1681–1753: Native American–Pennsylvania Relations

Native American–Pennsylvania Relations

1681–1753: Native American–Pennsylvania Relations

In the decades that followed Pennsylvania’s foundation in 1681, the “long peace” was more firmly rooted in alliances forged by Indians than by Quaker pacifism. Pennsylvania was able to avoid the catastrophic frontier conflict that swept the Chesapeake and New England during Bacon’s Rebellion and King Philip’s War thanks to the Iroquois Covenant Chain and the Lenapes’ contracts with William Penn (1644–1718). (1675–76).

The delicate balance between Indians and colonists, however, began to fall apart by the third decade of the eighteenth century as Pennsylvania officials, with Iroquois agreement, expropriated native lands to make room for the westward migration of English, German, and Scots-Irish immigrants. Few colonists understood in 1753 how the Lenape and other Indian groups attacked Pennsylvania’s frontier towns during the Seven Years’ War as a result of their expropriation of Indian settlements (1754–1763).

Native American–Pennsylvania Relations
This wampum belt, on exhibit at the Philadelphia History Museum, was said to be given to William Penn by the Lenapes at the time of the 1682 treaty. (Philadelphia History Museum)

Indian upheavals in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions in the middle of the 1600s paved the way for European colonisation in the Delaware Valley. In order to control fur trading routes and capture prisoners to rebuild their population, which had been ravaged by European illnesses, the Iroquois launched attacks against the Huron and other native groups while armed with Dutch (and eventually English) weapons. By the time Penn got his colonial charter from Charles II (1630–85), most of the original people in the Susquehanna Valley had been killed by Iroquois attacks.

In 1675–1677, the Lenapes, or Delawares, who resided on both sides of the Delaware River, sold territory in what would become West New Jersey to English Quakers after dealing with Dutch and Swedish immigrants for years. The Lenapes began to give Penn property on the west bank of the Delaware in 1682 in exchange for fabric, weapons, ammunition, booze, and other trade products. Tamanend (Tammany), a leader of the Lenape, gave shared use rights to land instead of “selling” it in order to make a connection with a powerful European who might be an ally. 

Mutual Advantages

The Lenapes were willing to deal with Penn, whom they called Miquon (meaning “feather,” or “quill pen,” a Delaware pun on his last name), because the Susquehanna Valley was now available for hunting beaver and other pelts that Europeans valued for Atlantic markets. In return, Penn vowed to treat Indians fairly and honestly. These early agreements helped to maintain Pennsylvania’s reputation as a tranquil colony where friendliness and affection reigned between Indians and whites, as memorably depicted in subsequent works by Benjamin West (1738–1820) and Edward Hicks (1780–1849).

Indian partners were a necessity for William Penn, the founder and owner of the Quakers. While Charles Calvert (1637–1715), Lord Baltimore of Maryland, vehemently contested the position of Pennsylvania’s southern border, New York and Connecticut each asserted territory south of the line at which Pennsylvania defined its northern border. In reality, according to one interpretation of the Maryland colony’s charter, Philadelphia is where its upper border lies. To support his property claims and stave off competitors, Penn employed Indian titles.

Native American–Pennsylvania Relations
Teedyuscung grew up near Trenton, New Jersey, and met European settlers. Later in life, he crowned himself “King of the Delawares” and tried to secure a permanent Lenape settlement in the Wyoming Valley. (Photo by Donald D. Groff for EGP)

In the Susquehanna Valley, west of Philadelphia, he also lusted after Indian territories. Indians started moving to the Susquehanna by the early 1690s as a result of conflict and colonization elsewhere. Lenape villages were among those moving there to avoid the rising colonial population in the Delaware Valley. They were joined by returning Shawnees, Mahicans, Senecas, Cayugas, Nanticokes, Conoys, and Susquehannocks (the area’s indigenous occupants, today called “Conestogas”). In Indian settlements like Conestoga, Pequea, and, a little later, Shamokin, these native people set up societies with many different languages and cultures.

Even before seeking advice from local Indian elders, Penn offered colonists subscriptions to lands in the Susquehanna. Because of its proximity to the Chesapeake, Penn saw the lower Susquehanna as strategically important to Pennsylvania’s commercial development. He also thought that by drawing colonists there, he could divert the rich Indian fur trade from Albany, New York.

Native American–Pennsylvania Relations

The Indians on the Susquehanna had good reason to welcome colonists, which was fortunate for Penn. The Iroquois claimed the area by right of conquest (as a result of their raids in the middle of the eighteenth century), and through their Covenant Chain relationship with New York, they also asserted that they spoke for all Indian groups residing there.

