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


In February 1764 the Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia with the intention of murdering the Native American converts to the Moravian faith whom provincial authorities had gathered there. But the frontiersmen’s ambitions extended beyond the elimination of Christian Indians. The men returning from Germantown told Moravians in Hebron (now Lebanon, Lancaster County) that “they had killed all the Indians, five Quakers, and two Moravians in Philadelphia, and as proof, showed them the blood on their clothing” (Heisey 51). This report, though false, echoed threats that the Paxton Boys had made for months against white Moravians.

Fresh from their slaughter at the Lancaster workhouse on December 27, 1763, the Paxton Boys rode to Lititz, a Moravian village eight miles north of Lancaster. There the riders shouted “God damn you, Moravians” and fired off a “volley of shots” before they left. Lititz’s minister, Matthäus Hehl, warned authorities in Bethlehem, the center of Moravian activity in Pennsylvania, that “the Paxtown group is evilly disposed towards Bethlehem.” He urged leaders to “be prepared and armed in prayer.” In early 1764, an old man, “one of the rebel leaders, whose grandson had been with the last expedition,” promised that “not one stone should remain upon another in Bethlehem” (Heisey 51). Bethlehem’s leader Nathaniel Seidel reported that “evil attacks against Bethlehem were in the works, and [rumors] say the nest that so long had the Indians by it must be totally destroyed” (Engel 185).

The Moravian church was one of the eighteenth century’s most successful evangelical protestant groups. Thirty years after the church’s renewal in Germany in 1727, it had established mission stations in Europe, the Caribbean islands, Africa, Greenland, and across colonial America from Georgia to New York. At these mission stations, Moravian couples ministered to a community of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity or, in the West Indies, to a congregation of enslaved people. Moravians also established settlement towns such as Bethlehem and Lititz, places where only Moravians lived. In such places, Native Americans were considered spiritual equals. They lived, worked, worshiped, and were buried alongside white Moravians.

In embracing Native Americans as equals, Moravians inspired the Paxton Boys’ suspicion and enmity. But the Paxton Boys leveled a more specific and explosive charge. Moravian Indians, they contended, had participated in raids against frontier settlements in Northampton County. (The one Moravian Indian, Renatus, who was sent from Philadelphia to Easton to stand trial for an October 1763 attack on a farmer named Stinton, was acquitted of these charges in summer 1764 and returned to Province Island.) The Declaration and Remonstrance claimed to have “Proof” that the “Moravian Indians were in confederacy with our open Enemies,” and a late February 1764 manuscript petition from Lancaster County residents broadened that accusation. That petition indicted “the Moravians at Bethlehem”—not just “Moravian Indians”—for “Corresponding with and … Supplying the Indians our Enemies with ammunition, and giving them Intelligence during [the] last war and this war.” “Bosom Enemies,” the petition added ominously, “are most dangerous.” The petition left no doubt that these German Moravians belonged in that category when it asked for “Satisfaction” against them.

The manuscript petition did not specify how they might achieve that “Satisfaction” against Moravians. But the many threats issued by the Paxton Boys indicated what they envisioned. The Paxton Boys promised that the killings at Conestoga Manor and at the Lancaster workhouse were a prelude to violence yet to occur at Lititz, at Bethlehem, and at Hebron. The blood that they shed at each site advanced their vision of a secure Pennsylvania, ethnically cleansed of Indians—and of any group, including Moravians, with whom they allied.

For more about Scott Paul Gordon, visit the Creators page.

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