The Conestoga Massacre of 1763 took place in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Paxton Boys, a group of settlers from the western counties, slew 20 Conestoga Indians in cold blood. The two documents that follow offer profoundly different accounts of the circumstances leading up to the event. The first, “A Narrative of the Late Massacres, in Lancaster County . . .” by Benjamin Franklin, condemns the raid as a barbarous outrage; the second, a remonstrance given by the Paxton Boys to the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania on February 13, 1764, assails Indian duplicity and cruelty.
* * *
These Indians were the Remains of a Tribe of the Six Nations, settled at Conestogoe, and thence called Conestogoe Indians. On the first Arrival of the English in Pennsylvania, Messengers from this Tribe came to welcome them, with Presents of Venison, Corn and Skins; and the whole Tribe entered into a Treaty of Friendship with the first Proprietor, WILLIAM PENN, which was to last "as long as the Sun should shine, or the Waters run in the Rivers."
This Treaty has been since frequently renewed, and the Chain brightened, as they express it, from time to time. It has never been violated, on their Part or ours, till now. As their Lands by Degrees were mostly purchased, and the Settlements of the White People began to surround them, the Proprietor assigned them Lands on the Manor of Conestogoe, which they might not part with; there they have lived many Years in Friendship with their White Neighbours, who loved them for their peaceable inoffensive Behaviour.
It has always been observed, that Indians, settled in the Neighbourhood of White People, do not increase, but diminish continually. This Tribe accordingly went on diminishing, till there remained in their Town on the Manor, but 20 Persons, viz. 7 Men, 5 Women, and 8 Children, Boys and Girls. . . .
On Wednesday, the 14th of December, 1763, Fifty-seven Men, from some of our Frontier Townships, who had projected the Destruction of this little Common-wealth, came, all well-mounted, and armed with Firelocks, Hangers and Hatchets, having travelled through the Country in the Night, to Conestogoe Manor. There they surrounded the small Village of Indian Huts, and just at Break of Day broke into them all at once. Only three Men, two Women, and a young Boy, were found at home, the rest being out among the neighbouring White People,some to sell the Baskets, Brooms and Bowls they manufactured, and others on other Occasions. These poor defenceless Creatures were immediately fired upon, stabbed and hatcheted to Death! The good Shehaes, among the rest, cut to Pieces in his Bed. All of them were scalped, and otherwise horribly mangled. Then their Huts were set on Fire, and most of them burnt down. When the Troop, pleased with their own Conduct and Bravery, but enraged that any of the poor Indians had escaped the Massacre, rode off, and in small Parties, by different Roads, went home.
The universal Concern of the neighbouring White People on hearing of this Event, and the Lamentations of the younger Indians, when they returned and saw the Desolation, and the butchered half-burnt Bodies of their murdered Parents, and other Relations, cannot well be expressed.
The Magistrates of Lancaster sent out to collect the remaining Indians, brought them into the Town for their better Security against any farther Attempt; and it is said condoled with them on the Misfortune that had happened, took them by the Hand, comforted and promised them Protection. -- They were all put into the Workhouse, a strong Building, as the Place of greatest Safety.
When the shocking News arrived in Town, a Proclamation was issued by the Governor, in the following Terms, viz.
"WHEREAS I have received Information, That on Wednesday, the Fourteenth Day of this Month, a Number of People, armed, and mounted on Horseback, unlawfully assembled together, and went to the Indian Town in the Conestogoe Manor, in Lancaster County, and without the least Reason or Provocation, in cool Blood, barbarously killed six of the Indians settled there, and burnt and destroyed all their Houses and Effects: And whereas so cruel and inhuman an Act, committed in the Heart of this Province on the said Indians, who have lived peaceably and inoffensively among us, during all our late Troubles, and for many Years before, and were justly considered as under the Protection of this Government and its Laws, calls loudly for the vigorous Exertion of the civil Authority, to detect the Offenders, and bring them to condign Punishment; I have therefore, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Council, thought fit to issue this Proclamation, and do hereby strictly charge and enjoin all Judges, Justices, Sheriffs, Constables, Officers Civil and Military, and all other His Majesty's liege Subjects within this Province, to make diligent Search and Enquiry after the Authors and Perpetrators of the said Crime, their Abettors and Accomplices, and to use all possible Means to apprehend and secure them in some of the publick Goals of this Province,that they may be brought to their Trials, and be proceeded against according to Law.
