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Welcome to Digital Paxton. This site isn’t only a digital collection dedicated to a massacre, but also a window into colonization, print culture, and Pennsylvania on the eve of the American Revolution.
The “Paxton” in Digital Paxton refers to a little-known massacre in colonial Pennsylvania.
In December 1763, a mob of settlers from Paxtang Township murdered 20 unarmed Susquehannock Indians in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A month later, hundreds of “Paxton Boys” marched toward Philadelphia to menace and possibly kill more refugee Indians who sought the protection of the Pennsylvania government. While Benjamin Franklin halted the march just outside of Philadelphia in Germantown, supporters of the Paxton Boys and their critics spent the next year battling in print.
The Paxton Boys accused the Conestoga Indians of colluding with the Ohio Country Lenape and Shawnee warriors who were attacking Pennsylvania’s western frontier, a charge that had no basis in fact. Their opponents accused the Paxton Boys of behaving more savagely than the Indians they had killed.
The pamphlet war that followed in 1764 was not so different from the Twitter wars of today. Pamphleteers waged battle using pseudonyms, slandering opponents as failed elites and racial traitors. At stake was much more than the conduct of the Paxton men. Pamphleteers staked claims about colonization, peace and war, race and ethnicity, masculinity and civility, and religious association in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania.
Digital Paxton began in Spring 2016 when Will Fenton partnered with the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to digitize both institutions’ rich holdings related to the Paxton massacre. Originally conceived as a way to make those records freely accessible via the web, the site quickly expanded to include primary source materials from the American Philosophical Society, Bethlehem Moravian Archives, Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, contextual essays from leading historians and literary scholars, and educational materials from secondary and post-secondary educators.
- Jump to Credits.
- Jump to the Digital Collection.
- Jump to Public Outreach.
To learn more about how to use this project and its features, follow this path to "Using Digital Paxton," listed below Contents.
The Paxton pamphlet war was waged in physical materials. The pamphlets and prints that circulated in Philadelphia during 1764 were material objects that had value as consumer goods in the marketplace. Yet their worth lay less in the paper and ink that composed them than in what scholars would call their materiality, the power these printed words or images had to evoke ideas about self and society in their readers or viewers. Those ideas assumed forms that reflected the eighteenth-century Pennsylvania culture that produced and consumed them.
Thus, when Paxton critic Timothy Wigwagg called upon his fellow Pennsylvanians to gaze into a collective looking glass (a mirror) to see the Paxton men’s true motives and character, he highlighted the central role of material culture in this pamphlet war.
Thanks to an eighteenth-century consumer revolution, small and affordable hand-held mirrors had become increasingly common goods in colonial America, allowing colonists to gaze at themselves and assess their appearances (Breen). Yet as Wigwagg knew well, mirrors did more than just reflect; they were also optical devices that could magnify and distort images, which gave them magical properties that allowed their holders to see truths and predict the future. Wigwagg was thus confident that his looking into mirror would reveal “Painted in the most striking Colours” the lines of a “design well Plann’d and Judiciously executed” by the Scots-Irish Presbyterian Paxton Boys, a design that would then be “clear to the Understanding of every Person, and Recorded in History as undeniable Facts.” Material objects such as looking glasses, Wigwagg argued, were powerful lenses that could be manipulated to reveal the hidden identities and agendas of the Paxton men.
Wigwagg’s use of the looking glass was metaphorical. Yet it illustrates how the writers and illustrators of the pamphlet war employed a commonly understood language of material goods to mobilize public opinion and persuade their readers. Then, as now, material goods were read as indicators of an individual’s class status and identities. They could also be used in figurative ways to stereotype and stigmatize groups.
Such was the case with the pamphlet war; for when these writers and illustrators depicted the physical appearance of those groups involved in this crisis, including how they dressed, the props or weapons they carried, and the objects they pursued or were associated with, they employed material culture as a rhetorical device to embody group identities and distinguish villains from victims. Yet because the Paxton men had both their critics and supporters, no group involved in the Paxton crisis was spared scrutiny.
As the ethnic group most closely identified with the Paxton men, Pennsylvania’s Scots-Irish were the first group pamphleteers caricatured. Benjamin Franklin set the precedent in his pamphlet, A Narrative of the Late Massacres, which sparked the pamphlet war. Franklin was an esteemed printer, editor, satirist, and “an extraordinarily knowledgeable student” in the use of “visual symbols, devices, and heraldry” for maximum impact on his audiences (Lemay 465). In this case, textual representations that would evoke visceral visual images were his weapons of choice. The Paxton men, he charged, were “CHRISTIAN WHITE SAVAGES” who had “inhumanly murdered” the Conestogas “in cold Blood” (8). To confirm, he signaled the Paxton men’s “barbarous” intent (9) with the “Firelocks, Hangers, and Hatchets” they carried with them as they road in to Lancaster on the day of the massacre (5). Readers, he knew, would notice that these Scots-Irish frontiersmen carried not just the muskets and swords typical of Euro-American warriors, but hatchets, items that were manufactured for the Indian trade, and weapons that colonists had come to associate with the most brutal forms of Indian warfare. In linking the Paxton men to a weapon used to stereotype Native warriors as bloodthirsty brutes, Franklin sought to prove their nefarious intent.
