day town of Millsboro, is descended primarily from Nanticoke, Assateague and Indian River Indians. The Kent Co. community developed from tribes more associated with the Lenapes, although it received numerous infusions of Eastern Shore tribal refuges in the 18th and 19th centuries.
These were not, however, two separate communities. From the earliest days until the present time, inter-marriage between the two groups was quite common. The Sussex County group, however, seems to have maintained a stronger sense of its Indian heritage down through the years, while many in the Kent County community adopted the more ambiguous identity of "Moors". Racially however, the two communities are virtually identical and the term "Moor" has faded from current use.
After the Revolutionary War, the racial climate in DE began to change drastically. Mixed blood people who had appeared in the official records with no racial classification suddenly became "mulattos", "free colored people", even "negro". While some of the families, no doubt, had some measure of African and European blood, this change in classification had less to do with the people themselves than with the changing racial perceptions of the record keepers. The very definition of race became a highly complex and little understood issue. To whites, terrified of the rising number of free non-whites in the population, with talk of potential uprisings in the air, anyone who wasn't 100% white was considered "black" regardless of their actual racial makeup.
During the 19th century, many members of the community moved away. Some moved across the Delaware River into southern NJ (Salem and Cumberland counties) where members of the community were already living. Some moved north as far as Canada, or west into Ohio, Michigan and beyond. Away from DE they could merge into the white population, or the black population, as their physical appearance allowed. But many retained a strong oral tradition of their Indian roots in Delaware.
Those who remained in Delaware, within the community, did so because they continued to marry ONLY within the community. This sense of separateness, that began in the 18th century, helped to preserve the community when every effort was being made to force its assimilation.
For three centuries these two communities have survived, keeping alive their history, their intricate ties of genealogy so crucial to any society with a high degree of inter-marriage, and attracting occasional influxes of other remnant Indian groups. The very nature of the community makes sorting out the genealogical relationships very complex because there was so much inter-marrying between the main families.
This is my family; the family and community I am trying to document and understand.