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

Listening for Voices: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga

This unit introduces students to the massacre of the Conestoga people in Pennsylvania (1763) through the examination of related primary sources and a close reading of Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga. This graphic novel blends history based on primary documents with indigenous history. Rather than a linear retelling of the past, the graphic novel's time is cyclical, moving between the past, present, and future.

This unit contains three main components (accessible below Contents):
  1. Preparing the Learner
  2. Interacting with Texts / Concepts
  3. Extending Understanding
The unit follows the Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) framework. Because students may have limited background knowledge of the Conestoga massacres and eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, they will connect to their prior knowledge and acquire background knowledge before reading Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga. Background knowledge is the focus of "Preparing the Learner." Students will engage with the core text—Ghost River—during "Interacting with Texts." The unit concludes with "Extending Understanding," which asks student to apply what they have learned and to generate new understandings.

Lesson Objectives:
  1. Students will understand and compare information from historic maps to achieve shared knowledge.
  2. Students will analyze historic paintings by interpreting the point of view to build a shared knowledge.
  3. Students will collaboratively interpret the graphic novel by analyzing the text and images and the cyclical presentation of time.
  4. Students will collaboratively make a claim supported with evidence.

Essential Questions:
Grade Level: 
Historical Background:
In 1701, William Penn promised a diverse group of Native Americans (Susquehannock, Seneca, Delaware, and Shawnee) that they would have a home in Pennsylvania. The agreement with the people who became known as the Conestoga included 500 acres along the Susquehanna River in southwestern Lancaster County. That territory came to be known as Conestoga Manor (sometimes called "Conestoga Indiantown"). Some sixty years later, on December 14, 1763, the "Paxton Boys," a group of former militiamen, rode to the territory and murdered six Conestoga people and burned their longhouses. The local government moved the survivors to a workhouse (also called the "poor house") for protection. Instead, on December 27, the Paxton men returned and killed the remaining 14 Conestoga men, women and children. In early 1764, several hundred Paxton men marched east toward Philadelphia. They were met by Benjamin Franklin in Germantown, just north of Philadelphia, who convinced them to return home. None of the "Paxton Boys" were arrested or tried for the massacre of the Conestoga. The massacre led to an extensive debate amongst European-descended Pennsylvanians, some critical of the Paxton Boys and others quite sympathetic.

Reference Materials:
Student Materials (in order of application):
This unit 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). Printable versions of materials are available on respective pages. You may also download the entire unit.

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