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- 1 2016-08-19T16:54:45+00:00 William Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c A Declaration and Remonstrance William 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+00:00 [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. William Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c
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A New Looking-Glass for the 1764 Paxton Pamphlet War
At the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, France ceded to Britain its claim on North American territories spanning from Quebec to New Orleans. Faced with the prospect of British expansion, a diverse group of native peoples launched a preemptive strike against forts across the trans-Appalachian west.
That December, armed settlers from Paxton township murdered six unarmed Susquehannock in the Conestoga reservation, and 14 more sheltered in the Lancaster jailhouse. In January, they marched toward Philadelphia where the government harbored 140 Moravian Indians. They were stopped in Germantown by a delegation led by Benjamin Franklin, who persuaded their leaders to publish their grievances in a document, Declaration and Remonstrance. Waged in pamphlets, political cartoons, broadsides, and correspondence, the ensuing pamphlet war featured some of Pennsylvania’s preeminent statesmen, including Benjamin Franklin, governor John Penn, and Hugh Williamson, who would later sign the U.S. Constitution.
But what happens to our understanding of that print debate if when we situate it in a longer story of settler colonialism? After all, the Northwest Ordinance (1787) both conceptually and practically resolves many of the grievances that the Paxton Boys’ enumerate in Declaration.
Historians have thoughtfully placed the Paxton incident in a revolutionary lineage. Extending that lineage to include the Northwest Ordinance allows readers to see the American Revolution as a continuation rather than a resolution of colonial debates about race and ethnicity, political representation, and settlement practices. Furthermore, de-monumentalizing the Revolution might also help us to heed Daniel Richter’s call to connect Atlantic and continental history. Finally, placing the 1764 pamphlet war in a timeline that extends from the Seven Years’ War to the Northwest Ordinance opens up the Paxton crisis to those who might not otherwise know about it. If the backcountry is often treated as a massive negation in early American history, as Ed White warns, the Paxton expedition forces us to confront that absence—backcountry settlers literally march to Germantown.
By reading an ostensibly urban debate about Paxton conduct alongside correspondence, journal entries, and diaries available at regional archives, scholars and educators can de-emphasize urban polity and introduce students to archival research. As students and scholars look beyond the pamphlets that once defined study of pamphlet war, this project's Digital Collection is intended to support new attention to visual and manuscript materials.
Follow the path below Contents to explore this new looking-glass for the 1764 Paxton pamphlet war.
This pathway began as a material exhibition curated by Will Fenton at the Library Company of Philadelphia in Spring 2017, and it would not be possible without the resources, support, and generosity of staff at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, American Philosophical Society, and Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections. Special thanks are due to Michael Goode (Assistant Professor of History, Utah Valley University), who helped shape this exhibition, and James N. Green (Librarian, Library Company of Philadelphia), who made it all possible.
Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Riots
The Paxton Boys struck Conestoga Indiantown at dawn on December 14, 1763. “Fifty-seven Men, from some of our Frontier Townships,” Benjamin Franklin later reported in his Narrative of the Late Massacres in Lancaster County, “came, all well-mounted, and armed with Firelocks, Hangers and Hatchets, having travelled through the Country in the Night, to Conestogoe Manor.” Only six Indians were in the town at the time, “the rest being out among the neighbouring White People, some to sell the Baskets, Brooms and Bowls they manufactured.” The Paxton Boys killed these six and burned Conestoga Indiantown to the ground.
The Conestoga Indians lived on a 500-acre tract near the town of Lancaster, which William Penn had set aside for them seventy years earlier. Once an important center of trade and diplomacy, Conestoga Indiantown was in terminal decline by 1763, with a population of only twenty–seven men, five women, and eight children. They survived by raising corn, begging at local farms, soliciting food and clothing from the provincial government, and selling their brooms and baskets.
The remaining fourteen Conestoga Indians were removed to the Lancaster jail for their safety, but on December 27 the Paxton Boys rode into town in broad daylight and finished the job they had started two weeks earlier. Fifty men, “armed as before, dismounting, went directly to the Work-house and by Violence broke open the Door,” Franklin observed, “and entered with the utmost Fury in their Countenances.” They slaughtered the fourteen Indians sheltering inside, including the eight children.
The Paxton Boys were fully aware of the symbolic significance of their actions. They exterminated defenseless, non-belligerent Indians to make the point that all Indians were the same. And they slaughtered the Conestogas on government property. In perpetrating the massacres, they deliberately repudiated the Indian policy of William Penn.
Inspired by Quaker principles of compassion and tolerance, Penn had founded his colony in 1682 as a “holy experiment” in which Christians and Indians could live together in harmony. He referred to this ideal society as the “Peaceable Kingdom.” The nineteenth-century Quaker artist Edward Hicks produced a series of allegorical paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom, based on a theme from the Book of Isaiah, in which he always included Penn’s legendary (and probably mythical) meeting with the Delaware Indians under the elm tree at Shackamaxon, in present-day Philadelphia. In pursuit of his harmonious vision, Penn treated the Indians in his province with unusual respect and decency. (For Penn’s use of the term “holy experiment," reference "John Penn to James Harrison" in Further Reading). The Conestogas revered him, his children, and his grandchildren.
For all Penn’s decency, however, his holy experiment rested firmly on colonialist foundations. Pennsylvania was founded on the basis of a gift of 29 million acres from Charles II, which made William Penn the largest individual landlord in the British Empire. Within his charter, Penn purchased land from Indians fairly and openly. But his motives were not purely altruistic. Purchasing the land through legal mechanisms freed it of prior claims and titles, at least from the English perspective, so that Penn could sell it to settlers and begin to recoup the vast expenses incurred in setting up his colony. Penn wanted harmony with Indians, but he also needed to own their land outright. Native Americans, by contrast, believed that land could be sold only temporarily and could not be alienated permanently from the tribe or nation that held it in trust. For this fundamental reason, Penn’s holy experiment could never properly take root.
Already in decline by the time of William Penn’s death in 1718, the Peaceable Kingdom disintegrated over the next few decades and collapsed during the Indian wars of the 1750s and 1760s. When Penn’s son and principal heir, Thomas, reverted to Anglicanism, he cast off the Quaker faith and, with it, his father’s humane benevolence. Thomas Penn and his brothers continued to negotiate with Indians they did not hesitate to use fraud and intimidation, most notoriously in the “Walking Purchase” of 1737, which robbed the Delaware Indians of a huge tract of land in Eastern Pennsylvania.
In the West, meanwhile, on either side of the Susequehannah River, Native Americans faced an even greater threat from squatters, most of them Presbyterians of Ulster extraction. Ulster settlers began to arrive in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the eighteenth century, intruding on unpurchased Indian lands as squatters. They immediately came into conflict with the Penn family, who were both the rulers and landlords of the province. As early as 1730, a generation before the Paxton Boy massacres, a group of Ulster squatters temporarily occupied Conestoga Manor, declaring that it was “against the Laws of God and Nature that so much Land Should lie idle while so many Christians wanted it to labour on and raise their Bread.” (Reference "James Logan to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn" in Further Reading).
