Chester County Native American Cemetery Returned to Descendants of Lenape Tribe

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The only Native American cemetery in Chester County was returned to one of several groups representing descendants of the Lenape tribe.

The half-acre in Newlin Township, which until last month was owned by Carol McCloskey, was sold to the Delaware Nation based in Anadarko, Oklahoma for $1, according to Chester County property records. McCloskey had been trying to donate the land to Native Americans since last year.

“I find peace knowing the land will always belong to its rightful owners,” McCloskey told the Investigator. “I knew this day would come, but I had no idea how long it would take.”

About 30 tribesmen were buried on the grassy knoll overlooking the West Branch of Brandywine Creek with their heads facing east, in accordance with traditional Lenape burial customs.

After most of the tribesmen were forced to flee their homeland, the burial site was rediscovered by white explorers in the 19th century. Some of the graves were dug up and at least one of the bodies was taken to Swarthmore College in 1899.

The land was recognized by the Chester County Historical Society in 1909, when a marker was placed on the site.

Two other historic Lenape sites are located within one mile. “Indian Rock”, which is near Northbrook Road, was a landmark that tribesmen used to assert their claim to the area. There are also markers highlighting the former residence and burial place of “Indian Hannah”. She was the last member of the Chester County tribe and died in 1802.

McCloskey purchased the site in 1987 as part of a larger parcel of land, much of which has been converted into housing estates.

However, this last part of the parcel benefits from a conservation easement, which means that the land cannot be developed and its taxes amount to only a few dollars a year. McCloskey decided to donate the site, but found it a surprisingly difficult task.

After she went public with her desire to donate the plot, a slew of groups claiming Native American heritage approached her to take over the property. Sit had trouble verifying which groups were legitimate and which of them should be the rightful owner of the site.

There are many different groups scattered across North America who have Lenape heritage.

Some, like the Anadarko tribe, call themselves the “Delaware”, a term imposed on the tribe by European explorers. The nickname comes from the river, which is named after Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, who was once Governor of Colonial Virginia.

As the Lenape and other East Coast indigenous peoples were continually pushed west by Euro-American settlers, the tribe split. Today, the largest populations are found in Oklahoma, Ontario, and Wisconsin.

Some members of the tribe managed to remain in their historic homeland around what is now Delaware, southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the New York area.

The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape are clustered in Bridgeton in Cumberland County and in Cheswold and Millsboro, both located in Downstate Delaware.

The tribe is a confederation between the Nanticokes of the lower Delmarva Peninsula and the Lenape in northern Delaware and southern Jersey. Many members of the tribe have heritage from both groups.

There is also the Ramapo Munsee Lenape Nation, which exists in northwest Jersey and upstate New York. At a powwow last year, members of the Delaware Indian tribe — another Oklahoma group based in Bartlesville, about a three-hour drive from Anadarko — came to participate.

Although local tribes are recognized by the state governments of New Jersey and Delaware, they are not federally recognized, unlike groups in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

The Anadarko Tribe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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