The Remarkable Untold Story of the 14th State of the United States and the Delaware Nation

Have you heard about an Indian Nation wanting to join the newly forming United States of America in 1778? Me neither. In fact I found out by accident and I thought others would also like to know about it.

When I was on tour at Freedom Hall in Philadelphia, I had to wait in line for the Liberty Bell so I dropped in on a speaker at who was sharing information on the historic happenings in the early days of the forming of the United States. My jaw dropped when the park ranger told the story of Chief Kukwèt’hakèxtun(Whites Eyes). In 1776, Chief Kukwèt’hakèxtun of the Delaware Tribe of Indians went to the  Continental Congress to make a request on behalf of his people.

He asked permission for the Delaware Nation to become the 14th state of the United States of America.  The request was later voted upon and accepted. The ranger went to say that White Eyes was assassinated shortly thereafter. After his death, the Delaware Nation was not accepted into the newly formed nation. In fact, the 14th state opportunity went to Vermont.

I quickly raised my hand and asked, ” How can this true and we don’t know about it? I was an undergrad in American History and never heard of the story”. He said it was true on both fronts–that it happened and that it is not common knowledge.

I have been trying to find more about this ever since. At one point, I found a citation in Exiled in the Land of the Free by Vine Deloria Jr. et all. The authors state that in, “1778, the Confederate Congress of the United States made a treaty with the Delaware Indians. among the terms of that treaty is an offer to work mutually toward the concept of an American Indian state joining the United States:

Article VI

And it is further agreed on between the contracting parties should it for the future be found conducive for the mutual interest of both parties to invite any other tribes who have been friends to the interest of the United States, to join the present confederation, and to form a state whereof the Delaware nation shall be the head, and have a representation in Congress: Provided, nothing contained in this article to be considered as conclusive until it meets with the approbation of Congress…. (113).

I also found a blog post about it but not much more.

Then I got lucky. I met a descendent of Chief White Eyes, Larry Heady, and asked him if the story was true and what perspective he had on the 14th state.

Larry Heady

This is what Larry has to say:

 I am Delaware.  We keep this story alive among our people—I even have an old powder horn with a beaded bandolier showing the 14th or “unlit council fire.”  In those days, my grandfather Kukwèt’hakèxtun had been advised by his grandfather Nètëwatëwès that the English would someday go away but the Americans were here to stay—we must find a way to live with them.  Both Kukwèt’hakèxtun and Nètëwatëwès saw the need to try to hold on to all Indian lands west of the Alleghenies and the Ohio River.  We had already lost our homelands in New Jersey, New York and Eastern Pennsylvania, so we must hold one to our new lands in Ohio and Indiana.  More than anything, our people wanted a seat at the American’s council fire (Congress) to ensure the preservation of our people.  So, my grandfather negotiated a treaty that pledged the support of the Delaware people in the American’s struggle for freedom.  He met with the Continental Congress at least three times that I know of.  Eventually, the Americans pledged that we would have a permanent delegation to the Congress in exchange for Delaware material support on the “western front” of the Revolutionary War.  This was the first Indian Treaty signed by the new United States of America, at Fort Pitt on September 17, 1778.  My grandfather was murdered the following November by Pennsylvania or Virginia militia…

 Can you imagine how different our history would have been if there had been a permanent seat in Congress for our native Nations?  Diplomacy and oratory were well known and valued among our people.  To have our rights and interests recognized as equal to those of the original 13 states!?  What would Indian Country look like today if that had happened…??

 We may never know the truth of this story beyond the basic facts or why it has been buried to history. What I think is important is that we bring it back to light as well as the man who originated the idea of the 14th state of the United States of America. What will it take for it to become part of the story?  I would hazard that many other stories will need to come to light as well. Stories that may upset the pilgrim and Indians myth but are critical for all us to start the healing process of racial reconciliation in this country. Acknowledgment of truth is one key to the process. Our miseducation can lead us to want to hold on to stereotypes and myths like the Washington Redskins and other mascots or not want to honor the many American Indian treaties. When we don’t our history we really can’t know ourselves.

Race Unity: Unfinished Business

These past few months have been a doozy for reading and listening to racist statements from the likes of a basketball coacha ranchera Norwegian zoo commemoration of a Congolese people displaysoccer fans throwing bananasthe continued use of Indian mascots and a Princeton student who will not apologize for his white privilege–just to name a few!