Conflict between western colonists and Native Americans intensified during the French and Indian War (1754-63). Expelled from their native lands in eastern Pennsylvania, the Delaware Indians west of the Susquehanna River sided with the French as the lesser of two evils and launched devastating raids on settlers Pennsylvania. The provincial government responded by declaring war on the Delawares and, for the first time, establishing a provincial militia. A handful of strict pacifist Quaker activists, led by Israel Pemberton, remained true to William Penn’s vision and protested vigorously, but the Peaceable Kingdom was at an end. Frontier settlers did most of the fighting and, from their perspective, both the Quaker-dominated Assembly and the proprietary executive branch seemed callously indifferent to their fate.
No sooner had the British secured imperial mastery over North America in 1763 than the short-sighted policies of Sir Jeffery Amherst helped trigger Pontiac’s War, the largest Indian rebellion in colonial American history. As Delaware and Shawnee Indians once again launched raids east of the Susquehanna River, embattled frontier settlers re-lived the nightmare of the French and Indian War. In December 1763 the Paxton Boys unleashed the full force of their accumulated rage against Indians and the provincial government by attacking the defenseless Conestogas.
The Paxton Boys arose directly out of a local militia created by the government in response to frontier demands for defense. In the summer of 1763 the government authorized the creation of two militia units in the Susquehanna Valley, appointing the two leading Presbyterian figures in the valley to recruit and command them – Colonel John Armstrong of Carlisle and the Rev. John Elder, the “fighting pastor” of Paxton Presbyterian Church. These units had a strictly defensive function, but Elder and Armstrong used them to launch punitive raids against Delaware Indians. When these raids failed, the militiamen, known variously as the Paxtang Rangers and the Paxton Boys, attacked the Conestoga Indians instead.
At the end of January 1764 reports reached Philadelphia that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Paxton Boys were on the march, threatening to sack the city unless their grievances were met. They also demanded the right to “inspect” 140 Delaware Indians who had been removed from Moravian missions on the frontier and placed in protective custody in the city. In the end, several hundred Paxton Boys reached Germantown, six miles outside Philadelphia, where a delegation led by Benjamin Franklin persuaded them to write down their grievances. Their spokesmen, Matthew Smith and James Gibson, submitted a Declaration and a Remonstrance for consideration by the provincial government.
Instead of a war of weapons, a war of words ensued. Presbyterian supporters of the Paxton Boys, in uneasy alliance with the Anglican faction surrounding the Penn family, did battle with Benjamin Franklin and the Quaker party. The debate, which featured more than sixty pamphlets and ten political cartoons, went far beyond the immediate issue of the Conestoga massacres to address the fundamental question of how Pennsylvania ought to be ruled.
Franklin’s Narrative of the Late Massacres was the first pamphlet published. “If an Indian injures me,” Franklin demanded to know, “does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians? It is well known that Indians are of different Tribes, Nations, and Languages, as well as the White People.” If the French, “who are White People,” injured the Dutch, should the Dutch take revenge on the English “because they too are White People?” The Conestogas had committed no crime other than having “a reddish brown Skin, and black Hair; and some People of that Sort, it seems, had murdered some of our Relations.” By the Paxton Boys’ logic, if a man “with a freckled Face and red Hair” – the stereotypical Ulster complexion – should kill Franklin’s wife and child, it would be right for him “to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children” he could find.
The Paxton Boys rather than their Indian victims, Franklin concluded, were the true “savages.” He denounced the Paxton affair as a “Horrid Perversion of Scripture and of Religion!” The people of Pennsylvania “pretend to be Christians,” Franklin wrote in the Narrative, “and, from the superior Light we enjoy, ought to exceed Heathens, Turks, Saracens, Moors, Negroes and Indians, to the Knowledge and Practice of what is right.” Citing numerous “Examples from Books and History,” he concluded that the Conestoga massacres could have been perpetrated “by no civilized Nation in Europe.” “Do we come to America,” he later asked, “to learn and practise the Manners of Barbarians?” The Conestoga Indians had offered hospitality to William Penn and Pennsylvania had offered them protection in return, but “the mangled Corpses of the last Remains of the Tribe” demonstrated “how effectually we have afforded it to them!” The Conestogas “would have been safe in any Part of the known World,” Franklin concluded, “except in the Neighbourhood of the CHRISTIAN WHITE SAVAGES of Peckstang and Donegall!”
Despite Franklin’s efforts, the Paxton Boys went unpunished. Nobody was investigated let alone arrested or prosecuted. The result was wave after wave of violence on the frontier, culminating in total war against Indians during the American Revolution. The Paxton Boys’ brutality was anomalous as late as 1763, in Pennsylvania at least, but during the Revolution it became commonplace.
Most historians in the nineteenth century, and many in the twentieth, cast the Paxton Boys as harbingers of the American Revolution, frontier democrats fighting against the quasi-feudal privilege of the Penn family. The Paxton Boys did fight against proprietary privilege, but scarcely in the interest of liberty and equality for all. What they wanted was land, personal security, and vengeance against Indians. Earlier historians made much of the western counties’ underrepresentation in the Pennsylvania Assembly, which the Paxton Boys included as a grievance in their Remonstrance in 1764. But all of their other grievances concerned Indians. Political representation was an abstraction compared to the more fundamental need for self-preservation.
The idea that the Paxton Boys were precursors of republican revolution is, however, accurate in one sense. The American Revolution did more than topple the proprietary government in colonial Pennsylvania. It also doomed the region’s Indians, who once again had opted to support the lesser of two evils – this time the British rather than the Americans, whose new nation, as they so clearly realized, could only engulf and destroy them.
This essay is based on a book by Kevin Kenny, Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment (Oxford University Press, 2009) © 2009 by Kevin Kenny.
- "James Logan to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, February 17, 1731." Historical Society of Pennsylvania, James Logan letterbooks, vol. 3.
- "John Penn to James Harrison, August 25, 1681." Mary Maples Dunn and Richard S. Dunn, eds, Papers of William Penn, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981–1987), 2:108.
One Year Later: The Black Boys of 1765
A little over a year after the Paxton massacre, Pennsylvania frontiersmen united to assert themselves over a perceived injustice. Whereas the Paxton Boys believed Conestoga Indians assisted Indian raiders during Pontiac’s War, Cumberland County frontiersmen suspected white businessmen of aiding Indian enemies.
West of the Susquehanna River in Cumberland County, at Sideling Hill, eleven men lay in wait for a pack train eighty-one horses long, laden with goods, and destined for Fort Pitt. A few days prior, Cumberland County residents pleaded with the traders to halt, wondering why fellow Pennsylvanians would send material west that would help Native Americans to continue their war effort. Robert Callendar, an Indian trader with the convoy, and his companions “made light of” the request and continued their journey (Smith, Account, 110).
