Shingas, an Unami sachem of the Lenape (also known also as the Delawares) represented his people during diplomatic negotiations with colonial powers in the Seven Years’ War in the 1750s and 1760s. During the war, Shingas and the Lenape tenuously sided with the French, earning notoriety for their guerrilla tactics and frontier combat. Still, Shingas was no mere warrior – rather he navigated the shifting alliances as a shrewd diplomat and military leader of a people at constant risk of invasion by colonial and native rivals.
Throughout Shingas’s tenure as diplomat and military leader, the British and their Haudenosaunee allies (also known as the Six Nations Iroquois) outnumbered the Lenape Indians. Shingas, therefore, often negotiated from a position of relative weakness, but after nearly seventy years of negotiations with colonial Pennsylvania offcials, the Lenape fully understood the peculiarities and art of colonial diplomacy. The British minimized the voices of Lenape leadership during key treaties and attempted to coordinate with the Haudenosaunee instead. Shingas first appears in the written record at these negotiations. In 1752, at a multi-national council in Logstown, a Native American town in what is now western Pennsylvania, Shingas became sachem and representative of his people despite his own absence. The Governor of Pennsylvania had urged indigenous nations to choose their “wisest councilors” as the king and point person for “all public business [with the English].” After a year with no Lenape representative, Tanacharison the Half King of the Seneca, an ally of the Unami in their dealings with colonial powers, chose for them. He placed a laced hat on the head of Shingas’s brother, Beaver, and provided him with a full suit of English livery – as befit the English definition of a native King. Through Beaver as his proxy, Shingas became the official diplomatic representative of the Unami Lenape people.1 Nominating a leader was no easy task: the Lenape needed an independent force who could appease short term interests of the British and Haudenosaunee, and one who could navigate their place in the region’s shifting balance of power.2
Little is known about Shingas before his sudden British coronation, an abnormal practice for the Lenape. Traditionally, Lenape towns appointed sachems to represent the community’s interests, and they ruled based on a series of contradictions. Kinship groups were matrilineal, but sachems were predominantly male and non-hereditary leaders. Individual towns were loosely connected and often unfortified but united militarily against existential threats. Towns held land collectively and councils of elders and other townsfolk advised sachems, but sachems spoke for their people as diplomatic envoys and wartime negotiators. Often sachems inherited their authority, but the community could unseat them with a consensus vote and decide upon a new leader. European and colonial envoys treated Shingas like an absolute monarch, directly contradicting Shingas’s role in Lenape society. For his own people, Shingas was a sachem and chief representative in war negotiations but could not issue binding decrees. Instead, many Lenape people looked to Shingas for guidance and followed his orders out of respect of his leadership. Nevertheless, by granting Shingas kingship the British extended him diplomatic status and negotiating power – and in return expected that Shingas would ensure the full cooperation of the Lenape people.
Following the council at Logstown, the Lenape reaffirmed their tenuous alliance with the British and the Haudenosaunee. Shingas and other Lenape were relatively new to Ohio Country, what is now western Pennsylvania, and sat uncomfortably between Six Nations and European settlements. With the Walking Purchase of 1737, Pennsylvanians sent the Lenape west and seized millions of acres of their land. Members of the Onondaga Indians, members of the Haundeosaunee League, negotiated with colonists as the primary native participants at the purchase. With this and future treaties, Haudenosaunee diplomats garnered favor with Pennsylvania officials and weakened the position of their Lenape adversaries. In future negotiations, colonial diplomats deferred to the Onondaga, and rendered the Lenape effectively a subsidiary in diplomatic affairs to the Six Nations.3 The Lenape needed to navigate their tenuous affiliation with the Haudenosaunee just as European imperial forces expanded into the Ohio Country. In this tangle of alliances and rivalries, any peace was likely to be short lived and falsely formed.
