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The Walking Purchase Fraud of 1737

Elsie Hamel

(1)    The record of the Europeans' first hundred years in America is fraught with violence, chicanery, and misunderstandings with the indigenous peoples; the shameful Walking Purchase fraud of 1737 perpetuated this phenomenon in our heritage.  By the late seventeenth century, the era of discovery and conquest in the New World had essentially passed into history; the next phase focused on the expropriation of land by white colonists from the Indians, including Pennsylvania settlers.

(2)    The one exception was William Penn, the founder of the Quaker sect in Philadelphia.  His early dealings with the Delaware Indians reflected his respect for these natives and his dedication to equality and fair play.  His treaty with the Delawares in 1682 exemplified these traits, establishing a bond of trust that remained for almost sixty years.  Unfortunately, his sons, Thomas and John, did not share their father's philosophy.  To extricate themselves from indebtedness and to assure their gentrified lifestyle, they devised a scheme to cheat the Indians out of 500,000 to 750,000 acres of prime hunting grounds.  Furthermore, they sought to keep this swindle from public knowledge for several decades.

(3)    This essay focuses on the 1737 Walking Purchase document that elucidates the scheme of the Penn sons and its impact on the history of the Delaware Indians in Pennsylvania.  I'll contrast William Penn's Quaker philosophy with the opposing views of his sons to elucidate this fraudulent attempt to justify the dispossession of indigenous inhabitants for personal gain.

(4)    To fully understand this historical event, it is expedient to explore the customs and life of the Delawares (the Lenni Lenape) and their sachem (Indian chiefs) who were hoodwinked by the Penn brothers and their fellow conspirators (traders, interpreters, land speculators, and colonial officials), as well as the difference in the meaning and use of treaties and agreements by the Delawares and the proprietors of Pennsylvania.

William Penn – Brother Onas to the Delawares

(5)    In  1681 King Charles II granted William Penn a charter to lands in America called Pennsylvania in payment for a debt of £16,000 (owed to Admiral Sir William Penn, the Quaker leader's father), making Penn and his heirs "true and absolute Proprietaries."  James Merrell posits that every colony founder, anxious about attracting settlers, faced the formidable task of surmounting deep-seated fears of the wild woods, and none of the colonial leaders worked harder to banish these misgivings than Penn.  To put the least appealing features of the American land grant into a favorable light, he called the area Penn's Wood, hoping that sylvan would bring to prospective settlers' minds visions of sun-dappled groves instead of a vast wilderness filled with savages.  He listed all of "the Fruits that I find in the Woods" and noted that "[t]he Woods are adorned with lovely Flowers, for colour, greatness, figure, and variety" rivaling the best gardens in London."  Are you afraid of all those trees covering the land?  "There is plenty for the use of man."  As for the "Beastes of the Woods," the proprietor announced they were not terrible at all but rather furry or feathered natural resources, "some for Food and Profit, and some for Profit only" (Merrell 23-24).

(6)    William Penn is exemplary, not for his Quakerism or even for the founding of Pennsylvania, but for the manner in which these two endeavors were combined in his dealings with Indians.  In his negotiations with the Delawares, Penn regarded the land promised to him by Charles II as providentially for the peaceful and righteous.  Steven Harper notes that these "nuances of promised land are so intricately related that when Penn's heirs forsook the idea that they were engaged in a holy experiment on land upon which construction of the New Jerusalem was not far distant, they simultaneously lost the impetus that motivated their father to just, pacific, and equitable relations with the Delawares" (6).  Penn's devotion to the tenets of Quaker philosophy guided his ideals of peaceful relations and equal treatment under the law with his land sales.  Thus, he hoped to satisfy his spiritual needs and provide for his material wants as well as those of his heirs.

(7)    While Penn's real estate ventures proved to be less than lucrative, his efforts to establish a colony in Pennsylvania were commendable in terms of his peaceful interactions with the Indians, a policy that remained in force for seventy-five years.  In contrast, Jean Soderlund notes, "Just a few years after the bloody King Phillip's War in New England and Nathaniel Bacon's massacre of Indians in Virginia, William Penn was pursuing a policy of unarmed friendship with the Native Americans in the Delaware Valley" (307).

(8)    Paul Wallace says that it is beneficial to go back in time to appreciate the wise policy under which Pennsylvania conducted Indian relations, starting with Columbus and the first contact between Indians and white men that brought wonder and delight to both groups.  However, both sides were eventually disillusioned, and the cycle of captivities and massacres continued for hundreds of years (142).  He posits that it is difficult to place blame: the Indians were fighting to preserve their country, and the settlers were caught up in the vast migration that Columbus's discovery of America had initiated, although we should not condone the crimes committed by those who cheated and murdered to wrest lands from indigenous peoples.  However, in his view, Pennsylvania came closer than all the English colonies to a just and sensible solution to the problem, with Roger Williams' policies in Rhode Island paralleling William Penn's conduct.  Until the middle of the eighteenth century, Indian/European relations in Pennsylvania were cordial for three reasons: 1) a tradition of fair and friendly dealings introduced by the Dutch and Swedes was reinforced by William Penn; 2) Pennsylvania had a concise and well administered Indian policy founded on the realities of Indian and European politics that took into account that the Iroquois were the dominant power in the Indian world and France was Pennsylvania's potential enemy; and 3) the Quaker ideal of the pursuit of peace was in force.

(9)    George Arthur Cribbs attributes William Penn's ideas of justice and humanity to a single Indian policy: his natural benevolence and the principles of his sect demanded a just and friendly treatment of every human being.  Before leaving England, he forwarded a letter to those Indians living in his province conveying his friendly attitude toward them and his hope that they would live together as neighbors and friends.  He instructed his commissioners to take great care not to offend the natives, to seek their good will, and to let them know that Christians had come to settle among them in friendship (5).