According to the Philadelphia-based trading company of Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan, the pack train travelled legally under a military pass. In theory, the goods would help end Pontiac’s War by facilitating Britain’s diplomatic efforts. However, frontiersmen saw the cargo as supplying their enemies, representing “a kind of murder, and would be illegally trading at the expense of the blood and treasure of the frontiers” (Smith, Account, 110). King George III’s Proclamation of 1763 gave colonial governors the power to reopen the trade, but, by early March of 1765, Pennsylvania’s Governor Penn gave no such order.
At about one o’clock in the afternoon of March 6, 1765, James Smith and ten frontiersmen with blacked faces ordered the pack train to halt near Sideling Hill before firing upon several of the horses after the traders refused Smith’s order. As a former Indian captive, James Smith understood Native ways. Upon his return to Cumberland County in 1760, Smith also understood white ways and served in locally funded militias and in Henry Bouquet’s 1764 offensive.
Smith and his men became known as the “Black Boys” and represent another chapter in the complex relationship between frontiersmen and the Pennsylvania government regarding Native Americans.
The Paxton Boys and the Black Boys
There are similarities between the Black Boys and Paxton Boys, most notably their origins in frontier defense forces. Both groups wanted the Pennsylvania government to better provide for frontier inhabitants, and both pushed for this measure through pistol and pen. The entreaties from each of the frontier associations aimed to capture attention of and demand action from the colony’s governor. Both the Black Boys and the Paxton Boys questioned the Anglo-American relationship with Native Americans. Both groups feared Native attacks on their communities.
The Paxton’s Declaration and Remonstrance accused the Moravian and Conestoga Indians of aiding enemy Indians, while the Black Boys wanted the government to better police its own subjects to prevent Anglo-Americans from providing goods to enemies. For both groups, their appeals relied upon a shared belief in, and expectation of, government attention to frontier concerns, with the understanding that frontiersmen could take action when government failed to uphold its responsibilities.
While the Black Boys echoed the complaints of the Paxton Boys, the groups were not directly related. Importantly, the Black Boys never advocated for the murder of Native Americans. Nor did they seek out and attack peaceful Indians, an important distinction stressed by scholar Greg Dowd (203–204, 211). That is, the Black Boys focused on the actions of white colonists rather than Indians.
The Black Boys appealed across colonial borders to a diverse ethnic constituency. The composition of the Black Boys differed from Scots-Irish and Presbyterian affiliations associated with the Paxtons. John Armstrong, a Cumberland County Justice of the Peace, wrote “as to the people concern’d from all we can learn they are Irish, English, Dutch and Welch- from Potomack to the Kittatinney Hill, it’s confidently asserted there were some Virginians amongst them, others say not, but that they had made proposals of joining” (Armstrong). Samuel Llewellyn, a Marylander, later deposed that “there came some Express from Pennsylvania that there was goods going to the Indians & Desired assistance from Maryland to stop the same” (Llewelyn). Llewellyn and others traveled north to assist the Black Boys. William Smith, a Justice of the Peace and a relation of James, confirmed the presence of people from other colonies when he wrote to a Maryland official that “a great Number of Men appeared in Arms, from Pennsylvania, Maryland, & Virginia” at Fort Loudon (Smith to Shelby).
The Contest over Imperial Authority
After the attack at Sideling Hill, the traders fled to nearby Fort Loudon and the protection of a detachment of soldiers from the 42nd Highland Regiment, nicknamed the Black Watch. In contrast to the inaction of the 200 soldiers stationed in Lancaster in December 1763, Lt. Grant’s assistance to the traders escalated events (Brubaker). Grant, unaware of the cargos’ illegal nature, felt obligated to protect the traders and goods, despite his acknowledgement that the traders refused to obtain a pass from him earlier on their trip. The soldiers he sent out from Fort Loudon, in combination with some traders, seized prisoners and guns from the locals. They even captured one man in front of a Cumberland County magistrate, “without any warrant or authority” from the official (Maxwell).
The involvement of British soldiers created a second issue separate from the Black Boys’ original complaint over the cargo. The Black Boys felt that British soldiers violated Pennsylvania’s civil jurisdiction, whereas the soldiers thought the Black Boys did not respect military, and therefore imperial, authority.
Colonial Americans generally detested the use of soldiers to interfere in civil affairs and the actions of the soldiers broadened support for the Black Boys along the frontier. By March 9, just three days after the initial attack, James Smith rallied hundreds of riflemen to Fort Loudon to demand the return of the prisoners and guns. British Captain Thomas Barnsley noted of the siege force that “a great many of which had no hand in Destroying the Goods, yet Rose in a body to Rescue the Prisoners” (Barnsley).
The soldiers could reasonably argue that they acted to protect imperial authority. So, too, could the Black Boys. The traders believed their military pass provided a loophole which allowed them to move goods under the king’s authority and without the governor’s reauthorization of the trade. The soldiers respected the military pass and, following the trader’s logic, the Black Boys killed four horses and burned thousands of dollars’ worth of goods destined for imperial use at Fort Pitt. However, the Black Boys could counter that the military pass did not override the King’s Proclamation of 1763, nor did the trader’s pass empower British soldiers to capture civilians.
Unfortunately for the soldiers, few believed the goods were intended solely for diplomacy. Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan wanted to be the first firm to market after the governor formally reauthorized the Indian trade. Having a large quantity of goods at Fort Pitt before the trade re-opened ensured this goal and the trading firm informed a Cumberland County magistrate in December 1764 that they would transport goods to Fort Pitt the following spring.
General Thomas Gage and Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Johnson both believed the trading company engaged in suspicious, if not illegal activity. Gage wrote that Johnson’s subordinate, George Croghan, acted in league with the traders “contrary to orders, and contrary to the Laws of the Province” (Gage).
A few months later on the other side of the Atlantic, Thomas Penn wrote, “the Owners of them deserve the loss they have met with, for acting [so] directly contrary to the King’s Proclamation and the Laws of the Province” (Penn to Penn). When considering the initial issue, the trade goods, it is clear that it was not just the Black Boys who felt the traders erred in their actions. However, the intervention of the soldiers and the escalation of conflict turned Thomas Gage, William Johnson, John Penn, and other potential allies against the Black Boys.
The Contest for Public Opinion
Shortly after Sideling Hill, the people of Cumberland County defended their actions through a petition intended to garner a response from Governor Penn (Cumberland County Inhabitants). That petition echoes many complaints found in the Paxton’s Declaration and Remonstrance. Cumberland’s inhabitants stated the great suffering from “the incursions of the savages” and acknowledged the “tumultuous & lawless manner” in which the people assembled. Cumberland County faced Indian raids throughout the spring and summer of 1764. (In fact, in July 1764, Indian raiders killed ten children and their teacher, Enoch Brown, before killing a pregnant woman and ripping out her fetus.)
