This page has annotations:
- 1 2016-11-20T15:00:00-08:00 Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c A Declaration and Remonstrance - 4 Will Fenton 1 (annotation) plain 2016-11-20T15:00:00-08:00 Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c
- 1 2016-12-04T14:04:14-08:00 Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c An Answer to the Pamphlet Entitled "The Conduct of the Paxton Men" - 27 Will Fenton 1 (annotation) plain 2016-12-04T14:04:14-08:00 Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c
This page has paths:
- 1 2016-08-19T16:54:45-07:00 Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c A Declaration and Remonstrance Will Fenton 2 A declaration and remonstrance of the distressed and bleeding frontier inhabitants of the province of Pennsylvania, presented by them to the Honourable the governor and Assembly of the province, shewing the causes of their late discontent and uneasiness and the grievances under which they have laboured, and which they humbly pray to have redress'd. gallery 2018-02-12T01:11:29-08:00 [Philadelphia] : Printed [by William Bradford], in the year M,DCC,LXIV.  Smith, Matthew. Call Number: Am 1764 Smi Ar.64 D 29 On the massacre of the Conestoga Indians by the "Paxton Boys" and the Indian policy of the Pennsylvania authorities. "Signed on behalf of ourselves, and by appointment of a great number of the frontier inhabitants. Matthew Smith. James Gibson. February 13th, 1764."--p. 18. Printer's name and place of publication supplied by Evans. Evans, C. American bibliography, 9630; English short title catalogue (ESTC), W37880; Hildeburn, C.R. Pennsylvania, 1969 Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c
This page is referenced by:
The Paxton pamphlet war was waged in physical materials. The pamphlets and prints that circulated in Philadelphia during 1764 were material objects that had value as consumer goods in the marketplace. Yet their worth lay less in the paper and ink that composed them than in what scholars would call their materiality, the power these printed words or images had to evoke ideas about self and society in their readers or viewers. Those ideas assumed forms that reflected the eighteenth-century Pennsylvania culture that produced and consumed them.
Thus, when Paxton critic Timothy Wigwagg called upon his fellow Pennsylvanians to gaze into a collective looking glass (a mirror) to see the Paxton men’s true motives and character, he highlighted the central role of material culture in this pamphlet war.
Thanks to an eighteenth-century consumer revolution, small and affordable hand-held mirrors had become increasingly common goods in colonial America, allowing colonists to gaze at themselves and assess their appearances (Breen). Yet as Wigwagg knew well, mirrors did more than just reflect; they were also optical devices that could magnify and distort images, which gave them magical properties that allowed their holders to see truths and predict the future. Wigwagg was thus confident that his looking into mirror would reveal “Painted in the most striking Colours” the lines of a “design well Plann’d and Judiciously executed” by the Scots-Irish Presbyterian Paxton Boys, a design that would then be “clear to the Understanding of every Person, and Recorded in History as undeniable Facts.” Material objects such as looking glasses, Wigwagg argued, were powerful lenses that could be manipulated to reveal the hidden identities and agendas of the Paxton men.
Wigwagg’s use of the looking glass was metaphorical. Yet it illustrates how the writers and illustrators of the pamphlet war employed a commonly understood language of material goods to mobilize public opinion and persuade their readers. Then, as now, material goods were read as indicators of an individual’s class status and identities. They could also be used in figurative ways to stereotype and stigmatize groups.
Such was the case with the pamphlet war; for when these writers and illustrators depicted the physical appearance of those groups involved in this crisis, including how they dressed, the props or weapons they carried, and the objects they pursued or were associated with, they employed material culture as a rhetorical device to embody group identities and distinguish villains from victims. Yet because the Paxton men had both their critics and supporters, no group involved in the Paxton crisis was spared scrutiny.
