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Primary Source Sets and Ghost River
This primary source set can be used in a history class engaging analysis of primary sources and attention to bias in those sources. This specific set uses the primary sources in Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga (Red Planet Books & Comics) in tandem with the interactive digital edition. Videos, images, and contextual essays offer useful perspectives on how the creative team behind the graphic novel, in consultation with historians and community members, create their own sources. The Paxton massacres offer a glimpse into the complicated relationship between Native Americans and colonists in the context of both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania history. Using the Ghost River primary sources, students will identify and trace how the perceptions of Native Americans and Quakers changed over time, how the creative team translated historical primary source materials into an historically-grounded graphic novel.
- Students will be able to identify the events that led to the creation of primary sources.
- Students will be able to analyze the artistic decisions of the Ghost River creative team.
- Students will be able to analyze racial and religious prejudices in the primary sources.
- What decisions go into creating a primary source record? How do these decisions affect how we evaluate primary sources?
- Why should historical events be analyzed from multiple perspectives?
- How might the Paxton events affect the lives of Native Americans (and Quakers) today?
Grade Level: Grades 9-12
Pennsylvania State Standards:
- Secondary Standards 9-12: Historical Analysis and Skills Development
- 8.1.12.B. Evaluate the interpretation of historical events and sources, considering the use of fact versus opinion, multiple perspectives, and cause and effect relationships.
- 8.1.12.C. Analyze, synthesize, and integrate historical data, creating a product that supports and appropriately illustrates inferences and conclusions drawn from research.
- Secondary Standards 9-12: Pennsylvania History
- 8.2.12.A. Evaluate the role groups and individuals from Pennsylvania played in the social, political, cultural, and economic development of the US and the world.
- 8.2.12.B. Evaluate the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history and the world.
- 8.2.12.D. Evaluate how conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations in Pennsylvania have influenced the growth and development of the US and the world. (Ethnicity and race, working conditions, immigration, military conflict, economic stability).
- Secondary Standards 9-12: United States History
- 8.3.12.A. Evaluate the role groups and individuals from the U.S. played in the social, political, cultural, and economic development of the world.
- 8.3.12.B. Evaluate the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in U.S. history which are critical to world history.
- 8.3.12.D. Evaluate how conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations in the U.S. have influenced the growth and development of the world. (Ethnicity and race, working conditions, immigration, military conflict, economic stability)
The relationship between Native Americans and European colonists contains many tragedies, including the Paxton massacres. These incidents occurred in December 1763 in Lancaster County when a mob from Paxtang Township murdered 20 Conestoga Indians (hence the name "Paxton Boys"). As a result of their attacks, Lenape and Moravian Indians were taken into Philadelphia for protection. Vowing to "inspect" those Indigenous peoples, the mob marched toward Philadelphia, where they were stopped just north of the city in Germantown. While the the situation "physically" diffused there, the argument continued in print, with the Paxton leaders arguing that they were justified in their attack on the Conestoga people. Prominent colonial leaders produced many primary source documents available today as print and manuscript records. Today, we know that the Paxton vigilantes murdered the Conestoga people in a white supremacist campaign that began in the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War)
Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga is a modern retelling and reinterpretation of the Paxton massacres. Editor Will Fenton, author Lee Francis IV, and artist Weshoyot Alvitre created this graphic novel to tell the story from point of view of the Indigenous peoples at the center of the story. The book is grounded with historical primary source documents, secondary contexts from leading historians, and interviews with surviving Indigenous peoples in Lancaster County. In re-centering this historical incident on the Conestoga people, Fenton, Francis, and Alvitre recast them not as victims but spouses, parents, children, and friends.
- Benjamin West, The Indians Giving a Talk to Colonel Bouquet in a Conference at a Council Fire (1766).
- General Forbes, Letter to Israel Pemberton (August 18, 1758).
- James Claypoole, Franklin and the Quakers (1764).
- D.A. Henderson, Account of the Indian Murders (December 27, 1763).
- James Claypoole, An Indian Squaw King Wampum Spies (1764).
In addition to the sources above, consider these videos integrated in the digital edition:
- How are Native Americans represented in primary sources? (Sources #1, #3, #5)
- What type of adjectives are used to describe Native Americas, Quakers, and the Paxton vigilantes?
- Are they positive or negative?
- Note the author of the source.