But, importantly, the petitioners demanded that the governor “interpose your Authority to stop these goods from going to the Enemy until peace by finally concluded” and “bring to punishment the persons who contrary to his Majesties royal proclamation…are concerned in this unlawful commerce with our enemies” (Cumberland County Inhabitants). The petition demonstrated an understanding of imperial law, provincial law, and a desire for justice even as it acknowledged the lawless manner in which the Black Boys operated. The petitioners admitted the Black Boys broke the law, but only after the government failed to uphold the law and stop the traders in the first place, resulting in war material traveling west and endangering the Cumberland County community.
Perhaps due to comparisons made in Philadelphia between the Black Boys with the Paxton Boys, and perhaps to prevent another march on Philadelphia, Governor Penn, Attorney General William Allen, and two members of the Provincial Council journeyed to Carlisle, the county seat of Cumberland County. Arriving in Carlisle in late March, the governor needed to offer a careful response to the events of Sideling Hill. He did not want to further antagonize the Black Boys, but he also didn’t want to provide more ammunition against his family’s proprietorship. Penn issued warrants “for such as were suspected,” but ultimately “the suspected persons had all absconded before [the sheriff] arrived in the part of the Country where they lived, so that no one was apprehended” (Penn to Gage). Once officials organized their charges and the available witnesses, a grand jury convened to hear the evidence and “tho’ al the Witnesses appeared and were examined by the Jury, it seems they were of Opinion that there was not sufficient Testimony to convict a single Person charged” (Penn to Gage). Despite the lack of convictions, Penn maintained that he did “everything on this occasion that could be done consistent w’th Law” and withdrew to Philadelphia.
The prosecutorial failure energized the Black Boys to expand their detection network and continue their conflict with the Highlander Regiment at Fort Loudon. Some of the Black Boys even removed their masks, so to speak, issuing signed passes on cargo they personally inspected. (These passes are available in the Pennsylvania Archives, 1st series, vol. 4:219-220.) An advertisement appeared in Cumberland County in May, purportedly from the Black Boys, inviting volunteers to “come to our Tavern and fill your Bellys with Liquor & your Mouth full of Swearing” (Peters Township.) Greg Dowd doubts the advertisement originated from the Black Boys, but some debate exists (210).
In any case, in early May Lt. Grant sent Sgt. Leonard McGlashan and twelve soldiers to assist traders attempting to get to Ft. Pitt. The Black Boys blocked the pack horses since they did not personally inspect the goods. The resulting firefight left Black Boy James Brown wounded. Magistrate William Smith insisted that Lt. Grant hand over Sgt. McGlashan for trial. Grant refused the offer. A few weeks later, James Smith and four others captured Lt. Grant while he was off riding in the country and left the lieutenant tied to a tree overnight. Upon reflection, Smith thought at about this time “the king’s troops, and our party, had now get entirely out of the channel of the civil law” (Smith, Account, 111).
Back in Philadelphia, Governor Penn always doubted the commitment of frontiersmen to the civil authority, and he now laid a trap. Penn announced the formal reopening of the Indian trade and set a date of June 20, 1765 (Penn Proclamation). If the Black Boys truly wanted to follow the laws of the province they would comply with the governor’s orders.
The Black Boys complied, ending their inspection network. However, the location of the guns captured in early March remained a separate and unresolved issue. In November, before the soldiers left Fort Loudon for winter quarters, James Smith gathered a few hundred people and besieged the fort. This time, the Black Boys demanded the guns and the delivery of Grant and McGlashan as prisoners. The soldiers did not acquiesce, and the Black Boys kept up a constant fire on the fort for two nights. Eventually, the Black Boys agreed to let the soldiers march away if they returned the guns. Lt. Grant obliged through a third party.
The Enduring Legacy of the Black Boys
After they received the guns, the Black Boys faded as an active group. But their objectives found subsequent supporters. A “new club” of Black Boys appeared in 1769 over the supply of “warlike stores” to Native Americans. Despite the discontinuation of either a formal or informal Black Boys association, many of the people initially drawn to the Black Boys in 1765 continued to live along the frontier and participate in the political issues of the Revolutionary era.
The Black Boys shared many grievances with the Paxtons, but the affairs played out rather differently. Both groups influenced the decisions made by the provincial government, local officials, and evaded legal punishment. However, the Paxton Boys committed, glorified, and defended the murder of Indians, while the Black Boys concerned themselves more with preventing bloodshed. In all likelihood, the Black Boys supported war against Natives, but it was not an explicit goal of their ad hoc organization. Many scholars conflate the two groups, but it is important to acknowledge their differing motivations and actions.
Petitions, legal maneuvering in the court system, and adherence to the governor’s decree reopening the trade demonstrated that the Black Boys wanted to live within the political and legal systems of Pennsylvania and that frontiersmen possessed some control over those systems. The reluctant use of arms to ensure Cumberland’s security indicates the use of a final alternative when government failed in its duty.
On the imperial side, the Black Boys’ rift with the 42nd Highland Regiment foreshadowed the American Revolution. The Black Boys resented the haughtiness of the British soldiers and found no imperial avenue of redress in which to appeal the conduct of the soldiers. In addition, the soldiers downplayed the legitimacy of Pennsylvania’s civil infrastructure in favor of imperial interests. In this case, frontiersmen found the behavior of imperial representatives, in the form of the soldiers, flawed. The pattern of interaction between the Black Boys and soldiers presaged a key divide of the American Revolution—the tension between the British government and colonial Americans over their insistence of political and legal sovereignty. Similar to the more celebrated urban, coastal colonists, many inhabitants of frontier communities also valued the protection of American rights that would inspire the revolutionary movement.
This essay is based on an article by Jay Donis,“The Black Boys and Blurred Lines: Reshaping Authority on the Pennsylvania Frontier,” Journal of Early American History, vol. 6, no. 1 (2016), 68-93.
The majority of primary sources are located in the Pennsylvania Archives (Series 1, Volume 4) and the Thomas Gage Papers at William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan (also available on microfilm at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission).
- Armstrong, John to George Croghan, 26 March 1765. Cadwalader Family Papers, Box 201, Folder 2, Series 4, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- Barnsley, Thomas to General Thomas Gage, 11 March 1765, Thomas Gage Papers, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
- Brubaker, Jack. “The Aftermath of the Conestoga Massacre.” Digital Paxton, 2017.
- Cumberland County Inhabitants. “Petition to Governor Penn.” Col. Henry Bouquet Papers, 6:777-779. Full-text via Smith Rebellion 1765.
- Cutcliffe, Stephen. “Sideling Hill Affair: The Cumberland County Riots of 1765,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 59, no. 1 (Jan. 1976), 39-53.
