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

Ghost River Meets the Spirits of the Conestoga

This multi-part lesson will focus on the theme of historical Continuity and Change through the analysis of primary and secondary sources related to the Conestoga massacres (1763). Students will compare text and images from the graphic novel Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga with excerpts from two of the earliest plays written in America, The Paxton Boys, A Farce and A Dialogue between Andrew Trueman and Thomas Zealot. This lesson is intended for block periods, and it may be taught over multiple days, dependent upon scheduling.

Grade Levels: Grades 6-8

Standards: From the C3 Frameworks
Historical Background:
When William Penn established the colony of Pennsylvania, he envisioned a pluralistic and peaceful colony. In establishing alliances with the local Native Peoples, Penn made a series of treaties, beginning with the Great Treaty, the Treaty of Shackamaxon (1682), in pursuit of his "peaceable kingdom." From the Native Peoples' perspective, they had established kinship relationships making them friends and "brothers." A wampum belt was created, recording the terms of this treaty. Diplomacy was vital to the trade alliances between Native Peoples in the Susquehanna Valley and the colonial Pennsylvanians.

On December 14, 1763, the Paxton Boys, a group of vigilantes from the Paxtang Township, massacred six Conestoga Indians on rumors that they had aligned with other groups who planned to attack the colonists. This was not true, but it did not stop the Paxton Boys from searching out the Conestoga away from their village. The remaining 14 Conestoga were moved to the Lancaster Workhouse (often referred to in the documents as the “Goal” or jail) for their protection. However, on December 27, the Paxton Boys broke into the workhouse and brutally murdered the remaining and defenseless men, women, and children.

Materials (in order of application):

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Extension Standard (Change, Continuity and Context):
This lesson was created during the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Teacher Seminar, "Native Peoples, Settlers, and European Empires in North America, 1600-1840" (July 28-August 3, 2019). You may also download a printable version of this lesson.

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