Hudson River > Hudson River Journey > The First People of the River

The First People of the River


The Salomon Collection, The Historical Society of Rockland County

Stewards for A Thousand Years

People have lived along the shores of the Hudson River since the last ice age, bathing in its waters, living off its bounty, caring for its future. The Lenape tribe balanced the needs of man and the needs of fish and fowl, plant and animal.


Photo courtesy Mo Fridlich: [email protected]

Henry Hudson 'discovered' what the Lenape called Muhheakunnuk, The River that Runs Both Ways.


Photo courtesy of Lenape Lifeways, Inc.

There were six to twelve thousand widely dispersed people — both Lenape and Algonquin — living in small bands on the lower estuary. The river connected them and was a major source of food. Travelling in dug-out canoes that held forty people, they'd visit and trade with each other. In smaller dug-outs, they'd set and pull fishing nets, harpoon the whales and seals that often came upriver, and shoot duck with bow and arrow.

Knowledge of and respect for the river was essential for survival. The Lenape believed in a single creator and a series of gods who looked after both people and animals. While women planted maize along the shore, and men hunted deer, Lenape children were taught to take only what they needed from the environment.

If the thousands of years of Lenape history seems to have been erased from the Hudson Valley, that's partly due to the disease and intolerance that European settlers brought with them. But it's also a result of how lightly the Lenape lived on the soil: generations of river dwellers left little more environmental change than some ancient oyster middens, rock drawings, and scattered arrowheads.


Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ, MG 1363

muhheakantuck: river that flows both ways

Before European contact, whales swam where the Manhattoes tribe lived, the Sinsink band fed off huge oyster beds that grew in the bays, and the upriver shallows provided shad, sturgeon, smelt, and crab for the Iroquois nation.

The First People Slideshow


Major funding for this exhibit provided by The Austen-Stokes Ancient Americas Foundation.


This exhibit is made possible with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

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