We may finally know what the word “Perkasie” really means

Research from a scholar who has spent more than three decades studying the Lenape Indian’s language shows the word “Perkasie” has nothing to do with cracked hickory nuts.

Paul Domville’s mural shows the meeting of William Penn and Tamanend

It means “a place of peaches,” according to Raymond Whritenour.

Whritenour has studied the dialect of the Southern Unami branch of the Lenape or Delaware Indians for three decades. His work is included in a 254-page study from 2014 for the New York State Museum called “Beyond Manhattan: A Gazetteer of Delaware Indian History Reflected In Modern-Day Place Names” compiled by Robert S. Grumet, an anthropologist and leading authority on the Lenape.

Whritenour was involved with Grumet’s project to determine the origin and meaning of Lenape names across the United States – a project Grumet had also been working on for 30 years. Whritenour is also involved with a project called the Lenape Talking Dictionary, which compiles generations of oral histories about the language.

Since the 1940s, popular culture in Bucks County promoted the definition of the word Perkasie as “a place where hickory nuts are cracked.” This can be traced to the 1942 book written by George MacReynolds, the librarian of the Bucks County Historical Society, called Place Names in Bucks County. MacReynolds cited two earlier historians and he assumed that the word “Perkasie” was a corruption of “Poekskos-sing” – the word that means “where hickory nuts were cracked.” In 1950, the state of Pennsylvania endorsed that definition.

Before then, at least two other authorities said the word “Poquesing” had a different meaning. Historian William Buck, writing in 1855, said the word “Perkasie” meant “Perkiomen.” And in 1836, the Rev. John Heckewelder, who did missionary work with the Lenape, said the word “Poquesing” meant “area teaming with mice.”

In Grumet’s research report, Whritenour says the word Perkasie is probably based on another Lenape word, pilgussink, which means “place of peaches.”

In 1700, William Penn named the region containing modern Hilltown and Rockhill townships, along with Perkasie Borough, the manor of “Perkasey.” He had visited the area 16 years earlier to meet with the Indian chief Tamanend.

One Comment

Hi. The spelling, “pilgussink,” shows how the Moravians wrote this Lenape word in the mid 1700’s. In the late 1600’s, the language of the area was a R-dialect form, and the Moravians (who weren’t here then) would have written it as “pirgussink.” It would have been pronounced, approximately, as “peer-kws-ing.” It could have also been “pirgussi” (pr., “peer-kws-ee”), which would be a prenoun (adjective) meaning “of peaches,” such as in “land of peaches” (pirgussi haki), etc. -Raymond Whritenour

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