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- 1 2016-08-19T13:20:35-07:00 Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c The Conduct of the Paxton Men Impartially Represented Will Fenton 4 The conduct of the Paxton-men, impartially represented: with some remarks on the Narrative. gallery 2018-02-12T11:53:24-08:00 Philadelphia : Printed by Andrew Steuart, MDCCLXIV.  Barton, Thomas, 1730-1780. Call Number: Am 1764 Bar 795.D.2 A defense of the Paxton boys, in reply to Benjamin Franklin's "A narrative of the late massacres, in Lancaster County, of a number of Indians." Attributed to Thomas Barton by Hildeburn and Evans. Also attributed to the Rev. John Ewing. Cf. Egle, W.H. History of the counties of Dauphin and Lebanon, 1883, p. 68. An added title page identifies John Creaig of Lancaster as bookseller. Signatures: pi [A]? B-D? E1. Evans, C. American bibliography, 9594; English short title catalogue (ESTC), W37505; Hildeburn, C.R. Pennsylvania, 1957 Library Company of Philadelphia. Will Fenton 9e3bf7727b68fc64e416bcd18efaefb81d06944c
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Scott Paul Gordon
The armed frontiersmen who marched to Philadelphia in February 1764 planned to murder 140 Indians gathered in barracks in the city’s Northern Liberties. Most of these Indians were Christians, having lived in the Moravian mission towns of Nain and Wechquetank in Northampton County. Provincial authorities decided to “order the Moravian Indians down to Philadelphia” in November 1763, as Governor John Penn wrote, because “the people of Northampton County … were determined to cut them all off” (John Penn to Richard Penn). These individuals were joined by other Native Americans from Wyalusing, an Indian town on the Susquehanna River. Except for their leader, John Papunhunk, who had been converted by Moravian missionary David Zeisberger, the Wyalusing Indians were neither Moravian nor Christian. The Paxton Boys’ Declaration and Remonstrance clearly identified the different groups gathered in Philadelphia: “Some of these Indians now in the Barracks of Philadelphia are confessedly a part of the Wyalusing Indians, which Tribe is now at War with us; and the others are the Moravian Indians, who [are] living amongst us under the Cloak of Friendship.”
By the 1760s the Moravian Church had a far-flung mission enterprise that stretched from Greenland to the West Indies in the Western Hemisphere. Moravians aimed to establish mission towns populated only by converted Indians and their “teachers,” typically one or two missionary couples. These towns would be separate from, but often nearby, a larger Indian community from which the converts they had come and where they still had family. The Moravians’ earliest mission efforts in colonial America—the first in Georgia in 1735, the second at Shekomeko (present-day Dutchess County, New York) in 1740—failed due to the hostility of colonial authorities. The converted Indians at Shekomeko moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the center of all Moravian activity in North America. They lived in a small Indian village called Friedenshütten until Moravian authorities decided in 1746 to re-settle them, along with their teachers, across the Blue Mountains, about thirty miles northwest of Bethlehem (at present day Lehighton). This mission town, called Gnadenhütten, flourished until November 14, 1755, when hostile Delaware Indians destroyed it and murdered eleven white missionaries. The native peoples who populated the mission towns of Nain, established in 1758 a mile or so west of Bethlehem, and Wechquetank, founded in 1760 about 25 miles north of Bethlehem, were refugees from the 1755 massacre at Gnadenhütten.
These Christian Indians were confined at the Philadelphia barracks and on Province Island from November 1763 until March 1765. Many prominent citizens visited them, including Governor John Penn and Anthony Benezet, and mobs threatened them. They tried, as much as possible, to live as a congregation as they had in Nain and Wechquetank. Moravian missionary couples, Bernhard Adam and Margaret Grube and Johann Jacob and Johanna Schmick, lived with them. The diaries kept by these missionaries record regular services, communions, lovefeasts, births, and baptisms. Sadly, these diaries are also filled with deaths and burials. Fifteen Indians died in May and June 1764, and twenty more died the next month: in all, fifty-five Moravian Indians were buried in 1764 in Philadelphia’s Potter’s field. The Paxton Boys did not reach the Christian Indians in February 1764, but the confinement that their threats precipitated turned out to be more deadly than their guns and sabers.