Because intense ethnic and religious political rivalries undergirded the pamphlet war, Franklin also sought to undermine Scots-Irish political standing in the colony. To do so, he rhetorically racialized the Paxton men by associating these “freckled Face[d] and red Hair[ed]” Scots-Irish Presbyterians--a stereotyped portrait of an Irishman, even in the eighteenth century--with these heinous acts of violence (Bankhurst; Kenny). His point was clear: Scots-Irish Presbyterians were inherently bloodthirsty and thus stood apart as a savage other. To confirm, he noted how even the Turks, Moors, Popish Spaniards, and “Negroes of Africa” (21)--groups his colonial readers would most certainly have perceived as savage--were more civil than “these People” (13). By reducing the Scots-Irish to an ethnic stereotype, one that played to anti-Irish and anti-Presbyterian prejudices of his time, Franklin discredited these men as members of the provincial society. As he reckoned it for his readers, brutes who had “imbrued” their “Hands in innocent Blood,” thereby breaking the laws of King, Country, and God, did not deserve to be part of the polity (27).
Scots-Irish bloodthirstiness became a popular trope used by Paxton critics. In the satiric, A Dialogue Between Andrew Trueman, and Thomas Zealot another anonymous pamphleteer wrote his narrative in a derogatory dialect meant to mimic an Ulster brogue, using the material sound of language to emphasize the cultural coarseness of the Scots-Irish. The fictional Thomas tells Andrew that while “fechting [fighting] the Lord’s Battles and killing the Indians at Lancaster and Cannestogoe,” he and other Paxton men had “shot six and a wee ane, that was in the Squaw’s Belly; we sculped three; we tomahawked three; we roasted three and a wee ane; and three and a wee ane we gave to the Hogs.” Shooting and roasting women and children were unimaginably heinous acts, but just as troubling, was the fact that these Christian Paxton men scalped and tomahawked them with hatchets in Indian-style.
Paxton critics thus echoed Franklin’s critique of the inherently bloodthirsty nature of the Scots-Irish, while taking it one step further to suggest that these Scots-Irish were nothing more than bloodthirsty Irish Catholics in disguise. “[T]hey are all the same Family,” remarked another critic, “and always attended Mass in Ireland, whatever they may do in Pennsylvania.”
While Paxton critics ridiculed the Scots-Irish as blood-thirsty brutes, Paxton apologists took up a looking glass of their own and tilted it away from the heinous deeds of the Paxton men and towards their political adversaries, the Quakers. Using their mirror as a kind of magnifying glass, they saw deception. Material goods were not so much symbolic representations as they were props that could be manipulated to disguise Friends’ true character and intent.
Proving Quaker duplicity was the primary intent of Paxton apologists. As the English immigrant pamphleteer David James Dove wrote, the Quakers acted “meek, merciful, [and] compassionate” to the point they “would seem to monopolize Christian Charity, and all the Tenderness of human Nature amongst themselves.” But they were not what they appeared to be to be. Indeed, upon hearing of the frontier depredations of Pontiac’s War, which had forced “near a thousand Families” to flee their homes and farms, Philadelphia Quakers had turned unsympathetically in the other direction, ignoring the plight of frontier colonists. These “compassionate and merciful Christians,” Dove noted with irony, “would not grant a single Farthing … for the Relief of their Fellow Subjects.” Yet they assisted and even sheltered Native American allies, a fact that Dove and other Paxton apologists regarded as particularly galling.
The Paxton men echoed this charge in their Declaration & Remonstrance. As they saw it, Philadelphia’s Quakers “cherished and caressed” the Conestogas “as dearest Friends,” even though frontier residents accused these Native peoples of being allied with the colony’s “openly avowed imbittered Enemies.” Consequently, the Paxton men, who turned the tables on their critics by identifying themselves as “his Majesty’s faithful and loyal Subjects” (10), felt abandoned by Quaker political leaders who ignored their plight while finding the “means to enslave the Province to Indians” (8).
Such favoritism, as the satirical etching Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers illustrates, was driven by avarice. Money served as the material object that Friends’ most desired and would do anything to acquire, even if it meant encouraging Native peoples to make war on frontier settlers. On the left-hand side of the illustration, Quaker merchant Israel Pemberton, signaled with his broad-brimmed hat and initials on the barrel, disperses hatchets to Indians, telling them to “Exercise those on the Scotch Irish & Dutch [Germans] & I’ll support you while I can.” Meanwhile, Benjamin Franklin, to the right, calls the shots, urging others on while he holds a bag of Pennsylvania money while a group of Quaker men sit at the table and fret over the colony’s fate. A small Quaker man standing behind Franklin calls attention to the scene, observing: “This is the way our Money goes.”
