Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Michael Goode

Native American-Pennsylvania Relations 1681-1753

Indian-brokered alliances more than Quaker pacifism anchored the “long peace” in the decades that followed Pennsylvania’s founding in 1681. The Iroquois Covenant Chain and the Lenapes’ treaties with William Penn (1644-1718) established the diplomatic parameters that made the long peace possible and allowed Pennsylvania to avoid the kind of destructive frontier warfare that engulfed the Chesapeake and New England during Bacon’s Rebellion and King Philip’s War (1675-76). By the third decade of the eighteenth century, however, the delicate balance between Indians and colonists unraveled as Pennsylvania officials, with Iroquois permission, expropriated native lands in order to accommodate the westward migration of English, German, and Scots-Irish colonists. Few colonists appreciated in 1753 how their dispossession of Indian communities motivated the Lenape and other Indian groups to attack Pennsylvania’s frontier towns during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763).

[caption id="attachment_29780" align="alignright" width="300"]photograph of a woven wampum belt. the belt itself is a tan color with darker diagonal lines a a depiction of two human silhouettes holding hands This wampum belt, on exhibit at the Philadelphia History Museum, was said to be given to William Penn by the Lenapes at the time of the 1682 treaty. (Philadelphia History Museum)[/caption]

In the mid-1600s, upheavals among Indians in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions helped clear the way for the European settlement of the Delaware Valley. The Iroquois, equipped with Dutch (and later English) firearms, struck out against the Huron and other native groups to secure fur trading routes and take captives to replenish their numbers, which had been decimated by European diseases. By the time Charles II (1630-85) granted Penn his colonial charter, Iroquois raids had largely depopulated the Susquehanna Valley of its native inhabitants.

The Lenapes, or Delawares, who lived on both sides of the Delaware River, had been dealing with Dutch and Swedish colonists for decades and in 1675-77 sold lands in what became West New Jersey to English Quakers. Beginning in 1682, the Lenapes ceded lands on the west bank of the Delaware to Penn in exchange for cloth, guns, powder, alcohol, and other trade goods. Lenape chiefs such as Tamanend (Tammany) did not “sell” land as much as grant shared usage rights in the hopes of establishing a relationship with a potentially powerful European ally.

Mutual Benefits

With the Susquehanna Valley open for hunting beaver and other pelts that Europeans prized for Atlantic markets, the Lenapes were disposed to negotiate with Penn, a man they called Miquon (meaning “feather,” or quill pen, a Delaware pun on his last name). Penn, in return, promised he would deal with Indians honestly and fairly. These early treaties cemented Pennsylvania’s reputation as a peaceable colony where love and friendship prevailed between Indians and colonists, as famously portrayed later by the paintings of Benjamin West (1738-1820) and Edward Hicks (1780-1849).

William Penn, the Quaker founder and proprietor, desperately needed Indian partners. New York and Connecticut each claimed territory south of where Pennsylvania fixed its northern border, while Maryland’s Charles Calvert (1637-1715), Lord Baltimore, hotly disputed the location of Pennsylvania’s southern boundary. One reading of Maryland’s charter, in fact, placed that colony’s upper border north of Philadelphia. Penn used Indian titles to legitimate his land claims and ward off rivals. He also coveted Indian lands in the Susquehanna Valley, west of Philadelphia. By the early 1690s, Indians, fleeing warfare and colonization elsewhere, began settling the Susquehanna, including Lenape communities relocating to escape the growing colonial population in the Delaware Valley. They were joined by returning Susquehannocks (the original inhabitants of the region, now known as “Conestogas”), Shawnees, Mahicans, Senecas, Cayugas, Nanticokes, and Conoys, among others. These native settlers formed polyglot, multiethnic communities in Indian towns like Conestoga, Pequea, and, a little later, Shamokin.

Even before Penn consulted with Indian leaders in those communities, he sold colonists subscriptions to lands in the Susquehanna. Penn viewed the lower Susquehanna, with its access to the Chesapeake, as strategically vital to Pennsylvania’s commercial success. By attracting colonists there, he also hoped to redirect the lucrative Indian fur trade away from Albany, New York.