The Indians confined in Philadelphia learned in February 1765 that they could not return to Nain because Pennsylvania officials were unwilling to tolerate a village of Native Americans so close to white settlements. (Moravian authorities shared similar concerns in Bethlehem.) They were allowed, however, to settle further up the Susquehanna. In March 1765, the Indian congregation from Philadelphia established a Moravian mission town at Wyalusing, which they named Friedenshütten (the second mission with that name). That mission town was eventually abandoned in 1772, when John Ettwein relocated the congregation of Christian Indians to the Ohio Country.
For more about Scott Paul Gordon, visit the Creators page.
- Katherine Faull, “From Friedenshütten to Wyoming: Johannes Ettwein’s Map of the Upper Susquehanna (1768) and an Account of His Journey,” Journal of Moravian History 11 (2011): 82–96.
- Scott Paul Gordon, “The Paxton Boys and the Moravians: Terror and Faith in the Pennsylvania Backcountry,” Journal of Moravian History 14, no. 2 (2014): 119-152.
- Moravian Indian Diaries. Bethlehem Digital History Project.
- John Penn to Richard Penn, December 18, 1763, Penn Family Papers, Official Correspondence, 9:212, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- William C. Reichel, “Wyalusing, and the Moravian Mission at Friedenshuetten,” Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society 1, no. 5 (1871): 179–224.
- Amy C. Schutt, Peoples of the River Valleys: The Odyssey of the Delaware Indians (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
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The Aftermath of the Conestoga Massacre
How did the Paxton Boys avoid punishment for killing 20 peaceful Conestoga Indians under government protection? More than 250 years after the massacre, there is no clear answer to that question. But it is clear that a legal system that had previously punished white men for killing Christian Indians failed catastrophically in the County of Lancaster and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in December 1763.
Many British and provincial leaders understood that identifying, trying, and punishing the killers of the Conestogas was critical to maintaining the rule of law. The British statesman Lord Halifax condemned the “horrid murders” and ordered Thomas Gage, chief of British armies in North America, to assist Pennsylvania’s government in finding and punishing the killers. Pennsylvania Governor John Penn delivered two proclamations condemning the Paxton Boys’ “barbarous” behavior and issued arrest warrants and rewards for information leading to convictions. He further requested that Lancaster County’s magistrates interrogate the county sheriff, coroner, and any others who might have information about the murderers.
These should not have been difficult tasks. Lancaster’s magistrates and other residents knew the identity of some of the killers. On the day before the first attack, leaders of the vigilantes told John Elder, pastor of Paxton Presbyterian Church and military leader of the Paxton militia, as well as Edward Shippen, Lancaster County’s chief magistrate, that they planned to attack the Indians at Conestoga Indian Town. Neither man did anything to stop the slaughter or identify the killers.
After leaving Indian Town in flames following the massacre of the first six Conestogas, the killers talked at some length with Thomas Wright, an Indian Town neighbor, and Robert Barber, a resident of nearby Wright’s Ferry. Given the tone of the conversation, Wright and Barber suspected the worst and soon discovered they were correct. They could have identified some of the killers.
Scores, perhaps hundreds, of Lancaster residents observed the raiders as they marched to and from the slaughter of the last fourteen Conestogas at the Lancaster County workhouse in the center of Lancaster. But no one identified them.
One reason for this silence was indifference. Many Lancastrians did not pay much attention to the killings, either because they accepted the Paxton Boys’ allegation that the Conestogas had been spying for hostile Indians or because they did not care about the fate of any Indians, peaceful or hostile. Another reason was intimidation: the Paxton Boys threatened those who might have informed on them. James Wright, one of Lancaster County’s delegates to the Pennsylvania Assembly, a government-appointed caretaker for the Conestogas and a Quaker, might have been expected to identify the raiders he knew. A Pennsylvania historian reported in 1857 that Wright “well remembered” the killers and had told a fellow legislator that he had “survived nearly the whole of them, and that they generally came to untimely or suffering deaths!” (Watson 169). But Wright never identified any of the Paxton Boys. His sister, Susanna Wright, explained that Paxton vigilantes roamed about the area after the massacre, making threats against her brother and other Quakers.
Meanwhile, Lancaster County’s magistrates bizarrely modified their instructions from Governor Penn. Instead of collecting depositions naming the murderers, they obtained affidavits from residents who despised Indians. These affidavits are not included in court records—in fact, nothing related to the Conestoga massacre appears—but they do appear among pro-Paxton manuscripts produced early in 1764. None of these affidavits mention the Paxton Boys. Most cast blame on the Conestogas.