As the ethnic group most closely identified with the Paxton men, Pennsylvania’s Scots-Irish were the first group pamphleteers caricatured. Benjamin Franklin set the precedent in his pamphlet, A Narrative of the Late Massacres, which sparked the pamphlet war. Franklin was an esteemed printer, editor, satirist, and “an extraordinarily knowledgeable student” in the use of “visual symbols, devices, and heraldry” for maximum impact on his audiences (Lemay 465). In this case, textual representations that would evoke visceral visual images were his weapons of choice. The Paxton men, he charged, were “CHRISTIAN WHITE SAVAGES” who had “inhumanly murdered” the Conestogas “in cold Blood” (8). To confirm, he signaled the Paxton men’s “barbarous” intent (9) with the “Firelocks, Hangers, and Hatchets” they carried with them as they road in to Lancaster on the day of the massacre (5). Readers, he knew, would notice that these Scots-Irish frontiersmen carried not just the muskets and swords typical of Euro-American warriors, but hatchets, items that were manufactured for the Indian trade, and weapons that colonists had come to associate with the most brutal forms of Indian warfare. In linking the Paxton men to a weapon used to stereotype Native warriors as bloodthirsty brutes, Franklin sought to prove their nefarious intent.
Because intense ethnic and religious political rivalries undergirded the pamphlet war, Franklin also sought to undermine Scots-Irish political standing in the colony. To do so, he rhetorically racialized the Paxton men by associating these “freckled Face[d] and red Hair[ed]” Scots-Irish Presbyterians--a stereotyped portrait of an Irishman, even in the eighteenth century--with these heinous acts of violence (Bankhurst; Kenny). His point was clear: Scots-Irish Presbyterians were inherently bloodthirsty and thus stood apart as a savage other. To confirm, he noted how even the Turks, Moors, Popish Spaniards, and “Negroes of Africa” (21)--groups his colonial readers would most certainly have perceived as savage--were more civil than “these People” (13). By reducing the Scots-Irish to an ethnic stereotype, one that played to anti-Irish and anti-Presbyterian prejudices of his time, Franklin discredited these men as members of the provincial society. As he reckoned it for his readers, brutes who had “imbrued” their “Hands in innocent Blood,” thereby breaking the laws of King, Country, and God, did not deserve to be part of the polity (27).
Scots-Irish bloodthirstiness became a popular trope used by Paxton critics. In the satiric, A Dialogue Between Andrew Trueman, and Thomas Zealot another anonymous pamphleteer wrote his narrative in a derogatory dialect meant to mimic an Ulster brogue, using the material sound of language to emphasize the cultural coarseness of the Scots-Irish. The fictional Thomas tells Andrew that while “fechting [fighting] the Lord’s Battles and killing the Indians at Lancaster and Cannestogoe,” he and other Paxton men had “shot six and a wee ane, that was in the Squaw’s Belly; we sculped three; we tomahawked three; we roasted three and a wee ane; and three and a wee ane we gave to the Hogs.” Shooting and roasting women and children were unimaginably heinous acts, but just as troubling, was the fact that these Christian Paxton men scalped and tomahawked them with hatchets in Indian-style.
Paxton critics thus echoed Franklin’s critique of the inherently bloodthirsty nature of the Scots-Irish, while taking it one step further to suggest that these Scots-Irish were nothing more than bloodthirsty Irish Catholics in disguise. “[T]hey are all the same Family,” remarked another critic, “and always attended Mass in Ireland, whatever they may do in Pennsylvania.”
While Paxton critics ridiculed the Scots-Irish as blood-thirsty brutes, Paxton apologists took up a looking glass of their own and tilted it away from the heinous deeds of the Paxton men and towards their political adversaries, the Quakers. Using their mirror as a kind of magnifying glass, they saw deception. Material goods were not so much symbolic representations as they were props that could be manipulated to disguise Friends’ true character and intent.
