Promised Land: Penn's Holy Experiment, the Walking Purchase, and the Dispossession of Delawares, 1600-1763

Promised Land: Penn's Holy Experiment, the Walking Purchase, and the Dispossession of Delawares, 1600-1763

Promised Land: Penn's Holy Experiment, the Walking Purchase, and the Dispossession of Delawares, 1600-1763

Promised Land: Penn's Holy Experiment, the Walking Purchase, and the Dispossession of Delawares, 1600-1763

Synopsis

The Walking Purchase of 1737 marked the end of negotiated boundaries in Pennsylvania, both geographical and cultural. Dispossessed by the fraudulent purchase and the conspiratorial diplomacy before and after it, Delawares chose variations on several responses, including migration, negotiation, conversion, and violent retribution. This book sensitively reconstructs their world from the time Europeans arrived on their shores to their geographical and ethnic annihilation from the Delaware Valley in the 1760s. Focusing on the Walking Purchase as the central event in this declension narrative, the book observes the transformation of a fragile if generally peaceful middle ground, habitable by Delawares and English on negotiable terms, to an English colony determined to possess a boundless landscape by fraud and force. Stephen C. Harper teaches at Brigham Young University.

Excerpt

This book reconstructs the world Delawares inhabited from the time Europeans arrived on their shores to their geographical and ethnic annihilation from the Delaware River valley in the 1760s. Focusing on the 1737 Walking Purchase as the central event in this declension narrative, the book observes the transformation of a fragile if generally peaceful middle ground, habitable by Delawares and English on negotiable terms, to an English colony determined to possess a boundless landscape by fraud and force.

Just months after King Charles II promised William Penn a tract of land in America in 1681, Delawares met Penn’s agents and exchanged “great promises … of kindness and good neighborhood, and that the Indians and the English must live in love, as long as the sun gave light.” The integrity of such promises depended on how “the Indians and the English” conceived of the landscape. To Penn it was all promised him by Charles II, but even more by a Supreme Being who expected Penn to build a new Israel characterized by peace and harmony. Even so, to Penn it was Penn’s Woods, with emphasis on the possessive. Inhabitants of Lenapehoking were asked to relinquish their claims by signing deeds. Delawares, meanwhile, needed a benefactor, an ally to support their effort to maintain an existence independent of Iroquois domination. They entrusted that role to William Penn, whose agents arrived conveniently on this scene making desirable promises. Initially, then, Delawares and Penn incorporated each other into their political and ceremonial arrangements. Beginning in 1682, Delawares negotiated with Penn and his agents in meetings marked by remarkable give and take. A 1682 deed between Delawares and Penn’s agents describes the land to be deeded and includes the normal legal terms about “full and peaceable possession and seisen of the within granted tract and tracts of land.” But it includes amendments that were probably appended to acknowledge Delaware power and persuade more Dela-

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