[caption id="attachment_18732" align="alignright" width="300"]color photo of Lenape chieftan's face with right arm raised to shade eyes while scouting the distance. topmost part of statue in Wissahickon Valley Park. A member of the Delaware, or Lenape, tribe, Teedyuscung grew up near what is now Trenton, New Jersey, and came in close contact with European settlers. Later in his life, he proclaimed himself “King of the Delawares” and through negotiations with the colonial government in Philadelphia, attempted to secure a permanent Lenape settlement in the Wyoming Valley. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Fortunately for Penn, Indians in the Susquehanna had good reasons to accommodate colonists. The Iroquois claimed the region by right of conquest (owing to their mid-seventeenth-century raids), and through their Covenant Chain alliance with New York, they also claimed to speak on behalf of all Indian groups living there. After Governor Thomas Dongan (1634-1715) of New York sold Penn his claim to the Susquehanna for a meager £100, Shawnee, Conoy, and Conestoga leaders seized the opportunity to recognize Pennsylvania’s authority in 1701. In doing so, they sought political legitimacy (at the expense of the Iroquois) as well as a valuable trading partner. As he did almost two decades earlier, Penn promised his Indian allies that his government would protect them from unruly colonists and dishonest traders.

Peace Preserved by "Go-betweens"

The 1701 treaty ensured Pennsylvania’s “long peace” would continue, although uneasily. It was held together by diplomatic “go-betweens,” Indian and colonial, who smoothed over the inevitable conflicts that arose in a frontier zone of multiple and overlapping native jurisdictions and where Pennsylvania held little authority. In one notable instance, in 1722, the murder of an Indian named Sawantaeny (d. 1722) by an English trader, John Cartlidge (1684-1722), during a drunken brawl touched off a diplomatic crisis that sent Pennsylvania officials to the Susquehanna Indian town of Conestoga (and the governor to Albany because Sawantaeny was a Seneca Iroquois). The willingness of the Iroquois, provincial government, and Susquehanna Indians to overlook the murder and forgive Cartlidge (who eventually was freed after the Iroquois received restitution) demonstrated the value of maintaining good relations on the frontier, where political stability was necessary for peaceful coexistence and the continued profitability of the fur trade. It also demonstrated that the Pennsylvania government understood the importance of observing Indian diplomatic protocols, especially during a political crisis.

The provincial official who led Pennsylvania’s investigation of Sawantaeny’s murder, James Logan (1674-1751), had an interest in maintaining order in the Susquehanna. The son of Scottish Quaker converts, Logan came to Pennsylvania in 1699 to serve as Penn’s provincial secretary. Shortly before leaving the colony in 1701, Penn entrusted Logan to look after his proprietary interests and manage his estate at Pennsbury. Logan remained in Pennsylvania for the rest of his life. During that time, he became a major political figure, serving, among other positions, as provincial councilor, land commissioner, and Pennsylvania’s chief Indian diplomat. He ran a successful merchant business in Philadelphia that supplied Indian customers using a cartel of traders who hauled his dry goods and rum into the Susquehanna on “Conestoga” wagons. By 1720, Logan had monopolized the fur trade and became one of the wealthiest colonists in Philadelphia.

Logan also engineered the “Walking Purchase,” one of the most infamous chapters in the history of Native American-Pennsylvania relations. In 1737, Logan and Thomas Penn (1702-75), then acting as Pennsylvania’s governor, claimed to possess a 1686 deed from the Lenape chief Mechkilikishi granting William Penn all the Indian lands that could be acquired within a day-and-a-half’s walk from Wrightstown in Bucks County. Although the deed was probably forged, the Iroquois sanctioned the “walk,” which took place in September with three of the colony’s fastest runners covering more than sixty miles. Logan used the “running walk,” as the Lenape termed it, to claim over a thousand square miles of Indian territory in the Delaware Forks (or in Lenape, Lechauwitank), where the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers converge (and where Allentown and Bethlehem are now located). Under pressure from the Iroquois, the Lenape in the region, along with their leader, Nutimus, were forced to relocate to the Wyoming Valley (near present-day Wilkes-Barre) and Shamokin.