Diagnosing deception did not fully explain how the Quakers had duped the colony, however. To do that, colonists had to tear off the Quakers’ “Mask of falsely pretended Friendship” and strip them naked in order to reveal the truth of their selfish motives. This call to unmask the Quakers was a metaphorical one, yet it held persuasive power because it posed a head-on challenge to their physical modes of spiritual expression and self-presentation.
Quakerism, as any Pennsylvanian knew, had an embodied quality that placed emphasis on corporeal forms of worship, including the controversial practice of quaking with the divine Light, which critics charged were staged to dazzle, enchant, and deceive onlookers (Tarter 145-151). Then there was the Quaker practice of plainness, which included the adoption of simple dress, speech, and manners. Among Quaker men, hats were especially important objects used to express this group aesthetic. Refusing to doff one’s hat to a superior was a hallmark of the Quaker commitment to denying false distinctions among men (Haulman 22; Kesselring 299-304; Smolenski).
Because Quaker critics disagreed and interpreted Quaker men’s refusal to engage in “hat honour” (Kesselring 302) as a sign of disrespect for others, Paxton apologists frequently used broad-brimmed hats as visual cues to distinguish Quakers from others in the colony. The verses accompanying the illustration, The German bleeds & bears ye Furs noted how the “Hibernian … kicks to fling his broad brim’d Master.” Yet in depicting this plain-dressed, broad brimmed man as the master who rides the back of the Scots-Irishman with a hatchet-carrying Indian and a blindfolded German yoked to his arm (with Benjamin Franklin again overseeing the action from the sidelines) the engraver also captured the suspicions many Pennsylvanians harbored of the Quakers; namely, that these “broad-brims” were really the oppressive “Lords” whose desire of profit from trade with the Indians left a trail of dead colonists and burning cabins in their wake. Plain speech and simple dress were nothing more than disguises that masked the Quakers’ true character and intent.
The Native Americans
While pamphlet war authors and illustrators targeted Scots-Irish Presbyterians and Quakers as the villains in the Paxton crisis, their take on Pennsylvania’s Native peoples varied depending on their position in this war.
Anti-Paxton writers focused their attention on the Conestogas, emphasizing their victimhood at the hands of the murderous Paxton men. The Conestogas, as Benjamin Franklin noted, were long known for “many Years” living “in Friendship with their White Neighbours” and “their peaceable inoffensive Behaviour.” More significant, he signaled their “poor, defenceless” status by “the Baskets, Brooms, and Bowls they manufactured” and sold to colonists. Their association with domestic tools, ones typically associated with women’s housekeeping and food preparation chores, feminized them, rendering these “trembling Lambs” even more sympathetic victims of the “savage Beasts of Prey,” the Paxton men (6). To make their case, Paxton apologists cast a wider net, drawing no distinction between the peaceful, Christian Indians and the colony’s Native American enemies, those who had “laid waste” to the frontier and practiced severe “Cruelties” on white captives.
Armed with the assumption that all Native peoples were inherently barbaric, they regarded the Conestogas with intense suspicion, and thus deployed the metaphorical looking glass to scrutinize these Natives’ actions and motives. What they found reflected back at them was deception. The Conestogas, charged Thomas Barton “have been Spies upon all our Actions” and “have treacherously held a Correspondence with our avowed Enemies—and have often lent a helping Hand to bring Ruin and Desolation upon the Province.”
This meant that the Conestogas were also artful wearers of disguises. “[T]o Day they are painted red, To-morrow blue, and the next Day they are any other Colour that they think will best prevent their being known,” wrote David James Dove. And once colonists removed their paint, wrote another, the true nature of these “Wolf-like” people was revealed; the Conestogas were not colony’s friends, but its enemies.
Paxton apologists, many of whom adamantly opposed his campaign to oust the Penn family proprietorship and replace it with royal government, seized upon the opportunity the Paxton crisis offered to critique of Franklin and his politics. Franklin, they argued, reveled in artifice. Rev. William Smith, the Anglican provost of the College of Philadelphia, charged that Franklin’s “real design … was not to elucidate, but the disguise and conceal the truth; which … according to his usual custom, he has very artfully, but not honestly, done.”
To reveal his trickery, engravers pulled back a curtain and depicted Franklin as the powerbroker on the sidelines who called the shots. In Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers, Franklin holds the colony’s money while inciting action by calling out “Fight Dog[,] Fight Bear[,] I am Content If I but get the Gover’t.” Likewise, in The German bleeds & bears ye Furs, Franklin steps from the left while holding a petition to remove the proprietors; four tethered figures approach him with the Quaker reaching out his hand to greet him. In the verses that accompany the print, Franklin is identified as “the help” who arrives to “hold down the Hibernian[’]s Head” so that all would not “tumble down.”
