Bridesburg Review


Lenni-Lenape come to life

By Christopher Seamans April 19, 2016

Brides­burg His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety hosts present­a­tion about first in­hab­it­ants of the River Wards.

The Messingers taught local children about the Lenni- Lenape tribe. CHRISTOPHER SEAMANS / STAR PHOTO

Carla Messinger donned full Lenape regalia at the event. CHRISTOPHER SEAMANS / STAR PHOTO

Bridesburg 2 - CHRISTOPHER SEAMANS / STAR PHOTOLast Wed­nes­day, April 13, the hall at Point No Point Re­pub­lic­an Club, 2843 Or­tho­dox St., be­came a kind of time ma­chine, of­fer­ing the audi­ence a look back at the world of the area’s nat­ive people.

The Brides­burg His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety in­vited Carla and Al­lan Mes­sing­er of Nat­ive Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Pro­grams to give a present­a­tion about the first in­hab­it­ants of the re­gion — the Lenape tribe.

Carla Mes­sing­er, the dir­ect­or of the or­gan­iz­a­tion, is a des­cend­ant of the Lenape tribe her­self, while Al­lan is a his­tor­i­an.  To­geth­er, they are de­voted to of­fer­ing an ac­cur­ate por­tray­al of early Nat­ive Amer­ic­an life, devoid of ste­reo­types.

The Lenape, some­times called the Delaware In­di­ans or the Lenni-Lenape, are a Nat­ive Amer­ic­an tribe that once lived in New Jer­sey, east­ern Pennsylvania and part of New York’s Hud­son Val­ley.  Al­though largely gone from the area today, maps still bear their mark — place names like Man­hat­tan, Rock­away, Hoboken, and Ab­secon are de­rived from their lan­guage.

From Manay­unk and Passy­unk to Ta­cony and Pennypack, Phil­adelphia and the sur­round­ing area are rich with re­mind­ers of the Lenape.

The River Wards are no dif­fer­ent.

Most of what we know as the River Wards today was known to the Lenape as Shack­amax­on.  Penn Treaty Park, where Wil­li­am Penn made his fam­ous treaty with Taman­end, chief of the Lenape Turtle Clan, is a Fishtown in­sti­tu­tion.

Like most Nat­ive Amer­ic­an tribes, the Lenape were rav­aged by small­pox when the Europeans first ar­rived.  However, the Quakers who settled in Penn’s colony ten­ded to treat the nat­ives more fairly than those in oth­er colon­ies.

“Pennsylvania was the only colony that didn’t have wars with the Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans right away,” Al­lan Mes­sing­er said.

Many moved out of the re­gion, and over the fol­low­ing cen­tur­ies, they were driv­en fur­ther and fur­ther west.  Oth­ers tried to as­sim­il­ate.

“They combed their hair like Europeans and dressed in European clothes,” Al­lan Mes­sing­er ex­plained, “even though they didn’t all be­come Chris­ti­ans.”

Point No Point filled up quickly as the start­ing time ap­proached.

By the time the Mes­sing­ers were ready to give their present­a­tion, or­gan­izers from the BHS scrambled to pull more chairs out of stor­age.  Chil­dren gathered on the floor near the front of the hall.

The Mes­sing­ers’ present­a­tion was far-ran­ging, touch­ing on the an­im­als as­so­ci­ated with the Lenape, the tribe’s his­tory and crafts­man­ship, and the im­pact of an­im­als, pelts, and food crops from the Amer­icas on Europe.

They dis­played pelts and feath­ers to the audi­ence as they ex­plained the im­port­ance of the area’s wild­life to the tribe.

For ex­ample, they de­scribed how the deer, the “buf­falo of the east,” provided the Lenape not only with meat, but with hide for cloth­ing and moc­cas­ins, antlers and hooves for utensils, and sinew for stitch­ing and cord.

They also talked about the re­spect the Lenape had for the skunk.  Seem­ingly humble and able to ex­crete a foul-smelling musk, the skunk is ac­tu­ally a fear­less an­im­al cap­able of send­ing even the mighty bear run­ning.

Oth­er an­im­als they dis­cussed were the rac­coon, the bear, the fox and the beaver.

They also talked about how the an­im­als and crops of the Amer­icas im­pacted Europe over the cen­tur­ies, from the in­tro­duc­tion of beaver hats that be­came so valu­able that fath­ers would spe­cific­ally pass them onto sons in their will, to rac­coons that were trans­planted to Ger­many and have proved im­possible to get rid of.

Today, to­ma­toes are as­so­ci­ated with Itali­ans, chocol­ate with Cent­ral Europe, and the potato with a num­ber of European cul­tures.  However, these crops were un­known in Europe un­til brought back from the Amer­icas.  Al­lan Mes­sing­er poin­ted out that every­day foods like pizza and chocol­ate bars have their roots in Nat­ive Amer­ic­an ag­ri­cul­ture.

The couple also demon­strated Lenape ar­ti­facts for the crowd, from drink­ing utensils made from gourds and deer hooves to a toma­hawk that doubled as a to­bacco pipe.

A high­light of the even­ing was when Carla Mes­sing­er put on full Lenape re­galia.

At the end of the present­a­tion, Kath­leen O’Han­lon, pres­id­ent of the Brides­burg His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety, called sev­er­al of the chil­dren up to the front of the hall to re­cite An­nette Wynne’s early 20th cen­tury poem “In­di­an Chil­dren” as a spe­cial thank you to the speak­ers.

After the present­a­tion, audi­ence mem­bers were in­vited up to the front of the hall for a closer look at the Lenape ar­ti­facts and were offered re­fresh­ments by the group.

Carla Mes­sing­er was pleased at the turnout.

“I’m thrilled,” she said, “and we love hav­ing chil­dren.  Our pro­grams are re­viewed by teach­ers, lib­rar­i­ans, and spe­cial-ed teach­ers, so that it meets core cur­riculum and aca­dem­ic stand­ards.”

She ex­plained that chil­dren and adults alike who might be in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about the Lenape vis­it her web­site where they can find not only in­form­a­tion, but book lists for read­ers.

“We have everything from chil­dren’s stuff right through to adults’,” she said, “so there’s a whole pro­gress­ive wave of books de­pend­ing on what level you’re in­ter­ested in.”

For those in­ter­ested in a more ad­vanced look at Lenape cul­ture, Al­lan Mes­sing­er re­com­men­ded an Eng­lish-Lenape/Lenape-Eng­lish dic­tion­ary as well sub­mit­ting as re­quests for ma­ter­i­als from the Moravi­an Archives in Beth­le­hem, Pennsylvania.  He ex­plained that the Moravi­an Church was among the most re­spect­ful sects when deal­ing with the Lenape.

O’Han­lon was pleased with the event, call­ing it a suc­cess.

She was es­pe­cially happy with how many chil­dren at­ten­ded.

“They brought broth­ers and sis­ters with them, and they all were in­ter­ested in learn­ing about the her­it­age of their neigh­bor­hood,” she said.  “It’s so im­port­ant to pre­serve the her­it­age of our River Wards and we want to the next gen­er­a­tion to pick that up, so it was nice to have the chil­dren here, so they can see what we do.”

The Brides­burg His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety usu­ally holds events at 7 p.m. on the second Wed­nes­day of each month at St. John Can­ti­us Church Hall.  In May, the or­gan­iz­a­tion will host Mi­chael Frechette, who digs up the his­tory of the River Wards one out­house at a time.Bridesburg 1 Star Photo