The Life of John Papoonung – Part 5

In the year 1761, a conference, or, as it was termed, a treaty, was held by the governor of the province of Pennsylvania with some of the Indians at Easton. Papoonung came to attend this treaty, intending to have some religious conversation with Friends, of whom a considerable number were present to see after the rights of the Indians. The conference was opened on the 3rd of the Eighth month, but Papoonung with his eighty followers did not arrive until the next day.

He said he had intended to pay Friends in Philadelphia a visit about this time, but that some of the Mingoes passing through his town to this treaty had insisted on his accompanying them. This he readily agreed to, having been informed that the small-pox was in Philadelphia, and that many Friends would be at the treaty. As to public affairs, he said he had nothing to say, but to acquaint the governor that he had delivered a message which had been entrusted to him the previous year by that officer.

On the evening of the 4th, the Friends who were then at Easton paid a visit to Papoonung’s tents. They found him and his people gathered together for worship. They sat down, and the elder Indians spent some time in conversation. Silence then ensued, and after a short pause, Papoonung spoke by way of preaching in an easy, deliberate manner. He soon ceased and after remaining silent for a time, commenced again in more earnest manner and with a more elevated voice. He made several pauses, and after each, his voice seemed to gain more compass until the women and children, who were seated the most distant from him, could understand what he said. He concluded with a short prayer, during the delivery of which, himself and those who sat near the Friends, appeared to be much affected. The light cast by the fire, was too feeble to enable them to see the countenances of the people generally. When Papoonung had finished, one of the older men in the company arose, and shook hands with the man next him, and then with every one of the congregation in the order in which they sat. As he did it, he expressed with tenderness a short salutation and benediction to each. When he had finished, the company all rose, and the Friends retired. The interpreter who was in company, told them that Papoonung’s discourse was to incite and advise the Indians to care and circumspection in their conduct, that they might thereby manifest their retaining a true sense of their Maker’s goodness, and his favors continued to them. In his prayer he had returned thanks to his Maker, for his mercy and goodness in still affording them a sense of his loving kindness, and he besought the continuance thereof. The farewell salutation which the old man had given, was expressive of his good wishes for each person, and his desires that they should individually be preserved by the Lord, and be kept sensible of his goodness.

It was the constant habit of these Indians, when not scattered abroad in the hunting time, to meet in this way for worship, in the morning before sunrise, and in the evening after sunset; Papoonung saying it was early revealed to him, that men ought to begin and end the day with the worship of their Maker.

On the sixth day of the month, about six o’clock in the morning, Papoonung, with upwards of twenty of his people, came to the house where a Friend lodged and expressed a desire to have some religious conversation. Notice was sent to several Friends, and some of them came. Nearly two hours were spent in a very satisfactory manner, in conversation on many weighty subjects. At the conclusion, a Friend was constrained to bow in vocal supplication, and the Indians manifested their sense of the overshadowing presence of the love and goodness of God, by tears, and some of them with sighs and groans.

On the 7th, Susanna Hatlon and the Friend who accompanied her, came to Easton, and were soon visited by the wife of Papoonung, eight of her female companions, and a few of the Indian men. After a short sitting in silence, Susanna appeared in solemn supplication, during which the tendering power of Divine Grace was so eminently manifested, especially on the Indians, that many Friends present declared they were never witness of the like.

On the eighth, several Friends visited Papoonung, and had a free and satisfactory conversation with him. He told them he was thankful to our Maker, that he had given success to his young men in hunting, so that they had killed a great many beaver and deer, and thus he was enabled to bring his friends some of their skins. Pointing to some bundles of skins in his tent, he said, he had brought them for Friends, and that his young men had freely given them to him for a present to them. He always thought it right when he had plenty of anything that was good to communicate of it to his friends. This offer was wholly unexpected to the Friends, and the value of the present was so much greater than they believed it right for them to accept from the Indians, that they thought they must refuse it. They therefore replied that they did not think it right to receive presents from their Indian brethren, but deemed it more suitable for them to give, seeing that God had blessed them with a greater plenty of good things. They hoped he would not think them ungrateful, though they should not accept so great a present from them.

This refusal appeared so deeply to affect Papoonung, that Friends at last informed him that they would accept his present, rather than give him uneasiness, or occasion him a doubt as to their sincere regard and friendship. They added, that as the governor might not approve of their receiving presents without his knowledge, it might perhaps be best for them to inform him of the kind offer, and they apprehended on further consideration they would think it best to present him with part of them. Although Friends thus endeavored to satisfy Papoonung, it was evident that his feelings were hurt by the first refusal, and he did not at once converse with the same freedom and openness as he had done. The exchange of presents with the Indians being considered as a testimony of friendship, and a refusal to accept any thing that is offered being considered as a declaration of distrust, or dislike.

“Relics of the Past No. 39 – Life of John Papoonung” from The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal Printed by Joseph & William Kite Vol. XVIII No.6 Nov. 2, 1844 Philadelphia. Biography is based on original documents from 1744-1758