(10)    Several factors demonstrate Penn's fair and honest treatment of the Indians:  1) only in Pennsylvania could an Indian get a satisfactory legal judgment from a white man because Indian testimony was accepted in legal matters; 2) in matters of trade the provincial government made a concerted effort to guard the Indians against exploitation;  3) in treaties (for the first fifty years at least), only open and honorable means were used to gain a point; and 4) friendly and kindly intercourse was encouraged (Penn learned their language and customs so that he could converse with them freely, as did Roger Williams.)  Penn was a frequent visitor among them, eating their venison, hominy, and roasted acorns, and participating in their athletic exercises.  Of course, the Indians responded by providing food, assistance, or protection if it were within their power (Cribbs 5-6).

(11)    But Ray Thompson relates that William Penn's critical attention to details in the promotion of Quaker spirituality and fair treatment of the Indians did not prevail in his personal financial situation.  Surprisingly, he spent only three and a half years in the New World during two brief visits to his province in the periods October 1682 to August 1684 and from December 1699 to February 1701.  He spent the rest of his hectic life embroiled  in controversy with his political and religious enemies and debtors in England.  His first son, William, Jr. (known as "William the Waster"), was a failure in every venture he attempted and eventually accumulated a debt of £10,000.  In 1704, his father stated, "My son is my greatest affliction, for his soul's and my country's and my family's sake" (20-21).

(12)    Known as Brother Onas to the Delawares (the Indian word for "quill"–hence "pen"), in 1682 William Penn convened a treaty council with the Delawares at Shackamaxon near Philadelphia for lands above the Neshaminy Creek with the following deed:

 All those lands lying and being in the province of Pennsylvania, beginning upon a line formerly laid out from a corner spruce tree, by the Delaware River, and from thence running along the ledge or the foot of the mountain west, northwest, to a corner white oak marked with a P standing by the Indian path that leadest to an Indian town called Playwiskey.  And from thence extending westward to Neshaminy Creek, from which said line, the said tract or tracts granted doth extend itself back into the woods, as far as a man can go in one day and a half–and bounded on the westerly side with the Creek called Neshaminy–or to the utmost extent of said creed one day and a half's journey to the Delaware and thence down the several courses of said river to the first mentioned spruce tree.  (Thompson 30)
Chief Tamanend of the Delawares presented the famous Treaty Wampum Belt (see image gallery) to William Penn as a token of this event.  Fashioned from oyster-shell beads and leather, the wampum belt has become a symbol of Penn's policy of purchasing land from the Indians and living peacefully with them.  Penn's speech to the Delawares held out great hope: "We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good will; no advantage will be taken on either side, but all shall be open-ness and love" (see image gallery) (Thompson 22).  Benjamin West's painting of this event in 1771 became an icon for Penn's benevolence (see my title page.)

(13)    Although he was not legally required to pay the Indians for the grant lands in  Pennsylvania, Penn and his agents made at least seventeen purchases from the Indians living near the lower Delaware.  Most of these purchases involved narrow tracts of land, often overlapping, but on paper, at least, some of them extended far back into the country: two days' travel by horse, as far as a man could go in a day and half, or in one case "to the utmost bounds of the said Province."  Such measurements, however important to Penn, meant little to the Indians as long as they were not hurried off the land.  In one instance Penn had the land measured; the man's two-day travel (specified in a 1685 deed) was surveyed three years later as a line from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna, a distance of about seventy miles.

(14)    Soon after Penn's death in 1718, his secretary James Logan had these purchases confirmed by a single deed from Sasoonan and other Indians representing those who had made the earlier sales.  Extending north to the Lehigh Hills and from the Delaware River to the lower Susquehanna, this deed did not actually include all the land that might have been claimed under the earlier ones–it certainly did not extend "to the utmost bounds" of Pennsylvania, but it did include as much as was needed for the white settlers.

(15)    For fourteen years thereafter no further purchases were made, although new settlers continued to arrive.  Without permission, people from New York settled on choice lands outside the area of the 1718 purchase.  Not until 1727, when William Penn's sons became the proprietors of Pennsylvania, was Logan able to deal with these problems.  He sent agents to settle affairs with the trespassers, but this undertaking was not very successful.  To deal with this problem and because more land was needed for settlers, Logan urged the new proprietors to come to America to meet the Indians and make new purchases.

John and Thomas Penn – Perpetrators of the Walking Purchase

(16)    William Penn assumed that God had promised him Pennsylvania for the creation of a peaceful and tolerant society to avoid the self-righteous tendencies of other colonizing ventures that wreaked havoc on native peoples (also the reason Roger Williams founded Rhode Island).  However, his sons had a different vision of this province.  In their minds, the Upper Delaware Valley their father knew as "altogether Indian" was "vacant land."

(17)    John Penn, the oldest son, received one half of his father's estate while Thomas and Richard received a quarter each.  As the businessman for the family, Thomas came to Pennsylvania in 1732 to appraise the wealth of the province and to attempt to exploit its resources.  John and Richard urged him to sell out enough land in America to settle their obligations and improve their financial situation after paying off their father's debts.  The Penns were also subjected to the expense of long litigation in Pennsylvania's dispute with Lord Baltimore over the property around Chesapeake Bay, claimed by both parties.  John and Richard wanted to sell Thomas their interest in the province for the sum of £50,000 (which they considered a bargain), but Thomas did not have the cash to take them up on their offer.

