Chief Tamanend and Julie Sky’s Quest

She’s campaigning to restore a holiday honoring her Bucks County ancestor.

Julie Sky McCormick dialed me up a couple of months ago from Olympia, Wash. She had just read online a column of mine about Lenni-Lenape Indian leader Tamanend. Julie is the 12th great granddaughter of the chief, one of the most famous ever to have lived. Tamanend was the pacifist king of all the chiefs of Lenape Nation that once spanned the lower Delaware River basin. After his death in 1701, citizens in all 13 British colonies celebrated him for more than 100 years as the “patron saint of America.” Every May 1 was “Saint Tammany Day” or “King Tammany Day”.

Julie, assistant branch manager for a credit union in Olympia, is on a national quest to restore the holiday.

For those unfamiliar, Tamanend’s story begins with founder William Penn’s arrival in frontier Pennsylvania. Each learned the other’s language, fortifying a strong bond between them. In a sense of mutual trust in 1683, the two signed a peace treaty. A decade later Tamanend, 69, stood before Philadelphia’s governing council to reassure citizens the tribe (also known as the Delawares) would not join Iroquois Indians in a campaign to drive out Europeans. “We and Christians of this river have always had a free roadway to one another,” said the chief. “Though sometimes a tree has fallen across the road, yet we have still removed it again and kept the path clean and we design to continue the old friendship that has been between us and you as long as the waters run in the rivers and creeks and as long as the stars and moon endure.”

Sculpture of Chief Tamanend of the Lenni Lenape Tribe.

After Tamanend’s death in 1701 at age 76, towns from New England to Georgia celebrated the chief as the symbol of an independent nation separate from Europe. George Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge in 1778 enjoyed “a day in mirth and jollity … in honor of King Tammany.” Tammany Societies sprang up in major cities. In 1820, the U.S. Navy launched the 74-gun warship Delaware with a 9-foot-tall figurehead of King Tamanend aboard. (The bronzed sculpture stands today on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy.)
In Bucks, archeologist Henry Mercer learned in 1892 the chief was buried on Prospect Hill near the intersection of Bristol Road and State Street in New Britain Township. The hilltop was Tamanend’s favorite place to relax and view Neshaminy Creek winding around it. Mercer, known for his Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, announced plans to construct a monument over the grave. “It is to be different from any monolith ever erected to a human being in America,” he boasted. A massive, red stone turtle representing Tamanend and his Turtle Clan was to sit on a cement base the size of a football field. The sculpture was to be 15-feet high, 25-feet long and almost as wide. Unfortunately, Mercer never went forward. Still, references to the chief live on. Tamanend Park in Upper Southampton. Tamanend Middle School in Central Bucks School District. Tamanend Avenue in New Britain. Mount Tammany overlooking the Delaware River Water Gap in the Pocono Mountains.

Julie, who describes herself as Cherokee-Irish-Salish and Lenni-Lenape, discovered her ancestral ties from records in Salt Lake City. They indicate she’s a direct descendant of Miotoka Nyeswanan Schoolcraft, the 5th granddaughter of Chief Tamanend. Since then, Julie has become passionate about doing something to restore Tammany Day. In July, she’ll take up the issue with her Salish tribal council at its 122nd annual Pow Wow in Arlee, Montana. Meanwhile, she’s gotten positive feedback from state leaders in Washington who want to help. Nationally, she’s awaiting a response from President Trump plus Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1). She’s also contacted state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10) from Bucks. Cory Smith, his legislative director, indicated the senator may sponsor a state resolution recognizing May 1 as “King Tammany Day” in Pennsylvania. After the COVID-19 pandemic eases, Julie is hopeful Congress will reintroduce Senate Concurrent Resolution 39 and House Concurrent Resolution 123 sponsored by Republican Rep. David Vitter of Louisiana. Positioned for passage in 2003, Congress took no action. “I am willing to go straight to the White House and Congress, wherever I have to go to make this right for everyone,” Julie told me. “It brings me so much joy to know Chief Tamanend is still remembered for the amazing man he truly was. I share a lot of qualities with him and have strived to be as kind and caring and strong.”

There’s no denying hurdles remain. Amazingly only two states have designated a holiday honoring indigenous people. Native American Day is celebrated in California in September and in South Dakota in October. Julie, 35, remains undeterred. “I am but one woman with a strong voice for justice and peace.” Meanwhile, she’s recreating a beaded Wampum belt Tamanend gave William Penn to seal their brotherhood. She hopes someday to bury it in the chief’s honor where his spirit lingers. On Prospect Hill.

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