Benjamin Franklin Papers

Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, 18 November 1755

Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor

Printed in Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1755–1756 (Philadelphia, 1756), p. 29.

After Braddock’s defeat, deteriorating relations with the Indians became one of the most troublesome and pressing concerns of the Pennsylvania authorities and an added source of conflict between the governor and the Assembly. William Penn had established the policy of fair play toward the red man, and later Quaker leaders, upholding this policy as an article of political faith, believed that continuing peace on the frontier was its result. Hence, when Indians attacked the province in cooperation with the French, the Friends were quick to see a probable cause in ill-treatment of the Indians by non-Quaker officials. Furthermore, proof that the Indians had been mistreated would shift the blame for frontier outbreaks from the pacific policies of the Assembly to the governor’s circle, and would help the House in its effort to limit the prerogatives of the Proprietors.

Morris rebuffed the Assembly’s insinuation, made in a message of November 5, about the reasons for the loss of the Delawares and Shawnee to the French,6 and the Assembly, hoping to quiet the discontent, sent up a bill reorganizing Indian trade under its supervision.7 Meanwhile, on November 8, the Oneida chief Scaroyady came to Philadelphia and in a dramatic speech heard by the Assembly demanded to know whether or not Pennsylvania intended to arm itself and its Indian friends, warning that continuance of the province’s weak measures would send the rest of the Indians to the French side. It was probably at this time that the Assembly also heard of the dissatisfaction of the Shawnee from the time of the Carlisle Treaty (1753) over the alleged fraud of the proprietary agents in connection with the payment for lands near Conedoquinet.8 The committee appointed to reply to the governor’s message of the 17th9 was also directed to draft a request for particulars on this accusation. Both replies, together with the £60,000 money bill and an inquiry about his decision on the Indian-trade bill, were sent to Morris on the 18th.1

[November 18, 1755]

May it please the Governor,

We apprehend that our Message of the Fifth Instant, requesting to be informed by what Means the Delawares and Shawanese had been so alienated in their Affections from this Province, was too slightly answered by the Governor; and we now hope it will not be taken amiss if we enquire more particularly, Whether the Chiefs of the Shawanese did not, in 1753, complain to this Government, that Satisfaction had not been made to them by the Proprietaries for a large Tract of Land, Part of which was surveyed into the Proprietary Manor, on Conedoguinet; and whether they were not then promised, that Application should be immediately made to the Proprietaries in their Behalf to obtain the Satisfaction they desired? We hope, if so, that the Application has been accordingly made, and the Satisfaction obtained and given. But we desire, if the Governor pleases, to be informed of the Particulars.2

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Votes, 1755–56, pp. 12, 16–17; and above, p. 238.

7A bill entitled “An Act for supplying the Western and Northern Indians, Friends and Allies of Great-Britain, with Goods at more easy Rates, supporting an Agent or Agents among them, and preventing Abuses in the Indian Trade,” was passed on November 11. Ibid., p. 19.

8Pa. Col. Recs., VI, 685–7. The proprietary manor of Conedoquinet was on the west side of the Susquehanna River at Harris’s Ferry. Speaker Norris and BF had been commissioners at the Carlisle Treaty, the printed record of which contains no reference to the alleged complaint. See above, V, 62–4, 84–107. But see below, p. 288, where a committee which included BF charged that the “original Minutes” showed that the Shawnee chiefs had brought up the matter at Carlisle and had been promised that it would be laid before the Proprietors.

9See the document immediately above.

1Votes, 1755–56, pp. 25, 29.

2Commenting on this message in the following year, William Smith declared that it was intended “to divert the public Attention still further” from the Assembly’s failure to do anything effective for defense, and added: “By this extraordinery Proposal, the Assembly hoped to throw the Odium of the Indian Defection upon the Proprietors, and not upon their own continued Refusal to put the Hatchet into the Hands of the said Indians at their repeated Solicitations.” A Brief View of the Conduct of Pennsylvania, For the Year 1755 (London, 1756), p. 51. For a recent student’s balanced and temperate discussion of the reasons for the Indian defection, see Nicholas B. Wainwright George Croghan, Wilderness Diplomat (Chapel Hill, 1959), pp. 97–8. See below, p. 288 n, for the settlement of this controversy.

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