Respectfully Remembering the Affable One

 

The Statue of Chief Tamanend at the entrance to I-95 | Photo: Harry Kyriakodis

The Statue of Chief Tamanend at the entrance to I-95 | Photo: Harry Kyriakodis

Last Thursday, amid the ceaseless din generated by Interstate 95, some twenty participants gathered at Front and Market Streets in Old City to commemorate the memory of the celebrated Lenni-Lenape leader: Chief Tamanend.

Organized by Ryan Berley of The Franklin Fountain—which also provided tasty ice cream treats to those attending—the affair, at the base of the statue of Tamanend, included readings about the chief and the ringing of small bells by participants. The event was co-sponsored by the Friends of Penn Treaty Park and the Penn Treaty Museum. This year’s observance builds on the momentum of the past few years to make Tammany Day better known in Philadelphia.

Chief Tamanend (est. 1628-1700)—variously called Tammany, Temane, Taminent, etc.—was the principal Lenni-Lenape leader who welcomed William Penn upon his arrival to this region in 1682. Tamanend (the “Affable One” in the native language) partnered with Penn (“Mikwon”) to bring about the bold accord in which Quaker settlers and local Native Americans would live together peacefully in Pennsylvania.

In 1995, Tamanend was dedicated at Front & Market, the statue crafted by artist Raymond Sandoval. The great chief stands on a turtle (representing Mother Earth) with an eagle (a messenger of the Great Spirit) on his shoulder. The eagle is grasping a wampum belt symbolizing the renowned “Treaty of Amity and Friendship” between William Penn and Tamanend and his Indian colleagues.

Benjamin West's famous painting Penn's Treaty With the Indians was commissioned by Penn's son Thomas and depicts his father and his people with Tamanend and his people | Image via Wikipedia, painting on permanent display at

Benjamin West’s famous painting Penn’s Treaty With the Indians was commissioned by William Penn’s son Thomas and depicts his father and his people with Tamanend and his people | Image via Wikipedia, painting on permanent display at PAFA

The Treaty of Amity was reputedly agreed upon at the riverside location that is today Penn Treaty Park, about two miles north of the Tamanend Statue. The extraordinary gathering occurred in the fall of 1682 (some accounts say June 23, 1683) under under a giant elm tree (the “Treaty Elm”) at Shackamaxon—an ancient Native American meeting place along the Delaware River in present-day Fishtown.

While the legendary treaty itself was probably an informal unwritten pact, it did engender relatively little strife between the Quaker newcomers and the Lenni-Lenape (later known to the English speakers as Delaware Indians) living in the region. Back then, an interpreter read the deeds that Penn had prepared to the native leaders, who allegedly then made their marks. Mikwon paid for Indian land with various goods, which Tamanend divided among his people. The Affable chief then gave Penn a belt made of wampum beads as a sign of friendship. It featured a depiction of two men clasping hands: one large and with a hat (Penn) and the other smaller and hatless (a Native American). The Penn family kept and treasured this belt until 1857, when a descendant gave it to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; it resided in their Art and Artifacts Collection until 2001, when it was physically transferred to the Philadelphia History Museum, then called the Atwater Kent Museum.

The banner was donated and was used for the first time this year. It says: "Celebrate Tamanend Day, May 1st - 7PM, Here at the Statue." Photo by author.

The banner was donated and was used for the first time this year. It says: “Celebrate Tamanend Day, May 1st – 7PM, Here at the Statue.” Photo by author.

Chief Tamanend reportedly announced during the treaty summit that the Lenni-Lenape and the English colonists would “live in peace as long as the waters run in the rivers and creeks and as long as the stars and moon endure.” Unfortunately, white settlers after William Penn—including Penn’s own offspring—did not respect Penn’s fair treatment of the Lenni-Lenape and other Native American groups of Pennsylvania. Still, Mikwon’s memory is still highly regarded by members of the Lenni-Lenape tribe to this day.

The Affable One was also highly regarded for years by local Quakers and other white settlers and their descendants. Tamanend appears to have been a brave, wise, and virtuous sachem, and his own Lenni-Lenape people esteemed his memory by bestowing his name on those that deserved those designations. In the American colonies, he was noted for standing for the politics of peaceful diplomacy, and he consequently became an all-American folk hero identified and venerated throughout the fledgling nation for both his nobility and his native roots. Tamanend was soon regarded as the “patron saint of America” and later nicknamed “King Tammany” as an insult to King George.