- Does the source support the Paxtons?
- Are they anti-Quaker? (Sources #2, #4; Videos #1, #2)
- What choices do the creative team make using these sources to create their graphic novel, and how do primary sources appear in Ghost River? (Videos #3, #4, #5)
- How is Benjamin Franklin represented?
- How does Franklin's representation compare to how you have seen him before?
- How does the creative team view his role in the Paxton massacres? (Source #3)
- How were local sites (Lancaster and Philadelphia) incorporated into Ghost River and to what end? (Video #4)
- All of these events took place near Philadelphia. Teachers could bring students to key sites from the graphic novel (e.g. the Fulton Theater in Lancaster or the historical marker of Conestoga Indiantown). These sites hold a special place in the hearts and minds of survivors and their kin and couple help students forge an emotional connection with the story. Teachers can also take advantage of local primary source resources by arranging a class visit to the Library Company of Philadelphia.
- As indicated by the creators, Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga challenges typical narratives in history textbooks. Think about other narratives and how those might be challenged if you were taught from a different perspective. Specifically, research into other events involving Native Americans and European colonists. For example, how did Europeans “buy” Manhattan from the Lenape? Where did the $24 narrative originate from? How have primary sources reenforced this narrative? How have the Native American perspectives been marginalized by textbooks? For this assignment, write a proposal for a book similar to Ghost River with a different event.
Related Teaching Sources:
- "Document Analysis Worksheets," National Archives, December 18, 2018.
- John Dunbar, ed. The Paxton Papers. The Hague: Martinus Nighoff, 1957
- Kevin Kenny, Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn's Holy Experiment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- Kristin Shanabrook, "Unmolested and Unidentified": The Paxton Boys Rebellion and the changing systems of power in eighteenth century Pennsylvania. Seminar paper and lesson plan, December 10, 2012.
- Alison Olson, "The Pamphlet War Over the Paxton Boys." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 123 (1999): 31-56.
- "Paxton Boys uprising," Encyclopaedia Britannica, May 13, 2015.
You may also download a printable version of this lesson.
Murder, Theft and Silence: The Conestoga Massacre
This lesson will cover events, interpretations, and perspectives about the murder of the Conestoga Indians in 1763, the theft of their land, and ensuing pamphlet war in colonial Philadelphia. Students analyze 3 political cartoons and 4 primary source documents from 1763-64, read Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga, create their own political cartoon from the historical point of view of the Conestoga Indians, and research current events about Native American individuals and organizations fighting for social and economic justice.
- Why hasn't the story of the Conestoga been told from Native American perspectives?
- How do power dynamics, bias, notions of (in)justice, race relations, and colonial politics shape our understanding of this historical event?
- How would the Conestoga people have responded in the 1764 pamphlet war?
- Interpret and analyze the point of view (POV) of primary source images.
- Identify and explain key words and phrases from primary source readings.
- Draw conclusions based on textual and visual evidence.
- Collaborate with classmates to read and present historical evidence.
- Analyze historical POV by creating a political cartoon from the perspective of the Conestoga (or another Native American people).
- Identify character strengths of historical people involved in this event (ref: work of Dr. Seligman, Dr. Pawelski, and MAPP program at the University of Pennsylvania).
- Research current Native American owned/operated organizations throughout the United States working to promote social and economic justice.
Grade Level: Grades 8 and 9
Standards: Designed for Independent School in alignment with Pennsylvania State Standards.
- 5.1.8C: Analyze the principles and ideas that shaped local, Pennsylvania and National Government
- 5.1.8F: Analyze how political symbols are used by the media and leaders to influence public opinion
- 5.2.8B: Describe how citizens resolve conflicts in society and government
- 5.2.8C: Describe the role of political leadership and public service
- 5.3.8H: Describe the role of mass media on government
- 8.8.1B: Compare and contrast a historical event using multiple points of view from primary and secondary sources
William Penn's Philadelphia was grounded in Quaker ideals, evident in his relationship with Native Indian communities throughout colonial Pennsylvania. The Quaker community in Philadelphia of the early-mid 1700's wielded significant economic and political power and was directly involved in the governance of local affairs. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 (issued February of that year) concluded the North American chapter of the Seven Years' War and the Proclamation of 1763 (issued that October) infuriated British settler colonists by limiting westward expansion. After a century of contact, conquest, and economic, political, and cultural exchange, the relationship between a multitude of Native American peoples and settler colonists had grown increasingly tense and violent, as exemplified by Pontiac’s War. That December, a group of former militiamen, the Paxton Boys, murdered 20 Conestoga Indians to express their disapproval of the Quaker dominated-government, to make a political statement about their beliefs about race relations, and to seize their land. Following the massacre, a massive public debate unfolded (the 1764 pamphlet war) through more printed materials published than any time prior (to 1763). Those pamphlets and political cartoons speak to priorities of colonists, but largely neglect the stories of the Conestoga. By March 1764, the land previously inhabited by Conestoga people was already being claimed by relations to and beneficiaries of the massacres.
