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- 1 2017-08-20T11:47:56-07:00 Will Fenton 82bf9011a953584cd702d069a30cbdb6ef90650a By the Honourable John Penn Will Fenton 1 (annotation) plain 2017-08-20T11:47:56-07:00 Will Fenton 82bf9011a953584cd702d069a30cbdb6ef90650a
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- 1 2016-08-19T14:52:52-07:00 Will Fenton 82bf9011a953584cd702d069a30cbdb6ef90650a By the Honourable John Penn Will Fenton 2 By the Honourable John Penn, Esq; lieutenant-governor and commander in chief of the province of Pennsylvania, and counties of New-Castle, Kent and Sussex, on Delaware, a proclamation. : Whereas on the twenty-second day of December last I issued a proclamation, for the apprehending and bringing to justice a number of persons, who ... had inhumanely killed six of the Indians, who had lived in Conestogoe Manor ... Given under my hand, and the great seal of the said province, at Philadelphia, the second day of January ... one thousand seven hundred and sixty-four. gallery 2018-02-12T12:40:19-08:00 Philadelphia [Pa.]: : Printed by B. Franklin, and D. Hall.,  Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Governor (1763-1771 : Penn). Call Number: Ab 1764 -1 Signed: John Penn. By His Honour's command, Joseph Shippen, secretary. At head of title: royal arms. Evans, C. American bibliography, 9783; English short title catalogue (ESTC), W7605; Hildeburn, C.R. Pennsylvania, 2043; Miller, C.W. Franklin, 825. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Will Fenton 82bf9011a953584cd702d069a30cbdb6ef90650a
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Scott Paul Gordon
Edward Shippen III (1703-1781) was Lancaster’s leading citizen and chief magistrate in December 1763. He reported the murders at Conestoga Indiantown to Governor John Penn on December 14, took the surviving Conestogas into custody at the Lancaster jail, recommended that provincial authorities move survivors to Philadelphia (which did not occur), and responded to the Paxton Boys’ excursion into Lancaster on December 27. But Shippen was more involved than even these facts might suggest: the Paxton Boys planned their December 14 attack as a message to Shippen himself. As the Paxton Boys saw it, they sacrificed themselves on the frontier while Shippen lived in luxury in Lancaster and refused to send militia to help protect their settlements. The Paxton Boys even rode to Shippen’s home in Lancaster. They confronted him directly, boasting of the murders they planned to commit, before they rode to Indiantown. The Paxton Boys intended for their December 14 massacre to function as a direct challenge to Shippen and other Lancaster elites.
Edward Shippen III was born in Boston, where his grandfather, Edward Shippen I (1639-1712), was a successful merchant. In 1694 Edward Shippen I moved to Philadelphia where he quickly became the speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, a member of the Governor’s Council, the first mayor of Philadelphia, and the chief justice of Pennsylvania. His sons Edward II and Joseph—and Joseph’s young son, Edward Shippen III—followed him to Philadelphia in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Joseph retired from business in 1716 and settled as a gentleman on his estate in Germantown—but he apprenticed his son to James Logan (1674-1751). William Penn’s colonial secretary and the colony’s land agent, Logan controlled the fur trade along the Susquehanna River and had established a trading post at Conestoga Manor. Edward Shippen III became Logan’s partner by 1731 and purchased substantial land west of the Susquehanna, which he dubbed Shippensburg, and on which he settled traders in 1737. He was elected Philadelphia’s mayor in 1744 and was one of the founders of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), established in 1746 to train Presbyterian ministers.
Shippen moved his family to Lancaster in 1753 after the governor appointed him to lucrative offices that, he told his son, were worth £500 a year. Shippen collected the ground rents in Lancaster for James Hamilton, who had founded Lancaster in 1730, and he joined a small English-speaking elite, the proprietary party, in a city that (like the county as a whole) was largely populated by German immigrants. His family connections were extensive: his cousin William Allen (1704-1780), generally considered the richest man in Pennsylvania, served as the colony’s chief justice. Most of these English-speaking families worshiped at Lancaster’s Anglican church, St. James, and, despite his long-standing Presbyterian affiliation, Shippen attended Anglican services there. Shippen’s position in the mid 1750s as paymaster and commissary of British and provincial troops under General John Forbes and Colonel Henry Bouquet solidified his position at the center of Lancaster society. In that role he earned substantial remuneration and controlled many opportunities for patronage. Promised a 2½ percent commission on all expenditures during the campaign, Shippen doled out thousands of pounds between 1757 and 1759. By the 1760s, Shippen was Lancaster’s wealthiest and most prominent citizen.
