Tammany, also called Tamanend, was a leader of the Lenape (Delaware) people in the last part of the 17th century. Very little is known about the real Tammany, but stories concerning his purported actions and character converted him into a prominent figure in 18th and 19th century American culture. Among other manifestations, Tammany was celebrated in annual celebrations held on May Day, he inspired the foundation of fraternal societies throughout the newly independent United States, and he appears briefly in James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans.
What we know of the real Tammany is quite limited. His named appears in no more than a handful of documents produced between 1683 and 1698. As Edwin Kilroe points out, "this brief record of Tammany's dealings with the English settlers … discloses merely a series of business transactions," most of them cessions of land to William Penn. Thus, Kilroe observes, "For fifteen years he was in contact with the Whites, but during that period he did not appear as a chief of extraordinary accomplishments or importance; nor does he seem to have made a profound impression on the white settlers, for there is no record that they were awed by the force of his genius or charmed by his personality."
The legend of Tammany is quite another matter: his persona was widely adopted as a symbol of authentic Americanness and patriotism by the end of the 18th century. This movement appears to have originated with the Schuykill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, the traditions of which claimed that the territories in which they hunted and fished had first been the domain of Tamanend. The club adopted Tammany's supposed motto as their own sometime before 1747 and it celebrated him as a patron at the opening of the hunting season each year on May Day. By the 1770s, this tradition had spread to other similar clubs in the Philadelphia area.
"The first permanent society of the movement," Kilroe reports, "was established in Philadelphia on May first, 1772, and was called 'The Sons of King Tammany,'" which became the Sons of Saint Tammany the following year. The establishment of fraternal Tammany societies through the colonies in the years leading up to and following the American Revolution offered an "authentic" source of patriotic Americanness through their tribute to "an Indian hero virtually indistinguishable from the average patriot."
- Edwin P. Kilroe. 1913. Saint Tammany and the Origin of the Society of Tammany: Or Columbian Order in the City of New York. Ph.D. dissertation, Faculty of Political Science, Columbia University. p. 20.
- Kilroe, p. 16.
- Philip Deloria. 1999. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 13.
- Kilroe, p. 36.
- Kilroe, p. 87.
- Deloria, p. 22.