Historical Markers
Minguannan Indian Town Historical Marker
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Minguannan Indian Town

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
SR 3006 (Yeatman Station Rd.) and SR 3034 (London Tract Rd.) 1.5 miles NE of Strickersville

Dedication Date:
June 21, 1924

Behind the Marker

"Their Diet is Maize, or Indian Corn, divers ways prepared: sometimes Roasted in the Ashes, sometimes beaten and Boyled with water, which they call Homine; they also make cakes, not unpleasant to eat: they likewise have several sorts of Beans and Pease that are good Nourishment" -

William Penn, 1683

Long before the arrival of Europeans in the Delaware Valley, the original inhabitants of the region, the Lenape, cultivated a wide variety of edible plants, including beans, corn, squash, and pumpkins. Corn, which originated in Mexico and came to the ancestors of the Lenape people in trade, was their staff of life.

Sometime after 1000 A.D. they began to devote more time to agriculture and began a process of selecting seed to develop improved, more prolific varieties of beans, corn, and squash. They ate these vegetables both fresh and dried. The mainstay of their diet was a porridge made of beans, corn, and squash or pumpkins - sometimes with a little dried or cooked fish or meat mixed into it. Inside their wigwams, Lenape wives and mothers always kept a clay pot of this stew simmering by the fire. It was the first thing they offered family members or guests when they arrived at their homes. In fact, the abundance from Lenape gardens fed many of the first Dutch, Swedish, English, Welsh, Scots-Irish, Irish, and other European newcomers to Lenape lands.

The Lenape modified their lands for centuries to create an environment that best met their needs for hunting and farming. They used fire in the forests to burn away dense underbrush in order to encourage the growth of native grasses, which were favored by wild game animals. The park-like setting of the forests was ideal for the pasturing of European livestock. Europeans and their livestock also found clear fields, formerly Lenape garden areas that they had abandoned and left to grow over once the soil had lost its fertility. These cleared treeless areas - often called "Indian fields" by the Europeans - were highly sought after by settlers because they were best suited for agriculture.

Beans, corn, squash, and pumpkins from gardens made up the bulk of the Lenape diet, which they supplemented with fish, game, shellfish, and an abundance of small fruit - blackberries, huckleberries, persimmons, and strawberries, for example - and nuts like acorns, butternuts, hazel nuts, hickory nuts, and walnuts. The Indians had no domestic animals prior to the arrival of Europeans - except for dogs, which they occasionally ate when food supplies ran short or game was scarce.

The Lenape, the first farmers in Pennsylvania, had a fundamentally different view of the earth and a different approach to tilling the soil than the European newcomers, who were busily engaged in subduing the earth and making their own "plantations" by cutting trees down and plowing fields with horses or oxen. For the Lenape, the earth or "Kukna" was one of their manitous - a spirit being. She was a living island on the back of a turtle and the mother of all life.

Rather than subdue her, Lenape worked together with her to grow food. In the early spring some of the men of the village helped the women prepare their fields for planting by performing special rituals to invoke Kukna's (and other spirits") divine assistance and then by burning off the stalks of the previous year's crops. If new lands had to be opened, they girdled large trees and removed their lower branches and cut down small saplings. Then they burned the branches, brush, and scrub around the base of the girdled trees.

After they had cleared the fields, Lenape women used stone hand spades and bone or stone hoes to loosen the soil and plant. Women and girls worked in the fields with Mother Earth, the Corn Woman (or Corn Mother) and other manitous to provide the people with their staple foods - beans, corn, and squash. They knew these vegetables as "the Three Sisters."

The Three Sisters grew together and supported each other in Lenape gardens. Women planted beans and corn together, and as the corn grew, the bean vines climbed up the stalks and the legumes fixed nitrogen in the soil that helped to nourish the maize. Women also planted squash and pumpkins in between the corn and beans, and as those plants grew they spread their tendrils along the ground and reduced the number of weeds, conserved moisture, and reduced erosion by creating a dense network of roots. The Three Sisters nourished and supported each other and they did the same for the Lenape people.

These plants served as a constant reminder to the people of the fundamentals of their belief system - that all life was interconnected and that their existence was only possible through cooperation in a respectful relationship with the manitous. To honor the Corn Mother, who was responsible for all vegetation, and to renew their relationship with her, the Lenape celebrated the Green Corn Ceremony every year to ensure that she would come back to provide for them again next spring.

After the arrival of Europeans to their homeland in 1609, Lenape agriculture began to change. They raised more corn to feed the newcomers and used new tools in the process. Europeans traded metal hoes, mattocks, and spades, which the Indians quickly adopted because they found them to be more durable than bone or stone implements. The Lenape also began to raise new European crops they liked - particularly fruit trees.

By the 1650s there were many Lenape villages with orchards of apple and peach trees. (According to several European observers, they were very fond of peaches.) Just as they adopted new tools and crops, some of the original inhabitants of the Delaware Valley acquired and kept domestic animals - most often chickens and pigs, but occasionally cattle and horses, too. A few Lenape families even gave up their traditional life of moving with the seasons and adopted a life of settled, intensive agriculture similar to that of their European neighbors.

The European newcomers and their wandering livestock, however, eventually drove the Lenape from their lands. But some settlers continued to use Lenape farming methods, growing corn, squash, and beans together. Even though they raised Indian crops, most Europeans preferred to make bread from the grains they were used to - wheat and rye rather than corn, which became more commonly used to make beer or whiskey.

It wasn't until after the American Revolution (and in some places in Pennsylvania not until the 1790s) that corn became an important crop - increasingly for feeding livestock. The great waves of European settlers who came to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century benefited greatly from Lenape gardens, and continued to take up "Indian fields" for their own farms and pushed the Lenape further westward out of the river valley that had been their home for centuries.
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