Who Were the First Settlers Where ASCI Serves Children & Families?

The approaching Thanksgiving holiday makes one think about the traditional story we are told in school about the pilgrims and indigenous people sharing the first Thanksgiving. A Second Chance, Inc. provides service delivery in counties across Pennsylvania, with offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Before America was “discovered,” indigenous tribes were already flourishing. Who were some of the tribes first to settle where we live and work each day?

Pittsburgh is a city with three rivers and a deep cultural heritage. For Native Americans, nature and water are sacred. Naturally, having spacious land and access to multiple bodies of water would be a benefit for anyone settling in this area. Perhaps that is why some members of the Adena culture were the first to settle in Pittsburgh. The Adena culture comprises several tribes, and their cultural traditions illuminate why Pittsburgh has so many hills! Their people built mounds for various ceremonies and burial purposes. Think about the amount of time, dedication and effort that must have taken.  

McKees Rocks Mound (Photo: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh)

The Adena were known as hunter-gatherers and traveled to hunt and find food. They settled in other parts of the northeast, as well, and began trading with the Hopewell tribe, who also settled in Pittsburgh and continued to build mounds for the same purposes as the Adena tribe. Historians note that the Hopewell mounds were larger than the Adena mounds and their ceremonies were more complex. Trade was very important, and Pittsburgh’s rivers made trading easier. Pittsburgh was a premier location. In fact, in 1754 the French and Indian War began over Pittsburgh’s land and rivers.  

Water is a component in everything and a source of life. While Philadelphia does not have as many rivers as Pittsburgh, there is still enough water that it attracted early indigenous settlers. The Lenape tribe were the first settlers in Philadelphia, and they settled near the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. The Europeans arrived around 1682 and had difficulty pronouncing Lenape and referred to them as the Delaware Indians. The Lenape were also hunters and traders, and they traded with the Europeans and created a treaty in 1683.  

William Penn’s Treaty with the Lenape (Photo: West Philadelphia Collaborative History)

If you are interested in learning more about the deep roots of Pittsburgh and its first settlers, please visit the Fort Pitt Museum which is in Point State Park. You can learn more about Philadelphia by visiting the West Philadelphia Community History Center.  


Who Lived Here First? A Look At Pittsburgh’s Native American History | 90.5 WESA 

The Adena Culture of the Northeast – Legends of America 

What Are Some Facts About the Adena & the Hopewell Indians?  

Hopewell Culture: Moundbuilders of the Midwest  

Q&A with Re-enactor Jeremy Turner | Fort Pitt Museum 

Indigenous Peoples of Philadelphia 

Lenape Indians, The Original Philadelphians  

Background: Native Americans Site in Philadelphia  

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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