Tammany Day celebrations spread up and down the eastern seaboard from Philadelphia in the early 1770s. (This was about the time that Tamanend was “sainted.”) Many calendars of the period listed “Saint Tammany’s Festival” on May 1. Besides his memory being observed with feasts and festivities, social groups known as the Sons of Saint Tammany (or “Tammanies”) sprang up during the War for Independence in opposition to the British-oriented societies of Saints George, Andrew and David. (The first Tammany Society was formed in Philadelphia in 1772.) Focusing on Chief Tamanend’s American heritage, these organizations promoted local Tammany Day festivals, which replaced the May Day traditions of Europe. People danced in Native American style to music while holding a ribbon and moving in a circle around a pole.

A 1898 drawing of the Indian Pole, with Chief Tamanend allegedly at top. Courtesy of Bob Skiba.

A 1898 Inquirer drawing of the Indian Pole, with Chief Tamanend allegedly at top. Courtesy of Bob Skiba.

Speaking of poles, the figure once atop the long-gone Indian Pole at the intersection of York Road and Wood Street, near Fourth and Vine, may have been that of Tamanend. The 85 foot high flagpole, with a sizable Native American figure perched on top, was supposedly put up in 1819 to commemorate the last Lenni-Lenape council held in Philadelphia. Or, it might simply have been raised as part of one of Philadelphia’s annual tributes to Chief Tamanend.

In 1777, John Adams—in Philadelphia attending the Second Continental Congress—wrote in a letter to his wife about the Tammany festival in Philadelphia:

May 1, 1777: This is King Tammany’s Day. Tammany was an Indian King, of this Part of the Continent, when Mr. Penn first came here. His Court was in this Town. He was friendly to Mr. Penn and very serviceable to him. He lived here among the first settlers for some Time and untill old Age… The People here have sainted him and keep his day.

The following May 1st, General George Washington and the Continental Army held a Tammany festival while camped at Valley Forge. These celebrations were so important that after the Revolutionary War, in 1785, George Washington appeared at the Tammany festival in Richmond, Virginia, with Virginia governor Patrick Henry. And starting in 1787, New York City had its first Tammany festival, with the chief eventually becoming known as the patron of New York’s Democratic political machine (a.k.a. “Tammany Hall”).

Looking up at the Tamanend statue. | Photo by author.

Tamanend statue from below | Photo by author.

In 2003, two resolutions were introduced in the United States Congress that sought to establish “St. Tammany Day” on May 1 as a national day of recognition. While the Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization has not taken any action on these bills, last week’s ceremony in Philadelphia was definitely a modern reawakening of the 18th and early-19th century homages to Tamanend.

As for the Treaty of Amity and Friendship: The French philosopher Voltaire hailed it as “the only treaty between those nations and the Christian nations which was never sworn to and never broken.” Its imagery—the Treaty Elm in particular—became a worldwide symbol of religious and cultural tolerance and an inspiration to the drafters of the U.S. Constitution.

Native Americans have always respected the location of this legendary event along the Delaware River, handing down its story in their oral tradition. They have gathered on numerous occasions at Penn Treaty Park, which was officially established in 1893 as the first public park on the edge of the Delaware. The purpose of Penn Treaty Park has always been to honor the treaty. Decades before, in 1827, the Penn Society erected a monument at this sacred place; the Penn Treaty Monument still resides in the park, weathered by nearly two centuries outside, commemorating the Treaty of Amity and Friendship between Penn, Tamanend, and their peoples.

About the author

Harry Kyriakodis, author of Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront (2011), Northern Liberties: The Story of a Philadelphia River Ward (2012), and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway (2014), regularly gives walking tours and presentations on unique yet unappreciated parts of the city. A founding/certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, he is a graduate of La Salle University and Temple University School of Law, and was once an officer in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. He has collected what is likely the largest private collection of books about the City of Brotherly Love: over 2700 titles new and old.

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8 Comments


  1. A great piece as always, Harry K. While I knew about Tamanend and his life I had no idea there was a “day” to celebrate him!

  2. Excellent piece. This statue really needs to be in a more prominent location. I would love to see it eventually moved to the new Penn’s Landing park once it opens, but it shouldn’t have to remain where it is until then.

  3. I believe that my grandfather, John Sweeney, either worked or lived at 221 Buttonwood Street in the 1880-90s. He was a bartender so maybe there was a tavern there? Anyway, would you know if a 221 Buttonwood still exists? Thank you!

  4. Great article, thank you for sharing this information. I am citing it in a piece referencing the origin of the name St. Tammany parish in Louisiana and I really enjoyed reading it.

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