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).

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)

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.

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)

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. (Author information current at time of publication.)

Copyright 2015, Rutgers University


Wampum Belt

Philadelphia History Museum

This wampum belt was said to be given to William Penn by the Lenape tribe at the time of the 1682 treaty. The belt, donated in 1857 to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by a great grandson of Penn, is made of white wampum with darker accent beads and depicts two figures holding hands, often interpreted as a sign of friendship and peace. Wampum refers to the shell beads used as currency by Native Americans in the eastern United States. The beads are made of clam and whelk shells and were used as memory aids, often given to commemorate important events such as engagements, marriages, or funerals. Wampum could be fashioned into a belt and used to keep an oral history. The belts were also used as currency and—as seems to be the case here—to mark the creation of treaties.

Penn's Treaty with the Indians

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Penn Treaty Park is at 1341 N. Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia’s Fishtown section, about one-and-a-half-miles upriver from Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. Traditional accounts say William Penn’s peaceful treaty with the Lenni Lenape was negotiated on land now occupied by the park. The iconic event is depicted as Benjamin West imagined it in his painting Penn’s Treaty with the Indians. The site of the agreement was said to be marked by the Great Elm, located to the right in the image. The original elm fell during a storm in 1810, and two hundred years later, in May 2010, a descendant elm was planted in its place. Though no first-hand evidence of the treaty exists, West and other artists have contributed to the legend through their art, and the park’s establishment helped perpetuate it as well.

Friends Meeting House and Old Court House

Library Company of Philadelphia

Friends Meeting House (at left in this image) and Old Court House, both on Market Street near Second Street, served as important meeting places during the colonial era. In 1728, rumors of hostility and skirmishes between European settlers and local Delaware, Shawnee, and Susquehannock tribes almost erupted into a war. Tensions heightened after three Delaware men were murdered in the Susquehanna River Valley. Pennsylvania Governor Patrick Gordon, using fur traders as intermediaries, quelled tensions with meetings at the Friends Meeting House in July and at the Court House in October of that year.

The Friends Meeting House was built in 1696 and rebuilt on the same location in 1754. It was home to some of the most important meetings for the Society of Friends in the eighteenth century and was demolished in 1804 when it was replaced by the Arch Street Meeting House at Fourth and Arch Streets. The Old Court House was built between 1707 and 1710 and served as a center of justice for the city until the construction of the Philadelphia County Court House in 1780. The Old Court House was demolished in 1837.

Walking Purchase Survey Map in 1737

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Produced soon after three Philadelphia "walkers" ran miles beyond the distance expected by the Delaware Indians, this map by surveyor John Chapman in 1737 shows the layout of the newly claimed territory of the Walking Purchase. Wrightstown, the area where the "walkers" started their day-and-a-half journey northwest, is near the bottom right of this map. The mountain range to the upper left of this map shows the northern boundary that was angled northeast towards the Delaware River, greatly increasing the total acreage of the land for Thomas Penn, John Penn, and James Logan. Drawings of a man walking with a dog, and two other animal drawings, embellish the map.

Teedyuscung Statue

Peeking from behind a boulder, this is the top portion of a twelve-foot statue carved in the likeness of Lenape Chief Teedyuscung (1700-63) that sits high above Wissahickon Creek in the Wissahickon Valley Park section of Fairmount Park. The statue was originally made of wood, but was replaced with this limestone replica in 1902. It was designed by John Massey Rhind for Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Henry, a wealthy Philadelphia couple who wished to create a more permanent tribute.

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. As a young man he became familiar with European customs, language, and religion and when he relocated to Pennsylvania he used his knowledge to advocate to the colonists on behalf of the Lenape who could not speak English or appeal to the colonial government. Later in his life, Teedyuscung 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. After being refused a permanent Lenape homeland by the Iroquois in 1763, Teedyuscung was murdered by arsonists who burned his home while he slept. The Lenape were never granted land in the Wyoming Valley and were moved west of the Appalachian Mountains under provisions of the Proclamation of 1763. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)

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Related Reading

Fur, Gunlög. A Nation of Women: Gender and Colonial Encounters Among the Delaware Indians. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Jennings, Francis. The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation of Indian Tribes with English Colonies from Its Beginnings to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1990

Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Merrell, James H. Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.

Merritt, Jane T. At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Pencak, William and Daniel K. Richter, eds. Friends and Enemies in Penn’s Woods: Colonists, Indians, and the Racial Construction of Pennsylvania. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004.

Richter, Daniel and James H. Merrell, eds. Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1987.

Schutt, Amy. Peoples of the River Valleys: The Odyssey of the Delaware Indians. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

Smolenski, John. Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Soderlund, Jean. Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

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