Proving Quaker duplicity was the primary intent of Paxton apologists. As the English immigrant pamphleteer David James Dove wrote, the Quakers acted “meek, merciful, [and] compassionate” to the point they “would seem to monopolize Christian Charity, and all the Tenderness of human Nature amongst themselves.” But they were not what they appeared to be to be. Indeed, upon hearing of the frontier depredations of Pontiac’s War, which had forced “near a thousand Families” to flee their homes and farms, Philadelphia Quakers had turned unsympathetically in the other direction, ignoring the plight of frontier colonists. These “compassionate and merciful Christians,” Dove noted with irony, “would not grant a single Farthing … for the Relief of their Fellow Subjects.” Yet they assisted and even sheltered Native American allies, a fact that Dove and other Paxton apologists regarded as particularly galling.
The Paxton men echoed this charge in their Declaration & Remonstrance. As they saw it, Philadelphia’s Quakers “cherished and caressed” the Conestogas “as dearest Friends,” even though frontier residents accused these Native peoples of being allied with the colony’s “openly avowed imbittered Enemies.” Consequently, the Paxton men, who turned the tables on their critics by identifying themselves as “his Majesty’s faithful and loyal Subjects” (10), felt abandoned by Quaker political leaders who ignored their plight while finding the “means to enslave the Province to Indians” (8).
Such favoritism, as the satirical etching Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers illustrates, was driven by avarice. Money served as the material object that Friends’ most desired and would do anything to acquire, even if it meant encouraging Native peoples to make war on frontier settlers. On the left-hand side of the illustration, Quaker merchant Israel Pemberton, signaled with his broad-brimmed hat and initials on the barrel, disperses hatchets to Indians, telling them to “Exercise those on the Scotch Irish & Dutch [Germans] & I’ll support you while I can.” Meanwhile, Benjamin Franklin, to the right, calls the shots, urging others on while he holds a bag of Pennsylvania money while a group of Quaker men sit at the table and fret over the colony’s fate. A small Quaker man standing behind Franklin calls attention to the scene, observing: “This is the way our Money goes.”
Diagnosing deception did not fully explain how the Quakers had duped the colony, however. To do that, colonists had to tear off the Quakers’ “Mask of falsely pretended Friendship” and strip them naked in order to reveal the truth of their selfish motives. This call to unmask the Quakers was a metaphorical one, yet it held persuasive power because it posed a head-on challenge to their physical modes of spiritual expression and self-presentation.
Quakerism, as any Pennsylvanian knew, had an embodied quality that placed emphasis on corporeal forms of worship, including the controversial practice of quaking with the divine Light, which critics charged were staged to dazzle, enchant, and deceive onlookers (Tarter 145-151). Then there was the Quaker practice of plainness, which included the adoption of simple dress, speech, and manners. Among Quaker men, hats were especially important objects used to express this group aesthetic. Refusing to doff one’s hat to a superior was a hallmark of the Quaker commitment to denying false distinctions among men (Haulman 22; Kesselring 299-304; Smolenski).
Because Quaker critics disagreed and interpreted Quaker men’s refusal to engage in “hat honour” (Kesselring 302) as a sign of disrespect for others, Paxton apologists frequently used broad-brimmed hats as visual cues to distinguish Quakers from others in the colony. The verses accompanying the illustration, The German bleeds & bears ye Furs noted how the “Hibernian … kicks to fling his broad brim’d Master.” Yet in depicting this plain-dressed, broad brimmed man as the master who rides the back of the Scots-Irishman with a hatchet-carrying Indian and a blindfolded German yoked to his arm (with Benjamin Franklin again overseeing the action from the sidelines) the engraver also captured the suspicions many Pennsylvanians harbored of the Quakers; namely, that these “broad-brims” were really the oppressive “Lords” whose desire of profit from trade with the Indians left a trail of dead colonists and burning cabins in their wake. Plain speech and simple dress were nothing more than disguises that masked the Quakers’ true character and intent.
The Native Americans
While pamphlet war authors and illustrators targeted Scots-Irish Presbyterians and Quakers as the villains in the Paxton crisis, their take on Pennsylvania’s Native peoples varied depending on their position in this war.
