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Using Digital Paxton
Digital Paxton is a digital collection, critical edition, teaching platform devoted to the 1764 pamphlet war.
Digital Paxton as Digital Collection
As a digital collection, Digital Paxton hosts more than 300 political cartoons, books, broadsides, manuscripts, and newspaper issues related to the Paxton incident. The original papers reside at more than 20 different archives, research libraries, and cultural institutions, including the American Philosophical Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At present, Digital Paxton features nearly 3,000 free, print-quality (300 dpi) images.
Every digitized item features metadata available in the Library Company of Philadelphia's catalog related to printer, pagination, and authorial attribution. You may access that metadata by clicking the "Details" tab below any image of by clicking "Additional metadata" in its parent.
About half of the corpus is fully-transcribed. Transcriptions are configured to appear as Annotations that automatically overlay when you cursor over the top left quarter of an image. New transcriptions will be added on a regular basis and announced via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. All transcriptions are fully searchable and will be collected in Transcribed Records. We welcome reader contributions using the project’s crowd-sourced Transcriptions platform.
Digital Paxton as Critical Edition
In 1957, historian John Raine Dunbar created the first critical edition to the 1764 pamphlet war, The Paxton Papers. While Dunbar’s Papers has served scholars well, it suffers from three limitations: it’s dated, limited in scope, and not easily accessible.
The past sixty years have seen significant Paxton research and scholarship, enabled, in no small part, by Dunbar’s edition. Dunbar’s introduction offers a useful entry point to the study of the Paxton incident, it obviously does not reflect the vast and varied work scholars are doing today. In the past several years alone, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies organized a 250th anniversary Paxton conference from which Early American Studies culled an impressive special issue.
Dunbar's corpus is also quite selective. While he curated twenty-eight pamphlets in Papers, Alison Olson later identified sixty-three pamphlets and ten cartoons. Even that tally does not account for the complete range of Paxton material, given that many cartoons are nested inside of pamphlets, many of which circulated in multiple editions throughout 1764.
Finally, the Dunbar Papers is out of print, and when it can be found, it’s expensive. Though many of the Paxton pamphlets are available online, access remains either ad hoc or expensive. Several pamphlets are available in the Internet Archive. Many more are searchable via Readex Early American Imprints. However, in both instances, readers must identify specific pamphlets to retrieve results, and, in the case of Readex, they will need to affiliate with an institution that has purchased access to them. Perhaps most important, search-based discovery flattens what was a heated exchange in which writers address, answer, examine, counter, and unmask one another. Current digital access makes it difficult to discern derivation (who’s responding to whom) and authorship (writers employ a variety of pseudonyms).
Digital Paxton seeks to address each of these limitations.
As a web-based critical edition, Digital Paxton will accommodate three forms of critical context: historical overviews (nested inside Historical Overview), conceptual keyword essays (Keywords), and teaching materials designed by and for secondary and post-secondary educators (Education).
Digital Paxton's online format ameliorates issues of access, scope, and design. Thanks to the generosity of partnering institutions, Digital Paxton provides free, print-quality images with rich metadata and, in many instances, full-text transcriptions. Because Digital Paxton does not need to be printed or reprinted, it can accommodate new materials and scholarly contributions as they become available.
Thanks to its foundation in Scalar, an open-source, online publishing platform developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, Digital Paxton supports multiple narratives (Paths) using a common library. Digital Paxton uses paths to create sequences of content, as with this introduction. You may access the contents of a pathway by scrolling to the bottom of the page (listed below Contents) or by using the arrows in the wings (in the left and right hand margins) to access the next or previous page in a pathway.
Using Digital Paxton
You may navigate the Paxton corpus by several avenues. We recommend that you click the blue button at the bottom of this page to progress to Historical Overview. That pathway features six brief essays, beginning with a piece by Kevin Kenny, who quite literally wrote the book on the Paxton riots. With the permission of the Encyclopedia for Greater Philadelphia, we have excerpted an essay on the relationship between Pontiac's War and the Paxton rebellion, written by historian Michael Goode. In the next essay, historian Jay Donis looks ahead to the next year in order to compare the violence of Black Boys to that of the Paxton Boys. Historian Judith Ridner and literary scholar Scott Paul Gordon attend to the visual culture and manuscript records that haven't, traditionally, been associated with the public debate.