Shawnee, Conoy, and Conestoga leaders grabbed the chance to acknowledge Pennsylvania’s power in 1701 after Governor Thomas Dongan (1634–1715) of New York gave Penn his claim to the Susquehanna for the pitiful sum of £100. They did this in order to gain political legitimacy (at the expense of the Iroquois) and a useful economic partner. Penn assured his Indian allies, as he had nearly two decades ago, that his government would defend them from obnoxious colonists and dishonest traders.

Peace is Maintained by “Go-betweens”

The 1701 treaty guaranteed Pennsylvania’s “long peace” would last, although uncomfortably. It was held together by diplomatic “go-betweens,” both Indian and colonial, who resolved the inevitable disputes that developed in a border region with numerous and converging native governments and over which Pennsylvania had little control.

One prominent case is when English trader John Cartlidge (1684–1722) killed an Indian named Sawantaeny (d. 1722) during a drunken altercation, sparking a diplomatic crisis that resulted in Pennsylvania officials being dispatched to the Susquehanna Indian settlement of Conestoga (and the governor to Albany because Sawantaeny was a Seneca Iroquois).

Native American–Pennsylvania Relations

The fact that the Iroquois, provincial government, and Susquehanna Indians were willing to overlook the murder and forgive Cartlidge (who was subsequently set free after the Iroquois received restitution) showed the importance of upholding cordial relations on the frontier, where political stability was required for coexistence and the continued profitability of the fur trade. It also showed that the Pennsylvania government knew how important it was to follow Indian diplomatic conventions, especially when things were going wrong politically.

James Logan (1674–1751), the provincial official in charge of Pennsylvania’s investigation into Sawantaeny’s murder, had a stake in keeping the Susquehanna peaceful. Logan, a Scottish convert and Penn’s provincial secretary, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1699. Logan was given the responsibility of managing Pennsbury’s estate by Penn just before he left the colony in 1701. For the rest of his life, Logan lived in Pennsylvania.

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He rose to prominence in politics during that time, holding a variety of roles, including that of Pennsylvania’s top Indian ambassador, land commissioner, and provincial councilor. Using a cartel of traders to transport his dry goods and rum into the Susquehanna River, he successfully operated a merchant enterprise in Philadelphia that catered to Indian clientele. By 1720, Logan had a monopoly on the fur trade, and he became one of the wealthiest colonists in Philadelphia.

Another notorious episode in the history of ties between Native Americans and Pennsylvania was the “Walking Purchase,” which Logan also masterminded. The Lenape chief Mechkilikishi granted William Penn all the Indian lands that could be bought within a day and a half’s walk of Wrightstown in Bucks County in a 1686 deed, according to Logan and Thomas Penn (1702–75), who was then serving as Pennsylvania’s governor, who made the claim in 1737.

Native American–Pennsylvania Relations

Even though the deed was undoubtedly faked, the Iroquois approved the “walk,” which was carried out in September and covered more than sixty miles by three of the colony’s best runners. The Delaware Forks (or in Lenape, Lechauwitank), where the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers meet, is where Logan utilized the “running walk,” as the Lenape called it, to claim more than 1,000 square miles of Indian territory (and where Allentown and Bethlehem are now located). The Iroquois forced the Lenape in the area, including their leader Nutimus, to move to the Wyoming Valley (close to where Wilkes-Barre is today) and Shamokin.

Native American relations in Pennsylvania bear the scars of The Walking Purchase and the colonization of the Susquehanna Valley. The Lenape leader Teedyuscung (about 1700–1763), who was one of those driven from the Delaware Forks, reemerged in the Wyoming Valley as a warrior and launched sporadic raids against European towns in eastern Pennsylvania during the Seven Years’ War. In an odd turn of events, he participated in the Treaty of Easton in 1758 as a Quaker ally and assisted in mediating a truce between the Pennsylvania government and Ohio Valley Indians, mostly Lenapes and Shawnees, who had been uprooted from the Susquehanna previously.

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Teedyuscung did not live to see many of his people have to flee once more, under British imperial and Iroquois pressure, west of the Appalachians. He was killed in 1763 by arsonists who destroyed his cabin under strange circumstances (possibly colonists from Connecticut’s Susquehanna Company). But for the first half of the 1800s, his life and death were used to show how complicated and close the relationships between Pennsylvanians and Native Americans were. 

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