- Deposition of Samuel [Llewelyn], Shelby Family Papers, 1738–1862, microfilm, Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky.
- Dowd, Gregory Evans. War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, the British Empire. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
- Gage, Thomas to William Johnson, 15 April 1765. The Papers of Sir William Johnson, 4:717. Full-text via Smith Rebellion 1765.
- Maxwell, James. Deposition. Thomas Gage Papers, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
- Penn, John. “Penn Proclamation, 4 June 1765.” The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Mapcase AB7 P3845L2 765b.
- Penn, John to General Gage, 28 June 1765. Thomas Gage Papers, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, State Archives, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
- Penn, Thomas to Benjamin Chew, 20 July 1765. Penn Family Papers, Penn Correspondence VIII, 1763-1768, NV 218, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- Penn, Thomas to John Penn, June 8, 1765. Penn Family Papers, Penn Correspondence VIII, 1763-1768, NV 218, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- Peters Township. “Advertisement for Loyal Volunteers.” University of Pittsburgh, University Library System. Darlington Autograph Files, Box 5, Folder 86.
- Spero, Patrick. Frontier Country: The Politics of War in early Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
- Spero, Patrick. Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018).
- Smith, James. An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith During his Captivity with the Indians, in the years 1755, ’56, ’57, ’58, and ’59. Appendix by Wm. M. Darlington. Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Co., 1907.
- Smith, William to Evan Shelby, 1 June 1765. Reuben T. Durrett Collection, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
- Webster, Eleanor M. “Insurrection at Fort Loudon in 1765: Rebellion or Preservation of Peace?,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 47, no. 2 (Apr. 1964), 125-139.
An Interview with the Paxton Boys
Montgomery Wolf and Eleanor Andersen
This assignment is intended to be completed in-class over two 45-minute classes or one 90-minute class. Unfinished work may be assigned as homework. This lesson will inculcate students with the skills needed for civic involvement in a participatory democracy as described by Barton & Levstik (2001).
- 8.1.12.A through 8.1.12.D
- CC.8.5.11-12.A through CC.8.5.11-12.I
- CC.8.6.11-12.A through CC.8.6.11-12.I
- How do settlers justify acts of violence?
- How do we evaluate sources?
- Students will demonstrate comprehension of the motivations and justifications of historical actors.
- Students will engage in critical dialogue with primary sources.
- Students will translate historic discourse into a contemporary media format (a podcast recording) in order to identify similarities and differences between eighteenth and twenty-first century discourses.
Primary Source Materials
Secondary Source Materials
- Google Drive or other file sharing service
- Laptops or smartphones equipped with Internet access and audio recording app (e.g. Voice Recorder & Audio Editor for iOS or Voice Recorder for Android)
Download a printable version of this background information.
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The Aftermath of the Conestoga Massacre
How did the Paxton Boys avoid punishment for killing 20 peaceful Conestoga Indians under government protection? More than 250 years after the massacre, there is no clear answer to that question. But it is clear that a legal system that had previously punished white men for killing Christian Indians failed catastrophically in the County of Lancaster and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in December 1763.
Many British and provincial leaders understood that identifying, trying, and punishing the killers of the Conestogas was critical to maintaining the rule of law. The British statesman Lord Halifax condemned the “horrid murders” and ordered Thomas Gage, chief of British armies in North America, to assist Pennsylvania’s government in finding and punishing the killers. Pennsylvania Governor John Penn delivered two proclamations condemning the Paxton Boys’ “barbarous” behavior and issued arrest warrants and rewards for information leading to convictions. He further requested that Lancaster County’s magistrates interrogate the county sheriff, coroner, and any others who might have information about the murderers.
These should not have been difficult tasks. Lancaster’s magistrates and other residents knew the identity of some of the killers. On the day before the first attack, leaders of the vigilantes told John Elder, pastor of Paxton Presbyterian Church and military leader of the Paxton militia, as well as Edward Shippen, Lancaster County’s chief magistrate, that they planned to attack the Indians at Conestoga Indian Town. Neither man did anything to stop the slaughter or identify the killers.
After leaving Indian Town in flames following the massacre of the first six Conestogas, the killers talked at some length with Thomas Wright, an Indian Town neighbor, and Robert Barber, a resident of nearby Wright’s Ferry. Given the tone of the conversation, Wright and Barber suspected the worst and soon discovered they were correct. They could have identified some of the killers.
Scores, perhaps hundreds, of Lancaster residents observed the raiders as they marched to and from the slaughter of the last fourteen Conestogas at the Lancaster County workhouse in the center of Lancaster. But no one identified them.
One reason for this silence was indifference. Many Lancastrians did not pay much attention to the killings, either because they accepted the Paxton Boys’ allegation that the Conestogas had been spying for hostile Indians or because they did not care about the fate of any Indians, peaceful or hostile. Another reason was intimidation: the Paxton Boys threatened those who might have informed on them. James Wright, one of Lancaster County’s delegates to the Pennsylvania Assembly, a government-appointed caretaker for the Conestogas and a Quaker, might have been expected to identify the raiders he knew. A Pennsylvania historian reported in 1857 that Wright “well remembered” the killers and had told a fellow legislator that he had “survived nearly the whole of them, and that they generally came to untimely or suffering deaths!” (Watson 169). But Wright never identified any of the Paxton Boys. His sister, Susanna Wright, explained that Paxton vigilantes roamed about the area after the massacre, making threats against her brother and other Quakers.
Meanwhile, Lancaster County’s magistrates bizarrely modified their instructions from Governor Penn. Instead of collecting depositions naming the murderers, they obtained affidavits from residents who despised Indians. These affidavits are not included in court records—in fact, nothing related to the Conestoga massacre appears—but they do appear among pro-Paxton manuscripts produced early in 1764. None of these affidavits mention the Paxton Boys. Most cast blame on the Conestogas.
Nothing in these affidavits relates in any way to Penn’s request that the magistrates obtain information about the men who had killed the Conestogas. Nothing in these accusations, which rely heavily on hearsay, clearly indicts the Conestogas for crimes against settlers. In sum, the affidavits seem to blame the murder of the Conestogas on the Conestogas themselves.
While the magistates’ response was not unpopular among the general citizenry, it incensed some groups, particularly Pennsylvania Quakers. Quakers were quick to condemn the killers and those who paved the way for the killings. These “abettors,” according to several sources, may have included the county’s jailer, who unaccountably disappeared from the jail and workhouse on the day of the second massacre; and the county sheriff and coroner—the only “guards” at the workhouse—who quickly stepped aside when the Paxton Boys arrived to do their bloody work. John Reynolds, editor of the Lancaster Journal, later indicted several Lancastrians for their part in what he termed a conspiracy against the Conestogas. He said that the jailer, the sheriff and his son, and two other men “were also suspected of being in the plot” (Mombert 187).
