Skip to content
How Do I...?

Chief Tamanend

By Gus Wiencke

TAMANEND was partner with William Penn in a boldly conceived agreement dated 1683 that Europeans and Indians would live together in peace as long as the creeks and rivers run and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.

Penn's unprecedented Indian treaties captured the imagination of Europe. Voltaire wrote about them as portent of a new age and an exception to European extermination and expulsion or even enslavement of the American Indians.

As an Indian, Tamanend trusted Penn and his lofty ideal of a commonwealth of freedom, peace, and tolerance for all inhabitants.


The historical facts about Tamanend are based on some eight documents from the first fourteen years of Pennsylvania history. To these facts we can add the little that is known about the Lenape Indians.

Tamanend spoke an Algonkian language which was quite different from that of the Iroquois to the north. Modern anthropologists estimate the population of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians to which Tamanend belonged as between 2,500 and 12,000. Their prescence rested light as a bird's wing over a vast region of forests and streams. It extended from north of the Raritan River across New Jersey to the ocean, and down into northern Delaware and all along the Delaware up to the Lehigh.

Tamanend lived in the forests between the Pennypack and the Neshaminy. Here the Indians hunted deer and beaver in the winter. In the warmer months they raised corn, beans and squash in small clearings and fished in the Delaware for shad and herring. Tamanend's people lived in family groups, each family or clan making a temporary village of about fifty to a hundred persons. When the soil was exhausted and firewood was used up, they simply moved the village to another site.

In one of these villages - which one is unknown - Tamanend was the sachem or trusted spokesman. But each village ordered its own affairs in a very democratic and independent manner. Everyone had some part in any important decisions and these were made by consensus. The English exagerated the position of sachems and called Tamanend the King of the Delawares. Tamanend was nothing of the sort; he could not give orders like a king or feudal lord and the Lenape Indians had no overall tribal government

However, so great was the power of Tamanend's personality that Indians and English settlers remembered him for a hundred years. Heckewelder, a Moravian missionary and lifelong friend of the Lenape Indians, wrote about Tamanend years later: He was an ancient Delaware chief who never had an equal. He was supposed to have had intercourse with the great and good Spirit.

William Penn was greatly interested in the Indians and even before coming to America, he had established a policy of making honest agreements of peace and consent with the Indians. King Charles II had made Penn the absolute owner of the entire province, but Penn did not agree with the king that "the savages" had no more right to the land than did squirrels and rabbits.

In 1682 Penn arrived in America and quickly made it his business to get to know the Indians well. He even learned to speak the Lenape language and liked the melody of its words. The Indians called him Miquon, the word for quill in their language or Brother Onas, using the Iroquois word. Penn entered into cordial negotiations with more than twenty sachems becuase no single leader could speak for the Lenape people and that is how Penn got to know Tamanend.


In May 1683 Penn mounted his white horse and rode north to an Indian village called Perkasie, the present site of Silverdale in Hilltown Township, Bucks County. There Tamanend and his son, Yaqueekhon, received Penn with great hospitality at a feast of venison, roasted acorns, and boiled hominy. A short vigorous man of 39, Penn joined the young men in leaping and dancing to Indian singing and the beating of drums.

Penn began by winning the trust of the Indians for his purpose of establishing a league of peace and amity. Then he laid the groundwork for buying tracts of land. He wanted to make sure that all Indian claims to land were settled before he would take the next steps of surveying parcels of land and selling them to European immigrants. And Penn reserved to himself exclusive rights; no settler was permitted to buy land from the Indians as they did across the river in New Jersey.

Penn's ideas of land as property for exclusive and personal use and the Indian concepts of the land as our mother were worlds apart. Furthermore Tamanend's people knew nothing about the English legal system of written deeds of sale and legal title to permanent land ownership.

For Europeans personal ownership of land was an intense and lifelong concern. The possibility of owning a big tract of land was the magic of America. Buying land was the way for a European to gain personal liberty, to accumulate wealth and status, and to insure security in old age.

The Lenape Indians, however, already had liberty and security in their communal society where individual wealth was of little importance. To sell land was as incomprehensible to Tamanend as it would be to sell a bushel of tomorrow's sunshine.