Jack Brubaker, a Lancaster journalist and author, has authored an essay on the immediate and long-term aftermath of the Conestoga massacre. Darvin Martin, an adviser to the Circle Legacy Center, provides a history of Conestoga Indiantown, its people, and their displacement after the Paxton march. Finally, editor Will Fenton has created framework that situates the Paxton massacre in a longer lineage of settler colonialism that extends from the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) through the Northwest Ordinance (1787). This “new looking-glass” seeks to serve as a new, more capacious framework for thinking about the pamphlet war, as well as those who could not participate in it.
Upon completing this Historical Overview, you will find yourself in the Digital Collection, where you may filter by type of content: artwork, broadside, manuscript, pamphlets, or political cartoon.
You may also navigate Digital Paxton using the Table of Contents, accessible when you hover over the menu in the upper left corner of any screen. You may click any associated arrow
to preview the contents of a section. Below the Table of Contents, you can access the Index, which allows you to filter items by type. Filtering for Paths will allow you to browse sequences of content, such as pamphlets or collections of pamphlets. Filtering for Media will enable you to browse all individual pages of records. Alternatively, you may perform a keyword search by clicking the magnifying glass in the menu bar.
Readers may choose to dip into the digital collection using conceptual Keywords, modeled on the work of Raymond Williams (Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society) and, more recently, Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (Keywords for American Cultural Studies). Authored by Paxton scholars, these six essays theorize and historicize a keyword in the Paxton debate using primary source material available in the digital collection and secondary sources as further readings. We’re delighted to share essays from Benjamin Bankhurst (Shepherd University), Nicole Eustace (New York University), Scott Paul Gordon (Lehigh University), Angel Luke O'Donnell (King's College London), James P. Myers, Jr. (Gettysburg College), and Judith Ridner (Mississippi State University). Alongside full-length essays dedicated to eighteenth-century material culture, condolence rituals, the idea of elitism, and the use of anonymity, Digital Paxton also supports Wiki-style contextual tags. To that end, Scott Paul Gordon has authored tags for the Moravians, Christian Indians, and Edward Shippen.
To facilitate greater knowledge of and access to the Paxton massacre, the site also includes a Education section where secondary and post-secondary educators may contribute lesson plans. Educators at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have created a multi-part high school lesson plan. Montgomery Wolf (University of Georgia) has submitted an innovative assignment in which students create podcasts using the Digital Paxton library. And Benjamin Bankhurst (Shepherd University) and Kyle Roberts (Loyola University Chicago), who are co-teaching an undergraduate history course about the American Revolution, have shared a Digital Paxton transcription assignment.
In conducting that assignment, Loyola graduate students Kate Johnson, Marie Pellissier, and Kelly Schmidt created documentation to support crowdsourcing transcriptions using an open-source platform called FromThePage. We have created a Transcriptions section to surface transcribed materials, to showcase their documentation, and to solicit your contributions. To that point, we have also added a Public Outreach section that foregrounds various project milestones, including collaborations, talks, and publications.
As evidenced by our collaborative approach to transcriptions, Digital Paxton wouldn't be possible without the contributions of countless individuals and institutions, and we encourage visitors to use the Credits section to acknowledge the individuals behind the technology. Invisible labor is labor nevertheless.
We hope that you enjoy Digital Paxton, and we invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions, and discoveries using any of the aforementioned social media platforms. By design, Digital Paxton is a work in progress, and we hope that it will become a richer, more useful tool with time. Use the Contact page to get involved or to submit queries, questions, or suggestions. Thank you for contributing to the project.
Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Massacres
The Paxton Boys, frontier militiamen on an unauthorized expedition, struck Conestoga Indiantown at dawn on December 14, 1763. "Fifty-seven Men, from some of our Frontier Townships, who had projected the Destruction of this little Commonwealth," Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Narrative of the Late Massacres in Lancaster County, "came, all well-mounted, and armed with Firelocks, Hangers [a kind of short sword] and Hatchets, having travelled through the Country in the Night, to Conestogoe Manor." Only six people were in the town at the time, "the rest being out among the neighboring White People, some to sell the Baskets, Brooms and Bowls they manufactured." The Paxton Boys killed these six and burned their settlement to the ground.
The Conestoga people lived on a 500-acre tract, which William Penn had set aside for them seventy years earlier, near the town of Lancaster, one hundred miles west of Philadelphia. By 1763 only twenty Conestoga people were living there—seven men, five women, and eight children.