Anti-Paxton writers focused their attention on the Conestogas, emphasizing their victimhood at the hands of the murderous Paxton men. The Conestogas, as Benjamin Franklin noted, were long known for “many Years” living “in Friendship with their White Neighbours” and “their peaceable inoffensive Behaviour.” More significant, he signaled their “poor, defenceless” status by “the Baskets, Brooms, and Bowls they manufactured” and sold to colonists. Their association with domestic tools, ones typically associated with women’s housekeeping and food preparation chores, feminized them, rendering these “trembling Lambs” even more sympathetic victims of the “savage Beasts of Prey,” the Paxton men (6). To make their case, Paxton apologists cast a wider net, drawing no distinction between the peaceful, Christian Indians and the colony’s Native American enemies, those who had “laid waste” to the frontier and practiced severe “Cruelties” on white captives.
Armed with the assumption that all Native peoples were inherently barbaric, they regarded the Conestogas with intense suspicion, and thus deployed the metaphorical looking glass to scrutinize these Natives’ actions and motives. What they found reflected back at them was deception. The Conestogas, charged Thomas Barton “have been Spies upon all our Actions” and “have treacherously held a Correspondence with our avowed Enemies—and have often lent a helping Hand to bring Ruin and Desolation upon the Province.”
This meant that the Conestogas were also artful wearers of disguises. “[T]o Day they are painted red, To-morrow blue, and the next Day they are any other Colour that they think will best prevent their being known,” wrote David James Dove. And once colonists removed their paint, wrote another, the true nature of these “Wolf-like” people was revealed; the Conestogas were not colony’s friends, but its enemies.
Paxton apologists, many of whom adamantly opposed his campaign to oust the Penn family proprietorship and replace it with royal government, seized upon the opportunity the Paxton crisis offered to critique of Franklin and his politics. Franklin, they argued, reveled in artifice. Rev. William Smith, the Anglican provost of the College of Philadelphia, charged that Franklin’s “real design … was not to elucidate, but the disguise and conceal the truth; which … according to his usual custom, he has very artfully, but not honestly, done.”
To reveal his trickery, engravers pulled back a curtain and depicted Franklin as the powerbroker on the sidelines who called the shots. In Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers, Franklin holds the colony’s money while inciting action by calling out “Fight Dog[,] Fight Bear[,] I am Content If I but get the Gover’t.” Likewise, in The German bleeds & bears ye Furs, Franklin steps from the left while holding a petition to remove the proprietors; four tethered figures approach him with the Quaker reaching out his hand to greet him. In the verses that accompany the print, Franklin is identified as “the help” who arrives to “hold down the Hibernian[’]s Head” so that all would not “tumble down.”
To his critics, Franklin was the ultimate double-dealer. By terminating the proprietary government so that he might advance his own interests as his goals, he used his “knowing head, and Silver tongue,” as the lyrics of a satirical song suggested, to dupe others, particularly the Quakers, into believing that he was a “gentle humane worthy man, a Pious good Samaritan.” Franklin was thus the real threat to the colony and its people.
While pamphlet war writers and illustrators lampooned many of Pennsylvania’s ethnic, religious, and racial groups, they mostly spared the colony’s Germans. Given the distinctiveness of the German language and material culture, this is a curious omission; the Germans would have been easy to satirize with various visual and material cues (Falk). Ten years earlier, after all, Franklin had characterized them “Palatine Boors,” likening these newcomers to swine who “swarm into our settlements” and “become a Colony of Aliens” (Franklin).
Furthermore, frontier German colonists were Paxton men. As such, they had joined the Scots-Irish who rode into Lancaster and murdered the Conestogas and had marched on Philadelphia, and that was because they, too, were angry about the protected status of these Native peoples. As the Lutheran Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg confirmed, “many of our Germans thought that it could be proved that the Indians living among the Moravian brethren had secretly murdered one or more of the inhabitants” (I:73-78). So why, then, did pamphleteers and engravers mostly ignore them?