Others pointed to more obvious targets, especially the Rev. Elder and Judge Shippen. Elder, as the man who ministered to many of the Scots-Irish Paxton Boys in his church and led the Paxton militia in the county’s defense against hostile Indian attack, wielded great influence. As a large landholder in the Paxton area, some observers believe, he may have had a personal reason to rid the area of any Indians who would discourage investment on the frontier.
As chief magistrate, Shippen held more power than any other Lancastrian. Few actions of substance occurred in Lancaster County without his approval. Early Quaker historian Robert Proud directly blamed the murder of the Conestogas on “the connivance, if not the encouragement, of the Christian-professing Magistrates, and other principal persons of that town” (Pound 329). While critics questioned why the magistrates did not employ a British regiment to guard the Indians against a second attack that they knew was coming, Shippen’s explanation to John Penn was that he did not know some 200 soldiers were billeted in a town of 2,000 residents.
Concerns about the massacre faded with time. As it became clear that the authorities had no interest in discovering who had killed the Indians, let alone who may have helped them, most people moved on to other matters.
But John Penn’s critics kept up a drumbeat for years. They charged that officials in Philadelphia and Lancaster had a political reason to avoid punishing the Paxtonians. In the 1760s, the militant Germans and Scots-Irish gained greater political power, at the expense of Quakers and German pacifists. Those who wanted to retain power found it useful to defend the Paxton Boys’ slaughter and to oppose the Quaker lobby that defended Indians. In the autumn elections of 1764, a united “new ticket” of Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutheran and Reformed Germans supported stronger anti-Indian policies. They won more seats in the legislature—although not enough to take control—and then strengthened their influence as the decade progressed.
Some observers suggested that John Penn may have had another motivation for siding with anti-Indian forces. They believed he had made a deal with the Paxton Boys when they marched on Philadelphia following the killings in Lancaster. They claimed he had made political promises in exchange for retreat from a planned assault on the city to kill Lenapes, the so-called Moravian Indians, being held for their protection there.
In any case, Quakers and other members of the General Assembly wrote to Penn in January 1768, saying that the Indian killers could still be identified. In a formal message, the legislators wrote
But this was a legislative exercise in futility. More than four years after the massacre, most Pennsylvanians understood that the names of the killers would remain unknown.
When we consider the Manner of committing the Murders at Lancaster; that it was done at Noon-Day, in the midst of a Populous Borough, and in the Presence of many spectators by Men probably of the same County, undisguised and well known, we apprehend their Names may be easily discovered (Colonial Records 441).
Recognizing that the Paxton Boys might not be brought to justice, some officials worried about how the killings might affect the conduct of other Indians, especially the Iroquois. In the winter of 1764, Sir William Johnson, British superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department, told Penn he was concerned that the incident would “stagger the affections” of the Iroquois (Colonial Records 130). In fact, repercussions from the massacre continued for years. At treaty sessions, the Iroquois repeatedly cited the fate of the Conestogas as a reason not to trust white negotiators.
Other Indians living in Pennsylvania’s white settlements never trusted the government to sanction the Paxton Boys or to protect other Indians. Many Lenape immediately fled the state. Hannah Freeman and other Indians living in Chester County moved to a Quaker community in New Jersey. An Indian named William Peters told Samuel Hunter at Fort Hunter, north of Harrisburg, that he feared for his safety after the massacre and the march on Philadelphia.
The Moravian missionary John Heckewelder reported that the Lenapes believed Indian-settler relations had been poisoned because the Conestogas’ “blood ran in streams into our (treaty council) fire, and extinguished it so entirely, that not one spark was left us whereby to kindle a new fire” (Heckewelder 80). A group of Lenapes that had moved to Ohio declined aid from the Continental Congress early in the Revolutionary War because they feared the government might “protect” them as it had the Conestogas.
These Indians clearly recognized the significance of the decision by British authorities, Pennsylvania’s governor, and Lancaster County’s magistrates not to pursue the murderers of the Conestogas. The time for killing any and all Indians, it was clear, had been extended to all seasons.
The wounds of the 1763 massacre never have healed, although multiple efforts have been made at reconciliation. In recent years, various groups have apologized for the actions of the Paxton Boys and the ineffectual leaders of the Lancaster community. They have lamented the utter failure of the judicial system.
In 2003, a group of Lancaster County Mennonites and evangelicals met with representatives of the Iroquois from New York. The Mennonites guided the Iroquois on a tour of sites associated with the Conestogas. They asked for forgiveness for their ancestors’ sins of killing Indians and stealing their land. The Iroquois forgave the Mennonites and the two groups embraced.
In 2010, a meeting of reconciliation was held at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster. Representatives of Mennonite, Quaker, Presbyterian, and other churches acknowledged to several Indian groups that early Pennsylvanians were wrong to break treaties and kill the Conestogas. For the first time, Presbyterians acknowledged the role of their predecessors in the massacre. And, for the first time, a Lancaster official acknowledged fault. Mayor Rick Gray expressed his distress that previous town leaders did not protect those they had pledged to protect.
Most recently, in the spring of 2016, a bishop from Lancaster County’s Amish settlement met with representatives of a dozen Indian tribes. The bishop and two other Amish men apologized for the way their ancestors treated Native Americans and took their land. In an emotional session, both groups shed tears. The reconciliation process continues.
This essay is based on a book by Jack Brubaker, Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paxton Boys in Lancaster County. To learn more about Brubaker, visit the Creators page.
- Elder Collection, Dauphin County Historical Society, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
- Heckewelder, John. History, Manners, and Culture of the Indian Nations, Philadelphia: 1876.
- Loskiel, George H. History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America. Trans. Christian Ignatius La Trobe. London: Printed for the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel: 1794.
- Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (Colonial Records). Pennsylvania Archives.
- Mombert, Jacob. An Authentic History of Lancaster County in the State of Pennsylvania, Lancaster, 1867.
- Proud, Robert. The History of Pennsylvania in North America. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Zachariah Poulson Jr., 1798.
- Shippen Papers. American Philosophical Society and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
- Watson, John. Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Vol. 2, Philadelphia: 1884.
Quakers in the Crosshairs: The Early Paxton Debate
After the march on Germantown, Paxton leader Matthew Smith published Declaration and Remonstrance in 1764. Following him, other pamphleteers shaped public opinion, appropriating a variety of symbols from eighteenth-century material culture—especially masks and looking-glasses—and responding to one another anonymously and through pseudonyms.
Paxton leaders and sympathizers appealed to the prejudices against Philadelphia Quakers and fears of frontier violence. Whereas critics challenged the Paxtons on rational, legal, and economic grounds, apologists conjured scenes of frontier violence to telescope the threat of Indian warfare.
Apologists particularly assailed Friends, whom they characterized as opportunistic, or, worse, immoral, in their Indian-dealing. Citing stories of Friends enlisting in the Philadelphia militia during the Paxton march, critics charged that Friends would violate the Peace Testimony, to promote peace and active oppose war, on behalf of Indians, but not their fellow settlers.