To his critics, Franklin was the ultimate double-dealer. By terminating the proprietary government so that he might advance his own interests as his goals, he used his “knowing head, and Silver tongue,” as the lyrics of a satirical song suggested, to dupe others, particularly the Quakers, into believing that he was a “gentle humane worthy man, a Pious good Samaritan.” Franklin was thus the real threat to the colony and its people.
While pamphlet war writers and illustrators lampooned many of Pennsylvania’s ethnic, religious, and racial groups, they mostly spared the colony’s Germans. Given the distinctiveness of the German language and material culture, this is a curious omission; the Germans would have been easy to satirize with various visual and material cues (Falk). Ten years earlier, after all, Franklin had characterized them “Palatine Boors,” likening these newcomers to swine who “swarm into our settlements” and “become a Colony of Aliens” (Franklin).
Furthermore, frontier German colonists were Paxton men. As such, they had joined the Scots-Irish who rode into Lancaster and murdered the Conestogas and had marched on Philadelphia, and that was because they, too, were angry about the protected status of these Native peoples. As the Lutheran Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg confirmed, “many of our Germans thought that it could be proved that the Indians living among the Moravian brethren had secretly murdered one or more of the inhabitants” (I:73-78). So why, then, did pamphleteers and engravers mostly ignore them?
Both Paxton critics and apologists mostly agreed that the German were dupes being led along by others during this crisis. Paxton critic Isaac Hunt, charged that the Scots-Irish had tried to “blind the Dutch [Germans] by all the Political Dust [they] can raise.” As the print and verses accompanying, The German bleeds & bears ye Furs, demonstrate, Paxton apologists agreed, the bleeding, blindfolded German who bore “the furs of Quaker Lords and Savage Curs,” was nothing more than a dupe who was led along, not by the Scots-Irish, but by Benjamin Franklin and the Quakers.
The blindfold, then, was the agreed upon material symbol for the colony’s Germans. This is significant because in a print debate that was ultimately a proxy for a larger discussion of power and identity in the colony, dismissing the Germans as easily-led fools also signaled their status as outsiders. Depictions of blindfolded Germans indirectly confirmed Franklin’s characterization of them as ignorant “Aliens,” which, as William Smith wrote in their defense, denied their agency as “the industrious” people” to whom this province is so much indebted for its flourishing state.”
In a colony that was marked by tremendous cultural diversity by the mid-eighteenth century, the writers and illustrators who fanned the flames of the Paxton crisis employed looking glasses of their own making to scrutinize the objects that their ethnic, religious, or racial rivals wore, carried, or desired. Their goal was to reveal truths that would allow them to assess and dismiss their rivals’ claims to status and power in the colony. But context mattered, as these critics knew, because material items could be used in artful ways to disguise, obscure, or even blind. Thus, their works ought to be read as cautionary tales. In an age when consumer goods, including pamphlets and prints, were more readily available than ever before, colonists, these writers and illustrators warned, had to be wary about how they perceived and interacted with the diverse others around them, because not every group was who they appeared outwardly to be.
This essay is based on Judith Ridner’s article “Unmasking the Paxton Boys: The Material Culture of the Pamphlet War” (Early American Studies, 2016). For more about Judith Ridner, visit the Creators page.
- Benjamin Bankhurst, “A Looking-Glass for Presbyterians: Recasting Prejudice in Late Colonial Pennsylvania,” PMHB 133.4 (October 2009): 317-348.
- T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Cynthia Falk, Architecture and Artifacts of the Pennsylvania Germans: Constructing Identity in Early America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008).
- Benjamin Franklin, “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind” (Benjamin Franklin Papers (1751): Vol 4: 225).
- Kate Haulman, The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).
- Kevin Kenny, Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Krista J. Kesselring, “Gender, the Hat, and Quaker Universalism in the Wake of the English Revolution,” Seventeenth Century 26.2 (October 2011): 299-322.
- J. A. Leo Lemay, “The American Aesthetic of Franklin’s Visual Creations,” PMHB 111.4 (1987): 465-499.
- Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, Account of the march of the Paxton Boys against Philadelphia in the year 1764. (Philadelphia: John Pennington and Henry C. Baird, 1853).
- John Smolenksi, Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).
- Michele Lise Tarter, “Quaking in the Light,” in A Centre of Wonders: The Body in Early America, eds. Janet Moore Lindman and Michele Lise Tarter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).
media/1717 first map showing Indiantown_edited-1.jpg
A History of Conestoga Indiantown
Darvin L. Martin
Conestoga Indiantown was at the forefront of Native American/Colonial relations in the eighteenth-century mid-Atlantic. The colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia each signed treaties through Conestoga concerning a range of Native American issues that impacted the entire continent as Europeans traveled west.
