A rich diversity of Native American cultures, including the Nanticoke and Lenni Lenape, inhabited Delaware at the time the first Europeans arrived. Those who lived in the southern region were more similar to the Algonkian people of the Chesapeake Bay area while those in the north had closer cultural ties with the Iroquois of New York and Pennsylvania.
The history of Native Americans in Delaware parallels the history of Native Americans throughout the New World. Initial contact with Europeans disrupted their communities. Diseases carried by the Europeans decimated the native population, particularly the very young and the very old. This resulted in the loss of the younger generation needed to carry on the traditions as well as the loss of the elders who were responsible for passing on the collective knowledge of the group.
The increased European immigration of the 17th century further disrupted the Native American communities as the new arrivals brought new ideas of land ownership. (Document 1) Implicit in these attempts to get land was the ethnocentric attitude of the Europeans who viewed Native Americans as inferior, and therefore felt little guilt about stealing their land. William Penn, the proprietor of Delaware, was one of the few Europeans who insisted that his colonists treat the Native Americans fairly and purchase land from them instead of stealing it. (Documents 1, 2, and 3) However, the pressures of colonial expansion forced many Native Americans in Delaware to relocate to Pennsylvania and the more westerly and northern regions of North America.