After the murders, local magistrates removed the remaining fourteen residents to the Lancaster jail and workhouse for their safety, but on December 27 the Paxton Boys rode into that town to continue the attack they had started two weeks earlier. Fifty men, "armed as before, dismounting, went directly to the Work-house and by Violence broke open the Door," Franklin reported, "and entered with the utmost Fury in their Countenances." Within a matter of minutes they had slaughtered the fourteen individuals sheltering at the workhouse, including the eight children.
The Paxton men were fully aware of the symbolic and political significance of their actions. They murdered unarmed, peaceable Conestoga people to make the point that all Indians were the same. And they slaughtered the Conestogas on government property in broad daylight. In perpetrating the massacres, they repudiated the settlement policy of William Penn.
Inspired by Quaker principles, Penn had founded his colony in 1682 as a "holy experiment" in which Christians and Indians could live together in harmony. He drew the model of his colony from the "Peaceable Kingdom" envisioned in the Book of Isaiah. That dream proved surprisingly resilient. In fact, the nineteenth-century Quaker artist Edward Hicks produced a series of paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom in which he always included Penn's legendary meeting with the Delaware peoples under the elm tree at Shackamaxon, in present-day Philadelphia. In pursuit of his vision, William Penn treated the native peoples in his province with uncommon respect (John Penn to James Harrison).
Yet for all his popularity, Penn's holy experiment always rested on colony-building foundations. There would have been no Pennsylvania, after all, had he not received a gift of 29 million acres from King Charles II in 1681—a gift that made him the largest individual landlord in the British Empire. Within this immense territory, Penn purchased land from native peoples and, by his understanding, fairly. But he did so because he needed to get clear title to their land so that he could sell it to settlers and try to make a profit from his colony.
The myth of the Peaceable Kingdom, already in decline by the time of William Penn's death in 1718, disintegrated gradually over the next few decades. Penn's son and principal heir, Thomas, cast off the Quaker faith and converted to Anglicanism. He and his brothers continued to negotiate with native peoples but they did not hesitate to use fraud and intimidation. In 1737 they swindled the Delawares out of a huge tract of land in a transaction known as the "Walking Purchase." For the Delawares, the measure of this land was how much a man could walk in a day and a half. The Penns, however, sent out a team of relay runners who marked out a tract almost as big as Rhode Island. Most of the Delawares who lived there were forced to move west of the Susquehanna River, which at that time marked the western boundary of European settlement. The "Walking Purchase" remained their primary grievance when they went to war against Pennsylvania twenty years later.
Immigrants from the province of Ulster, in the north of Ireland, also posed a threat to Pennsylvania's native peoples. These settlers began to arrive in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the eighteenth century and set up as squatters along the frontier, ignoring the land rights of the native peoples and the Penn family alike. They claimed the land by "tomahawk right"—marking trees at a distance from one another with their axes, and declaring the territory between these trees as their own. As early as 1730, a generation before the Paxton massacres, a group of Ulster squatters temporarily occupied Conestoga Manor, declaring that it was "against the Laws of God and Nature that so much Land Should lie idle while so many Christians wanted it to labour on and raise their Bread" (James Logan to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn).
Conflict between western colonists and native peoples intensified during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). Expelled from their lands in eastern Pennsylvania, most of the Delawares and Shawnees west of the Susquehanna River sided with the French as the lesser of two evils and launched devastating raids on frontier settlers. The colonial government in Philadelphia responded by declaring war on the Delawares and, for the first time, establishing a militia. A handful of strict Quakers remained true to William Penn's pacifist vision, but the Peaceable Kingdom had come to an end. Frontier settlers did most of the fighting during the war and, from their perspective, both branches of the government in Philadelphia—the Quaker-dominated Assembly and executive branch, run by the Penn family—seemed indifferent to their wishes.
No sooner had the British defeated the French in 1763 than Pontiac's War, the largest Indian war in colonial American history, erupted. Delawares and Shawnees once again launched raids east of the Susquehanna River. Frontier settlers re-lived the nightmare of the Seven Years' War. It was in this context, in December 1763, that the Paxton men carried out their massacre.
The Paxton Boys arose directly out of a local militia created by the colonial government in response to frontier demands for defense in the summer of 1763. Colonel John Armstrong of Carlisle commanded a unit west of the Susquehanna River and the Rev. John Elder, the "fighting pastor" of Paxton Presbyterian Church, commanded a unit to the east. These two units were supposed to be strictly defensive, but Elder and Armstrong used them to launch raids against the Delawares. When raids failed, the Paxton Boys, led by Lazarus Stewart and Matthew Smith, attacked the Conestoga people instead.