Both Paxton critics and apologists mostly agreed that the German were dupes being led along by others during this crisis. Paxton critic Isaac Hunt, charged that the Scots-Irish had tried to “blind the Dutch [Germans] by all the Political Dust [they] can raise.” As the print and verses accompanying, The German bleeds & bears ye Furs, demonstrate, Paxton apologists agreed, the bleeding, blindfolded German who bore “the furs of Quaker Lords and Savage Curs,” was nothing more than a dupe who was led along, not by the Scots-Irish, but by Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers.
The blindfold, then, was the agreed upon material symbol for the colony’s Germans. This is significant because in a print debate that was ultimately a proxy for a larger discussion of power and identity in the colony, dismissing the Germans as easily-led fools also signaled their status as outsiders. Depictions of blindfolded Germans indirectly confirmed Franklin’s characterization of them as ignorant “Aliens,” which, as William Smith wrote in their defense, denied their agency as “the industrious” people” to whom this province is so much indebted for its flourishing state.”
In a colony that was marked by tremendous cultural diversity by the mid-eighteenth century, the writers and illustrators who fanned the flames of the Paxton crisis employed looking glasses of their own making to scrutinize the objects that their ethnic, religious, or racial rivals wore, carried, or desired. Their goal was to reveal truths that would allow them to assess and dismiss their rivals’ claims to status and power in the colony. But context mattered, as these critics knew, because material items could be used in artful ways to disguise, obscure, or even blind. Thus, their works ought to be read as cautionary tales. In an age when consumer goods, including pamphlets and prints, were more readily available than ever before, colonists, these writers and illustrators warned, had to be wary about how they perceived and interacted with the diverse others around them, because not every group was who they appeared outwardly to be.
This essay is based on Judith Ridner’s article “Unmasking the Paxton Boys: The Material Culture of the Pamphlet War” (Early American Studies, 2016). For more about Judith Ridner, visit the Creators page.
- Benjamin Bankhurst, “A Looking-Glass for Presbyterians: Recasting Prejudice in Late Colonial Pennsylvania,” PMHB 133.4 (October 2009): 317-348.
- T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Cynthia Falk, Architecture and Artifacts of the Pennsylvania Germans: Constructing Identity in Early America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008).
- Benjamin Franklin, “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind” (Benjamin Franklin Papers (1751): Vol 4: 225).
- Kate Haulman, The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).
- Kevin Kenny, Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Krista J. Kesselring, “Gender, the Hat, and Quaker Universalism in the Wake of the English Revolution,” Seventeenth Century 26.2 (October 2011): 299-322.
- J. A. Leo Lemay, “The American Aesthetic of Franklin’s Visual Creations,” PMHB 111.4 (1987): 465-499.
- Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, Account of the march of the Paxton Boys against Philadelphia in the year 1764. (Philadelphia: John Pennington and Henry C. Baird, 1853).
- John Smolenksi, Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).
- Michele Lise Tarter, “Quaking in the Light,” in A Centre of Wonders: The Body in Early America, eds. Janet Moore Lindman and Michele Lise Tarter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).
media/The Indians giving a talk - cropped.jpg
When Philadelphia government officials condemned the actions of the Paxton settlers who murdered Christian Indians at Conestoga in late December of 1763, representatives of the rioters answered their critics with an official letter of explanation addressed to Governor John Penn. This essay, delivered in February 1764, in part justified the vigilantism of the Paxton settlers by complaining that the governor had paid “exorbitant presents and great servility” to Indians during treaty negotiations at the expense of defending the lives and interests of settler colonists. They charged that “at the last treaty, not only was the Blood of our many murdered Brethren tamely covered, but our poor unhappy captivated Friends abandoned to Slavery.”
This point of dissatisfaction was reiterated in another essay, “The Apology of the Paxton Volunteers,” which claimed that Indians “insolently boasted of the horrid Murders they had committed, when they saw that our Blood was tamely covered at the last treaty and themselves loaded with presents.” The repeated claim that settler blood had been “tamely covered” referred to a ceremonial practice with deep, but divergent, cultural and political significance for colonists and Indians in early Pennsylvania: the condolence ceremony.