An Interview with the Paxton Boys: Assignment & Rubric
Montgomery Wolf and Eleanor Andersen
You will work in small groups to create a podcast in which one host interviews a Paxton ally and a Paxton critic. The Paxton ally should state their demands, why they're making those demands, and their reactions to the outcomes of the violence. The Paxton critic should state their critique, why they think the Paxton ally is wrong, and their reaction to the Paxton violence. Like any good judge, the interviewer should remain skeptical and ask many thoughtful questions.
- Read the assigned primary sources.
- Create an outline of what a Paxton critic and ally would say and how an impartial host would respond.
- Record your podcast with a computer or smartphone audio recording application. For example, Voice Recorder & Audio Editor (iOS) or Voice Recorder (Android) are free downloads. Your recordings should be 5-10 min.
- Submit your podcast via Google Drive.
Download a printable version of this assignment sheet.
Download a printable version of the grading rubric.
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The Paxton Massacre
The conclusion of French-Indian War promised to halt the frontier violence that had ravaged the Pennsylvania and Virginia backcountry. After France ceded most its territorial claims in North America to Britain in 1763, a coalition of Indian nations attacked British forts and outposts in the Great Lakes and Ohio Country. The attacks began with the Ottawa warrior Pontiac’s siege of Detroit that spring. The siege inspired the Delaware and Shawnee to engage in similar attacks in the Ohio Country. Although the event would be later known as Pontiac's War (1763-66), in reality Pontiac was only one among many Indian leaders involved in this loosely coordinated offensive.
After 1763, Indians resumed their attacks on the Pennsylvania frontier. Fearing new raids on their Paxtang settlement (a suburb of what is today Pennsylvania’s capitol, Harrisburg), a group of Scotch-Irish militiamen targeted a peaceful Conestoga Indian (Susquehannock) town outside of Lancaster. The origins of the reservation date back to 1701, when William Penn had signed a treaty with them, promising them friendship and protection. The Conestoga had peaceably inhabited the area for three generations. During that time, the community had good relations with the provincial government and traded with colonists.
The “Paxton Boys” sought to expunge the Conestoga—and any other Indians they could find—from the Pennsylvania colony. Because the inhabitants were unarmed, they were easy targets for the mob. On December 14, 1763, they marched on Conestoga and murdered all the residents they could find, six in total, and torched their cabins. After the colonial government determined that the killings ought to be classified as murder, Pennsylvania Governor John Penn announced a reward for the Paxtons’ capture and placed the remaining Conestoga in the custody of the Lancaster jailhouse. The Paxton Boys broke into the facility and murdered another fourteen Conestoga, including women and children. They desecrated the victim's bodies and vowed to march on Philadelphia, where Moravian Indians from the Susquehanna were being sheltered. The Paxton Boys were met in Germantown, six miles outside Philadelphia, by a delegation led by none other than Benjamin Franklin, who persuaded their leaders to enumerate their grievances in Declaration and Remonstrance, which sparked a vigorous debate about the authority of the colonial government.
Critics contended that in murdering the Conestoga, the Paxtons had flouted the government’s agreement with the natives, and in pursuing them in the Lancaster jailhouse they had defied the rule of law. One critic argued that "malice and party-spirit" motivated the Paxtons and their sympathizers. He advised: "Let the Friends of Pennsylvania lay aside the animosities which have been raised and maintained by the wicked and weak."
For their part, Paxton apologists held that the pacifist principles of the Quaker-dominated Assembly had long kept the government from protecting the lives of backcountry settlers. "It is an inexpressible Absurdity," wrote one apologist, "that a warlike People should be governed by Persons of Quaker Principles, and especially in Time of War."
Critics and apologists rushed to shape popular opinion using pamphlets, which were produced from one or more sheets of paper printed on both sides and folded in halves, thirds, or fourths. Thanks to simplicity and economy of these materials, pamphlets could be produced quickly and in great volume. The Paxton debate comprised more than one-fifth of the Pennsylvania colony’s total printed material in 1764, making it one of the most important pamphlet wars of the colonial period.
Below Contents, you will find six historical overviews that will introduce some of key contexts for understanding that debate.
First, Kevin Kenny, professor of history at Boston College, frames the Paxton massacres as both bloody and symbolic acts in "Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Riots." In slaughtering Conestoga on government property, the Paxton Boys repudiated William Penn's "holy experiment." Kenny's essay was the first I solicited and edited because I wanted an essay that would foreground the role of Quaker settlement practices in the Paxton debate.
Next, historian Michael Goode provides a short overview of Pontiac's War in "Pontiac's War and the Paxton Boys," an excerpted essay that originally appeared on The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
In the wake of Pontiac's War and the Paxton massacre, Pennsylvania frontiersmen united to assert themselves against enemies in their own mist: the white businessman and government officials suspected of abetting Indian enemies. In "One Year Later: The Black Boys of 1765," historian Jay Donis explores how, unlike the largely Scots-Irish and Presbyterian Paxton Boys, the Black Boys appealed across colonial borders to a diverse ethnic constituency.
Jack Brubaker, author of the Massacre of the Conestogas, shares a granular account of the Paxton expedition drawn from magistrates, colonial record books, and correspondence—many of which are available in Digital Paxton. Perhaps of most value to educators, Brubaker's "The Aftermath of the Conestoga Massacre" connects the past to the present by describing recent efforts towards commemoration and reconciliation.
Darvin Martin extends Brubaker's work by historicizing the site of the first massacre in "A History of Conestoga Indiantown." Far from some random target, Conestoga Indiantown occupied a central place in Native American-colonial relations in the eighteenth-century mid-Atlantic. Similar to Brubaker, Martin makes the past present by mapping the reservation’s historical deed onto modern property boundaries.
Finally, this pathway concludes with my first attempt at what may eventually serve as a more capacious framework for understanding the Paxton massacre. With "A New Looking-Glass for the the 1764 Paxton Pamphlet War" I seek to place that print in lineage that extends from the Seven Years' War through the Northwest Ordinance. My hope is that this more expansive framework will enable students and scholars to de-emphasize urban polity and to attend to records from previously marginalized voices.
Each essay is edited to ensure that it’s thesis-driven, jargon-free, and accessible to students. At the same time, each piece maintains the features of a scholarly essay: a bibliography of secondary research, attribution of primary source materials, and contextual notes where relevant.
Each essay is also self-contained. That is, if a reader were only interested in the history of Conestoga Indiantown, she could read Martin's essay, use its links to explore the Digital Paxton collection, and perform additional research using the two-dozen linked resources listed below further reading.
To continue to these key historical contexts, follow the path listed below Contents. If you want to contribute to the project, connect with the editor through the Contact page.
Podcasting the Paxton Boys
In this assignment, you will work in small groups to create a podcast of a “talk show” in which a host interviews members of the Paxton Boys. Each group will need to assign one host and one or two (depending on the size of your group) Paxton boys.