In hundreds of accounts written between 1701 and its demise in 1763, Indiantown served as a reference point in the first surveys to determine the Pennsylvania/Maryland border 16 miles to the south (Colonial Records of Pennsylvania). The records indicate that as Europeans moved in, Indiantown was increasingly regarded as a reservation and its inhabitants made increasingly dependent on both the Pennsylvania government and their European neighbors for sustenance.
This essay will explore the history of Conestoga Indiantown, its people, and their displacement after the Paxton massacre.
The Susquehannock Nation
The Susquehannock Nation finds its roots in the Seneca Nation of western New York. Beginning in the early 1400s, Susquehannock peoples differentiated themselves from the Seneca, and migrated south-east, downstream along the river which now bears their name, to settle in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Kent 13-18). By the mid-1500s, Susquehannock culture dominated trade along the Susquehanna River and established several cities along its eastern shore, both north and south of the confluence of the Conestoga River with the Susquehanna. They grew maize, beans, at least six species of squash, tobacco, paw-paw fruit, at least two species of chenopodium, marshelder and maygrass, and engaged in hunting, fishing, beadwork, weaving, flint knapping, construction, and trade through a network that extended at least from modern-day Louisiana to Quebec (Minderhout 30ff; Ward 231ff).
Captain John Smith referenced the Susquehannock in his account of exploration regarding the Chesapeake Bay in 1608 (Smith 58-61). Smith was surprised to find the Susquehannocks trading French goods from Quebec, a colony founded just a few years earlier. The Susquehannocks were also noted by the Swedish missionary Johannes Campanius, in 1645, when he described a fort located twelve Swedish miles (about 80 English miles) from New Sweden (now Wilmington, Delaware). “They came daily to trade with us…They live on a high mountain…there they have a fort, a square building surrounded with palisades…They have guns and small iron canon.” (Holm 157-158).
Due to colonial pressures and the traumatic effect of disease introduced by Europeans, however, the Native population soon declined precipitously. Europeans considered the effect as “divine providence,” the natural winnowing of a once powerful people (Carlisle and Golson 108ff). In the 1670s, the Susquehannocks, now possessing far lesser influence, moved to the west side of the Susquehanna River, which was claimed by the government of Maryland.
In May 1680, about 300 Susquehannocks were forcibly relocated from the lower village and placed in Maryland on a reservation 100 miles to the south near the first cataracts of the Potomac River (Maryland Archives). The reservation was rampant with disease and created systemic dependency, stripping the Susquehannocks of the ability to practice their culture and teach their children native values. Within two years scores of natives fled the reservation, and by any means possible, attempted to return to their homeland.
Between 1682 and 1685, this group had reconnected with others and settled just south of the 40th parallel on the east side of the Susquehanna, about four miles inland (Jennings 198-199). They numbered about 200 people, and assumed the name Conestoga, and are henceforth known as the Conestoga Indians.
They settled in the heart of what later became Penn’s Manor, and area of 16,000 acres initially restricted from colonial settlement (Kenny 21-22). William Penn allegedly visited the Natives at this location on his second visit to Pennsylvania in 1701. The 1717 Taylor survey of “Conestoga Manor” clearly shows “Indiantown” immediately north of John Cartledge’s 300 acre tract (PA 4:49).
After William Penn’s death in 1718, the established Manor was gradually broken up for European settlement. By the time a new survey was drawn up in 1737, 414 acres remained surrounding the native village of “Indiantown.” The 414 acres were bracketed by farms established by English Quakers and Swiss-German Mennonites.
In 1739, a Swiss-German neighbor by the name of Michael Bachman attempted to obtain the last of the Native lands—the very acres upon which the remaining Susquehannocks had settled. He went to Philadelphia and presented a request in which he claimed he could convince the Indians to remove themselves from the manor so that he could “purchase the spot where the old Indian town stands with the whole vacancy” (Taylor 147). James Logan denied the request, as the Indians of Conestoga were necessary as a listening post for broader Indian affairs.
Seven Years’ War
English frontiersmen turned against Conestoga Indiantown during the prologue leading into the French and Indian War. Gross atrocities occurred on both sides of the conflict brewing in the 1740s and exasperated into full scale guerilla warfare in the 1750s. However, Indiantown remained reclusive and largely peaceful.
Those joining the war effort left Indiantown for the front lines of battle to the north and west. The small band of Conestogas that remained on 414 acres in southern Manor Township became trapped within this “reservation.” They were fearful of carrying guns to hunt beyond their small acreage. Even traveling outside the reservation to sell handmade baskets and bowls aroused the suspicion of a local public, which grew discontent with the native presence, and sought to take over their lands.