Penn held many other meetings with Indians such as the one with Tamanend at Perkasie. At these councils Penn must have given broad assurances to the Lenape Indians. For example, Indians remembered that they had been promised a strip one mile wide on each side of the Brandywine for hunting. However, when they complained of mill dams stopping the migration of fish, the government officials could find no written records of the old agreement. Some historians conjecture that Penn's heirs may possibly have destroyed such records of promises made by William Penn in those councils with the Indians in the first years.

At any rate, Tamanend understood that sale of land to Penn did not mean driving the Indians out. And Penn instructed his surveyor never to disturb any of the few, widely scattered Indian farm plots and villages. So Tamanend had good reason to believe that his people could go on hunting for game and raising corn and beans as before. There seemed to be plenty of room for Indians and whites. And William Penn was confident that Indians and Europeans could live together in peace.


On Saturday, June 23, 1683, a month after meeting with Penn at Perkasie, Tamanend and five other sachems stood in the New Quaker Meeting House in Philadelphia on Front Street near Sansom. Captain Lasse Cock, the Swedish interpreter held in his hand a deed of sale,, written in English on a sheet of paper. Cock explained in Lenape words what this English indenture or contract of sale said. I Tamanen doe grant and dispose of all my lands lying betwixt Pemmapecka and Nessaminehs Creeks and all along Neshaminehs Creeks to William Penn Proprie'r and Govern'r of Pennsilvania etc his heirs and Assignes for Ever.

The Swede signed the deed as a witness and handed the pen to Tamanend. Bending over the table, Tamanend needed to fill his pen a second time to inscribe all of his mark, a snake coiled.

Tamanend stayed for several days as honored guest in William Penn's house and there was more feasting on Sunday. In the afternoon he sat in the pine board Meeting House while a visiting Quaker, Roger Longworth preached.

Once more Tamanend put his mark on a piece of paper. This was a receipt for the purchase price which for him was a delightfully generous stack of wares: 2 guns, 20 bars of lead, 25 pounds of powder, 6 coats, 8 shirts, 5 hats, 5 pair stockings, 5 caps, 20 handfulls wampum, 1 peck pipes, 10 tobacco boxes, 10 tobacco tongs, 2 kettles, 5 hoes, 6 axes, 16 knives, 100 needles, 2 blankets, 38 yds. duffields, 4 yds. stroudswater (blue & red woolen cloth), 10 glasses, 7 half-gills, 4 handfulls bells. As was proper for a sachem, Tamanend divided everything among his people with only the smallest share for himself. The women as keepers of Lenape history memorized all that Tamanend told them of pacts with William Penn and so preserved an accurate oral record for generations.


The next year Tamanend must have been angry because he caused some disturbances as learn from a letter written in December 1684 by Thomas Holmes who was land surveyor for Penn. Holmes does not explain what was wrong. It might be that cow pastures and pig pens across old trails disturbed the Lenape Indians. At any rate, Homes complained to Penn who was in England that people were afraid to buy land in Bucks County. He informed Penn that Tamanend "threatens to fire their houses." And as a result, people were going over to New Jersey instead.

Penn wrote a stern letter from England, dated June 1685 saying that as for Tamine ... if the Indians will not punish him, we will & must. However, Tamanend did not break the peace with the white men.

Tamanend appears again in documents of history dated May 1692. He along with a delegation of Indians complained to officials in Philadelphia that he had not been paid the full purchase price. One conjecture is that there was not enough to distribute to all in his clan who claimed a share. Tamanend demanded 9 guns, 10 matchcoats (sleeveless woolen jackets), and 10 blankets.

Penn was absent in England so the officials promised to look into the matter and quieted the Indians with two dozen rolls and two forbidden gallons of rum. At a later time they gave Tamanend 6 guns of good quality, 10 Dutch blankets, 10 kettles, and some bread and beer.