Digital Paxton Materials (for projection)
- Franklin and The Quakers
- An Indian Squaw King Wampum Spies
- The Paxton Expedition
- John Penn Proclamation, December 22, 1763
- John Penn Proclamation June 4, 1765
- Jacob Whistler Letter to William Peters March 12, 1764
- Jacob Whistler Letter to William Peters April 9, 1764
Source Materials and Excerpts (optional handout)
Graphic organizers for image analysis and document analysis
Blank 16 x 11 paper, markers, pencils, paint, art supplies, and color printer
Procedure, Assessment, and Extensions:
This lesson asks students to analyze three primary source images (political cartoons) about the Paxton massacres; jigsaw 4 primary source documents and report out to the group; read excerpts of Ghost River and grapple with historical POV by creating a Conestoga response to the propaganda produced by non-Native American authors. Lastly, students will research and select a current event around similar theme (e.g. violence towards Native American peoples, absence of justice, resilience in the face of atrocities) and identify contemporary organizations, businesses, Native American communities, and/or legislation that seeks to protect and/or celebrate Native Americans histories (e.g. Indian Country Today, Native American Indian Policy Center, Native American Art Council).
Step 1: Students begin by discussing the 3 political cartoons. Possible prompting questions:
- Who is present and who is not?
- Whose story (or point of view) is told or omitted? What implications does this have?
- What adjectives would you use to describe what you see?
- How are women portrayed in these images?
Step 2: After preliminary analysis and discussion, students perform jigsaw activity. Reading excerpts from 4 primary sources in groups of 4. Students should make marginal notes and/or annotations, discuss POV, and identify key words and phrases. Prompting questions:
- Do the primary source readings align with their interpretations of the political cartoons?
- Whose story is told?
- Is it accurate?
Step 3: Students read aloud excerpts of Ghost River that give voice to the Conestoga perspective (e.g. pages 11-14, 29-37, and 50-60), acknowledging their responsibility to integrate the voices and experiences of those who have been excluded from historical narratives. (For clarification, teacher may share guidelines for interpreting political cartoons from Eastern Illinois University.) Students are encouraged to recognize the courage, strength, and resilience of Native Americans who have endured hundreds of years of genocide and institutional racism, to understand the multitude of Native Americans living today, and to deconstruct negative and inaccurate stereotypes.
Given that Conestoga voices are largely absent from historical records, students will offer their own counter arguments by creating a political cartoon from the Conestoga or indigenous POV (similar to those they analyzed in step 1). The teacher provides supplies (16 x 11 paper, colored pencils, markers, rulers, paints, and color printing for those using digital media). Students sketch, paint, or use digital images (with proper citations) and share their work via Google Classroom and/or gallery walk. Students use Padlet to ask questions, give peer feedback, and make observations about each other's work. Prompting questions:
- How do these modern cartoons differ from the historical pamphlets that circulated in Philadelphia in 1764?
- What adjectives would you use to describe the images?
Step 4: Students research and report on a current event that parallels the events of the Conestoga massacres and post 2-3 sentence justifications to Google Classroom or similar platform. Current events may concern violence, trauma, injustice, physical/mental health issues, (mis)treatment of and violence against Native women, or idea that silence is compliance by majority and politicians. Ideally, they will engage in conversation about Native American courage, strength, and resilience. Teacher should encourage students to rely upon Native American sources such as Indian Country Today.
Assessment and Extensions:
- Graded graphic organizer for primary source documentation jigsaw
- Graded political cartoon
- Graded homework grade for current event analysis
- Graded participation for level of engagement and depth of contributions to discussions
- Ungraded Student Reflection
This lesson 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). You may also download a printable version of this lesson.