Many of the Conestoga at Indiantown had converted to Christianity. They took on Christian names and named their children after their English and German neighbors. The local Lancaster government distanced itself from the administrative duties regarding Indiantown, and by default such responsibility rested squarely on the Quaker government in Philadelphia. Clinging to a three-generation old arrangement made by William Penn, Indiantown petitioned the Philadelphia government directly to settle its grievances. Quaker justice James Wright and German Mennonite Abraham Herr, who both lived near Indiantown, were appointed by the Pennsylvania government to supply them with flour and basic necessities (“Recollections”). Mennonite gunsmith Abraham Newcomer began to refuse serving the Natives at Conestoga Indiantown for fear that their guns and knives were being used against white frontiersmen (Dunbar 282).
In Colonial Records (Vol. 9, p.88) we find the last address from the Conestoga, dated November 30, 1763:
Pennsylvanian frontiersmen, particularly of Scots-Irish descent, festered increasing resentments against the Quaker-led Pennsylvanian government and its apparent sympathy for the Native people. The frontiersmen sought to defend their squatter properties from both Native American raids and the Pennsylvania Provincial Council. Suspicious that the peaceful natives of Conestoga Indiantown were providing aid and intelligence to the hostile natives on the frontier, these vigilantes formed their own militia with the goal of exterminating the local natives.
To the Honorable John Penn, esquire, lieutenant Governor and Commander-in-chief of the Province of Pennsylvania,
Brother: We (the Conestoga Indians) take the present opportunity, by Captain Montour, to welcome you into this Country by this string of Wampum and as we are settled at this place by an agreement of peace and amity established between your grandfathers and ours, we now promise ourselves your favor and protection, and as we have always lived in peace and quietness with our Brethren and neighbors round us during the last and present Indian Wars, we hope now, as we are deprived from supporting our families by hunting, as we formerly did, you will consider our distressed situation and grant our women and children some clothing to cover them this winter. The government has always been kind enough to allow us some provisions, and did formerly appoint people to take care of us, but as there is no person to take that upon him, and some of our neighbors have encroached upon the tract of land reserved here for our use, we would now beg our brother, the Governor to appoint our friend Captain Thomas McKee, who lives near us and understands our language, to take care and see Justice done us.
SOHAYS, his mark
CUYANGUERRYCOEA, his mark
SAGUYASOTHA (JOHN), his mark (Colonial Records 9:88)
Right of Conquest
The Paxtons’ intent to kill every Conestogan, every adult or child who could claim inheritance, furthered their goals to take control of Indiantown. Immediately following the massacre, the Paxtons cited “the right of conquest,” claiming themselves as victorious with the right to claim ownership of a conquered territory. However, the property had been effectively managed as a reservation for decades by the Pennsylvania government in Philadelphia. Following the massacre, the property’s management was assumed by Sir William Johnson, the British-commissioned superintendent of Indian affairs for the colonies. Johnson appointed Jacob Whisler, a Mennonite neighbor, as the property’s caretaker (PA 1:119).
On March 12, 1764, Whisler wrote an urgent letter to Surveyor General William Peters, in which he said that two men came to his home to inform him that nine or ten Paxton families intended to settle the town by right of conquest. In April, Whisler wrote again, informing the authorities that two families were already living on the land and a third was plowing it. When approached by Whisler, the squatters claimed they would defend their rights for the conquered land to the death. Whisler identified the families as that of Richard Meloon and Robert Bow (Brubaker 131).
The Lancaster Magistrate Edward Shippen also reported to governor Penn that settlers were building new log houses on the Indian land and that an elderly couple named Magginty was living in one of the existing “Indian Wigwams.” However, both Edward Shippen and Thomas Barton, the rector at St. James Episcopal Church, issued pamphlets defending the acts of the Paxton militia. Shippen’s influence in 1763 was extensive. With the Philadelphia government demanding the identity and detention of the killers, the Paxton Boys could not have evaded arrest without the help of Shippen.
Four years later, the land was still occupied. On January 13, 1768, the Pennsylvania assembly, through speaker Joseph Galloway, addressed the governor, reiterating that the respected colonial general Thomas Gage (later Governor of Massachusetts) and Sir William Johnson were dissatisfied with the management of Indiantown and that the perpetrators who murdered “a number of Seneca and other Indians,” had “eluded the hands of justice” (Colonial Records 9:409). The assembly gave voice to a concern among the continental governing authorities that the Indian lands were settled without the consent of the Indians themselves, namely the Seneca nation. A plan was developed to insure that Conestoga Indiantown was “officially” returned to the Pennsylvania government, and no Indian could ever lay claim to it again.