The Walking Purchase and the colonization of the Susquehanna Valley left a bitter legacy in Pennsylvania-Native American relations. The Lenape chief Teedyuscung (c. 1700-63), who was among those displaced from the Delaware Forks, reemerged in the Wyoming Valley as a warrior who conducted periodic raids on Euroamerican settlements in eastern Pennsylvania during the Seven Years’ War. In a strange twist, he took part in the Treaty of Easton in 1758 as an ally of the Quakers and helped to broker a peace between the Pennsylvania government and Ohio Valley Indians, primarily Lenapes and Shawnees who had been displaced earlier from the Susquehanna. Murdered in 1763 by arsonists who burned his cabin under mysterious circumstances (likely colonists from Connecticut’s Susquehanna Company), Teedyuscung did not live to see many of his people forced to relocate again, under British imperial and Iroquois pressure, west of the Appalachians. His life and death, however, symbolized the entangled and intimate relations of Pennsylvanians and Native Americans through the first half of the eighteenth century.

Michael Goode is an Assistant Professor of Early American History at Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah.

Pontiac’s War and the Paxton Boys

Pontiac’s War (1763-66), a conflict between Native Americans and the British Empire, began in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions but had important ramifications for Philadelphians as panic in the Pennsylvania backcountry sent refugees to the city. The arrival of the “Paxton Boys,” who were determined to seek revenge against Indians, sparked a political crisis with lasting consequences.   

[caption id="attachment_11722" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white drawing on yellowed paper showing a group of men dressed as Quakers huddled in a group, one of them is dancing with a naked Native American woman. Ben Franklin is on the right of this drawing looking at the scene from behind a curtain. The impact of Pontiac's War and the Paxton Boys led to less public support of the Quaker Party. This satirical political cartoon by Henry Dawkins in 1764 depicts prominent Quaker Israel Pemberton dancing with a Native American and Benjamin Franklin scheming to control the Quaker Party for his own political gain. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The immediate catalyst for the war was the French surrender of its North American territories at the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, which left Native peoples bereft of an important ally with which to check British imperial claims on their lands. Historians in the past referred to the war as an “uprising,” but the term is misleading. An uprising implies rebellion against an established authority; most Indians involved in the conflict were far beyond British imperial control. Pontiac (c. 1720-69), the Ottawa warrior whom the war is named after, was only one among many Indian leaders coordinating attacks on British forts and settlers. Pontiac’s treaty with the British at Fort Ontario in 1766 ended his part in the war, but Indians east of the Mississippi continued to fight British, then American expansionism in the decades that followed.     

Initially, the war appeared to be far removed from eastern Pennsylvania. The conflict began in the spring of 1763 when Pontiac assaulted Fort Detroit with Ottawa, Huron, Pottawatomi, and Ojibwa warriors. Pontiac failed to take the fort, but his siege cut Detroit off from vital British supply and communication lines. Within a few months, Native groups succeeded in overtaking at least eight other British outposts in the Great Lakes and Ohio Country regions. Fort Pitt remained in British hands, but Lenape (Delaware), Shawnees, and Mingos successfully besieged it for months and harassed its supply lines.

Pontiac's "Savage Genius"

The nineteenth-century historian Francis Parkman (1823-93) believed Pontiac was the mastermind behind the war who united disparate Indian groups, but in reality his influence was limited. Native groups coordinated their attacks, but each Indian community fought to preserve its own autonomy. Besides a common enemy, Indian combatants were also linked together by a network of Native religious revivalism that rejected dependence on European trade goods–alcohol was particularly singled out–as a way to keep Indian and white colonists separate. For Indian participants, Pontiac’s War had religious as well as political dimensions.

Indian raids threw backcountry Pennsylvania settlers into sheer panic. Lenape and Shawnee warriors in small raiding parties of a dozen or more attacked frontier farms and settlements as far east as the Susquehanna River Valley. There are no firm casualty figures, but in addition to the perhaps hundreds of colonists killed or captured, thousands of frontier settlers fled to Philadelphia and to more secure towns and fortifications in the Delaware Valley. Hastily organized militia companies were ineffective at preventing the raids, and Lt. Governor James Hamilton’s (c. 1710-83)  £25-per-head scalp bounty accomplished nothing except to encourage armed colonists to bully or kill a few neighboring Indians who had nothing to do with the conflict.  

