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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 no fewer than 18 different 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.
- Jump to Credits.
- Jump to the Digital Collection.
- Jump to Public Outreach.
- Jump to Redrawing History.
- Jump to Contact.
High School Education
Digital Paxton currently features three lessons suitable for high school classrooms.
The first, "Native American-European Contact in the Colonial Period," is a multi-part lesson plan designed by educational specialists at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The unit is tailored to high school teachers introducing students to the history of colonial settlement. It includes discussion questions, core concepts, competencies, background information, expansions, vocabulary, primary source materials, and assessments.
In "An Interview with the Paxton Boys," Montgomery Wolf (University of Georgia) asks her students to break into groups, research the pamphlet war using Digital Paxton, and conduct a talk show in which the host interviews members of the Paxton Boys. The assignment encourages students to both critically and creatively engage primary source material, as they use the technological tools they take for granted. Special thanks are due to Eleanor Andersen (Temple University), who has thoughtfully adapted this lesson for use in high school classrooms: She has correlated it to Common Core standards, added context and discussion questions, and created a rubric.
"Transcribing the Paxton Boys" emerges from a collaboration with two faculty members, Benjamin Bankhurst (Shepherd University) and Kyle Roberts (Loyola University Chicago). In spring 2017 Bankhurst and Roberts co-taught an undergraduate history course about the American Revolution, in which they assigned a transcription exercise using Digital Paxton. After a short introduction to Digital Paxton and a crash course in eighteenth-century cursive, students explored the Friendly Association papers. Once again, Eleanor Andersen (Temple University) has thoughtful adapted this lesson for use in high school classrooms: She has correlated it to Common Core standards, added context and discussion questions, and created a rubric.
Finally, Eleanor Andersen (Temple University) has authored her own lesson that encourages students to engage with an artwork (Benjamin West's painting, Penn's Treaty with the Indians) as a primary source document, rhetorical object, and to consider its role in shaping historical mythologies of colonial Pennsylvania. "Which Pennsylvania?" asks students to consider both what makes art rhetorically effective and why, by whom, and for whom those artworks are produced. As with her other lessons, Andersen has correlated her lesson to Common Core (and Pennsylvania) standards, and integrated context, discussion questions, and a pair of thoughtful handouts.
Which Pennsylvania? Procedure
Instruct students to bring a laptop or electronic device to class in order to read an online essay, complete a digital worksheet, and conduct light research. Make communal laptops available. Post learning objectives in the classroom.
Anticipatory (10 min)
- Distribute Do-Now sheets to students as they enter the classroom.
- Give students five minutes to consider the sheet and write a short reflection.
- Direct students to think pair share reflections on the Do-Now with a neighbor.
- Question: Which would convince most people to drink Coke?
- Call on pairs to share reflections with the class (as time allows).
- Highlight student responses that reveal differences between the rhetorical impact of print and visual sources.
- Remind students to keep the Do-Now in mind.
- Explain that the class will:
- Describe how print and visual sources contribute to histories of Pennsylvania.
- Question the motivations for producing such sources in the eighteenth-century.
Teaching and Modeling / Guided Practice (40 min)
- Project Penn's Treaty with the Indians onto the board accompanied by the following quote.
- Read aloud the following quote from Voltaire’s "Letters on the English Nation":
- "The first step he took was to enter into an alliance with his American [Indian] neighbours, and this is the only treaty between those people and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and was never infringed."
- Open class discussion of the painting and quote.
- If needed, answer framing questions: What does this painting depict? What does the quote refer to? Who was Voltaire? Who was Benjamin West?
- If needed, pose questions to prompt discussion: Is this painting and sentiment familiar to you? Have you heard this quote? What is your initial response? What is the overall idea these sources are trying to communicate?
- Encourage students to share their thoughts (as time allows).
- Explain that the class will read an historical article that tells a different story about colonial Pennsylvania—the story of the Paxton Boys.
- Upon completion, open class discussion.
- Questions to prompt discussion: Is this story familiar to you? How does it square with the sentiment expressed by the paired image and quote? Why do you think this was written? How do they coexist?
- If needed, emphasize truths in both stories. One story is not true to the complete exclusion of the other.
Independent Work (40 min)
- Distribute assignment sheet to students via Google Drive.
- Call on a student to read assignment sheet aloud. Students will read a primary source document discussing the events from the Peaceable Kingdom Lost. They will answer a series of questions designed to facilitate consideration of overarching questions. Students will submit their responses via Google Drive by the beginning of next class for grading.
Closure & Feedback
Grade student assignments mostly for completion, except in cases where students fail to engage with sources. Provide feedback and follow up questions to prompt further independent inquiry. Solicit student opinions on the assignment for the purpose of instructional reflection.
Download a printable version of this procedure.
- Distribute Do-Now sheets to students as they enter the classroom.