In supplying Indians with guns, powder, and lead, the English ran no risk of being attacked. The Lenape Indians did not maintain a warrior society. They had an old understanding with the Iroquois by which they had agreed to a neutral and non-combatant status. They would ... take no part in the Iroquois warfare. That fighting had begun in the 1500s for control of hunting and of trading furs for valued Dutch muskets and metal wares.

The Quakers and Moravians and Mennonites who were pouring into Philadelphia were all pacifists. So Penn had good reason to think that a genuine peace could prevail between the Europeans and the Lenape Indians who were also not a warlike people.


Twice again the documents of early Pennsylvania report Tamanend's presence at two councils dated 1694 and 1697. At these councils Tamanend reaffirmed peace and understanding between his people and the Europeans. Yes, he had sold the land between the Neshaminyand the Poquessing. Yes, it should extend backward from the Delaware two days journey by horse, or vaguely in a straight line to the further border of the Province, as yet unknown to Penn.

At these councils the Indians recalled the ideals of Brother Onas that Indians and white people should be as equals and they should be as "one head and one heart." It was time again for Tamanend to speak and he gave his last message to the Indians and to the white men. We and Christians of this river have always had a free roadway to one another, and though sometimes a tree has fallen cross the road, yet we have still removed it again and kept the path clean and we design to continue the old frienship that has been between us and you.

After 1697 nothing more appears in documents of history about Tamanend. Historians suppose that by the year 1701 Tamanend was dead. In that year the Lenape Indians sent a letter to the King of England affirming their support and high regard for Penn who was in serious trouble with the royal government. Tamanend's mark was not on that letter and he was not at other councils of that time.

In his four short years of residence in Pennsylvania William Penn had so impressed the Lenape Indians that peace prevailed for about seventy years. This was to be only a brief interlude before the Lenape Indians vanished from Bucks County on a westward trail of blood and betrayal ...


After 1697 Tamanend became a legend in the memory of both indians and the whites. Some ninety years after Tamanend, the Continental Congress sent Colonel Morgan out West to try to win the support of remnants of the Lenape Indians against the British. Morgan made such a good impression on the Lenape people, now in Ohio, that they called him a "Tamanend."

During the American Revolution patriots gave the name St. Tamany, to a festival for celebrating freedom for the common man. It took place om May 1 with dancing, smoking the calumet, and orations in support of a federal government.

In later years a political organization took the name Tamany Hall. James Fenimore Cooper made the legendary Tamanend a character in one of his novels. And Tamanend was the hero in the first American opera, "Tamany," which was performed in New York City.

The "Delaware," a wooden warship in the American navy bore as its figurehead the carved bust of Tamanend. Built in 1820, the ship carried 74 guns and was flagship in the Mediterranean. The figurehead can still be seen in Annapolis where naval academy students ask the ancient Indian's help before taking exams.

Henry Mercer of Doylestown thought that he had found Tamanend's grave on the Neshaminy near Chalfont. He wnated to put up a solid concrete turtle as big as a house to mark that spot. However Mercer could not convince historians of his theory and he dropped his plans for that red cement turtle.

However in 1923 Mercer did locate the site of Playwicky, a winter-time Indian village in Penn's time. Subsequent finds of artifacts by Colonel Henry D. Paxson coroborate Mercer's location; the stone Indian relics found here are now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum. A bronze marker on the road from Feasterville to Langhorne marks the hillsides of Playwicky where Tamanend may have gone hunting three centuries ago.

When the land for a new park in Southampton was purchased in 1975, a contest was held to name the park. Prize winning entry was "Tamanend," a reminder of our historical heritage in this Indian.


Friends of Tamanend Park, committed to preserving the park's natural beauties, have placed a cluster of weathered Delaware River boulders in the park to honor the Lenape Indians. The date, 1683, marks the year of Tamanend's partnership with Penn for a lasting peace. Five Indian names appear on the boulder: Tamanend, Wheeland (brother), Yaqueekhon and Quenameckquid (sons), and Weheequeckhon (sister's eldest son to be Tamanend's successor). Yaqueekhon signed a treaty document in 1692 and he is named in a council of the provincial government with Indians who well remebered Penn's first message to them: I desire to enjoy (this land) with you in Love and consent that we may always live together as Neighbours and friends.