In November 1763, the threat of settler violence motivated hundreds of Moravian Indian converts from Bethlehem to relocate to Philadelphia seeking the provincial government’s protection. They were soon joined by other Indians from Wyalusing, a mixed-Native settlement in the upper Susquehanna. The government housed the Indians in a city-owned infirmary on Province Island (in the Delaware River south of Philadelphia).

Conestoga Indians Slain

[caption id="attachment_11723" align="alignright" width="300"]A sepia-tone drawing of a group of men dressed in hats and jackets attacking a group of people in simple clothing in the middle of a street. There is a row of buildings in the background, but they are in the distance behind the group of people. In 1841, William Sinclair created this depiction of the Paxton Boys attacking Native Americans at Conestoga. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

While on Province Island, the refugees suffered from disease and neglect, but a far worse fate awaited the small community at Conestoga, an Indian reserve near Lancaster that was supposed to be under the protection of the Penn family. In December, approximately fifty Scots-Irish Presbyterian settlers from Paxton Township rode into Conestoga and massacred six inhabitants, mutilating and scalping their bodies. The “Paxton Boys,” as the vigilantes came to be known, claimed the unarmed Conestogas were harboring enemy spies and providing material support to the Indian war effort. The charge was a fabrication that masqueraded as a justification for the killings. In reality, the Paxton Boys’ were eager to rid the Susquehanna Valley of all Indians, friendly or combatant. The remaining members of Conestoga sought protection inside a Lancaster workhouse, but the Paxton vigilantes arrived a week later and forced their way in, massacring another fourteen. A company of Royal Highlanders stationed nearby did nothing to prevent the atrocity, and the attackers were never brought to justice.  

In January 1764, as many as two hundred settlers from Paxton marched to Philadelphia, making it as far as Germantown, where they decided to halt after hearing that the city’s militia had mobilized. The marchers claimed they were merely protesting the government’s failure to protect them. It is doubtful whether anyone believed their second stated intention to “conduct” the Indian refugees at Province Island out of the colony without harming them. Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) negotiated a compromise: The marchers agreed to disperse, and one of the leaders, Matthew Smith (1734-94), was allowed into the city to publish their grievances.

[caption id="attachment_11661" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white drawing of of a an mountainous field. A man dressed as a Quaker and anther man dresses as a native american are riding on the back of two men who are dresses as working class immigrants. The field has a house burning in the background and children lie dead in the foreground of the drawing. Ben Franklin is on the left side of the image holding a paper that condemns a group called the Paxton Boys. A political cartoon by James Claypoole depicts a reaction to the Philadelphia Quakers and Benjamin Franklin after they did not support the Paxton Boys' cause. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The crisis marked a major turning point in Philadelphia’s history. It ignited a tract war that pitted Benjamin Franklin and the “Quaker party” in the Assembly against backcountry settlers and their supporters in Philadelphia. The latter group depicted the city’s Quaker elite as hypocrites who cared more for the welfare of Indians than for frontier settlers. One political cartoon depicted Quakers and Indians riding on the backs of Irish and German colonists; another showed the prominent Quaker leader Israel Pemberton (1715-79) dancing with a topless female “squaw.” Franklin tried to reframe the debate by blaming the colony’s problems on the newly-arrived proprietor John Penn, but he badly miscalculated by advocating that Pennsylvania be turned into a royal colony–a proposition that, not surprisingly, went nowhere on the eve of the Stamp Act crisis. The elections held later that year, which saw the highest voter turnout up to that time in Pennsylvania’s history, swept Franklin and members of the pro-Quaker party out of the Assembly and inaugurated a new era of popular politics. The anti-Indian racism epitomized by the Paxton Boys also endured well beyond the American Revolution.

Michael Goode is an Assistant Professor of Early American History at Utah Valley University.

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