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


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 some two-dozen archives, research libraries, and cultural institutions; a dozen contextual essays from leading historians and literary scholars; and half a dozen lessons from secondary and post-secondary educators.As of May 2023, the site features 3,225 pages of material, including 41 artworks, four books, 17 broadsides, 236 manuscripts, 27 newspaper issues, 71 pamphlets, and nine political cartoons, many of which have never before been digitized. About half of the collection (108 records) is fully-transcribed and searchable, and new transcriptions are added on a regular basis.The site also includes six middle school, 13 high school, and three undergraduate lesson plans; 14 contextual essays written by leading historians and literary scholars; and a crowd-sourced transcription platform.Will Fenton has presented Digital Paxton at numerous archival, digital humanities, and public events, and the project has been featured in academic journals (American QuarterlyCommon-placeJournal of Interactive Teaching & Pedagogy), general interest publications (Albuquerque JournalPennLive.comPhiladelphia Inquirer, and WHYY), special interest publications (American IndianEducation Week, History News Magazine, and Humanities Magazine), podcasts (Code Switch and Our Fake History), and other media (C-SPAN and Pennsylvania Cable Network).Thanks to the support of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Digital Paxton has grown considerably, with new archival materials, contextual essays, and lesson plans. It's also given rise to an exciting new public humanities project: Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga is a Native American graphic novel available both online and in print and a public art exhibition at the Library Company of Philadelphia. To learn more about future plans, follow Digital Paxton on social media or visit learn more about how to use Digital Paxton, follow this path to "Using Digital Paxton," listed below Contents. To submit questions, share feedback, or get involved in the project, contact the editor.

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