Benjamin Franklin Papers

Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, 3 December 1755

Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor

Printed in Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1755–1756 (Philadelphia, 1756), p. 52.

The Assembly had requested information about an alleged Shawnee complaint, made at the Carlisle conference of 1753, of being cheated in land purchases;6 and Governor Morris, on November 19, had asked Council members Robert Strettell, Joseph Turner, and Thomas Cadwalader to investigate. Their report was sent to the Assembly November 22, along with a message scolding the House because its first inquiry had not been sufficiently explicit, and asserting the complete fairness of the proprietary dealings with the Indians.7 Both message and Council report were read in the Assembly on November 24 and again on the 29th, when James Pemberton, Franklin, and James Wright were appointed to draft a reply. It was approved December 2 and sent to the governor the next day.8

[December 3, 1755]

May it please the Governor,

We have considered the Report of the Committee of the Governor’s Council, to which he is pleased to refer us for an Answer to our Enquiry, relating to a Claim of the Shawanese Indians, on the Lands near Conedoguinet. We are far from desiring to justify those Indians in their late Outrages and Murders committed against the People of this Province, in Violation of the most solemn Treaties. We believe that great Care has generally been taken to do the Indians Justice by the Proprietaries in the Purchases made of them, and in all our other publick Transactions with them: And as they have not the same Ideas of legal Property in Lands that we have, and sometimes think they have Right when in Law they have none, but yet are cheaply satisfied for their supposed as well as real Rights, we think our Proprietaries have done wisely, not only to purchase their Lands, but to “purchase them more than once,” as the Governor says they have done, rather than have any Difference with them on that Head, or give any Handle to the Enemies of the Province to exasperate those People against us. It appears indeed from the Report, that they could have but a slender Foundation for a Claim of Satisfaction for those Lands.9 We are however convinced, by original Minutes taken by one of the Commissioners at the Treaty of Carlisle, now lying before us, that the Shawanese Chiefs mentioned that Claim of theirs to the Lands in Question at that Time, and were promised that the Matter should be laid before the Proprietaries.1 It was after the Publick general Business of the Treaty was over, and was not inserted in the printed Account of the Treaty, perhaps because it was thought to relate more particularly to the Proprietary than to the Province, and one of the Commissioners being himself concerned in the Proprietaries Affairs, there was Reason to believe he would take Care to get it settled; and doubtless he would have done so, had he not, as appears by the Report, entirely forgot the whole Transaction.2 We are sorry it was not done, tho’ probably the Instigations, present Situation and Power of the French, might have been sufficient nevertheless to have engaged those Indians in the War against us.3

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6See above, pp. 238, 253–5, for this request and the background of the controversy over dealings with the Indians.

7Pa. Col. Recs., VI, 711, 724–9.

8Votes, 1755–56, pp. 38, 50, 52.

9The Council report pointed out that the Shawnee came to live on the lands west of the Susquehanna in 1698, at which time they entered into an amicable treaty with the government of Pennsylvania; that ever since this a state of peace had been fairly maintained; and that the particular lands in question, far from having been taken from them unjustly, had in fact been preserved for them by the action of the Proprietors. Pa. Col. Recs., VI, 724–9; Votes, 1755–56, pp. 39–40.

1The commissioners were Richard Peters, Isaac Norris, and BF. See above, V, 62–6, 84–107. Though the “original Minutes” have not been found, Peters gave his own explanation of them to Thomas Penn: “Mr. Franklin took some short Notes that convey no determinate meaning and he may fill up the Defects of Verbs and connecting Particles so as to make what he pleases out of them. There happens to be in his Notes the words—Right to Land—Complaint—Promise to write to the Proprietors and on these slight memorandums Mr. Franklin was weak enough to mention it to the House and they wicked enough” to make it public. Peters added that the Indians had not come to Carlisle with any complaints about land purchases, but while drunk they might have been prompted to make them by “bad people.” Peters to Penn, Feb. 18, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

2The commissioner “concerned in the Proprietaries Affairs” was Peters. He had told the Council committee that he remembered nothing about the alleged complaint or any promise to apply to the Proprietors for satisfaction of grievances.

3This conciliatory conclusion is striking evidence that the moderates under BF’s leadership, and not the strict pacifist Quakers, were now in control of the Assembly. In addition to the implied admission that the governor’s investigation of the alleged Indian complaints was full and honest, the Assembly conceded that the attempt to blame the Indian uprisings on injustices done them by the Proprietors was probably groundless.

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