Like many members of his extended family, Edward Shippen grew wary of the unrest of the early 1770s. His children filled positions of importance in colonial Pennsylvania, and most historians depict him and his family as hedging their bets during the Revolution. Edward Shippen IV (1729-1806), who studied law in London, served on Philadelphia’s common council and acted as clerk for the colony’s supreme court. (His daughter, Margaret, would marry Benedict Arnold in 1779.) Joseph Shippen (1732-1810) served as colonel during the French and Indian War and then as colonial secretary. Shippen’s son-in-law, James Burd (1724-1793), married to Sarah Shippen (1730-1784), also served as a colonel during the French and Indian War and later as a magistrate in Lancaster. All these men depended on the patronage of the Penn family. Nevertheless, Edward Shippen III, already past seventy years old, became the chairman of Lancaster County’s revolutionary Committee of Observation and Inspection from its establishment in 1774 until 1775 and he continued to serve on the committee until it was disbanded in 1777. The elimination of proprietary government deprived Shippen of all the many offices he held and, in his last years, he worried about his financial situation. He died in Lancaster in 1781.
Visit the Edward Shippen path to access 20 manuscripts available at the American Philosophical Society. For more about Scott Paul Gordon, visit the Creators page.
- Scott Paul Gordon, “The Paxton Boys and Edward Shippen: Defiance and Deference on a Collapsing Frontier,” Early American Studies 14, no. 2 (2016): 319-347.
- John Woolf Jordan, “Shippen Family,” in Colonial and Revolutionary Families in Pennsylvania: Genealogical and Personal Memoirs, 3 vols. (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1911), 1: 96-109.
- Randolph Shipley Klein, Portrait of an Early American Family: The Shippens of Pennsylvania Across Five Generations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975).
- Joseph Shippen, “Military Letters of Captain Joseph Shippen of the Provincial Service, 1756-1758,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 36, no. 3 (1912): 367-78 and no. 4 (1912): 385-463.
- Edward Shippen Letters and Papers, 1727–81, Mss.B.Sh62, American Philosophical Society.
- Shippen Family Papers, Collection 595A, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Accounts of the Paxton incident published between December 1763 and January 1764 did not look favorably upon the conduct of the Paxton Boys. Emphasizing the particulars of Indian violence and condemning the vigilantes’ violation of law and order, these early pamphlets shaped future critiques. Paxton apologists didn’t gain traction until the spring of 1764.
David Henderson, Account of the Indian Murders (Lancaster, December 27, 1763).In a letter written after the march on the Lancaster jailhouse but before their march to Philadelphia, David Henderson emphasizes the injustice of the Paxton attacks.
John Penn. By the Honourable John Penn (Philadelphia, 1764).Governor Penn calls for the immediate arrest of the Paxton Boys in this proclamation. Printed on January 2, 1764, this broadside reflects the governor’s second condemnatory proclamation, the first printed on December 22, 1763, after their massacre at Conestoga Indiantown but before their attack on the Lancaster jailhouse.
Charles Read, Copy of a Letter from Charles Read (Philadelphia, 1764).This early account the Conestoga massacre anticipates arguments Franklin popularizes with Narrative. Read presents the Paxtons as the real savages, murderers who should suffer the punishment of the law. He holds that the Susquehannock are subjects of the crown and entitled to security, an argument less grounded in ethics than economics.
Benjamin Franklin. Narrative of the Late Massacres (Philadelphia, 1764).Benjamin Franklin’s influential pamphlet created a template for Paxton critiques. He emphasizes the need for law and order. Franklin also personalizes the Susquehannock by using their English names, describing familial relationships, and providing detailed accounts of their slaughter. Meanwhile, he condemns the Scotch-Irish frontiersmen as “CHRISTIAN WHITE SAVAGES.”
Anonymous, A Serious Address (Philadelphia, 1764).Published contemporaneously with Narrative, this pamphlet provides the first insinuations of Paxton apology. The author complains of “too general Approbation” of the killings, despite their being “contrary to the Laws of Nations.” The pamphlet’s appearance of impartiality earned it significant popularity: Serious Address was republished in four editions.
Continue to Quakers in the Crosshairs: The Early Paxton Debate.
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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.