A degree of truth lay beneath the Paxton Boy’s charges that elite leaders had neglected the rituals of grief. In one of his first acts as the new governor of Pennsylvania, in early December 1763, John Penn had convened a treaty conference with representatives of the Delaware nation that disregarded the conventions of condolence by neither expressing nor soliciting grief. Official government minutes recording December 1763 treaty transactions between Governor John Penn and Papounan, a “Mohickon” allied with the Delawares and Nanticokes, reveal the accuracy of the Paxtonites’ assertions concerning the governor’s lack of ceremony. The governor neither demanded nor received any expressions of condolence from the assembled Native Americans. Instead, he explained to the assembly that he would take the dead bodies of the slain settlers and “by this string…bury them and cover them out of sight” (Penn 85). As far as the Paxton settlers were concerned, the governor’s breach of traditional decorum demonstrated his disregard for his subjects.
From early on, European colonists who wished to negotiate with native peoples learned that, in order to do so, they would have to participate in Indian diplomatic traditions. As Daniel Richter has described at length, among these ceremonies, rituals tied to grief for the dead were among the most important and widespread. Although grief rituals had originated with Haudenosaunee (Iroquoian) groups, they had become common among many native peoples in the Pennsylvania region by the latter half of the eighteenth century. Attempting to comprehend the meaning of Indian expressions of grief in the context of diplomacy, Euro-Americans had long labeled these Indian practices “condolence ceremonies.” But this very term should alert us to the culturally incommensurate understandings of mourning that Euro-American and Native Americans brought to rituals of grief.
Euro-Americans regarded the expression of condolences as a ritual mark of respect that paid homage to high-ranking people. Records of treaty negotiations held in Pennsylvania frequently noted that “compliments of condolence for the deaths of persons of distinction [were] exchanged” (Members of the Pennsylvania Council 274). This now-obsolete phrase, the “compliments of condolence,” indicates the role such expressions of shared sorrow played in the Euro-American context (“Condolence”). First, only persons of high rank deserved to be honored with the “compliment of condolence.” Second, the mere expression of shared sorrow did not signify that the person offering condolences was experiencing any inner feelings of grief or sadness, merely that they were paying respect by offering an “outward expression of sympathy with the grief of others.” Euro-Americans made public declarations of grief only when they wished to confer a mark of status on a person of public importance. Whatever private inner experience of sorrow the death of a subordinate member of Euro-American society might generate among family or friends, only leading men were regarded as acceptable candidates for public expressions of mourning. Likewise, showing public deference at the death of a noteworthy man did not necessitate inner emotional sorrow; it simply required an outward tribute.
For the settler colonists at Paxton, the idea that deaths among their members had been quickly covered over during diplomatic meetings, rather than made an occasion for ceremonial mourning, was insulting in the extreme. Their letter complained that “exorbitant presents and great Servility…paid to Indians, have long been oppressive Grievances we have groaned under.” From the Paxton perspective, all Euro-Americans should be regarded as superior to all Native Americans and thus deserving of the “compliments of condolence” from Indians. When Governor Penn “tamely covered” the settlers’ dead without demanding condolences from Indians, he as much as said that he did not regard frontier settlers as worthy of such honorary tribute.
Borderlands colonists assumed that Indians too intended to send a signal of disrespect by not expressing grief. As one pro-Paxton pamphlet writer demanded, “Did we hear any of those Lamentations that are now so plentifully poured forth for the Conestogoe Indians?— O my dear Friends! Must I answer No? The Dutch and the Irish are murdered without Pity.” Backcountry settlers repeatedly complained that colonial leaders’ emotional comportment conveyed more respect for Indians than for their fellow Europeans. They believed that the governor’s omission of the expression of grief at the deaths of their countrymen amounted to an insult to the dignity and value of their lives.
