The Life of John Papoonung – Part 10

The Christian Indians having escaped from their hands, these white fanatics looked round them for some other point to attack. In the village of Conestoga, lived a band of peaceable red men, who had never lifted the hatchet against the whites. The settlement had been continued there more than a century, and their ancestors had been amongst those who welcomed William Penn on his first arrival, and had brought him presents of venison and other products of the chase. A similar, friendly intercourse had been continued by them with all the governors who had, from time to time, been appointed over the province, and they were beloved and esteemed by their immediate neighbors. Their chief, Shahaes, was an aged man, firm in his integrity, and full of confidence in the protecting influence of the friendship which he had ever maintained with the white man. In the presumed security of unsuspecting innocence, he said, “There are Indians in the woods who would kill me and mine, for my friendship to the English; but the English will wrap me in their match coats, and protect me from all danger.” His confidence was misplaced. On the night of the 14th of Twelfth month of this year, 1763, fifty-seven people, professing the name of Christ, came suddenly on this village, murdered old Shahaes and five others, and burnt their dwellings. The remnant of the tribe, amounting to fourteen, were taken to the jail at Lancaster, for protection. But even this proved an insufficient defense; for, on the 27th of Twelfth month, a large body of the fanatics went to that place, broke open the building in which the Indians were placed, and murdered them all. The Christian Indians and their friends in Philadelphia could not but feel great alarm at their situation. On the 29th of the Twelfth month, information was received at Philadelphia, that a large body of these desperate rioters were on their march to destroy the poor trembling flock at Province Island, and the report being believed, the governor sent down some large boats for the use of the intended victims, advising them to fly for their lives. They accordingly embarked, but were soon overtaken by a messenger from the governor, stating the alarm was a false one. He however advised them to keep the boats always in readiness to embark. Having received intelligence which rendered it certain that the destruction of these Indians was a thing determined on, it was concluded they would be safer in New York, the protection of the English army there. Accordingly it was resolved to send thither under an escort, with a special recommendation to William Johnson, Indian Agent for the crown of Great Britain. At midnight, on the 4th of First month, 1764, they were brought to the city, and after being furnished with blankets to protect them from cold, and wagons to carry the old and feeble, they were accompanied by Commissaries Fox and Logan to Trenton. The mob threatened them as they went, and the conduct of the Highlanders appointed to guard them was wild and uncivil. At Trenton the Indians were put under charge of Commissary Epty: and James Logan being about to part with them, addressed them to the following import. He declared the governor’s abhorrence of the murders committed on the innocent Conestoga Indians, and then delivering them two belts of wampum, desired them to forward them to the Six Nations, with one of which to tell them to lay down the hatchet which they had taken up without cause, and with the other to cover the graves of their murdered relations, the Conestoga Indians, and to wipe their eyes. The Indians, in parting, expressed their gratitude for the favors they had received during their troubles.

Many insults these poor fugitives endured in crossing through New Jersey; but to crown their troubles, when they reached Amboy, they received information that General Gage had positively refused to receive them into New York.

They were now obliged to return to Philadelphia, which they did in full confidence of the protecting providence of the Most High. They held their meetings daily without molestation, and many white people came to hear them, who, it is said, listened with astonishment and edification. No indication is given us as to who ministered among them, but most probably it was Papoonung. On the 24th of First month they reached the barracks in Philadelphia, where they were guarded by day and night. They were much disturbed by the mob, and the guard appointed to protect them had to be doubled, yet they still kept up their daily meetings for worship.

The rioters were now organizing themselves in large numbers, to come down, and by force murder these Indians in their place of defense, and no efforts were spared by the governor to defeat these intentions. On the 3rd of Second month, eight heavy pieces of cannon were planted before the barracks, and a rampart thrown up in the square. During the next few days all was confusion and alarm in the city, and many false reports as to the approach of the enemy were spread. The Indians knew that it was their blood that the ‘Paxton boys’ thirsted after, and they considered at times that they were devoted to slaughter, and should not escape. Some of them said, ” God can help us if he pleases; but if it is his will, we will willingly suffer.” Others of them felt that they had not sufficient faith to look with calmness and resignation at the prospect of a speedy and cruel death. In their sorrow they turned more earnestly to the Lord for comfort, and thus gathered spiritual strength from their troubles.

“Relics of the Past No. 42 – Life of John Papoonung” from The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal Printed by Joseph & William Kite Vol. XVIII No.9 Nov. 23, 1844 Philadelphia. Biography is based on original documents from 1744-1758