Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14

Like many of the tribes who inhabited lands claimed by the British, the Conestoga or Susquehannock were nearly eradicated by disease and warfare by the middle of the 18th century. An Iroquoian-speaking people who originally dominated a stretch of territory from present-day northern Virginia to southern New York, the Susquehannock nevertheless resisted efforts -- especially by the Mohawk -- to force them into the Iroquois Confederacy. Lacking European allies, however, and facing attacks from the Iroquois as well as from settlers in Maryland and Virginia, the Susquehannock were gradually subdued by 1676 and were brought under the jurisdiction of the Oneida and Mohawk.

Three decades later, a group of 300 Susquehannock were permitted by the Iroquois to return to southeastern Pennsylvania, where they settled in a village that came to be known as Conestoga, where they lived under a treaty of protection with the Quaker government of Pennsylvania. Over the next sixty years, the “Conestoga Indians” dwindled to less than two dozen members, all of whom had been converted to Christianity by Quaker missionaries. Following the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Indian uprisings -- none of which included the Indians of Conestoga -- inflamed the western frontier of British North America. Led by an assortment of tribes from the Great Lakes, Illinois and Ohio regions, “Pontiac’s War” threatened to spill into Pennsylvania, where Scots-Irish settlers were more than willing to take revenge on any available Indian target. Although the Conestoga Indians had not participated in any respect in the war, the so-called “Paxton Boys” -- a group of roughly 50 vigilantes -- descended on Conestoga.

Believing that the town’s inhabitants were secretly allied with the warring tribes, the Paxton Boys killed them all.

Benjamin Franklin described the first phase of the massacre, which began on this date in 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.
Two weeks later, the Paxton Boys found the remaining Conestoga villagers -- all fourteen of them -- and killed them in Lancaster. When more than a hundred other Indians from nearby villages fled to Philadelphia for protection, a smallpox outbreak killed dozens more.

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