But what really stands out is the level of openness of a white man openly killing a black teenager for listening to loud music.

Every day there is a new post about an incident– not including the everyday microagressions that people of color deal with and never report. How much longer are we going to stand by and not be outraged as citizens, as a country? When will we take collective action to start the termination of racism by creating an inclusive truth and reconciliation process with healing our wounds? I think a first step is to recognize our human oneness. What happens to one happens to us all.

Race Unity Day is coming up on June 12, 2014 and I thought it would be an appropriate time to take action. Race Unity Day was created in 1957 with the sole purpose of focusing attention on racial prejudice. Race unity can be defined as the belief that there is only one race of human beings and that skin color is a superfluous difference of our phenotype stemming from our physical environments. Science has already proven this to be fact and the American Anthropological Association has also confirmed this just in case there are doubters. If we continue to perpetuate race and racism then we are going against science.

Take a stand for Race Unity on June 12th by posting photos, personal statements and stories and tag them #RaceUnity on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Begin new friendships with people who don’t look like you and start discussion groups at school, houses of worship and work. Be creative!! Let’s show America that science and love are more powerful than ignorance, hate and apathy. Racism is a serious barrier to achieving peace and tranquility in this country. Let’s wipe out racism in our lifetime!! Take a stand for race unity!

Three Men, a War, and Race: Honoring Our Veterans on Memorial Day

Lewis and Charles Graves ArmyEdward C Gleed Plane001


In honor of Memorial Day I want to share a family story. I have always wondered how common it might be. Just after WWII broke out in 1941, two brothers and their brother-in-law decided to enlist in the army. One chose the navy and two wanted to fly planes and chose the air force. There was a little problem for them: Jim Crow segregation laws that permeated the US Army. At that time, your skin color determined your future. It soon became clear that the two brothers of African American and Cherokee descent and their brother-in-law of African American descent as well, would not be able to enter the army of their choice. At that time black men were relegated to janitor or cook positions. It is no wonder that someone might want to pass if they could.

No one knows what, when and how they discussed circumventing the race rules but we do know the outcome. My father and his brother convinced their mother to go to the Topeka, Kansas Department of Vital Statistics to change their birth certificates from Negro to white. She mentioned to the clerk that the hospital had made a mistake. My grandmother’s request was a success because two new certificates were mailed with the desired white race classification. My father was admitted into the Navy and my uncle into the Air Force.

Their brother-in-law enlisted in the army and was assigned to the 9th Calvary. Later he was accepted into the army’s experimental pilot training program for Negroes which became the famed the Tuskegee Airmen. He was also assigned to military intelligence. In a few short years, my uncle flew to fame as the pilot of the iconic Lucifer Jr. P-51 fighter airplane and became the commanding officer of the 302nd Fighter Squadron. He retired with honors as a colonel and flew three air-to-air combat victories. He later was interviewed by filmmaker George Lucas and his story was used in the Red Tails film.

My father had not yet changed his name in 1941 but had created a new racial identity that he shared with his white peers. He became someone of French ancestry who was “descended” from a line of French barbers. He later was dismissed due to a foot ailment and did not see action. After the war, my father created a new name with a French flair and a white identity that he chose to live with for rest of his short life. He died at the age of 55.

My uncle, of the changed birth certificate, became a distinguished pilot and retired with honors. He also created a new racial identity of white, albeit with his birth name, and never shared this with his military colleagues or his children. To my knowledge no one (except his white wife) ever knew he had a dual life.

I always wondered what happened to people who were admitted into the army and were later caught with false certificates regarding racial status. Did this happen? Was this a common practice? I googled the topic and was unable to find examples.

I often reflect who is the real hero here. My Uncle Cres, my father or my other uncle? How could it be my father or my other uncle? Why did my father and Uncle Charles go to such depth and risks to separate themselves from their African American and Cherokee heritage? Living with a secret must have taken a psychological toll on both of them. I may never understand my family’s decisions or what decisions I would make in trying to live within the confines of Jim Crow but I accept the choices that they made.

In spite of the strict restrictions on all three men, they made their decision to serve their country no matter the odds and to accomplish their goals. I am proud of them all! As we honor all veterans this Memorial Day, let’s give thanks to all who have served no matter the color of their skin, gender or sexual orientation. I believe they all are heroes and heroines!