Paxton Boys


Paxton Boys
Paxton Mob march on Philadelphia, published 1764.

The Paxton Boys were a vigilante group who murdered 20 Susquehannock in events collectively called the Conestoga Massacre. Scots-Irish frontiersmen from central Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River formed a vigilante group to retaliate against local American Indians in the aftermath of the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion.

Contents

Attack on Susquehannock

19th-century lithograph of the Paxton Boys' massacre of the Indians at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, published in 1841

In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the frontier of Pennsylvania remained unsettled. A new wave of Scots-Irish immigrants encroached on Native American land in the backcountry. These settlers claimed that Indians often raided their homes, killing men, women and children. One of the leaders of the settlers was the Reverend John Elder, who was the parson at Paxtang and Derry. He was known as the "Fighting Parson" and is widely believed to have kept his rifle in the pulpit while he delivered his sermons.[1] Elder helped organize the settlers into a mounted military group and was named Captain of the group, known as the "Pextony boys."[2]

In December 1763, a vigilante group made up of Scots-Irish frontiersmen, the Paxton Boys attacked the local Conestoga, a Susquehannock tribe of descendants who had lived on land donated by William Penn to their ancestors in the 1690s. Many Conestoga were Christian, and they had lived peacefully with their European neighbors for decades. They lived by begging, bartering handicrafts, hunting, and from subsistence food given them by the Pennsylvania government.

Although there had been no Indian attacks in the area, the Paxton Boys claimed that the Conestoga secretly provided aid and intelligence to the hostiles. On December 14, 1763, more than fifty Paxton Boys marched on the Conestoga homes near Millersville, murdered six, and burned their cabins. The colonial government held an inquest and determined that the killings were murder. The new governor, John Penn offered a reward for their capture.

He placed the remaining sixteen Conestoga in protective custody in Lancaster, but the Paxton Boys broke in on December 27, 1763. They killed and scalped six adults and eight children, leaving two survivors. The attackers were never identified.

I saw a number of people running down street towards the gaol, which enticed me and other lads to follow them. At about sixty or eighty yards from the gaol, we met from twenty-five to thirty men, well mounted on horses, and with rifles, tomahawks, and scalping knives, equipped for murder. I ran into the prison yard, and there, O what a horrid sight presented itself to my view!- Near the back door of the prison, lay an old Indian and his squaw (wife), particularly well known and esteemed by the people of the town, on account of his placid and friendly conduct. His name was Will Sock; across him and his squaw lay two children, of about the age of three years, whose heads were split with the tomahawk, and their scalps all taken off. Towards the middle of the gaol yard, along the west side of the wall, lay a stout Indian, whom I particularly noticed to have been shot in the breast, his legs were chopped with the tomahawk, his hands cut off, and finally a rifle ball discharged in his mouth; so that his head was blown to atoms, and the brains were splashed against, and yet hanging to the wall, for three or four feet around. This man’s hands and feet had also been chopped off with a tomahawk. In this manner lay the whole of them, men, women and children, spread about the prison yard: shot-scalped-hacked-and cut to pieces. - William Henry of Lancaster[3]

The Rev. Elder, who was not directly implicated in either attack, wrote to Governor Penn, on January 27, 1764:

The storm which had been so long gathering, has, at length, exploded. Had Government removed the Indians, which had been frequently, but without effect, urged, this painful catastrophe might have been avoided. What could I do with men heated to madness? All that I could do was done. I expostulated; but life and reason were Bet at defiance. Yet the men in private life are virtuous and respectable; not cruel, but mild and merciful. The time will arrive when each palliating circumstance will be weighed. This deed, magnified into the blackest of crimes, shall be considered as one of those ebullitions of wrath, caused by momentary excitement, to which human infirmity is subjected.[2]

March on Philadelphia

The Paxton Boys marched toward Philadelphia in January of 1764 with about 250 men. Benjamin Franklin led a group of civic leaders to meet them in Germantown and hear their grievances. After leaders agreed to read their pamphlet of issues before the colonial legislature, the mob of men agreed to disperse.

Many colonists were outraged about the killings in November of innocent Conestoga, describing the murders as more savage than those committed by Indians. Benjamin Franklin's "Narrative of the Late Massacres" concluded with noting that the Conestoga would have been safe among any other people on earth, no matter how primitive, except "'white savages' from Peckstang and Donegall!"[4]

A leader of the Paxton Boys Lazarus Stewart was killed in Wyoming Massacre in 1778

In fiction

See also

Sources

References

  1. ^ McAlarney, Mathias Wilson (1890). History of the sesqui-centennial of Paxtang church: September 18, 1890. Harrisburg Publishing Company. pp. 224. http://books.google.com/books?id=14MsAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA224#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  2. ^ a b Sprague, William Buell (1858). Annals of the American Pulpit: Presbyterian. 1859. Robert Carter & Brothers. pp. 77-79. http://books.google.com/books?id=yxESAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA78#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  3. ^ quoted in Jeremy Engels, "Equipped for Murder: The Paxton Boys and The Spirit of Killing All Indians in Pennsylvania, 1763-1764," Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2005, pp. 355-382 ISSN 1094-8392
  4. ^ Silver, Peter. Our Savage Neighbors, p. 203

External links


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