"And whereas a Number of other Indians, who lately lived on or near the Frontiers of this Province, being willing and desirous to preserve and continue the ancient Friendship which heretofore subsisted between them and the good People of this Province, have, at their own earnest Request, been removed from their Habitations, and brought into the County of Philadelphia, and seated, for the present, for their better Security, on the Province-Island, and in other Places in the Neighbourhood of the City of Philadelphia, where Provision is made for them at the public Expence; I do therefore hereby strictly forbid all Persons whatsoever, to molest or injure any of the said Indians, as they will answer the contrary at their Peril.
GIVEN under my Hand,and the Great Seal of the said Province, at Philadelphia, the Twenty-second Day of December, Anno Domini One Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-three, and in the Fourth Year of His Majesty's Reign. JOHN PENN."
By His Honour's Command,
JOSEPH SHIPPEN, jun. Secretary.
GOD Save the KING.
Notwithstanding this Proclamation, those cruel Men again assembled themselves, and hearing that the remaining fourteen Indians were in the Work-house at Lancaster, they suddenly appeared in that Town, on the 27th of December. Fifty of them, armed as before, dismounting, went directly to the Work-house, and by Violence broke open the Door, and entered with the utmost Fury in their Countenances. -- When the poor Wretches saw they had no Protection nigh, nor could possibly escape, and being without the least Weapon for Defence, they divided into their little Families, the Children clinging to the Parents; they fell on their Knees, protested their Innocence, declared their Love to the English, and that, in their whole Lives, they had never done them Injury; and in this Posture they all received the Hatchet! -- Men, Women and little Children -- were every one inhumanly murdered! -- in cold Blood!
The barbarous Men who committed the atrocious Fact, in Defiance of Government, of all Laws human and divine, and to the eternal Disgrace of their Country and Colour, then mounted their Horses, huzza'd in Triumph, as if they had gained a Victory, and rode off -- unmolested!
The Bodies of the Murdered were then brought out and exposed in the Street, till a Hole could be made in the Earth, to receive and cover them.
But the Wickedness cannot be covered, the Guilt will lie on the whole Land, till Justice is done on the Murderers. THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT WILL CRY TO HEAVEN FOR VENGEANCE.
It is said that Shehaes, being before told, that it was to be feared some English might come from the Frontier into the Country, and murder him and his People; he replied, "It is impossible: There are Indians, indeed, in the Woods, who would kill me and mine, if they could get at us, for my Friendship to the English; but the English will wrap me in their Matchcoat, and secure me from all Danger." How unfortunately was he mistaken! . . .
There are some (I am ashamed to hear it) who would extenuate the enormous Wickedness of these Actions, by saying, "The Inhabitants of the Frontiers are exasperated with the Murder of their Relations, by the Enemy Indians, in the present War." It is possible; -- but though this might justify their going out into the Woods, to seek for those Enemies, and avenge upon them those Murders; it can never justify their turning in to the Heart of the Country, to murder their Friends.
If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians? It is well known that Indians are of different Tribes, Nations and Languages, as well as the White People. In Europe, if the French, who are White People, should injure the Dutch, are they to revenge it on the English, because they too are White People? The only Crime of these poor Wretches seems to have been, that they had a reddish brown Skin, and black Hair; and some People of that Sort, it seems, had murdered some of our Relations. If it be right to kill Men for such a Reason, then, should any Man, with a freckled Face and red Hair, kill a Wife or Child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children, I could afterwards any where meet with.
But it seems these People think they have a better Justification; nothing less than the Word of God. With the Scriptures in their Hands and Mouths, they can set at nought that express Command, Thou shalt do no Murder; and justify their Wickedness, by the Command given Joshua to destroy the Heathen. Horrid Perversion of Scripture and of Religion! to father the worst of Crimes on the God of Peace and Love! -- Even the Jews, to whom that particular Commission was directed, spared the Gibeonites, on Account of their Faith once given. The Faith of this Government has been frequently given to those Indians; -- but that did not avail them with People who despise Government.
We pretend to be Christians, and, from the superior Light we enjoy, ought to exceed Heathens, Turks, Saracens, Moors, Negroes and Indians, in the Knowledge and Practice of what is right. I will endeavour to show, by a few Examples from Books and History, the Sense those People have had of such Actions. . . .
