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Benjamin Toth, "Life, Liberty, and Security": The Sanguinary Tale of a Valley at War

“Life, Liberty, and Security”: The Sanguinary Tale of a Valley at War

James Claypoole,  A German Bleeds. . . Philadelphia, 1764

 In 1763, the Pennsylvanian legislature ordered a group of rangers from the frontier counties to enter the Wyoming Valley in order to expel the New England settlers.  Among these rangers was Lazarus Stewart, serving as a part of an eviction force meant to escort the New Englanders from the Wyoming Valley as peaceably as possible.[1] The rangers could not have prepared for what greeted them, however, as they arrived at the settlement at Mill Creek.  When they arrived “They… found the New Englanders, who had been killed and scalped a day or two before they got there…”[2]  The Delaware Indians, bolstered by their victories over Braddock’s English forces, had begun raiding and attacking settlements across the frontier. “…They buried the Dead, nine men and a woman, who had been most cruelly butchered, the woman was roasted, and had two Hinges in her Hands, supposed to be put in red hot, and several of the men had Awls thrust into their Eyes, and Spears, arrows, Pitchforks, &c sticking in their Bodies.”[3]  This ghoulish tableau of Native American warfare would etch itself upon the memories of the rangers involved, especially Lazarus Stewart, and the anger, fear, and uncertainty generated by this attack would not soon dissipate from the frontier. 

Yet, to these rangers, the real culprit behind this atrocity did not brandish a tomahawk and haunt the wildernesses of their most devilish nightmares.  The true enemies of these frontiersmen from Lancaster County were the bureaucrats and legislators of the colony who, through their shadowy dealings and self-serving politics, had created an environment accommodating to these kinds of cruelties.  Unable to abide the obscenities of their situation any longer, the people of the frontier petitioned their government for change.  When legal channels failed them, however, they were forced to resort to extralegal measures for recompense.  The 1760s saw a string of extralegal violence perpetrated by the Paxton Boys, the people of Lancaster County who had evolved from disgruntled settlers into violent vigilantes. 

In studying the primary sources, there are recurring catalysts which define the conflict in Wyoming: religious disputes, government representation, land squabbles, and tense relations with the local Native Americans.  Lancaster County, firmly located on the frontier of Pennsylvania in the 1760s, was caught between the political idealism of Trans-Atlantic power structures and the dangerous, deadly reality of frontier life.  Consequently, Lazarus Stewart and the Paxton Boys allied their cause with that of the Susquehanna Company, a Connecticut-based  economic entity created by Connecticut merchants who promised them redress to their grievances, to acquire land which they could govern according to their sensibilities and frontier experiences, beholden to no power other than themselves, and free to pursue whatever policies they viewed as necessary to ensure their rights as English subjects to “Life, Liberty, and Security.”[4]  The historical context of the Wyoming Valley at this time creates an intricate mosaic replete with political drama, cultural apprehension, and social discordance.  Without this context, there is scant reason for the Paxton Boys to side with Connecticut.

The sanguinary tale of the Wyoming Valley begins with an imperial oversight a century before the Yankee-Pennamite War, the struggle for the Wyoming Valley which pitted Connecticut settlers against Pennsylvanian legislature in the late 1760s and 1770s.  King Charles II bestowed upon the colony of Connecticut a land-grant ceding territory from New England to the Pacific Ocean, roughly 120 miles wide and thousands long.  For nearly a century this claim would lay dormant, even when in 1681 when King Charles II bestowed upon William Penn a land grant which conflicted with the Connecticut claim.  Only in the 1750s when land began growing scarce in Connecticut and Pennsylvania did the Susquehanna claim come back to the fore.[5]

Fig. 1

Oddly enough, these seeds of discord realized in the Yankee-Pennamite War would not be sown in Pennsylvania, nor in Connecticut for that matter.  Destruction would come to the Wyoming Valley from the most unlikely of places: Albany.  A year before the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the Albany Congress of 1754 was held between the English, French, and Six Nations Native Americans in order to discuss the state of the colonial world.  Ostensibly, the purpose of this congress was to ensure that the Native Americans would not become involved with the imperial conflict.[6]  During these talks, both Connecticut and Pennsylvania would push their claims in the Wyoming Valley with delegates from the local Native American Tribes.[7] Simultaneous to these talks, however Thomas Penn, representing Pennsylvania, and John Henry Lydius, representing Connecticut and the Susquehanna Company, would both quietly make deals with the Iroquois, leaders of the Six Nations, to advance their claims in the Wyoming Valley. 