Treaty of Fort Stanwix
On November 5, 1768, Johnson signed a treaty with the Six Nations of the Iroquois at the strategic Fort Stanwix (present-day Rome, New York). In the treaty the Iroquois relinquished lands beyond their scope, extending the British boundary from the Alleghenies west through the full course of the Ohio River to the Tennessee River. The treaty effectively granted all of Pennsylvania south of the West branch of the Susquehanna, and all of modern-day West Virginia and Kentucky south of the Ohio River. And here, near the end of the verbiage of the treaty, specifically by name, the commissioners presented 500 dollars to the Seneca and Cayuga peoples “in full satisfaction of the ‘Conostoga Lands,’ which by the death of that People became vested in the Proprietaries.” The treaty stated that Pennsylvania “freely gave this sum as a farther Proof of the regard of that Province, for them, and of their concern for the unhappy fate of the Conostogas” (Marshall; full text available here). The payment was not made in standard British currency, but in dollars, presumedly the popular Spanish silver dollar of the time. The approximate exchange of four Spanish dollars equaled one British pound.
Many of the Shawnee, Lenape, Cherokee, and various other tribes who lived throughout the lands negotiated in the treaty, did not acknowledge or agree to the terms and conditions. And as we find later, both Seneca and Cayuga Peoples challenged the claim to Conestoga Indiantown.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia government considered the Lancaster magistrate responsible for arresting a detaining the perpetrators of the Conestoga massacre. No one was arrested, but instead, after the treaty was signed, Jacob Whister was dismissed from his appointment as caretaker of the property. That responsibility instead was handed to Thomas Barton, the Episcopalian rector who earlier issued a pamphlet condemning Benjamin Franklin’s remarks about the massacre and justifying the actions of the Paxton boys (Myers).
Barton almost immediately moved from his parsonage to Indiantown, and rebuilt the fences, constructed a barn and planted an apple orchard inside 50 acres of cleared land. In December 1770, he wrote a letter to Edmund Physick, the Penns’ land agent and suggested that occupying the land was not solely his idea or Johnson’s. He said his friends and he made the decision, that the governor endorsed such a decision to occupy the land, exactly as Whisler had done. Barton told Physick that he improved the property. At the time he moved there (1768) the fences were decayed, and the property was without “house, barn, nor stable, except two cabins erected by the Paxton people” (Brubaker 140-141).
In May of 1775, eight Cayuga Indians journeyed down the Susquehanna to Conestoga to petition their own claim to Indiantown. They proceeded to Philadelphia, where a council was held with them on May 16th. Three of the eight claimed to be the closest living survivors of Sohays, who lived at Conestoga. One claimed to be Sohays’ brother. The Governor revealed a copy of the Stanwix Treaty and described that the land had already been paid. He claimed that a value in goods equal to “200 pounds York money” was paid to Togaiato, the Cayuga Chief, to be distributed as he saw fit. However, for their trouble and journey, the Governor granted the claimant party of eight a total of 300 dollars. The Cayuga accepted the payment and signed the back of the treaty forfeiting their claim to Indiantown (Mombert 280ff). As before, the Pennsylvania government negotiated with the Indians using Spanish dollars.
The Deed is Done
On September 16, 1780, an official deed was created for Indiantown. The deed mentioned the original Jacob Taylor Survey of 1717, which partitioned 16,000 acres as Penn’s Manor, including Indiantown by name. The deed also mentioned the treaty at Fort Stanwix, declaring that the next of kin to the murdered Natives forfeit all “right, title and interest to said Indian Town and the lands thereto belonging.” Finally, the deed stipulated 414 ¾ undivided acres, owned in fourths. John Musser, the Mennonite land agent of Lancaster, was granted one-fourth for the sum of 1,244 pounds 5 shillings lawful money of Pennsylvania in gold or silver. The remaining three-fourths were sold to Robert Morris, esquire of Philadelphia, for 3,750 pounds (Deed Book BB-28-38).
The amount that the Philadelphia government paid in 1768 (500 Spanish dollars or 125 pounds) increased forty-fold when the government sold the tracts twelve years later. Over the same time period the farms adjacent to Indiantown significantly decreased in monetary value due to the American Revolution.
Pennsylvania purposely did not pay a fair price to the Indians for these lands. This is a common theme we find throughout this tragic history. While written on September 16, 1780, the deed was not recorded until November 16, 1784. There is no record detailing what happened to the property between 1780 and 1784. It is probably during this period that squatters were removed. The deed would not have been finalized until the land was cleared of potential claims and could be subdivided for new settlement.
John Musser acted as the local representative of Robert Morris’ land speculation. Morris represented Pennsylvania in the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1778, and extensively financed the American Revolution, giving one million pounds to pay the Continental troops under Washington. Morris owned numerous ships that carried cargo from Cuba and the West Indies to France, Spain, and Italy. He engaged in profiteering and seized illegal cargo in the West Indies, which is quite possibly why the Pennsylvania treasury paid Indians in Spanish dollars (Rappleye). The new United States Congress appointed Morris as the United States superintendent of finance from 1781 to 1784.