Both the French and English relied on native help to perform reconnaissance missions; in doing so native scouts solidified international alliances with actions and not simply words. On one occasion, a young George Washington, working as a land surveyor, relied on the Lenape to track French troop movements and monitor their forts. Acting under express orders from Virginia Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, Washington acted on behalf of the British imperial interests just as Shingas represented the interests of the Lenape. Washington recounted,
“I also persuaded King Shingas, to send out Rangers towards the River, to bring us News, in Case any French should come … Though King Shingas, and others of the Delawares, could not be persuaded to retire to our Camp with their Families, through the Fear they were in of Onondago’s Council, they nevertheless gave us strong Assurances of their Assistance.”4
Shingas and other native leaders initially worked with the British because neutrality seemed increasingly impossible. The Lenape understood the Pennsylvanian government, which had sent regular diplomats over the past century. On an individual level, colonial envoys enjoyed peaceful relationships and developed long-term bonds with Indian leaders. Native delegations traveled often to Philadelphia and met to discuss the official alliance and friendship between Pennsylvania and Indian populations. On a macro level, however, the Lenape recognized the reoccurring pattern of white expansion that brought loss of life and land to their communities.5 Nevertheless, in the early days of conflict the Lenape turned to their historical ties with British diplomats rather than with unfamiliar French traders. Afterall, the Lenape shared a diplomatic tradition far longer and better defined with Pennsylvania than with the relatively small number French colonists. Shingas reaffirmed this alliance, and his people’s opposition to French settlements in February 1754:
I am glad to hear all our People here are of one mind; it is true I live here on the river side which is the French Road, and I assure you by these three Strings of Wampum that I will neither go down or up, but I will move nearer to my Brethren the English, where I can keep our Women and Children safe from the Enemy.”6
Sealed by the transfer of wampum, beads with strong economic and symbolic value, Shingas promised to avoid the French and remain allied with colonial Pennsylvania. The Lenape and colonial governments shared decades of treaties and diplomatic relationships. While these agreements were not always upheld, Shingas still saw the English as his “brethren” and the French as the “enemy” out of respect for his people’s fraught diplomatic history with Pennsylvania.
Nevertheless, the Lenape people understood that British interests did not always align with their own. In exchange for helping against the French, Lenape leaders required a guarantee that the British would respect their sovereignty. Speaking to British General Edward Braddock, Shingas asked that his people “might not be permitted to live and trade among the English and have a hunting ground sufficient to support themselves and their families, as they had nowhere to flee but into the arms of the French.” Braddock felt no sympathy, declaring that “no savage shall inherit the land.”7 For Shingas, this interaction shattered any possible hope of maintaining friendly relations with the British. He declared war, saying “We have been their friends many years, but now [we] have taken up the hatchet against them, and we will never make it up with them whilst there is an Englishman alive.”8 Thus, as the Seven Years’ War began in North America, the Unami Lenape sided with the French and entered into frontier combat with their former allies.
Poorly protected colonial settlements speckled the landscape of the Ohio Country and were regular targets for raiding parties. Shingas led many of these groups and attacked poorly defended settlements whose inhabitants quickly knew him as “Shingas the Terrible.” British troops attempted to fight back against Lenape settlements, but were far less successful and at times actively detrimental to their own cause. These raids shifted power to the Lenape, and most white settlers fled the land entirely by 1757.9 In this brutal form of warfare, Shingas and his warriors excelled. The Haudenosaunee, ostensibly neutral, called the Lenape " drunk and out of their senses, and did not consider the consequences of their ill behavior.”10 Still, these raids were not senseless and reflected the Unami Lenape’s role as active participants in the Seven Years’ War. Shingas justified his actions by disparaging the initial imperial causes of the conflict. He said, “We have great reason to believe you intend to drive us away and settle the country, or else why do you come to fight in the land that God has given?”11 What victims and rivals saw as senseless violence or savagery, Shingas believed to be essential to ensuring the preservation of his people and their ownership over their land.
Despite his reputation as a ruthless warrior, Shingas was known to be kind to his prisoners. It was common practice for the Lenape and other Indians to adopt prisoners or ransom them back to their original communities. Poorly treated captives made for worse community members and bounties. While attempting to renegotiate peace with the British, native leaders used their honorable treatment of captives to demonstrate their dedication to peace. In their words, “We love you more than you love us; for when we take any prisoners from you, we treat them as our own children. We are poor, and yet we cloth them as well as we can, tho’ you see our own Children are as naked as at the first. By this you may see that our Hearts are better than yours.”12 English missionary John Heckewelder confirmed Shingas’s side of the story. During one visit, he observed two child captives fully integrated with the other children in the town. When Heckewelder asked about the strange treatment for supposed prisoners, Shingas remarked “when I first took them in they were [prisoners]; but now they and my children eat their food from the same bowl or dish.”13 Still, Shingas differentiated between enemy combatants and non-combatants and his kind treatment of his prisoners refuted part of his “ruthless” reputation.