At the end of January 1764, a month after the massacres, reports reached Philadelphia that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Paxton Boys were marching eastward, threatening to sack the city unless their grievances were met. They also demanded the right to "inspect" 140 Lenape and Moravian Indians who had been removed from the frontier and placed in protective custody. Given what the Paxton Boys had done to the Conestogas, the residents of Philadelphia could only imagine what this "inspection" might entail.
When several hundred Paxton Boys reached Germantown, just six miles outside Philadelphia, they were met by a delegation led by Benjamin Franklin, who persuaded them to write down their grievances. Their spokesmen, Matthew Smith and James Gibson, submitted a Declaration and a Remonstrance for consideration by the colonial government, and what followed was a war of words instead of a war of weapons. Presbyterian supporters of the Paxton Boys in alliance with the Anglican faction surrounding the Penn family battled Benjamin Franklin and the Quaker party in print. The debate, which featured more than sixty pamphlets and ten political cartoons, went far beyond the immediate issue of the Conestoga massacres to address the fundamental question of how Pennsylvania ought to be governed.
Despite Franklin's efforts, the Paxton murderers went unpunished. Nobody was investigated, let alone arrested or prosecuted. As a result, like-minded settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier felt free to behave in similar ways. The result was wave after wave of violence on the frontier, culminating in total war against indigenous peoples during the American Revolution. In Pennsylvania, the Paxton Boys' brutality was the exception as late as 1763, but during the Revolution it became commonplace.
Ironically, Benjamin Franklin and the Paxton men ended up supporting the same side in the American Revolution. But that is because there was more than one revolution going on—the familiar struggle for lofty principles of liberty and equality in the east, and a lesser-known struggle involving land and American Indians in the west. Some historians have seen the Paxton Boys as frontier democrats fighting against the privilege of the Penn family who extended their fight for democracy into the revolutionary era. John Elder, Matthew Smith, John Armstrong, and Lazarus Stewart all rallied to the patriot cause, to be sure, but they were fighting for the same thing as they had fought for in the 1760s—access to land, personal security, and vengeance against indigenous peoples.
In their Remonstrance, the Paxton Boys had demanded greater political representation for the western counties in the Pennsylvania Assembly, but that was only one of nine grievances; all of the others concerned the "savages" in their midst. The American Revolution did more than destroy the privilege of the Penn family; it doomed the region's native peoples. During the Revolutionary War, American patriots enacted the brutal logic of the Paxton Boys on a devastating scale.
This essay is based on Kevin Kenny, Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- "James Logan to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, February 17, 1731." Historical Society of Pennsylvania, James Logan letterbooks, vol. 3.
- "John Penn to James Harrison, August 25, 1681." Mary Maples Dunn and Richard S. Dunn, eds, Papers of William Penn, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981–1987), 2:108.
This page is tagged with relevant contextual essays available for free in Digital Paxton. To continue your research, consider the following books and articles:
- Dixon, David. Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
- Dowd, Gregory. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
- Goode, Michael. "Dangerous Spirits: How the Indian Critique of Alcohol Shaped Eighteenth-Century Quaker Revivalism." Early American Studies 14.2 (Spring 2016): 258-283.
- Gordon, Scott Paul. "The Paxton Boys and Edward Shippen: Defiance and Deference on a Collapsing Frontier." Early American Studies 14.2 (Spring 2016): 319-347.
- Eustace, Nicole. Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
- Griffin, Patrick. American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008.
- Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- McConnell, Michael. A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
- Merrill, James. Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.
- Merritt, Jane. At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
- Middleton, Richard. Pontiac's War: Its Causes, Course, and Consequences. New York: Routledge, 2008.
- Olson, Alison. "The Pamphlet War Over the Paxton Boys." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 123.1/2 (January - April 1999): 31-56.
- Richter, Daniel. Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.
- Ridner, Judith. "Unmasking the Paxton Boys: The Material Culture of the Pamphlet War." Early American Studies 14.2 (Spring 2016): 348-376.
- Silver, Peter. Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.
- Smolenski, John. "Embodied Politics: The Paxton Uprising and the Gendering of Civic Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania." Early American Studies 14.2 (Spring 2016): 377-407.
- Spero, Patrick. "1763: Pontiac and Paxton." Early American Studies 14.2 (Spring 2016): 199-202.
- Spero, Patrick. Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
- Ward, Matthew. Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years’ War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.
- White, Edward. The Backcountry and the City: Colonization and Conflict in Early America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
- White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.