While the colonial legislatures warred with words over their rights to ownership of the Wyoming Valley, the situation on the ground became tense.  To push the New England claim, the Susquehanna Company sent settlers to the region in order to enrich the land and establish holdings there.  However, the Delaware tribe, already present in the Valley, did not take kindly to the surge of immigrants to their homeland.  Seeking some sort of audience with the New Englanders, they attempted to redress their situation through diplomatic means.  The response of the New England settlers to the Delaware people was characteristically curt: “No… the Land is none of yours; it belongs to the Minquos.  You are only their Tenants, Slaves, Dogs.”[8] The Delaware’s, however, did not see the situation as such.  Caught up in a web of political dealing with no recourse, the Delaware people turned to violence.  The Delaware began their assault by shattering an expeditionary force led through their territory by General Braddock, leaving the Delaware were left unchecked in the region.  Thus began a string of terrible and gruesome attacks which cast the frontier into a hellish landscape, wracked with fear and loathing.[9]  The culmination of these raids and attacks would be swift and brutal violence, which struck fear into the hearts of the frontier populace of Lancaster County.

Seeking some sort of recompense or aid from the Pennsylvania government would only frustrate the already irritated frontier, and rifts within Pennsylvanian society became accentuated by the Indian disputes of the period.[10]  Consequently, attacks against Native peoples were driven by a desire to protect their homes and holdings, with the attacks serving as an ultra-hostile defensive maneuver.[11]  Indeed, the inhabitants of the back country viewed themselves as fighting their Native antagonists alone.  A pamphlet entitled “The Quaker Unmasked” expresses this sentiment, as well as a suspicion of treasonous and spurious Quaker political sympathy towards what they viewed as the cruel and hostile Native Americans.[12]  Consequently, a bevy of injuries, some imagined and some remembered, compounded with a generally volatile frontier attitude towards the Native American people during the tenuous 1760s to create the grievances felt by the Paxton Boys.

Fig. 2

Stifled in their attempts for peaceful, albeit aggressive, settlements with the government for aid with their perceived Indian problem, the people of the frontier took matters into their own hands.  In December of 1763, the frontier people retaliated violently against their impotent and duplicitous Quaker government by attacking people whom they perceived to be wolves in their midst: the Conestoga Indians.  Striking quickly and without warning, the Paxton Boys brutally murdered these innocent and unarmed Indians, dividing the colony in the process of their expeditious assault.[13]  Though horrific, this massacre was not unforeseen.  In their Memorials, the Paxton’s express that they do not think the state should be offering protection and aid to people they considered enemies of the people.[14] By moving from legal to extralegal means to achieve their goals with regards to the local Native Americans, the Paxton’s tacitly revealed their frustration with their seemingly absentee-government.[15] 

Continuing this wave of violence, the Paxton’s attempted to march on Philadelphia to continue their bloody assault on the Native Americans under Pennsylvanian protection.  However, their march would end peacefully in Germantown.  Here, Benjamin Franklin, serving at the time as a delegate for the Quaker legislature, convinced the Paxton Boys to set their grievances to writing.  This exchange caused the Paxtons to create their Declaration and Remonstrance, two documents which articulated their anger at the legislature more eloquently than by slaughtering peaceful Indians, wherein the Paxton Boys outlined a number of their grievances under the sovereignty of the Pennsylvania legislature.[16]

Fig. 3

Connecticut, as a whole, practiced policies which were much more sympathetic to the sensibilities of the Paxton Boys and Lancaster County. Connecticut’s history was full of aggressive and violent relations with hostile tribes, and reflected the situation in Lancaster County with surprising starkness.  Connecticut’s relations with the native peoples started hostile, with the Pequot War resulting in the decimation of the Pequot tribe and horrific casualties for Connecticut: a situation remarkably similar to the experiences of the Paxton Boys.[17]  Consequently, future dealings with the Native Americans were staggeringly one-sided in favor of Connecticut, often to the detriment of the Native tribes in the region as a result of the toxic legacy of the Pequot War.  Land hunger was a recurring problem for the colony of Connecticut ever since its’ founding; as such, the colony had no qualms with using extralegal means to sate their hunger for additional land.[18]  For example, from 1640-1727 the Tunxis tribe of Connecticut brought a case to the courts in which they sued, continually for 127 years, to regain their stolen homeland.  Each time however, the courts turned a blind eye on their case and sent them away.[19]  The land hunger of the 1750s meant that the Susquehanna Company would be willing to employ violent vigilantes like the Paxton Boys to achieve their goals.

