Digital Paxton: Digital Collection, Critical Edition, and Teaching Platform

Early Condemnations

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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