(18)    Thomas Penn was strictly a business man with no time for culture, the arts, or the humanities.  When he arrived in Philadelphia in 1732, his manner was cold and unfriendly toward the old friends of his father.  The somber citizens committee disapproved of the fun-loving society members with whom he associated and his flamboyant attire; he and his brothers had abandoned the Quaker faith.

(19)    Soon after his arrival, Thomas Penn and the present Governor of Pennsylvania, Patrick Gordon, called a conference with the Iroquois Indians at "Stenton" (the home of James Logan, the President of Council) just north of Philadelphia.   Through an interpreter, Penn told the Indians that he wished to carry on the good relationship and liberal policies of his father, Brother Onas: that the whites and Indians should live in a "true and perfect peace."   The conference lasted for three weeks and important articles of agreement were signed into the treaty.  After obtaining the goodwill of the Iroquois (who held domination over the Delawares), Thomas began bargaining for more land; his first purchase was a tract of 100,000 acres between the Schuylkill River and its branches and the branches of the Delaware River.  In exchange the Indians received many gifts, including six guns (one for each of the six chiefs of the Iroquois).

(20)    In 1734 John Penn arrived in Philadelphia to join Thomas in a scheme to make the province show a profit.  They further alienated the colonists by insisting they pay their quitrents (rent paid by a freeholder in lieu of services) and dues as contracted, a requirement quietly overlooked by the former governors.  Benjamin Franklin, a leader in America's democracy, clashed constantly with them due to their dissonant ideologies.  He noted in a letter to a friend:

 I am astonished to see him [Thomas Penn] thus meanly give up his father's character and conceived at that moment a more cordial and thorough contempt for him than I ever before felt for any man living– a contempt that I cannot express in words, but I believe my countenance expressed it strongly, and that his brother [John] who was looking at me must have observed it.

Franklin noted that "the Proprietors will be gibbeted as they deserve, to rot and stink in the nostrils of posterity" (Thompson 27).

(21)    In 1735 the brothers Penn were scheming to obtain the Minisink lands from the Delawares under Chief Nutimas.  As they met with the chief, they were secretly having the route of the new "purchase" surveyed by some of the men who would later make the 65-mile walk.

(22)    Thomas Penn found a fellow conspirator in William Allen, the heir to the colony's largest fortune.  Penn was looking for ways to turn a shrewd business deal, and Allen admired the appearance of pseudo-royalty that the son of the Founder possessed -- both enjoyed the life of country squires.  Soon after they became proprietors in 1727, the Penns had sold 8,000 acres of prime Indian hunting grounds (in Bucks County just north of Philadelphia) to Allen in order to raise cash.  Now Allen and his friends were re-selling parcels of this land to private individuals; since the "sales" were technically illegal, the dates of the original grants were omitted.

(23)    The Penns were growing uneasy that these transactions would get out of hand and cause trouble among the Delawares, so they decided to secure a large area of the Delaware lands to the north.  Allen held title to thousands of acres of the Delawares' best timber land above the Blue Mountains.  This hunting land was vital to the existence of these tribes who placed little value on "farm land" held by the white settlers that the Indians had sold off previously.

(24)    When Governor Gordon died in 1736, James Logan became the new governor, and the Penns found the perfect agent to acquire more Indian lands.  Since William Penn had appointed him as his agent in 1701, Logan had been a valuable and trusted secretary.  Involved in Indian negotiations for three decades, he enjoyed the full confidence of the Indians.  The Penns requested him to call a conference with the Delaware chiefs to discuss a mysterious deed dated 1686 that the sons claimed had never been fulfilled.

The Walking Purchase Fraud of 1737 -- "ye Running Walk"

(25)    This sad chapter in Pennsylvania's history can be attributed to a number of circumstances:  1) the population in Pennsylvania had exploded from 20,000 inhabitants at the time of William Penn's departure in 1701 to 100,000 by 1740, and the colony needed to acquire more territory; 2) John and Thomas Penn were encumbered with paying off their father's debts; 3) these two sons expected to be treated as nobility in the province whereas at home in England they were actually part of lower middle class society.

(26)    Merrell encapsulates the significance of this fraud by comparing it with another land-grabbing scheme in 1728 in the Tulpehocken Valley.  In the 1720s the Delawares complained about colonial encroachment on Indian lands in the area; their request for provincial officials to stop the rapid white settlement of Delaware land by white settlers was ignored–much to their disappointment.  The Tulpehocken event was insignificant compared to the resentment over the so-called Walking Purchase of 1737, when William Penn's children, John and Thomas, acquired a vast stretch of the Delaware Valley.  Brandishing a copy of the "lost" 1686 land sale agreement, they had convinced the Delawares to go along with the idea of relinquishing as much land as a man could walk in a day and a half and then (ignoring protests by Delaware observers) sent seasoned runners down a prepared trail to cover as much ground in that span as they could.  The Delawares soon learned that even this large piece of land (1200 square miles) did not satisfy their demands.  Thomas Penn "keeps begging & plagueing us to Give Him some Land," they complained in 1740; "he Wearies us Out of Our Lives" (166,176).

(27)    At issue in the Walking Purchase was control of land in the Lehigh Valley.  Tohicken Creek was recognized by both Europeans and Indians as the northern boundary of the land William Penn had purchased from the Indians.   In 1726 Secretary James Logan privately purchased a tract of land beyond this line from the Delaware landlord Nutimus, paying £60 for his quitclaim (transfer of all interest in real estate, especially without a warranty of title).  A series of purchases from the Indian landlords in 1727 and 1729 alerted the Delawares that this land was a valuable commodity.  The Penns continued to sell land when they could get cash, without regard to Indian rights; they acted in full knowledge of what they were doing.

