Why is Perkasie called the place where hickory nuts are cracked?

That’s a good question. The Borough’s unofficial slogan came from a 1942 book about Bucks County place names. Whether the Lenape actually used those words to describe the area is up for debate.

Treaty_of_Penn_with_Indians_by_Benjamin_West

Penn’s Treaty with the Lenape

The first reference to the “village” of Perkasie goes back to the time of James Logan, the personal secretary to the Penn family. Logan and a Lenape chief recalled in the 1730s a meeting in 1683 at the “Indian Village of Perkasie” between William Penn and Tamanend, the famous Lenape leader.

Penn acquired the lands that make up modern Perkasie, Sellersville, Hilltown and Rockhill in 1683 when he met Tamanend and other Indian leaders about six months after Lenape leaders and Penn held a conference at Shackamaxon, in present-day Philadelphia. Their first land negotiation occurred at an Indian village called Perkasie, which in contemporary times was said to be about 25 miles– a two-day’s journey by horse, from Philadelphia.

In 1731, James Logan, Penn’s personal secretary, recalled the meeting in a speech given to Lenape leaders in Philadelphia. Tamanend’s son used the name “Perkasie” to indentify the “Indian town” where the meeting happened.

In 1699, Penn decided to carve out five manors each of 10,000 acres, for his children, with his youngest child given the “manor of Perkasie.” The deeds were approved in 1700, and in 1708, the British historian John Oxmixon wrote about the area, which he called “Perkassie” and its 10,000 acres.

Oxmixon knew Penn well and his accounts of early Pennsylvania are critical to our understanding of the English development of the region.

As for the location of Perkasie Indian Town and the meaning of the word “Perkasie,” there are different stories about each, but little conclusive evidence to support them.

Commonly, Tamanend’s village of Perkasie is claimed to be in an area ranging from Chalfont to Hilltown to Silverdale. We may never know the true location, but the Lenape Indians and Tamanend were associated with the Neshaminy Creek.

Origin of the word “Perkasie”

But what about the word, “Perkasie”? Today, in most promotional literature, the Lenape definition is given as “the place hickory nuts are cracked.”  Historians from the 19th century like William Watts Hart Davis and J.H. Battle also list “Pokesing” as another spelling for Perkaise.

In 1836, work from the Rev. John Heckewelder, who did missionary work with the Lenape, showed that the word “Poquesing” meant “area teaming with mice.” Other accounts of the Pokesing Creek placed it near the Delaware River in Bucks County. But in 1899, the American Anthropologist said that Heckewelder was wrong – there weren’t throngs of mice in Perkasie.

heckwelder

Heckewelder debunked

Historian William Buck, writing in 1855 and citing Oxmixon’s work, says the word “Perkasie” was another name for the word “Perkiomen.”  In 1708, Oxmixon said Perkasie was the name of the one of the major creeks in the region, along with the Neshaminy.

The first reference I can find to nut cracking in Perkasie is in a 1942 book written by George MacReynolds, the librarian of the Bucks County Historical Society, called Place Names in Bucks County. MacReynolds cited Amandus Johnson, a historian of early Swedish colonization, as his source. Johnson, in turn, cited Peter Mårtensson Lindeström, who met the Lenape in the 1650s as his source.

But MacReynolds makes an assumption that the work “Perkasie” in a corruption of “Poekskos-sing” – the word that means “where hickory nuts were cracked.” The rest of MacReynolds’ text about Perkasie in Place Names in Bucks County is riddled with errors. It has the wrong dates and names of the Borough’s founders. On its face, the book would raise doubts about scholarship based on assumptions.

Anyway, the state of Pennsylvania became called Perkasie the place of nut cracking in the early 1950s, picking up on MacReynold’s book.

For us, the mystery may never be solved.

2 Comments

As an owner of three buildings with Perkasie addresses, I can certainly vouch for the mice!

Thank you for sharing your interesting work.

I live on some of the land that Wm Penn bequeathed to his son near Silverdale/Hilltown….very interesting article…..<3

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