Nothing in these affidavits relates in any way to Penn’s request that the magistrates obtain information about the men who had killed the Conestogas. Nothing in these accusations, which rely heavily on hearsay, clearly indicts the Conestogas for crimes against settlers. In sum, the affidavits seem to blame the murder of the Conestogas on the Conestogas themselves.
While the magistates’ response was not unpopular among the general citizenry, it incensed some groups, particularly Pennsylvania Quakers. Quakers were quick to condemn the killers and those who paved the way for the killings. These “abettors,” according to several sources, may have included the county’s jailer, who unaccountably disappeared from the jail and workhouse on the day of the second massacre; and the county sheriff and coroner—the only “guards” at the workhouse—who quickly stepped aside when the Paxton Boys arrived to do their bloody work. John Reynolds, editor of the Lancaster Journal, later indicted several Lancastrians for their part in what he termed a conspiracy against the Conestogas. He said that the jailer, the sheriff and his son, and two other men “were also suspected of being in the plot” (Mombert 187).
Others pointed to more obvious targets, especially the Rev. Elder and Judge Shippen. Elder, as the man who ministered to many of the Scots-Irish Paxton Boys in his church and led the Paxton militia in the county’s defense against hostile Indian attack, wielded great influence. As a large landholder in the Paxton area, some observers believe, he may have had a personal reason to rid the area of any Indians who would discourage investment on the frontier.
As chief magistrate, Shippen held more power than any other Lancastrian. Few actions of substance occurred in Lancaster County without his approval. Early Quaker historian Robert Proud directly blamed the murder of the Conestogas on “the connivance, if not the encouragement, of the Christian-professing Magistrates, and other principal persons of that town” (Pound 329). While critics questioned why the magistrates did not employ a British regiment to guard the Indians against a second attack that they knew was coming, Shippen’s explanation to John Penn was that he did not know some 200 soldiers were billeted in a town of 2,000 residents.
Concerns about the massacre faded with time. As it became clear that the authorities had no interest in discovering who had killed the Indians, let alone who may have helped them, most people moved on to other matters.
But John Penn’s critics kept up a drumbeat for years. They charged that officials in Philadelphia and Lancaster had a political reason to avoid punishing the Paxtonians. In the 1760s, the militant Germans and Scots-Irish gained greater political power, at the expense of Quakers and German pacifists. Those who wanted to retain power found it useful to defend the Paxton Boys’ slaughter and to oppose the Quaker lobby that defended Indians. In the autumn elections of 1764, a united “new ticket” of Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutheran and Reformed Germans supported stronger anti-Indian policies. They won more seats in the legislature—although not enough to take control—and then strengthened their influence as the decade progressed.
Some observers suggested that John Penn may have had another motivation for siding with anti-Indian forces. They believed he had made a deal with the Paxton Boys when they marched on Philadelphia following the killings in Lancaster. They claimed he had made political promises in exchange for retreat from a planned assault on the city to kill Lenapes, the so-called Moravian Indians, being held for their protection there.
In any case, Quakers and other members of the General Assembly wrote to Penn in January 1768, saying that the Indian killers could still be identified. In a formal message, the legislators wrote
But this was a legislative exercise in futility. More than four years after the massacre, most Pennsylvanians understood that the names of the killers would remain unknown.
When we consider the Manner of committing the Murders at Lancaster; that it was done at Noon-Day, in the midst of a Populous Borough, and in the Presence of many spectators by Men probably of the same County, undisguised and well known, we apprehend their Names may be easily discovered (Colonial Records 441).
Recognizing that the Paxton Boys might not be brought to justice, some officials worried about how the killings might affect the conduct of other Indians, especially the Iroquois. In the winter of 1764, Sir William Johnson, British superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern Department, told Penn he was concerned that the incident would “stagger the affections” of the Iroquois (Colonial Records 130). In fact, repercussions from the massacre continued for years. At treaty sessions, the Iroquois repeatedly cited the fate of the Conestogas as a reason not to trust white negotiators.
Other Indians living in Pennsylvania’s white settlements never trusted the government to sanction the Paxton Boys or to protect other Indians. Many Lenape immediately fled the state. Hannah Freeman and other Indians living in Chester County moved to a Quaker community in New Jersey. An Indian named William Peters told Samuel Hunter at Fort Hunter, north of Harrisburg, that he feared for his safety after the massacre and the march on Philadelphia.