In 1769, induced by the colonies’ existing Native American policies and subsequent negotiations with Susquehanna Company representatives, Lazarus Stewart and other frontier inhabitants gathered in Wilkes-Barre to declare their allegiance for the Connecticut and Susquehanna Company cause in exchange for land. [20]   By signing their charter with the Susquehanna Company, the people of Lancaster County were signing into more than a parcel of land.  Through defiance of interior legislature, the Paxton Boys exemplified the distinct split between the frontier of the state and its interior government.  The people of Lancaster County felt isolated from their government, and though their acts were treasonous to their legislature, they were informed by their local reality.  By shirking off the rule of an out of touch and remote government, the Paxton Boys sought to acquire the means to regulate and protect themselves as they saw fit.  Although their gambit would eventually falter, overtones of the Paxton project would echo for much of the colonial period.

Benjamin Toth

Lycoming College

 

A Description of the Figures

Figure 1 – The regions involved in the Yankee-Pennamite War

Figure 2 – The Paxton Boy’s Massacre of the Conestoga Tribe

Figure 3 – The Philadelphian response to the Paxton Boy’s March on Philadelphia

Works Cited

Boyd, Julian P., editor, The Susquehanna Company Papers: Volume II: 1756-1767.  Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1962.

Boyd, Julian P., editor, The Susquehanna Company Papers: Volume III: 1768-1769.  Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1962.

De Forest, John William.  History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850.  Hamden: Archon Books, 1964.

Dunbar, John R., editor, The Paxton Paper.  The Netherlands: The Hague,1957.

Grandjean, Katherine A. “The Long Wake of the Pequot War.” Early American Studies 9, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 379-411.

Johnson, Richard R. “The Search for a Usable Indian: An Aspect of the Defense of Colonial New England.” The Journal of American History 64, no. 3 (December 1997): 623-651.

Kenny, Kevin.  Peaceable Kingdom Lost:  The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Lavin, Lucianne.  Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions Teach Us About Their Communities and Cultures.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Moyer, Paul B.  Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence Along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.

Parkman, Francis. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada: Volume 2; From the Spring of 1763 to the Death of Pontiac.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Image Credits

Kearns, R. (2014, January 3). Ethnic Cleansing in Pennsylvania: The 1763 Massacre of the Conestoga. Retrieved August 5, 2015, fromhttp://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/03/learning-more-about-massacre-conestoga-250-years-later-152959

Sparks, B. "Yankee Pennamite Wars: The Connecticut-Pennsylvanian Conflict, 1769-1794." Warfare History Blog. 15 July 2014. Web. 5 Aug. 2015. http://warfarehistorian.blogspot.com/2014/07/yankee-pennamite-wars-connecticut.html

Endnotes 

[1] Moyer, Paul B.  Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence Along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier.  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007) 26.

[2] Boyd, Julian P., editor, The Susquehanna Company Papers: Volume II: 1756-1767.  (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1962), 277.

[3] Ibid., 277.

[4] Dunbar, John R., editor, The Paxton Papers.  (The Netherlands: The Hague,1957), 105.

[5] Moyer, Paul B.  Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence Along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier.  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 16.

[6] Kenny, Kevin.  Peaceable Kingdom Lost:  The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 57.

[7] Moyer, Paul B.  Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence Along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier.  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 59.

[8] Boyd, Julian P., editor, The Susquehanna Company Papers: Volume II: 1756-1767.  (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1962), 3.

[9] Moyer, Paul B.  Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence Along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier.  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 68.

[10] Dunbar, John R., editor, The Paxton Papers.  (The Netherlands: The Hague,1957), 209.

[11] Moyer, Paul B.  Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence Along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier.  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 27.

[12] Dunbar, John R., editor, The Paxton Papers.  (The Netherlands: The Hague,1957), 208.

[13] Kenny, Kevin.  Peaceable Kingdom Lost:  The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 133-134.

[14] Parkman, Francis. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada: Volume 2; From the Spring of 1763 to the Death of Pontiac.  (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 353.

[15] Dunbar, John R., editor, The Paxton Papers.  (The Netherlands: The Hague,1957), 128.

[16] Dunbar, John R., editor, The Paxton Papers.  (The Netherlands: The Hague,1957), 105.

[17] Grandjean, Katherine A. “The Long Wake of the Pequot War.” Early American Studies 9, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 382. 

[18] De Forest, John William.  History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850.  (Hamden: Archon Books, 1964), 73.

[19] Lavin, Lucianne.  Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions Teach Us About Their Communities and Cultures.  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 321.

[20] Boyd, Julian P., editor, The Susquehanna Company Papers: Volume II: 1756-1767.  (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1962), 176.


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