(28)    Crucial to an examination of the Walking Purchase fraud is the controversial deed of 1686.  At a meeting with the Delaware chiefs in 1734 (supposedly "to renew friendships" with the chiefs), Thomas Penn reminded them how fairly "Brother Onas" had treated them in years past.  He then carefully mentioned certain adjustments that should be made in those lands in Bucks County that "lately have had some claims made upon them," although formerly they were fully and absolutely released by the Indians living on those lands to his father.  Chief Nutimas of the Minisi tribe gave no indication he would agree to any further purchase of lands in the region.  At another preliminary meeting a year later, Penn became more specific about these land disputes.

(29)   After a polite exchange of compliments and gifts, the brothers Penn produced a sheaf of old deeds signed by their father and the Delaware chiefs; the northern Indians did not remember the sachems who dealt with William Penn. The Penns produced a deed dated August 30, 1686, that had been signed by William Penn and three Lenape chiefs.  Thomas Penn claimed it had never been fulfilled.   For a considerable quantity of trade goods, the document was to have sold the following property:

 ...all those tracts of land lying, and being in the Province of Pennsylvania, beginning on a line formerly laid out from a corner spruce tree, by the Delaware River about Makeerickiton and from thence running along the ledge, or floor of the mountains west, southwest, to a corner white oak marked with the letter 'P', standing by the Indian path that leadeth to an Indian town called Playwickey, Bucks Country, then the home of Chief Tamamend, or Tammany, who was counselor at the original Penn Treaty in 1682, and from thence extending westward to the Neshaminy Creek from which line the said tracts thereby granted doth extend itself back into the woods as far as a man can go in one-day-and-a-half, and bounded on the westerly side with the Creek called Neshaminy (or the most westerly branch thereof) so far as the Branch doth extend, and from thence to a line...(blank space) the utmost extent of the said one-and-a-half days journey, and from thence to the aforesaid River Delaware and from thence down Several Cources (sic) of said Delaware River to the first mentioned Spruce Tree.  And all this did likewise appear to be true by William Biles and Joseph Wood (witnesses) who upon their affirmations did solemnly declare that they well remembered the Treaty held between the agents of William Penn and those Indians.  (Thompson 35)

(30)   The Penn's only appreciable income came from the purchase money laid down for large tracts of land, and the only open spaces large enough to locate large tracts were located over the Indian line.  Nutimus and the other Delaware chiefs were demanding more money for the land than the Penns could pay, so they resorted to the Treaty of 1686 regarding land north of the 1682 purchase "as far as a man could walk in a day and a half, between the Delaware River and Neshaminy Creek."  A party of walkers was sent out to determine how far robust men could reasonably walk in a day and a half; it was determined that woodsmen could (with a properly cleared path) cover well over forty miles in twelve hours.  This information was exactly what the Penns needed; all that remained was for them to convince the Delawares to sign the land away, a formidable task indeed.

(31)    The next step was to find written records to show the Delaware chiefs, and the best record they could find was a copy of the 1686 deed that outlined preliminary terms for a land transfer but with missing information about the direction and distance of the bounds of the tract.   No signatures were affixed to the document, and there was no mention of payments made.  However, the Penns decided to outsmart the Delawares by arguing that their ancestors had sold this land to William Penn; they would use a document proving nothing more than preliminary plans had been drawn as "proof" that an agreement for a walking purchase had been signed, sealed, and paid.

(32)    After many meetings and negotiations and having seen a crudely drawn map of the territory along the upper Delaware River, the Indian chiefs acquiesced, "being desirous to preserve and continue the same Love and Friendship that had existed between Brother Onas and the Indians," and ultimately they signed the release.  Thomas Penn did not want the Delawares to comprehend the huge tract of land he wanted to wrest from them, so the map depicting the area was deliberately distorted to reflect a smaller area.  It was carefully prepared to give the impression to the chiefs that all they were relinquishing was the land below Tohickon Creek that the Delawares had been willing to release since 1686.  The text of the release is as follows:

 We do acknowledge ourselves to be fully satisfied that the above described tracts of land were fully granted and sold by Mayhkeerickisho, Saphoppy and Taughaughsey unto said William Penn and His Heirs.  And for a further Confirmation thereof, We, the said Manawkyhickon, Lapowinsa, Tishcohan and Nutimas, do for ourselves and all the other Delaware Indians, fully, clearly and Absolutely Release and forever Quit Claim unto the said Joh Penn, Thomas Penn and Richard Penn, all our Rights, Title, Interest and pretensions whatever of, in , or to the said Tract or Tracts of Land, and every Part and Parcel thereof, so that neither We, or any of Us, or our Children shall or may at any time thereafter have Challenge, Claim, or Demand any Right, Title, Interest or Pretentions whatever of, in or to the said Tracts of Land, or any Part thereof, but of and from the same shall excluded and forever Debarred. And we do further agree that the extend of the said Tract shall e forthwith WALKED, TRAVELED or gone over by PROPER PERSONS to be appointed for the Purpose, according to the direction of the aforesaid Deed.  In witness, thereof, we have hereunto set our hands and seals at Philadelphia, the 25th day of the month of August in the year --- according to the English Account, one thousand, seven hundred and thirty seven.
 Manawkyhickon    (his mark)   Lapowinsa     (his mark)
 Tishcohan              (his mark)     Nutimas         (his mark) (Thompson 50)

(33)    Francis Jennings notes that a comparison of the "draught" shown to the Delawares and a map of the Delaware Valley reveals the trick–it was a simple matter of switching labels.  What the Indians thought to be Tohickon Creek was marked "West Branch River Delaware"; streams appeared in a pattern the Indians recognized as the lower end of Bucks County, but the illiterate Indians could not read the false names that extended the area far beyond the representation.  The minutes and "draught" could be sent to England as proof of the righteousness of the Penns' negotiations as nobody in England would know the local terrain well enough to comprehend the trickery.  Only the provincial enemies of the Penns could have interpreted the papers correctly, and they were not permitted to see them (37).