* * * * *
Here is the petition of the Paxton Boys:
WE, MATTHEW SMITH AND JAMES GIBSON, in behalf of ourselves and His Majesty's
faithful and loyal subjects, the inhabitants of the frontier counties of Lancaster, York, Cumberland, Berks, and Northampton, humbly beg leave to remonstrate and to lay before you the following grievances, which we submit to your wisdom for redress.
First, we apprehend that as freemen and English subjects, we have an indisputable title to the same privileges and immunities with His Majesty's other subjects who reside in the interior counties of Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks, and therefore ought not to be excluded from an equal share with them in the very important privilege of legislation. Nevertheless, contrary to the proprietor's charter and the acknowledged principles of common justice and equity, our five counties are restrained from electing more than ten representatives, viz.: four for Lancaster, two for York, two for Cumberland, one for Berks, and one for Northampton; while the three counties and city of Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks elect twenty-six. This we humbly conceive is oppressive, unequal, and unjust, the cause many of our grievances, and an infringement of our natural privileges of freedom and equality. Wherefore we humbly pray; that we may be no longer deprived of an equal number with the three aforesaid counties, to represent us in Assembly.
Second, we understand that a bill is now before the House of Assembly wherein it is provided that such persons as shall charged with killing any Indians in Lancaster County shall not be tried in the county where the fact was committed, but in the counties of Philadelphia, Chester, or Bucks. This is manifestly to deprive British subjects of their known privileges to cast an eternal reproach upon whole counties, as if they were unfit to serve their country in the quality of jurymen, and to contradict the well-known laws of the British nation in a point whereon life, liberty, and security essentially depend, namely, that of being tried by their equals in the neighborhood where their own, their accusers', and the witnesses' character and credit, with the circumstances of the fact, are best known, and instead thereof putting their lives in the hands of strangers who may as justly be suspected of partiality to, as the frontier counties can be of prejudices against, Indians; and this, too, in favor of Indians only, against His Majesty's faithful and loyal subjects. . . .
Third, during the late and present Indian war, the frontiers of this province have been repeatedly attacked and ravaged by skulking parties of the Indians, who have with the most savage cruelty murdered men, women, and children without distinction, and have reduced near a thousand families to the most extreme distress. It grieves us to the very heart to see such of our frontier inhabitants as have escaped savage fury with the loss of their parents, their children, their wives or relatives, left destitute by the public, and exposed to the most cruel poverty and wretchedness while upward of 120 of these savages, who are with great reason suspected of being guilty of these horrid barbarities under the mask of friendship, have procured themselves to be taken under the protection of the government, with a view to elude the fury of the brave relatives of the murdered, and are now maintained at the public expense.
Some of these Indians now in the barracks of Philadelphia are confessedly a part of the Wyalusing Indians, which tribe is now at war with us, and the others are the Moravian Indians, who, living amongst us under the cloak of friendship, carried on a correspondence with our known enemies on the Great Island. We cannot but observe with sorrow and indignation that some persons in this province are at pains to extenuate the barbarous cruelties practised by these savages on our murdered brethren and relatives, which are shocking to human nature, and must pierce every heart but that of the hardened perpetrators or their abettors. Nor is it less distressing to hear others pleading that although the Wyalusing tribe is at war with us, yet that part of it which is under the protection of the government may be friendly to the English and innocent.
In what nation under the sun was it ever the custom that when a neighboring nation took up arms, not an individual should be touched but only the persons that offered hostilities? Who ever proclaimed war with a part of a nation, and not with the whole? Had these Indians disapproved of the perfidy of their tribe, and been willing to cultivate and preserve friendship with us, why did they not give notice of the war before it happened, as it is known to be the result of long deliberations, and a preconcerted combination amongst them? Why did they not leave their tribe immediately, and come amongst us before there was ground to suspect them, or war was actually waged with their tribe? No, they stayed amongst them, were privy to their murders and ravages, until we had destroyed their provisions; and when they could no longer subsist at home, they come not as deserters but as friends to be maintained through the winter, that they may be able to scalp and butcher us in the spring.