In 1758, native and colonial leaders agreed on the Treaty of Easton, which brought an end to immediate hostilities between European settlers and native people in Ohio country. Shingas attended some meetings leading up to this treaty and agreed to its terms along with other native leaders. They promised to make peace and hoped that their brethren the English would “have digged up and revived that Friendship which was buried in the Ground, now you have it, hold it fast. Do be strong, Brethren, and exert yourselves, that that Friendship may be well established between us.”14 This peace would hold, but not for long. Over the next decade, British colonists pushed further west, and further into land controlled by indigenous communities. Shingas feared that colonial forces would drive his people off their land and blamed the English and French for war. He said, “It is clear that you white people are the cause of this war; Why do not you and the French fight in the old country, and on the sea? Why do you come to fight in our land? That makes everybody believe you want to take the land from us by force and settle it.”15 Shingas saw himself not as fighting for or against the British, but as against all European military presence in his people’s towns. In order to preserve their sovereignty, Lenape leaders actively shifted their alliances towards what was needed immediately. Surrounded by numerous rivals in an unfamiliar landscape, they lacked the luxury of long-term negotiations. In the years following the Treaty of Easton, Pontiac’s War altered the geopolitical landscape of Ohio Country, and Shingas disappeared from the historical record with no confirmed cause or date of his death.
George Washington University
1. "Case of the Ohio Company, 1754." In George Mercer Papers: Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia, edited by Mulkearn Lois, 233-86. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954, 325–328.
2. C. Hale Sipe, The Indian Chiefs of Pennsylvania (The Ziegler Printing Co, Butler Pennsylvania 1927), 305.
3. Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Year’s War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1745-1766 (Vintage Books New York, 2001), 22–25.
4. George Washington, Expedition To The Ohio, 1754: Narrative Founders Online, National Archives, accessed October 30, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-01-02-0004-0002.
5. David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667 – 1783 (University of Nebraska Press 2009), 148–177.
6. George Croghan, February 2nd, 1754 in Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, 1852. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uva.x002516888.
7. Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, 6:398-399; Bond, ed., "Captivity of Charles Stuart”, 63 – 64, Quoted in Daniel P. Barr, “‘A road for warriors:’ The Western Delawares and The Seven Years War.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 73, no. 1 (January 1, 2006), 27-28.
8. Ibid, 29.
9. Barr, 24.
11. Post, Christian Frederick Post, 1710?-1785. The journal of Christian Frederick Post, in his journey from Philadelphia to the Ohio, on a message from the government of Pennsylvania to the Delaware, Shawanese and Mingo Indians settled there, and formerly in alliance with the English. Philadelphia, 1867. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/12007273/, 156 in Barr, 29.
12. Post, 153 – 154.
13. C. Hale Sipe, The Indian Chiefs of Pennsylvania (The Ziegler Printing Co, Butler Pennsylvania 1927), 298.
14. “The Minutes of a treaty held at Easton, in Pennsylvania, in October, 1758. By the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, and the governor of New-Jersey; with the chief sachems and warriors of the Mohawks, Oneydos, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Tuscaroras, Tuteloes, Nanticokes and Conoys, Chugnuts, Delawares, Unamies, Mohickons, Minisinks, and Wapings.” Ann Arbor: Text Creation Partnership, 2011, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N06429.0001.001/1:2?rgn=div1;view=fulltext, 13.
15. Post, 156; Barr, 29.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Year’s War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1745 – 1766 (Vintage Books New York, 2001).
Barr, Daniel P. “‘A ROAD FOR WARRIORS:’ THE WESTERN DELAWARES AND THE SEVEN YEARS WAR.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 73, no. 1 (January 1, 2006).
"Case of the Ohio Company, 1754." In George Mercer Papers: Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia, edited by Mulkearn Lois, 233-86. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954.
Croghan, George. February 2nd, 1754 in Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, 1852. </ br > http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uva.x002516888.
Post, Christian Frederick, 1710?-1785. The journal of Christian Frederick Post, in his journey from Philadelphia to the Ohio, on a message from the government of Pennsylvania to the Delaware, Shawanese and Mingo Indians. Philadelphia, 1867. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/12007273/.
Sipe, C. Hale.The Indian Cheifs of Pennsyvlania (The Ziegler Printing Co, Butler Pennsylvania, 1927).
Soderlund, Jean R. Lenape Country Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia Pennsylvania 2015).
“The Minutes of a treaty held at Easton, in Pennsylvania, in October, 1758. By the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, and the governor of New-Jersey; with the chief sachems and warriors of the Mohawks, Oneydos, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Tuscaroras, Tuteloes, Nanticokes and Conoys, Chugnuts, Delawares, Unamies, Mohickons, Minisinks, and Wapings.” Ann Arbor: Text Creation Partnership, 2011, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N06429.0001.001/1:2?rgn=div1;view=fulltext.
Preston, David L. The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667 – 1783 (University of Nebraska Press 2009).
Washington, George, Expedition To The Ohio, 1754: Narrative Founders Online, National Archives, accessed October 30, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-01-02-0004-0002.