(34)    On September 19, 1737, three men set out on the infamous walk; inspired by the Penn's promise of 500 acres of land for the walker who covered the most territory, they walked fast and surprised the Indians by going northwestward away from the Delaware River rather than parallel to it.  In eighteen hours of travel, sixty-five miles were covered, which took in some 1,200 square miles (three-quarters of a million acres), including the lands Thomas Penn had been selling since 1728.

(35)    Indian witnesses began to complain even while the Walk was in progress, and the Indians resentfully pegged the whole affair as an act contrary to the agreement and therefore null and void.  Thomas Penn released a large number of patents he had been withholding for sales "by agreement some time since made."  Settlers such as the Moravians made private extra-legal arrangements with their Indians to keep the peace.  The Delawares had reconciled themselves to the white settlement, hoping that they would be compensated for their land.  When they received nothing, their resentment grew.  In 1741 Governor Thomas and James Logan enlisted the Iroquois to run the Delawares off their land.  Ultimately, the Delawares chose to revenge the settlers by joining the French in their wars against the English (the French and Indian War), although, as one Delaware sachem told missionary John  Heckewelder, "they never would have joined the French in the Wars against the English, had they not been so shamefully dealt with at the time" (Merrill 176).

(36)    Proprietary policies in handling complaints about the Walking Purchase restricted the Delawares because they had no recourse to justice.  Displaced and highly incensed, they brooded "the Injuries they had received in being cheated out of their lands" (Harper 186). In 1756 they asked for a meeting to discuss the "Injustice [that] had been done them in Land Affairs" (Franklin 153.)  Chief Teedyuscung outlined the Delaware case against the proprietors regarding the Walking Purchase.

(37)    In early 1756 Pennsylvania declared war on the Delawares, and Sir William Johnson, the British colonial superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern half of the continent, devised a plan to subdue them diplomatically.  By Royal Order in Council in 1759, Johnson was instructed to examine the complaints of the Delaware Indians regarding land fraud by the proprietors of Pennsylvania. His bias against the Quakers was no secret, but the investigation was simply in line with his official duties, not a conspiracy against the Delawares.  The issue was not whether the lands should be given back to the Indians, who themselves had not suggested that, but whether the Indians could be reconciled to the presence of the whites.  Johnson was opposed by a group of Quakers (the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians) who worked with the Pennsylvania Assembly to investigate Delaware claims.  Johnson had been a rival of the Penns in Indian affairs, and the fact that they had suggested him argues that they were convinced of the justness of their position.  Johnson's separate inquiry would be the final proof of the sincerity of the Penns and of the English.

(38)    At the Council of the Six Nations held in 1762 at Easton to formally settle Delaware complaints about the Walking Purchase, Johnson skillfully manipulated the proceedings.  The lengthy defense of the legality of the Walking Purchase was read; it was a complicated web of arguments that exhaustively demonstrated that the letter of the original deed of 1686 had not been violated by the Walk itself but never touched upon the main point–whether the Indian signers of the 1686 deed had ever intended to (or ever had the right to) sell lands north of Tohiccon Creek.

 (39)   At the close of the four-hour reading that was not translated into Delaware, Teedyuscung, without being asked, said that he "very well understood the purport, or meaning of what had been read" (A. Wallace 246).  That he understood it is doubtful–a legal defense in a foreign language would be difficult enough to understand at best and doubly so when it was heard without access to documents.  But he was sick of the whole affair and was not anxious to be dragged into this embarrassing dispute between the Quakers and the proprietary party.

(40)    When Johnson asked Teedyuscung to prepare a reply (a written copy was given to him) and to have it put into writing (thus affording him full opportunity to consult with his Quaker advisors), his reply was:

 Brother, Please to hear me what I am going to say.  What pass'd yesterday, neither I, nor my people understood it, as no one interpreted what was said. Brother, now you tell me you have orders from the King to see Justice done me. Brother, about five years ago, when Mr. Croghan was here, He had orders to see Justice done to me: now I desire as he did, for He went away, and did nothing at all.  Brother, I desire you'll let me have the Writings which were read yesterday, that I may have time to Consider of them, as We did not understand what was read.  I told you another Thing, which was, to let me have a Clerk, to write down what I have to say.  This is the request of Us all.  Brother, I desire all my Brethren to attend to what I say.  I do not Speak this only from my Mouth, but from my heart."  (A. Wallace 247)

(41)    Teedyuscung decided the forces against him were too powerful, and he declared:  "I did not come to have a Difference, but to Settle matters upon a good Footing.  I did not come to put my hand into your Purse, or to get Cloathing.  I give up the Land to you, and the white People" (A. Wallace 249).   The next day he delivered a document in which he relinquished all of his accusations and his claims to land: to the Walk, the Proprietary-Commissioners insist that it was reasonably performed; but We think otherwise: which Difference in opinion may happen without either of Us being bad Men; but this is a matter that Brethren ought not to differ about.  Wherefore, being desirous of living in peace and Friendship with our Brothers  the Proprietaries, and the good People of Pennsylvania, We bury under Ground all Controversies about Land; and are ready, such of us as are hear, to Sign a Release for all the Lands in Dispute; and will Endeavour to to persuade the rest of our Brethren who are concerned, to Sign the same.  (A. Wallace 249)

The Delaware Indians (Lenni Lenape) – A People Displaced by Trickery

(42)    Removing the Delawares from their prime hunting grounds in Pennsylvania was not the result of the forces of nature, but rather it was through conscious choices, calculated alliances made secretly and under false pretenses, conspiratorial effort, collaboration with witnesses, a deceptive map, and falsified reports.  Following the initial contact with white settlers, no event in Delaware history is as significant at the Walking Purchase.  To understand this resistance, it is necessary to look at the history of these Native Indians.

