The Scotch-Irish in the Indian Wars (2)

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER X (2) Start of Section

They made the war just such a game as the Indians liked to play. To give and take in the matter of scalps was what they expected. The outrages committed by them were as a rule the work of small parties who would surprise the settlers in the fields or at their homes, slay and scalp, and then make off. The alarm would crowd the forts for a while, but the settlers could not permanently abandon their fields and crops and would eventually leave the fort to become exposed to another raid. Thus the war dragged along for years attended by inconceivable misery. The cry of distress was heard across the ocean, and on June 24, 1760, the Ulster Synod authorized a collection for the relief of the afflicted Presbyterian ministers in Pennsylvania and New York. The number of refugees gathered about the forts of Shippensburg in July, 1763, is computed at 1,384—301 men, 345 women, and 738 children. Every shed, barn or possible place of shelter was crowded with people who had been driven from their homesteads, losing their live stock and harvests and reduced to beggary.

There was persistent complaint that aid and comfort to Indian incursions were given by the Indians still resident in the area of white settlement. An official report was made to the Assembly in October, 1763, that the Moravian Indians in Northampton County were supplying the hostiles with arms and ammunition. It was ordered that these Indians should be brought in from the frontier. Similar complaints were made against the Conestoga Indians in Lancaster County, and it was strongly urged that they, too, should be removed to some other place where they would be out of the way of frontier events, but nothing was done until there was a terrible catastrophe.

Among a number of companies organized for frontier defense was one under the command of the Rev. John Elder, which was recruited from the Scotch-Irish of the Paxtang district, now in Dauphin County. The outrages from which the settlers were now suffering were the work not of war bands but of a few Indians moving furtively, who would ambuscade and kill some traveler or attack some one working in the fields, and only by finding mutilated bodies would the settlers know that Indian marauders were about. It was generally believed that such acts were facilitated by the existence of Indian villages in which the stray hostiles could find shelter. It was charged that strange Indians were seen going to and coming from the village of the Conestoga Indians. Under date of September 13, 1763, Colonel Elder wrote to the Governor: "I suggest to you the propriety of an immediate removal of the Indians from Conestoga, and placing a garrison in their room. In case this is done, I pledge myself for the future security of the frontiers." The reply to this letter was written by John Penn, who about this time became Governor of the Province. He said that "The Indians of Conestoga have been represented as innocent, helpless, and dependent upon the Governor for support. The faith of this Government is pledged for their protection. I cannot remove them without adequate cause."

At last the people decided to act for themselves. On December 13, 1763, a party of frontiersmen moved upon the Conestoga Indians. According to one version the intention was to apprehend some prowling Indians who had taken refuge in Conestoga, and the massacre that ensued was due to a show of resistance by some Indians who rushed out, brandishing their tomahawks. According to Governor Penn the affair was "barbarous murder," committed "in defiance of all Laws & Authority," by "a party of Rioters." Colonel Elder, in a letter to Governor Penn, under date of October 16, 1763, gave this account:

"On receiving intelligence the 13th inst. that a number of persons were assembling on purpose to go & cut off the Connestogue Indians, in concert with Mr. Forster, the neighboring Magistrate, I hurried off an Express with a written message to that party, entreating them to desist from such an undertaking, representing to them the unlawfulness & barbarity of such an action, that it's cruel & unchristian in its nature, & wou'd be fatal in its consequences to themselves & families; that private persons have no right to take the lives of any under the protection of the Legislature; that they must, if they proceeded in that affair, lay their accounts to meet with a Severe prosecution, & become liable even to capital punishment; that they need not expect that the Country wou'd endeavour to conceal or screen them from punishment, but that they would be detected & given up to the resentment of the Governm't. These things I urged in the warmest terms, in order to prevail with them to drop the enterprise, but to no purpose; they push'd on, & have destroyed some of these Indians, tho' how many, I have not yet been certainly informed; I, nevertheless, thought it my duty to give your Honour this early notice, that an action of this nature mayn't be imputed to these frontier Settlem'ts. For I know not of one person of Judgm't or prudence that has been in any wise concerned in it, but it has been done by some hot headed, ill advised persons, & especially by such, I imagine, as suffer'd much in their relations by the Ravages committed in the late Indian War."

That the affair was indeed an outburst of mob cruelty inspired by race hatred is shown by the sequel. The Indians killed in the attack on Conestoga were six in number. The survivors were now removed to Lancaster, where they were lodged in the workhouse. On December 27 a party of men from Paxton and Donegal stormed the workhouse and killed the Indians. One version is that the original intention was to seize one of the Indians, who was charged with murder, and take him to Carlisle jail where he would be held for trial; but as resistance was encountered, shooting began and did not cease until every Indian was killed. The dead numbered fourteen, among whom there were three women, eight children, and only three men. Such facts do not support the pretext that the massacre was occasioned by resistance to arrest. Colonel Elder wrote at once to Governor Penn deploring the affair which he attributed to the failure of the Government to remove the Indians as had been frequently urged. "What could I do with men heated to madness," Elder went on to say. "I expostulated, but life and reason were set at defiance."

