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 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.As of February 2018, the site features 1,653 pages of material, including 12 artworks, 12 broadsides, 83 manuscripts, 67 pamphlets, and seven political cartoons, many of which have never before been digitized. About half of that collection is fully-transcribed and searchable, and new transcriptions are added on a regular basis.The site also includes several secondary and post-secondary lesson plans, 10 contextual essays written by leading historians and literary scholars, including five historical overview essays and five conceptual keyword essays, 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 the Philadelphia Inquirer and Common-place.In the coming months, we hope to perform additional public engagement events and to add new primary source materials from the American Antiquarian Society, the Historical Society of Dauphin County, and Lancaster History. To learn more about future plans, follow Digital Paxton on social media or return to this page.

To learn more about how to use this project and its features, follow this path, listed below Contents.

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