(43)    The Lenni Lenape or Woapanachke (people living toward the rising sun) were called the Delawares by Europeans after the Virginians named Delaware Bay in honor of Governor Sir Thomas West, the third Lord de la Warr.   They lived in small groups of about forty people and foraged for food; with the exception of corn, they raised very few agricultural foodstuffs, preferring to fish, hunt, and gather in season.  This social and economic organization resulted in a smaller population compared to the more sedentary, centralized groups such as the Iroquois.

(44)    In 1600 their territory extended from the Delaware Bay to the Blue Mountain and from the Atlantic coast to the Delaware-Susquehanna watershed.  Their lands included most of the present state of Delaware, all of New Jersey south of the Raritan River, and, in Pennsylvania, the Delaware River drainage area south of the Blue Mountain.  They were willing to give access, first to the Dutch and Swedes and later to the English, to specified lands in exchange for desirable goods (such as cloth, axes, beads), but they never intended to give up these lands.  Land transfers were ambiguous; documents marked by the Delawares conveyed to all who could read them that they had given up, abandoned, and renounced forever their claim to the land.  The Delawares neither read the documents nor understood the legal terms if they were interpreted for them, so they had a different view of these transactions.  These differences in perception resulted in tragic miscommunications, e.g., the Walking Purchase.

(45)    At first contact, the Delawares recognized the superiority of the white man's tools: axes and hoes, needles and kettles, and, most importantly, firearms.  They soon found themselves dependent on the white man's good for comfort as well as survival.  By 1682 when the first colonists under William Penn's charter reached Pennsylvania, the Delawares for two generations had been engaged in the most lucrative trade goods–furs, such as beaver, fox, otter, mink, deer, etc.  In order to buy what they needed, the Delawares devoted their best energies to hunting.  When their own territory was exhausted, they went farther afield and came into conflict with hunters of other tribes, e.g., the Iroquois.

(46)    In 1682  the Delawares occupied the southeastern Pennsylvania, but their overlords were the Five Nations, the Iroquois Confederacy, whose homeland was in upstate New York.  After the Iroquois defeated the Susquehannocks in western Pennsylvania in 1675, they set their sights on the Delawares' land.  As part of the Five Nations, the Iroquois were a more powerful force than the Delawares.  To obtain a better share of the fur trade, the Iroquois joined forces with the French against the English.  At the Easton Treaty of 1758, the Iroquois joined forces with Pennsylvania to make peace for the Delawares over their heads and brought the Indian war in Pennsylvania to an end.  Ultimately, the Delawares were removed from their lands.

(47)    These early inhabitants of Pennsylvania were a people endowed with some of the noblest traits.  There were no feudal laws or privileges for the benefit of the few–all had equal rights to the lands, to the game, and to the fruits of the earth without any restriction or limitation whatsoever.  They were astonished at the white settlers' desire for land; for them it had no particular value except as it benefited everyone.  Thus Thomas and John Penn found it easy to take advantage of them.  Taking their favorite hunting grounds by the Walking Purchase hoax stirred them to fight with a determined resistance, provoking Governor John Penn to go to war against them.  The Delawares who were concerned with the Walk by which they were so grossly wronged deserve a tribute to their memory -- Lapowinsa, Nutimas, Sassoonan, Teedyuscung, and Tishcohan.

(48)    Lappowinzo was the chief orator at the 1735 Treaty with John and Thomas Penn; he signed the release of Delaware lands stipulated in the forged 1686 agreement.  He voiced his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Walk and complained that it was not fairly performed.

(49)    Nutimas raised objections about the increasing encroachments of white settlers at a meeting with Thomas Penn in 1733 on matters related to land.  He became the protagonist of the Delawares who opposed acceptance of the Walking Purchase confirmation deed.  When he learned of the results of the Walk, he attached his name to a complaint in 1740.  As a result, when he and other Delawares went to Philadelphia in 1742 to attend a council with Governor Thomas, Thomas instigated an Iroquois chief to grossly insult the Delawares and ordered them from the lands they occupied.

(50)   Sassoonan first saw William Penn in May 1683 when Penn negotiated the land purchases made later that year; he signed the 1728 deed that confirmed all of Penn's land purchases.  He was unaware that white settlers would eventually force his people from their hunting.  Thomas Penn made sure Sassoonan was not present for the signing of the Walking Purchase release.

(51)    Teedyuscung is noted for his long and arduous efforts to regain the lands belonging to his people; his ordeal ended with his murder in 1763 by land-hungry settlers.  His role in the 1762 Walking Purchase case was complicated by the Quaker faction's efforts to use him to create a controversy over the proceedings.

(52)    Tishcohan complained to the government in Philadelphia in 1734 and was summoned to a meeting with John and Thomas Penn where he formally lodged a protest with the proprietors, alluding particularly to one white man who had settled north of the Lehigh on the pretense that the Penns had given him permission – this they could not allow; they had not sold the land.  The Penns evaded the issue by producing the forged 1686 document.  Tishcohan signed the release for the Walking Purchase.