In reality, the native peoples of Pennsylvania brought a very different set of social expectations and cultural understandings to the ceremonies of grief that they made central to their diplomatic practices. Native American diplomatic protocol relied on many opening ceremonies that were designed to bring participants at treaty conferences into a harmonious state of mind before negotiations began. For Indians, the shared experience of grief was a way to create a community of feeling that could unite former enemies. Indians expressed grief at the deaths of all people, regardless of the rank of the deceased. The point of mingling tears and then wiping them away was to merge disparate peoples together as a unified whole.
Expressions of mutuality were a key element of Native American condolence rituals. As a Native American leader known as, “The Belt,” said in 1756, “kind Expressions of condolence” indicated that Indians and English had “experienced a common Loss [that] affected you as well as us, thereby signifying that we were one people and our Cause the same” (Old Belt 1). For Euro-Americans, subjective feelings of sadness were far less important than statements of tribute that demonstrated the respect in which the deceased was held; the very definition of condolence specified that it involved the ceremonial outward expression of sympathy on the occasion of a death rather than any great inward experience of sorrow. By contrast, Indian grief rituals were supposed to create a deep inner communion between peoples. For more on condolence ceremonies, reference White, Shannon, Gustafson, and Sayre).
Fundamentally, then, the Euro-American term “condolence ceremony” redirected and misrepresented the Indian tradition. First, Euro-Americans were interested in ceremonial performance, not emotional experience. Secondly, whereas Euro-Americans regarded a successful demand for condolences as an effective display of dominance, native peoples regarded a genuine sharing of grief as a means of sweeping away divisions among peoples, a key element in the resumption of peaceful relations.
When Governor John Penn “tamely covered” the settler dead at the December treaty conference, he did so with the primary goal of smoothing over frontier tensions and returning the colony to peace and stability. Far from seeking to melt away distinctions between Indians and Europeans in a flood of shared tears, Penn wanted to strengthen and secure his colony’s boundaries. But neither did he hesitate to skip the Indian custom of grieving for all deceased people. In the aftermath of the Seven Years War, Penn was much less concerned with affirming the lives and fortunes of the colony’s frontier inhabitants, than with moving past lingering Indian issues and on to pressing domestic policy concerns. Of course, such a statement made sense in diplomatic terms; if statements of grief constituted calls for action, then the decision to omit demands for condolences underscored the governor’s desire to dampen the spread of Indian conflicts in favor of a quick and uncomplicated peace.
The tragedy of the truncated condolence ceremony in December of 1763 is that the assembled Indians likely intended to follow Penn’s lead and to relinquish grief in favor of peace, not to further provoke the colony by conveying disrespect for the settler dead. Yet, in part because condolences were not asked or offered, backcountry settlers exacted revenge on their Christian Indian neighbors, undercutting the very peace that the Indians had sought to ensure. Their action did little to force respect from Governor Penn, much less from the Indians. Yet, by the following July, it did result in a new official policy allowing “that there shall be paid…to all and every person…premiums and Bounties for the prisoners and Scalps of Enemy Indians that shall be taken or killed within the Bounds of this Province.”
This essay draws upon research from two chapters of Nicole Eustace's book, Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution (UNC Press 2011). To learn more about Nicole Eustace, visit the Creators page.
- “Condolence, n.” definition 2 a, Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press 2016.
- Sandra M. Gustafson, Eloquence Is Power: Oratory and Performance in Early America (Chapel Hill: UNC Press 2000).
- Members of the Pennsylvania Council, “On Considering the Several Matters Set forth in the Minutes of Council… Dec. 24, 1754,” in Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, Volume VI (Harrisburg, PA: Theo. Fenn & Co., 1851), 274.
- Jane Merritt, At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2003).
- Old Belt, speech as reported by Governor James Hamilton, “At a Council held at Carlisle, Thursday the 15th January, 1756,” PA Provincial Council Minutes, V. VII, 1.
- John Penn, as quoted in notes taken “At a Council held at Philadelphia on Saturday the 10th December, 1763,” Pennsylvania Provincial Council Minutes, V. IX, 85.
- Daniel Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Ear of European Colonization (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1992).
- Gordon M. Sayre, Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997).
- Timothy J. Shannon, Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).
- Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983).