The Treaty of 1754 - Part One
“The French Connection”
by Phil McGinty
In July of 1754, the English Colony of Pennsylvania purchased lands on the West side of the Susquehanna River from the Indians of the Six Nations. This opened up the lands on the Juniata River for legal settlement. Many people, including my ancestors, John and Alexander McGinty, were able to take advantage of the treaty and apply for land warrants. However, the purchase of these new lands was not solely accomplished for the benefit of land hungry colonists. There was a darker, more political reason. Close inspection of the 1754 Treaty reveals a determination of the Commissioners of Pennsylvania and Great Britain, to secure these lands to protect the Ohio River Valley from falling under the influence of France.
On July 5, 1754, a meeting took place in Albany of the Province of New York between the Commissioners of Pennsylvania and the Indians of the Six Nations. Governor Delancey of Pennsylvania had authorized the Commissioners to purchase from the Indians the lands “that have been settled by White People, or are now wanted for settlements on the west side of the River Susquehanna, as far westward as the Province extends and as far north as the Kittochtinny Hills.” Representing the Commissioners of Pennsylvania were John Penn, Richard Peters, Isaac Norris and Benjamin Franklin. Representing the Six Nations were seventy Indians, including Chiefs from the Onondagoes, the Senecas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, the Tuscaroras, and the Mohawks.
In truth, the Indians were in no hurry to get to Albany and it is of little surprise that the meeting was opened with a degree of skepticism. Hendrick, a Chief of the Mohawks, served as speaker for the Indians. “We thought the boundaries had been settled between Us and the White People. We received a message from you relating to those Lands, which we shall now have some Talk about. We have several times desired the Governor of Pennsylvania to remove his people from our Lands, and we understand he has done his utmost Endeavors for that Purpose except using Force, which we do not desire he should. We are now, therefore, willing to part with them, and expect to be paid for them.”
What followed was a truly remarkable and prophetic statement. “What we are now going to say is a matter of great Moment, which we desire you to remember as long as the Sun and Moon lasts. We are willing to sell You this Large Tract of Land for your People to live upon, but We desire this may be considered as part of our Agreement, that when We are all dead and gone your grandchildren may not say to our grandchildren that your Forefathers sold the Land to our Forefathers and, therefore, be gone off them.* This is wrong. Let us all be Brethren as well after as before of giving you Deeds for Land. After We have sold our Land, We in a little time have nothing to show for it; but it is not so with You, your Grandchildren will get something from it as long as the World stands; our Grandchildren will have no advantage from it; they will say We were Fools for selling so much Land for so small a matter and curse Us; therefore let it be a part of this agreement that We shall treat one another as Brethren to the latest generation, even after We shall have left a Foot of Land.”
During this initial day of talks, the Six Nations had seemed agreeable to selling all the desired land with the one exception: “We will never part with the Land at Shamokin and Wyoming; our Bones are scattered there, and on this Land there has always been a great Council Fire.” This land around Shamokin was due north of Harrisburg where the Susquehanna River forks. It was prime hunting land in what would become the center of the Pennsylvania Colony. Curiously, the Commissioners did not object to or even comment on this exception. Their eyes were focused farther to the West. The meeting was adjourned to reconvene the next morning and the Indians were treated with wine and punch.
Later that same afternoon, however, dissensions arose among the Indians and in the evening a new proposal was sent to the Commissioners. The sale of Land would be limited to all of the lands south of the Western Branch of the Susquehanna River and as far to the west as the Allegheny Mountains, but no farther. In effect, the Allegheny Mountains would block and seal off the colony from the Ohio River Valley. This new proposal greatly upset the Commissioners and they sent word back to the Six Nations that they strongly rejected it. The Commissioners further complained that they suspected the French were at work behind the scenes contracting with the Indians for control of the Ohio River Valley. The true reason for the Purchase had been exposed. The Ohio Lands were the pearl in Penn’s oyster.
One must wonder at the power of the British rejection. As previously noted, the Indians were not terribly inclined to sell the Land - save for the fact that the sale would have been a means of gaining some easy cash from the White Man. If the rejection of the Indians’ proposal by the Commissioners meant hostility with Great Britain, however, then yielding to the demands of the Commissioners would be the only way of maintaining good relations with Great Britain. Dramatically, the talks had taken on a somber dimension. After a heated night of debate, the Indians sent word back to the Commissioners that they would indeed agree to the original terms. The meeting was set to reconvene on the next morning - July 6th, 1754.
During this night of negotiations and debates, great use was made of a map drawn by
Lewis Evans.** “The Indians and Mr. Weiser (the Interpreter), on examining Mr. Lewis Evans’ Map, which they had all along consulted in their Debates, imagining that the Waters of Juniata, which were all intended to be included within this Purchase, did some of them, run a good way Northward of Kararondinagh, agreed upon this Course, as what would clear all the waters of Juniata and give the Proprietaries a good Extant on the River Ohio.”
The morning session began with a statement from Hendrick, the speaker for the Indians. “It has given Us no small concern to see the Frowns setting on your Brow. . . To show You that your Displeasure gives us real Concern, and that We will not suffer it to continue longer, and that your Suspicions are without Foundation, We can now tell You that if You consent to make the Creek Kayarondinagh the Boundary of the Deed to be executed by Us on the Susquehanna, the North line shall go to the North of the West as far as Your Province extends. Let it reach beyond the Ohio and to Lake Erie wherever it will. This will convince the World and You that We have no connection with Ontario, since those Lands from this time will belong by our Title to King George and Onas. Make out your Deed and be not long about it. As to Wyoming and Shamokin and the land contiguous thereto on the Susquehanna, we reserve them for our Hunting Ground . . . No body shall have this Land.”
The Commissioners expressed their satisfaction, filled in the blanks left in the Deed for the boundaries, paid down a thousand Pieces of Eight, and promised by an Endorsement on the deed to give another thousand Pieces of Eight when the Lands West of the Appalachian Hills should be settled. The Indians then executed the deed.
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On July 3, 1754, the French attacked and took Fort Necessity near present day Pittsburg, PA. This is considered by many historians to have been the first battle of the French and Indian War. On May 17, 1756, Great Britain formally declared war on France.
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(The above accounts come from the Report of John Penn and Richard Peters, Esquires, of their Proceedings at Albany in Execution of the Governor’s Orders to them to make a Purchase of Lands from the Six Nations for the Use of the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania, dated August 5, 1754, Pennsylvania Archives, Series 4, Volume II, pages 696 -724.)
*It is interesting to note that the Indians expressed the desire to remain on the lands even though they were selling them to the White Man. This phrase about the hope that future generations would not ban the Indians from the Land was actually written into the treaty and endorsed by all parties. It doesn’t seem that the Indians understood at this time the British concept of or thirst for private property.
**It may have been that this very same map, drawn by Lewis Evans, is referred to in Christopher Gist’s Journals. Gist explained how Evans used information from outside sources, such as trappers and traders, to supplement his knowledge of the region. “Evans information respecting the country (of Kentucky) was obtained from Alexander McGinty and Alexander Lowry, well known and intelligent traders from Pennsylvania.” (Christopher Gist’s Journals, by William M. Darlington, copyright 1893, page 132)
January 5, 2008
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