White Conspirators – Selfish Motives

(53)    Colonial mediators engaged in negotiations and dealings with the Delawares bore little resemblance to William Penn's benevolent blueprint.   They never shed prejudices that Europeans brought to America; instead, they embraced the idea that getting along with the Indians was only a necessary step on the road to a future when those Indians would follow the forest into oblivion.  No provincial go-between could resist the land fever that afflicted British America, and none could deny the temptation to play on the Delewares' trust to acquire more, such as George Crogan (a trader), Conrad Weiser (an interpreter), William Allen (a land speculator), and James Logan (a Pennsylvania official).

(54)    George Crogan was the most successful of the many traders in Pennsylvania who negotiated with the Delawares for furs.  Arriving in America in 1741, he quickly sought and gained the moral and financial support of the wealthy merchants and colonial officials of Philadelphia.   He set up trading houses in Lancaster and into the Ohio Valley with commodities such as rum, guns, gun powder, lead, flints, tomahawks, vermilion, blanketing, linen and calicoes, wampum, lace, thread, ready-made clothing, knives, brass and tin kettles, axes, traps, looking glasses, rings and silver jewelry of all kinds in exchange for skins and furs that he sold to both colonial and British merchants.  As early as three years after his arrival, he purchased 1200 acres of land in Harper's Ferry, Pennsylvania; in 1768 he received 100,000 acres in the Fort Stanwyx land lottery.

(55)   Was his main focus on fair trade with the Indians?  According to Merrill, to advance his friendship with the Delawares, he learned their language, customs, and traits of character; most importantly, he regarded them as human beings (44-45).  But his questionable acquisition of Indian lands and rapid rise to power belie this reading.  In 1756 he was appointed Deputy Superintendent for Indian Affairs for the Crown and served at the Easton Council of the Six Nations in 1762 and was instrumental in the settlement of the Delaware dispute about the Walking Purchase–to the detriment of the Delawares.

(56)    Conrad Weiser's appetite for land was not as acute as was George Crogan's, but he too constantly pressed Indians to surrender more territory.  He began his life in Pennsylvania as a squatter in the Delawares' Tulpehocken domain and went on to a career that earned him substantial grants from friendly Indians and grateful proprietors.  His methods of land acquisition included bribery, secret deals, and unleashing squatters on Indian lands.  The Delawares regarded him as one of the world's greatest thieves.  In the land rush, he did not envision, did not work toward, did not even want a world in which Indians and colonists could co-exist–quite the contrary; his greatest fear was that the Europeans and Indians would mingle.   He served as the interpreter for the Delawares at the Easton Council of the Six Nations in 1762 and collaborated with the proprietaries to make sure Teedyuscung, the Delaware representative, was plied with enough liquor to keep him inebriated.

(57)    William Allen, a wealthy, eminent merchant in Philadelphia, gained favor with the Penn brothers and made use of the power this liaison gave him to select and take only those lands that suited him.  He had little regard for Indian rights and claims.  In 1727 he purchased thousands of acres of the best land above the Blue Mountains plus one tract of five thousand acres in 1735 at the present Nazareth and three thousand acres in 1736 along the Lehigh River in and around the present Allentown.  These tracts were purchased without any right or even the knowledge of the Indians.  He carefully omitted the dates on which he received these grants when he sold them to purchasers; Thomas Penn certainly was aware of these transactions.   Allen was mayor of Philadelphia in 1735, a recorder from 1741 to 1750, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1750 to 1774.

(58)    James Logan, a shrewd and diplomatic provincial secretary, was the Penn family's executive in the province for much of the first half of the eighteenth century.   With the authority vested in him, no other single person (including William Penn himself) was more influential in Pennsylvania land policy.  Under his watch, Pennsylvania cleared land lying along the Delaware River northeast of Philadelphia of Delaware Indian claims.  He made his fortune in land investments and trade with the Indians.  He had a private financial interest in the Durham ironworks and settlement just south of the Lehigh and by 1737 he devised a scheme to take the forest land surrounding the ironworks from the Delawares.  He had been the task of forging a permanent alliance between Pennsylvania and the powerful Six Nations, but by alienating the Delawares he was threatening to do the province a double disservice.  With a falsified map of the 1686 purchase, he persuaded the illiterate Indian owners that the lands around the ironworks were included in the 1686 agreement.

(59)    The chroniclers of history have portrayed these men as good examples of valorous forefathers in America's pre-Revolutionary War era, but delving deeper into their goals and performances reveals a different scenario–none of them regarded the Delawares as fellow human beings who rightfully owned the land on which they lived. 

Treaties and Agreements – White vs. Indian View

(60)    Merrill notes that for treaties between Indians and proprietaries in Pennsylvania, ultimately all paths led to a clearing and all conversations to a council–"old and wise People" on both sides met "in a National way by Treaties."  To forge or refurbish the chain of friendship (and when the chain broke in the 1750s), mere messengers would not suffice.  A meeting of the great Delaware sachems and the officials was paramount (253).

(61)   The Indian treaty was a form of literature with no single author.  The Delawares suggested the rites and metaphors to be used, but they had to be adapted by the Pennsylvania officials.  Nothing quite like the Indian treaties exists anywhere else in the literature of the world.  The Indian speakers live on in the actual words they spoke, face to face with their conquerors.  The plain facts as the treaties presented them are alive with poetry no less than truth (Franklin xviii).

(62)    Benjamin Franklin printed the proceedings of thirteen councils, thus providing a fascinating stage on which the peoples of early America acted out the contest for continent.  However, these minutes present a distorted view; the information on the printed page was the result of decisions by colonists who recorded the words spoken during a session and then altered them for publication.   Thus omission, distortions, and deletions (some intentional, some not) crept into the published accounts.  The written record did not cover an important part of these meetings – talks in the bushes were essential; the Delawares believed in the harmonious feeling nurtured over days or weeks, not on some piece of paper.  The colonial record keeper missed much of what happened.