And as to the Moravian Indians, there are strong grounds at least to suspect their friendship, as it is known they carried on a correspondence with our enemies on the Great Island. We killed three Indians going from Bethlehem to the Great Island with blankets, ammunition, and provisions, which is an undeniable proof that the Moravian Indians were in confederacy with our open enemies; and we cannot but be filled with indignation to hear this action of ours painted in the most odious and detestable colors, as if we had inhumanly murdered our guides who preserved us from perishing in the woods, when we only killed three of our known enemies, who attempted to shoot us when we surprised them.
And besides all this, we understand that one of these very Indians is proved by the oath of Stinton's widow to be the very person that murdered her husband. How then comes it to pass that he alone, of all the Moravian Indians, should join with the enemy to murder that family? Or can it be supposed that any enemy Indians, contrary to their known custom of making war, should penetrate into the heart of a settled country to burn, plunder, and murder the inhabitants, and not molest any houses in their return, or ever be seen or heard of? Or how can we account for it, that no ravages have been committed in Northampton County, since the removal of the Moravian Indians, when the Great Cove has been struck since? These things put it beyond doubt with us that the Indians now at Philadelphia are His Majesty's perfidious enemies and therefore to protect and maintain them at the public expense, while our suffering brethren on the frontiers are almost destitute of the necessaries of life and are neglected by the public, is sufficient to make us mad with rage, and tempt us to do what nothing but the most violent necessity can vindicate. We humbly and earnestly pray, therefore, that those enemies of His Majesty may be removed as soon as possible out of the province.
Fourth, we humbly conceive that it is contrary to the maxims of good policy, and extremely dangerous to our frontiers, to suffer any Indians of what tribe soever to live within the inhabited parts of this province while we are engaged in an Indian war, as experience has taught us that they are all perfidious, and their claim to freedom and independency puts it in their power to act as spies, to entertain and give intelligence to our enemies, and to furnish them with provisions and warlike stores. To this fatal intercourse between our pretended friends and open enemies, we must ascribe the greatest of the ravages and murders that have been committed in the course of this and the last Indian war. We therefore pray that this grievance be taken under consideration and remedied.
Fifth, we cannot help lamenting that no provision has been hitherto made, that such of our frontier inhabitants as have been wounded in defense of the province, their lives and liberties, may be taken care of and cured of their wounds at the public expense. We therefore pray that this grievance may be redressed.
Sixth, in the late Indian war, this province, with others of His Majesty's colonies, gave rewards for Indian scalps, to encourage the seeking them in their own country, as the most likely means of destroying or reducing them to reason; but no such encouragement has been given in this war, which has damped the spirits of many brave men who are willing to venture their lives in parties against the enemy. We therefore pray that public rewards may be proposed for Indian scalps, which may be adequate to the dangers attending enterprises of this nature.
Seventh, we daily lament that numbers of our nearest and dearest relatives are still in captivity among the savage heathen, to be trained up in all their ignorance and barbarity, or to be tortured to death with all the contrivances of Indian cruelty, for attempting to make their escape from bondage; and we see they pay no regard to the many solemn promises which they have made to restore our friends who are in bondage amongst them. We therefore earnestly pray that no trade ay hereafter be permitted to be carried on with them until our brethren and relatives are brought home to us.
Eighth, we complain that a certain society of people in this province, in the late Indian war, and at several treaties held by the King's representatives, openly loaded the Indians with presents, and that J. P., a leader of the said society, in defiance of all government, not only abetted our Indian enemies, but kept up a private intelligence with them, and publicly received from them a belt of wampum, as if he had been our governor or authorized by the King to treat with his enemies. By this means the Indians have been taught to despise us as a weak and disunited people, and from this fatal source have arisen many of our calamities under which we groan. We humbly pray therefore that this grievance may be re-dressed, and that no private subject be hereafter permitted to treat with, or carry on, a correspondence with our enemies.
Ninth, we cannot but observe with sorrow that Fort Augusta, which has been very expensive to this province, has afforded us but little assistance during this or the last war. The men that were stationed at that place neither helped our distressed inhabitants to save their crops, nor did they attack our enemies in their towns, or patrol on our frontiers. We humbly request that proper measures may be taken to make that garrison more serviceable to us in our distress, if it can be done.
N.B. We are far from intending any reflection against the commanding officer stationed at Augusta, as we presume his conduct was always directed by those from whom he received his orders.
Signed on behalf of ourselves, and by appointment of a great number of the frontier inhabitants.
Sources: The Annals of America, II, 118-128; The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, III
Sources: The Annals of America, II, 118-128; The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, III