Public sentiment in the Scotch-Irish settlements strongly condemned the mob outbreak. Writing to the Governor from Carlisle on December 28, Col. John Armstrong said: "Not one person of the County of Cumberland so far as I can learn, has either been consulted or concerned in that inhuman and scandalous piece of Butchery—and I should be sorry that ever the people of this County should attempt avenging their injuries on the heads of a few inoffensive superannuated Savages, whom nature had already devoted to the dust." Cumberland was more strongly Scotch-Irish in population than any other county in Pennsylvania. Colonel Armstrong, of Ulster nativity, was an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

Under date of December 31, 1763, Governor Penn received an anonymous letter from Lebanon, advising him that "Many of the Inhabitants of the Townships of Lebanon, Paxton & Hanover are Voluntarily forming themselves in a Company to March to Philadelphia, with a Design to Kill the Indians that Harbour there." This view of the situation was at once adopted by the Governor in his official announcements. On January 3, 1764, he sent a message to the Assembly notifying it of "the cruel Massacre of the Indians" at Lancaster, and adding that "the party who perpetrated this outrage do not intend to stop here, but are making great additions to their numbers, and are actually preparing to come down in a large Body and cut off the Indians seated by the Government on the Province Island; and it is difficult to determine how far they may carry their designs, or where the mischief may end."

The provincial records of this period contained much about this threatened attack upon friendly Indians. But what was really impending was a popular revolt against the supine, nerveless and bewildered rule of the narrow oligarchy that controlled the policy of the Assembly. The Government made extensive preparations to repel attack. General Gage, who was in chief command of the British forces in America, supplied a detachment of regulars to guard the barracks in which the Indians were lodged. Cannon were posted and the place was strongly fortified. If an attack upon the Indians had been the controlling purpose of the frontiersmen they would now have desisted, as such an undertaking was plainly hopeless, but they were not deterred from continuing their march toward Philadelphia, as their main object was a redress of grievances. At Germantown they were met by commissioners with promises of a hearing of their complaints. Col. Matthew Smith and James Gibson went forward with the commissioners to meet the Governor and the Assembly, and the body of frontiersmen now dissolved, most of them returning at once to their homes. The statement of grievances presented to the provincial authorities is of such value as an historical record, and is so illuminative of the ideas of the times, that it is given in full in Appendix D.

The Assembly did nothing to the point. The petitions were referred to a committee which recommended a conference with representatives of the back counties, the Governor to take part. The Governor sent a pedantic message declining to participate, and declaring that he "doubts not but the House will take into Consideration such parts of the Remonstrance as are proper for their Cognizance, and do therein what in their Wisdom and Justice they think Right, as he will with Regard to such other parts as Relate to the executive Branch of the Government." The Assembly proceeded no further with the matter of the petitions. An act providing for removing the trial of persons charged with killing Indians in Lancaster County was passed despite the remonstrance, but no convictions were obtained under it.

Contemporary opinion among the Scotch-Irish themselves, while deploring the occurrence, was inclined to make excuses on the score of the exigencies of the case. The Rev. John Ewing, D.D., writing to Joseph Reed at London in 1764, gave the following account:

"There are twenty-two Quakers in our Assembly, at present, who, although they won't absolutely refuse to grant money for the King's use, yet never fail to contrive matters in such a manner, as to afford little or no assistance to the poor distressed frontiers; while our public money is lavishly squandered away, in supporting a number of savages, who had been murdering and scalping us for many years past. This has enraged some desperate young men who had lost their nearest relatives by these very Indians, to cut off about twenty Indians, that lived near Lancaster, who had, during the war, carried on a constant intercourse with our other enemies; and they came to Germantown to inquire why Indians, known to be enemies, were supported, even in luxury, with the best that our markets afforded, at the public expense, while they were left in the utmost distress on the frontiers, in want of the necessaries of life. Ample promises were made to them, that their grievances shall be redressed, upon which, they immediately dispersed and went home. These persons have been unjustly represented as endeavoring to overturn the Government, when nothing was more distant from their minds. However this matter may be looked upon in Britain, where you know very little of the matter, you may be assured that ninety-nine in a hundred of the Province are firmly pursuaded that they are maintaining our enemies, while our friends, who are suffering the greatest extremities, are neglected; and that few, but Quakers, think that the Lancaster Indians have suffered anything but their just deserts."

It is now known that Dr. Ewing's letter correctly describes the state of public opinion, but the opponents of the Scotch-Irish secured a lasting advantage in getting historical authority on their side. The first history of Pennsylvania was written by Robert Proud, an English Quaker, who arrived at Philadelphia in January, 1759. At the time of the march of the frontiersmen he was teaching Greek and Latin in the Friends' Academy. His History is a dry, colorless narrative of events, except when he describes the approach of the frontiersmen, and then the heat of his language reflects the alarm and excitement felt in the section of the community to which Proud himself belonged. He says that "This lawless banditti advanced, in many hundreds, armed, as far as Germantown, within about six miles of the city, threatening death and slaughter to all who should dare to oppose them."

Proud's History stood alone in its field until Thomas F. Gordon's work was published in 1829. Gordon wrote in a judicial spirit, and in an appendix he gave a list of Indian outrages that had exasperated public sentiment, but he treats the march to Philadelphia as of a piece with the riots at Conestoga and Lancaster, and declares that "nothing but the spirited measures of the inhabitants of the city, saved it from the fury of an exasperated armed multitude, who would not have hesitated to extend their vengeance from the Indians to their protectors." Gordon also declares that "there is every reason to infer, from the profound veneration the Indians entertained for the Quakers, and the attention they paid to their messages, that had the Friends been permitted to follow out their plans of benevolence, the Indian War would never have existed or would have been of short duration."