THE INDIAN WARS (3)

The verdict of history as thus pronounced by Proud and Gordon was generally accepted until Dr. William H. Egle's History appeared in 1876, in which there was a weighty presentation of the case in behalf of the Scotch-Irish, and it was shown by citations from the private correspondence of Governor Penn that he was really of the opinion that the frontier complaints were well founded, although he was so situated that he did not feel able to act on that belief.

The ground upon which Quaker policy toward the Indians rested, from which nothing could budge it, was that by it the Province had escaped the Indian wars from which other colonies had suffered, and peaceful relations had been maintained until the breaking out of hostilities with the French and Indians in 1754. This is an impressive fact that has been much remarked by historians. The circumstances however indicate that the success of this policy was due more to particular conditions than to its intrinsic merit. At the time the settlement of Pennsylvania began the Indians living in that Province had been so broken and humbled by wars with other tribes that they were ready for peace on any terms. In submitting themselves to the conquering Iroquois they even accepted the humiliation of declaring themselves to be women, and putting on women's dress. In 1742, when Governor Thomas had some trouble with a tribe of the Delawares, he solicited the influence of the Six Nations. That powerful Indian confederacy sent a delegation whose spokesman gave the Delawares a scolding that cowed them at once. One of the delegates, Canassatego, a Mengwe chief, addressing the Delawares in the presence of Governor Thomas said:

"We conquered you; we made women of you; you know you are women, and can no more sell land than women; nor is it fit you should have the power of selling lands, since you would abuse it. This land that you claim is gone through your guts; you have been furnished with clothes, meat and drink, by the goods paid you for it, and now you want it again, like children as you are."

In conclusion Canassatego bade them talk no more about their claims but to depart at once, as he had some business to transact with the English. The Delawares meekly complied, leaving the council at once, and soon thereafter removing from the region to which they had been laying claim. These broken spirited tribes were ready enough to hold peace conferences and receive presents, and they became artful in practicing upon the inexhaustible pacificism of the Quakers. This policy of tribute was condemned by the settlers both as a drain upon the public treasury and as an incentive to aggression. Even Gordon admits:

"Their hostility has been rewarded rather than chastised by Pennsylvania; every treaty of peace was accompanied by rich presents, and their detention of the prisoners was overlooked upon slight apologies, though obviously done to afford opportunities for new treaties and additional gifts."

The policy of soft words and tribute, while tolerably successful so long as only the Indians of the Province had to be dealt with, was entirely futile when the French were stirring up the Indians, and the entire frontier was in a blaze. The notion of the Quaker oligarchy at Philadelphia that the Pennsylvania situation could be localized and the Indians be pursuaded to be good within that area was grotesquely inept, and its practical effect was to facilitate Indian outrages by paralyzing the Government.

Gov. John Penn took office in November, 1763, when frontier exasperation over the supineness of the Government had reached a maddening pitch. A grandson of William Penn, he was born in the Province and lived there for ten years before taking office; so he was personally familiar with conditions. His father, Richard Penn, and his uncle, Thomas, were at that time the Proprietors as heirs of William Penn, and his commission as Governor came from them. Soon after taking office he wrote as follows to Thomas Penn, under date of November 15, 1763:

"I have had petitions every day from the Frontier Inhabitants requesting assistance against the Indians, who still continue their ravages in the most cruel manner, and as they say themselves, are determined not to lay down the Hatchet till they have driven the English into the Sea. We had news yesterday of two families being murdered near Shippensburg. I have not yet heard the particulars, but the fact may be depended upon. We have been obliged to order the Moravian Indians down to Philadelphia to quiet the minds of the Inhabitants of Northampton County, who were Determined either to quit their settlements or take an opportunity of murdering them all, being suspicious of their having been concerned in several murders in that County. These Indians came down two days ago & were immediately sent to the Pesthouse, where they were quartered."

But with regard to the Conestoga Indians Governor Penn pursued an altogether different policy, and yet it appears from his private correspondence that he did not believe the Cones-togas to be so innocent as they were represented to be. Why then did he refuse to remove them, although he did remove the Moravian Indians? It is a reasonable conjecture that he was trying to avoid difficulties with the controlling element in the Assembly. Moravian missionaries and Quakers were suffering from the Indian incursions into Northampton County, and about their welfare there was more concern than about the Scotch-Irish of Lancaster County. It may be noted that he does not himself undertake to exonerate the Conestoga Indians, but merely says that they "have been represented as innocent." In the following letter to Thomas Penn, the manuscript of which is undated, he expresses a different opinion:

". . . . You will see by the commotion the Province has been in for a long time past, the Impossibility of apprehending the murderers of the Conestoga Indians. There is not a man in the County of Cumberland but is of the Rioters' Party. If we had ten thousand of the King's troops I don't believe it would be possible to secure one of these people. Though I took all the pains I could, even to get their names, I could not succeed, for indeed nobody would make the discovery, though ever so well acquainted with them, & there is not a magistrate in the County would have touch'd one of them. The people of this Town are as Inveterate against the Indians as the Frontier Inhabitants, for it is beyond a doubt that many of the Indians now in Town have been concerned in committing murders among the back settlers; & I believe, were it not for the King's troops, who are here to protect them, that the whole power of the Government would not be able to prevent their being murder'd. Nothing can justify the madness of the people in flying in the face of Government in the manner they have done, although what they have suffer'd from these cruel savages is beyond description. Many of them have had their wives and children Murder'd and scalped, their houses burnt to the ground, their Cattle destroy'd, and from an easy, plentiful life, are now become beggars. In short this Spirit has spread like wildfire, not only through this Province, but the neighboring governments, which are to the full as Inveterate against the Indians as we are. The 14th of this month we expect two thousand of the Rioters in Town to insist upon the Assembly's granting their request with regard to the increase of Representatives, to put them upon an equality with the rest of the Counties. They have from time to time presented several petitions for that purpose, which has been always disregarded by the House; for which reason they intend to come in person."

It may be argued that the passage in the above referring to the complicity of the so-called friendly Indians in the outrages on the frontier does not necessarily include the Conestoga Indians. Dr. Egle in his History cites a letter from John Penn to Thomas Penn in which the Governor says:

"The Conestoga Indians, but also those that lived at Bethlehem and in other parts of the Province, were all perfidious—were in the French interest and in combination with our open enemies."

Another circumstance, significant as indicative of Governor Penn's own opinion, is that he transmitted to Thomas Penn a pamphlet entitled The Conduct of the Paxtons Impartially Represented, with the information that it is by a Mr. Barton, for whom he vouches as a sensible and honest man. Writing under date of June 16, 1764, Governor Penn mentions that Barton's authorship "is a secret; for it seems the Assembly have vow'd vengeance against all who have ventur'd to write anything, that may have a tendency to expose their own iniquitous measures." The Assembly took very high views of prerogative and regarded any comment upon its behavior as a breach of privilege to be severely punished. The pamphlet transmitted by Governor Penn was published anonymously in March, 1764, and it is a very severe arraignment of Quaker policy, holding that upon it the guilt of bloodshed chiefly rests. The pamphlet is loaded with classical erudition and Scriptural citation to an oppressive extent, but it contains some sharp home thrusts, as in the following:

"When a Waggon Load of the scalped and mangled Bodies of their Countrymen were brought to Philadelphia and laid at the State House Door, and another Waggon Load brought into the Town of Lancaster, did they rouse to Arms to avenge the Cause of their murder'd Friends? Did we hear any of those Lamentations that are now so plentifully poured for the Connestogoe Indians?—O my dear Friends! must I answer—No? The Dutch and Irish are murder'd without Pity."

The author of this pamphlet was the Rev. Thomas Barton, a native of Ireland belonging to an English family which settled there in the reign of Charles I. He was graduated at Dublin University, went to America and was for a time a tutor in the Philadelphia Academy that was the germ of the University of Pennsylvania. In 1754 he received Episcopal orders in England, and returned as a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. He accompanied General Braddock's expedition as a chaplain, and later settled in Lancaster as rector of St. James parish, where he remained until his Tory principles made his position untenable and caused his removal to New York. He was a resident of Lancaster at the time of the riots, and as an Anglican clergyman he was not likely to have any partiality for the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. He disclaims approval of the acts of the rioters, but he contends that the blame chiefly rests upon the policy of the Provincial Assembly, which in view of all the evidence now appears to be a just verdict.

The light of history at times has the effect of coming from a bull's eye lantern, bringing its object into unnatural relief. Such has been the case with the affair of the Conestoga Indians, which is only one, and that far from being the greatest, among the innumerable cases of lynch law which have resulted from the weakness and incompetence of American public authority.

NOTE—The letters of John Penn quoted in this chapter were copied by the writer from the original manuscripts in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, with the exception of one letter, which is not in the Philadelphia collection, but is given on the authority of Dr. W. H. Egle, who cites it in his History of Pennsylvania. Dr. Egle was for twelve years State Historian of Pennsylvania, and availed himself of manuscript collections at Harrisburg.

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The Scotch-Irish in America cover

There ain’t nothing like the real thing — get the softcover second edition to read The Scotch-Irish in America at your leisure and help support this free Irish library. The author, Henry Jones Ford had this to say about the book:

“This book tells the story of the Ulster Plantation and of the influences that formed the character of the people. The causes are traced that led to the great migration from Ulster and the Scotch-Irish settlements in America are described. The recital of their experiences involves an account of frontier manners and customs, and of collisions with the Indian tribes. The influence of the Scotch-Irish settlements upon American institutions is traced, particularly in organizing and propagating the Presbyterian Church, in spreading popular education, and in promoting the movement for American national independence. In conclusion, there is an appreciation of the Ulster contribution to American nationality.”


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