The Moravian missionary John Heckewelder reported that the Lenapes believed Indian-settler relations had been poisoned because the Conestogas’ “blood ran in streams into our (treaty council) fire, and extinguished it so entirely, that not one spark was left us whereby to kindle a new fire” (Heckewelder 80). A group of Lenapes that had moved to Ohio declined aid from the Continental Congress early in the Revolutionary War because they feared the government might “protect” them as it had the Conestogas.
These Indians clearly recognized the significance of the decision by British authorities, Pennsylvania’s governor, and Lancaster County’s magistrates not to pursue the murderers of the Conestogas. The time for killing any and all Indians, it was clear, had been extended to all seasons.
The wounds of the 1763 massacre never have healed, although multiple efforts have been made at reconciliation. In recent years, various groups have apologized for the actions of the Paxton Boys and the ineffectual leaders of the Lancaster community. They have lamented the utter failure of the judicial system.
In 2003, a group of Lancaster County Mennonites and evangelicals met with representatives of the Iroquois from New York. The Mennonites guided the Iroquois on a tour of sites associated with the Conestogas. They asked for forgiveness for their ancestors’ sins of killing Indians and stealing their land. The Iroquois forgave the Mennonites and the two groups embraced.
In 2010, a meeting of reconciliation was held at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster. Representatives of Mennonite, Quaker, Presbyterian, and other churches acknowledged to several Indian groups that early Pennsylvanians were wrong to break treaties and kill the Conestogas. For the first time, Presbyterians acknowledged the role of their predecessors in the massacre. And, for the first time, a Lancaster official acknowledged fault. Mayor Rick Gray expressed his distress that previous town leaders did not protect those they had pledged to protect.
Most recently, in the spring of 2016, a bishop from Lancaster County’s Amish settlement met with representatives of a dozen Indian tribes. The bishop and two other Amish men apologized for the way their ancestors treated Native Americans and took their land. In an emotional session, both groups shed tears. The reconciliation process continues.
This essay is based on a book by Jack Brubaker, Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paxton Boys in Lancaster County. To learn more about Brubaker, visit the Creators page.
- Elder Collection, Dauphin County Historical Society, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
- Heckewelder, John. History, Manners, and Culture of the Indian Nations, Philadelphia: 1876.
- Loskiel, George H. History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America. Trans. Christian Ignatius La Trobe. London: Printed for the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel: 1794.
- Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (Colonial Records). Pennsylvania Archives.
- Mombert, Jacob. An Authentic History of Lancaster County in the State of Pennsylvania, Lancaster, 1867.
- Proud, Robert. The History of Pennsylvania in North America. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Zachariah Poulson Jr., 1798.
- Shippen Papers. American Philosophical Society and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
- Watson, John. Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Vol. 2, Philadelphia: 1884.
Between February and March 1764, Paxton leaders and sympathizers crafted a defense of the massacre that appealed to prejudices against Philadelphia Quakers and fears of further frontier violence.
Matthew Smith, Declaration and Remonstrance (Philadelphia, 1764).In exchange for disbanding at Germantown, Paxton leaders secured the right to broadcast their grievances in Declaration and Remonstrance. Their representative, Matthew Smith, read the essay as early as February 15, just a week after the marchers arrived in Germantown. Though written in haste, Smith’s grievances galvanized sympathizers who distrusted the friendly relations of Quaker and Susquehannock, and suspected that leaders intentionally withheld support from backcountry settlers. The syntactical repetition of “falsely pretended Friends” (the Susquehannock) and “falsely pretended Indian Friends” (Quakers) served to conflate Friendly Indian with Indian Friend.
Anonymous, Apology of the Paxton Volunteers (Philadelphia, 1764).This unpublished, anonymous manuscript added visceral depictions of frontier warfare to Smith’s account. In place of native carnage (as in Franklin’s Narrative), the volunteers describe the mangled bodies of backcountry settlers. Whereas Declaration advocated for changes in settlement policies, Apology sought the vindication of the Paxtons.
Thomas Barton, The Conduct of the Paxton Men (Philadelphia, 1764).Conduct marks a turning point in the pamphlet war. While the pro-Paxton pamphlet was originally published anonymously, it has since been attributed to Thomas Barton, an Anglican missionary from Lancaster. Barton synthesizes the apologist strategies of Declaration and Apology and provides a forceful response to Franklin’s Narrative. The pamphlet disparaged the reputation of the native victims, justified the conduct of the Paxton Boys using gratuitous scenes of frontier violence, and assailed the motives and pacifist principles of Quaker Assembly members.