(63)    Treaty councils changed over the course of the colonial era.  Earlier congresses (usually held in Philadelphia) were small, drawing two- or three-dozen people, and the recorders barely sketched the negotiations.  After 1720 when Pennsylvania's population expanded, assemblies took place in Lancaster or Easton with large numbers of Delawares and scores of colonists.  Fuller written accounts of the speeches and rituals of the treaties were more common, but the key issues were the same–peace and war, trade and land.

(64)    Surrounded by the powerful French and English in the early part of the eighteenth century,  the Delawares were aware that only by remaining neutral could they survive in the face of immensely superior numbers and wealth.  Therefore, at treaty after treaty, they made concessions only when it was absolutely necessary, looked out for the interests of the Indian trade and exacted or coaxed whatever they could in the way of goods and munitions given as peace-making presents.

(65)    The negotiators and mediators knew treaty culture best–from the council ground at midday to an Indian camp late at night to a governor's chambers at sunrise–and their job was to soothe frayed nerves and short tempers to achieve friendship from generation to generation, none of which checked colonial expansion or erased bitter memories of past crimes.   Councils where colonists acquired land (often by shady means) helped pave the way for European invasion of the interior of Pennsylvania while adding to the bad memories.  At the end of the colonial period, the Pennsylvania officials and the Delawares, thoroughly disillusioned by what treaties had wrought, were ready to give up on them.  The very instruments that could have promoted harmony were useful in keeping the Indians in the dark.  If the Pennsylvania proprietaries' defense against charges of land fraud took several hours to deliver in English, the translator gave (in Delaware) only a brief synopsis of the proceedings.

(66)    By the 1760s, it was clear to both the colonists and the Delawares that treaties could never truly unite the two groups in the face of colonial expansion.  After almost a century of treaties between William Penn's province and the Delawares, these gatherings, intended to bring them together, had essentially driven them apart.  Understanding had ended in hatred.   After 1750, the Delawares were fully aware that treaties had been the means for colonists to acquire Indian lands–without the promised peace.

(67)    Negotiators George Crogan and Conrad Weiser were less in demand as go-betweens by the 1770s; both men were disgusted by and disdainful of the Delawares.  Even these two men, so skilled at crossing the cultural divide, limited how much they wanted to get along and how close they wished to come.  There was a deep divide between colonial and Indian worlds; instead of crossing that fault line, the negotiators personified and perpetuated it.  It is no wonder the treaty culture failed.


(68)    The Walking Purchase fraud of 1737 is one of many attempts to justify the dispossession of indigenous peoples, beginning with the Roman Catholic church documents that sanctioned the Christian Crusades and continuing through Columbus's discovery of the New World and the colonial conquests in the New World.

(69)    Why was this event hidden for many years?  The answer is revealing: American historians have attempted to keep a low profile on the Walking Purchase because it was one of the most sordid pages in the records of Indian-white settle relations–more so due to the involvement of the Founder of Pennsylvania's sons.  The Delawares complained about the injustice of the Walking Purchase even before the completion of the walk, but they were totally ignored.  In 1742 while the dispossessed and insulted Delawares sought justice for the loss of their lands, Pennsylvania officials worked to shade, twist, and finally bury the realities of the Walking Purchase.  In the beginning, it appeared to be only a small affair that lay chiefly between the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania and the Delawares, but in 1762 the incident became public knowledge when the Assembly of Pennsylvania (through their agent, Benjamin Franklin) brought the affair to the British Crown for investigation.

(70)    For the next century, little attention was paid to this event until the Penn papers and memorabilia were given to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1867.    William J. Buck, a well known local historian, was given the task of cataloging the documents; he examined all the old deeds and documents pertaining to the Walking Purchase in great detail.  Curious as to why the Penn family papers were so long withheld from the public, he noted that the records of Thomas Penn were missing from July 2, 1736 to November1738.  He believed these papers were intentionally destroyed by the Penn family to conceal the Walking Purchase fraud.

(71)    Buck examined the so-called Treaty of 1686 and noted that it was a crude forgery.  Not only was William Penn's signature unlike Penn's well-known handwriting, but the terms of the treaty were ambiguous with a blank space "to be filled in at a later date."   Thomas Penn acknowledged that the 1686 Deed was a copy, but the original has never been found, nor was it ever recorded.

(72)    The consensus of historians through the first two centuries after the Walking Purchase occurred has been that the Delawares were passive victims, but more recent accounts show that they were active participants who influenced, shaped, and forged their destinies.  Indeed they were conscious of the Walking Purchase fraud and complained about it from their first knowledge of it.  Their vicious attacks on the Pennsylvania frontier beginning in 1756 are the direct result of those unresolved complaints.

General Bibliography

Buck, William J.   History of the Indian Walk.  Printed for the Author, 1886.

Cribbs, George Arthur.  The Frontier Policy of Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh, PA, 1919.

Harper, Steven Craig.  "Promised Land: The Holy Experiment and the Walking Purchase."  Ph.D. Dissertation.  Lehigh University, 2001.

Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin: 1736-1762.  Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1938.

Jennings, Francis. "The Scandalous Indian Policy of William Penn's Sons: Deeds and Documents of the Walking Purchase."  Pennsylvania History 37 (1970): 19-39.

Merrell, James H.  Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.

Soderlund, Jean R., ed.  William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania 1680-1684.  Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1983.

Thompson, Ray.  The Walking Purchase Hoax of 1737.  Fort Washington: Bicentennial Press, 1973.

Wallace, Anthony F.C.  King of the Delawares: Teedyuscung 1700-1763.  New York: Syracuse UP, 1990.

Wallace, Paul A.  Indians in Pennsylvania.  Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1991.