- Step One: Write the script. Submit your script using Dropbox.
- Step Two: Record a three- to five-minute podcast. Submit your podcast using Dropbox.
Using information from the textbook, lectures, and primary sources available in Digital Paxton, write a script in which a host interviews members of the Paxton Boys. Envision the setting as a radio or television talk show in which the interviewees want to convey their demands, what led to their demands, and their reactions to the outcomes. The host wants the guest to convey their opinions, but s/he may want, in the tradition of hard-hitting journalism, to expose flaws in their reasoning or to make connections to larger events.
Edit your script and record a podcast using Spreaker. You may consult my Spreaker walkthrough for assistance.
Skill Type Historical Thinking Skill I. Chronological Reasoning 1. Historical Causation 2. Patterns of Continuity and Change over Time 3. Periodization II. Comparison and Contextualization 4. Comparison 5. Contextualization III. Crafting Historical Arguments from Historical Evidence 6. Historical Argumentation 7. Appropriate Use of Relevant Historical Evidence IV. Historical Interpretation and Synthesis 8. Interpretation 9. Synthesis
Download a printable version of this assignment.
Scott Paul Gordon
In February 1764 the Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia with the intention of murdering the Native American converts to the Moravian faith whom provincial authorities had gathered there. But the frontiersmen’s ambitions extended beyond the elimination of Christian Indians. The men returning from Germantown told Moravians in Hebron (now Lebanon, Lancaster County) that “they had killed all the Indians, five Quakers, and two Moravians in Philadelphia, and as proof, showed them the blood on their clothing” (Heisey 51). This report, though false, echoed threats that the Paxton Boys had made for months against white Moravians.
Fresh from their slaughter at the Lancaster workhouse on December 27, 1763, the Paxton Boys rode to Lititz, a Moravian village eight miles north of Lancaster. There the riders shouted “God damn you, Moravians” and fired off a “volley of shots” before they left. Lititz’s minister, Matthäus Hehl, warned authorities in Bethlehem, the center of Moravian activity in Pennsylvania, that “the Paxtown group is evilly disposed towards Bethlehem.” He urged leaders to “be prepared and armed in prayer.” In early 1764, an old man, “one of the rebel leaders, whose grandson had been with the last expedition,” promised that “not one stone should remain upon another in Bethlehem” (Heisey 51). Bethlehem’s leader Nathaniel Seidel reported that “evil attacks against Bethlehem were in the works, and [rumors] say the nest that so long had the Indians by it must be totally destroyed” (Engel 185).
The Moravian church was one of the eighteenth century’s most successful evangelical protestant groups. Thirty years after the church’s renewal in Germany in 1727, it had established mission stations in Europe, the Caribbean islands, Africa, Greenland, and across colonial America from Georgia to New York. At these mission stations, Moravian couples ministered to a community of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity or, in the West Indies, to a congregation of enslaved people. Moravians also established settlement towns such as Bethlehem and Lititz, places where only Moravians lived. In such places, Native Americans were considered spiritual equals. They lived, worked, worshiped, and were buried alongside white Moravians.
In embracing Native Americans as equals, Moravians inspired the Paxton Boys’ suspicion and enmity. But the Paxton Boys leveled a more specific and explosive charge. Moravian Indians, they contended, had participated in raids against frontier settlements in Northampton County. (The one Moravian Indian, Renatus, who was sent from Philadelphia to Easton to stand trial for an October 1763 attack on a farmer named Stinton, was acquitted of these charges in summer 1764 and returned to Province Island.) The Declaration and Remonstrance claimed to have “Proof” that the “Moravian Indians were in confederacy with our open Enemies,” and a late February 1764 manuscript petition from Lancaster County residents broadened that accusation. That petition indicted “the Moravians at Bethlehem”—not just “Moravian Indians”—for “Corresponding with and … Supplying the Indians our Enemies with ammunition, and giving them Intelligence during [the] last war and this war.” “Bosom Enemies,” the petition added ominously, “are most dangerous.” The petition left no doubt that these German Moravians belonged in that category when it asked for “Satisfaction” against them.
The manuscript petition did not specify how they might achieve that “Satisfaction” against Moravians. But the many threats issued by the Paxton Boys indicated what they envisioned. The Paxton Boys promised that the killings at Conestoga Manor and at the Lancaster workhouse were a prelude to violence yet to occur at Lititz, at Bethlehem, and at Hebron. The blood that they shed at each site advanced their vision of a secure Pennsylvania, ethnically cleansed of Indians—and of any group, including Moravians, with whom they allied.
For more about Scott Paul Gordon, visit the Creators page.
- Katherine Carté Engel, Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
- Scott Paul Gordon, “The Paxton Boys and the Moravians: Terror and Faith in the Pennsylvania Backcountry,” The Journal of Moravian History 14, no. 2 (2014): 119-52.
- John W. Heisey, ed., “Extracts from the Diary of the Moravian Pastors of the Hebron Church, Lebanon, 1755–1814,” Pennsylvania History 34, no. 1 (1967): 44-63.
Between February and March 1764, Paxton leaders and sympathizers crafted a defense of the massacre that appealed to prejudices against Philadelphia Quakers and fears of further frontier violence.
Matthew Smith, Declaration and Remonstrance (Philadelphia, 1764).In exchange for disbanding at Germantown, Paxton leaders secured the right to broadcast their grievances in Declaration and Remonstrance. Their representative, Matthew Smith, read the essay as early as February 15, just a week after the marchers arrived in Germantown. Though written in haste, Smith’s grievances galvanized sympathizers who distrusted the friendly relations of Quaker and Susquehannock, and suspected that leaders intentionally withheld support from backcountry settlers. The syntactical repetition of “falsely pretended Friends” (the Susquehannock) and “falsely pretended Indian Friends” (Quakers) served to conflate Friendly Indian with Indian Friend.
Anonymous, Apology of the Paxton Volunteers (Philadelphia, 1764).This unpublished, anonymous manuscript added visceral depictions of frontier warfare to Smith’s account. In place of native carnage (as in Franklin’s Narrative), the volunteers describe the mangled bodies of backcountry settlers. Whereas Declaration advocated for changes in settlement policies, Apology sought the vindication of the Paxtons.
Thomas Barton, The Conduct of the Paxton Men (Philadelphia, 1764).Conduct marks a turning point in the pamphlet war. While the pro-Paxton pamphlet was originally published anonymously, it has since been attributed to Thomas Barton, an Anglican missionary from Lancaster. Barton synthesizes the apologist strategies of Declaration and Apology and provides a forceful response to Franklin’s Narrative. The pamphlet disparaged the reputation of the native victims, justified the conduct of the Paxton Boys using gratuitous scenes of frontier violence, and assailed the motives and pacifist principles of Quaker Assembly members.