John Musser took the first steps to divide up Indiantown a year after the deed was recorded. He sold 63 acres and 63 perches to the neighbor to the south, James Pratt on January 1, 1786 for 1,014 pounds (Deed Book EE-543). Pratt later transferred this property to his son William. Thirty days later, on Jan 31, 1786, Musser paid Morris for the remainder of Indiantown (Morris’s ¾ investment), for 7,000 pounds (Deed Book FF-122). After this, Musser continued to divide up Indiantown.
Today, Chief’s Hill (also known as Indian Round Top) is the wooded patch inside property #19. The top of the mound is located where the western corner of property #20 is adjacent to the wooded patch. This mound is named for Togodhessah (Chief Civility), who as a young chief, addressed the Philadelphia government council on October 15, 1714, saying, “our Old Queen (Conguegos) is in the Indian mound, the aged warriors are dead; we are young buds of the old tree; we never saw our Great Father (Connoodaghtoh), but we shall keep the peace as long as the waters run or the sun continues to shine” (Colonial Records 2:574).
This essay was derived from Darvin Martin’s “The Case for Conestoga Indiantown” (2015). To learn more about Martin, visit the Creators page.
- Jack Brubaker. Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paxton Boys in Lancaster County. History Press, 2010.
- Rodney P. Carlisle and J. Geoffrey Golson, eds. Native America from Prehistory to First Contact. ABC-CLIO, 2006.
- Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, Vol. 2 & 9. Harrisburg, Printed by T. Fenn & Co. 1831-1853.
- Deed Book BB-28-38, EE-543, and FF-122. Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
- John R Dunbar. The Paxton Papers. The Hague: Martinus Nijhof, 1957.
- Thomas Campanius Holm. Description of the Province of new Sweden, now called by the English, Pennsylvania in America. Pennsylvania: McCarty & Davis, 1834.
- Francis Jennings. The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1990.
- Kevin Kenny. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- Barry C. Kent. Susquehanna’s Indians. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2001.
- Peter Marshall. “Sir William Johnson and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1768.” Journal of American Studies 2 (1967): 149-179.
- Maryland Archives, Vol. 15, p. 280, dated May 12, 1680.
- David J. Minderhout, ed. Native Americans in the Susquehanna River Valley, Past and Present. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2013.
- Jacob Isidor Mombert. An Authentic History of Lancaster County. Lancaster: J. E. Barr & Company, 1869.
- James P. Myers Jr. “The Rev. Thomas Barton’s Authorship of The Conduct of the Paxton Men, Impartially Represented (1764),” Pennsylvania History 61 (Apr. 1994): 155-84.
- Pennsylvania State Archives, Vol. 1 & 9.
- Charles Rappleye. Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
- John Smith. The Generall Historie of Virigina, New England and the Summer Isles, Book 3, 1624.
- Isaac Taylor. Dec 3, 1739, Papers Read Before the Lancaster County Historical Society. Lancaster, 1896.
- H. Trawick Ward. “The Susquehannock Connection.” Excavating Occaneechi Town: Archaeology of an Eighteenth-Century Indian Village in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1998.
Writers published numerous histories of the Pennsylvania colony during the late-1750s, each purporting to shed new understanding on the present conflict. Central of those narratives was whom to blame. Authors variously pointed fingers at the fecklessness of Pennsylvania Proprietors and the pacifism of Quaker Assembly members.
William Smith, A Brief State of the Province of Pennsylvania (London, 1755).Episcopalian priest William Smith attributed the colony’s troubles to Quaker opposition to a militia. His attacks on the Society of Friends eventually alienated him from Benjamin Franklin, whose ally—and recent Quaker convert—Joseph Galloway penned a lengthy retort, A True and Impartial State of the Province of Pennsylvania (1759).
Richard Jackson, An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania (London, 1759).This anonymously-published book attacked the Penn family (who were no longer Quakers) and the proprietary nature of the colonial government while defending the actions of Quakers in the assembly during the Seven Years’ War. While originally credited to Benjamin Franklin, it was actually authored by Richard Jackson.
Anonymous (likely Thomas Penn), Criticism of Franklin’s Historical Review (London, 1759 or 1760).This anonymous, unpublished manuscript critiques Historical Review. The manuscript was written in 1759 or 1760, almost certainly by Thomas Penn.
Anonymous (likely James Claypoole), Franklin and the Quakers (Philadelphia, 1764).Franklin’s associations with the Quakers complicated his political career. Franklin appears in the foreground of this etching, holding a sack labeled “Pennsylvania money.” Israel Pemberton appears inferentially: To the left, prominent Quaker merchant Abel James distributes tomahawks from a barrel labeled “I.P.”