In A Spirited Existence, historian Gregory Evans Dowd argues that the late-eighteenth century saw “The Indian’s Great Awakening,” during which pan-nativist revivals brought Delaware, Shawnee, and other tribes toward monotheism. As tribes fused their beliefs with settlers’ theology and commerce, rural farmers created their own fused counter-culture. In The Backcountry and the City, Ed White writes, “As Indians begin to…adopt fusion as their response, some farmers, already inclined by racism to perceive Indians as an undifferentiated collective, come to see Indians as fused in a life-or-death-struggle to eliminate white settlers” (103).
This was a fiction, but a redolent one for a minority that felt besieged by outside forces, ignored by their government, and left behind in an increasingly cosmopolitan age. In the 1764, that aggrieved minority largely won the day: none of the Paxton Boys faced trial; anti-Paxton leaders were punished at the polls (including Benjamin Franklin, who lost his Assembly seat); and the pamphlet war validated the Paxtonian policy of state-sponsored frontier war, as exercised in the Wyoming Valley. In the context of a proliferation of right-wing populist movements across the West, high school students on the cusp of enfranchisement would do well to study this incident and to critically engage pamphleteers’ zero-sum views of race, class, and cosmopolitanism.
To support such critical inquiry, Digital Paxton features six lessons designed for both high school and higher education classrooms. Select the relevant path below to begin your journey.
All lessons are available as rich web pages as well as downloadable, printer-friendly PDFs. We take this extra step with the understanding that while Digital Paxton is digital humanities project, it exists in analog conditions. Whether by choice or necessity, many educators rely upon printouts, and we don’t want to create barriers to bringing the Paxton crisis into classrooms.
If you would like to share your own lessons, please don't hesitate to contact Will Fenton.