Benjamin Franklin Papers

Draft of a Speech for William Denny, [15 November 1756]

Draft of a Speech for William Denny

Copy2: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Teedyuscung, responding to Denny’s “Question in plain Terms” about land fraud3 on November 13, said that French influence with the young braves was the principal cause of the Indian attacks in Pennsylvania. Then, being pressed on the land question, he made the dramatic accusation the anti-proprietary interest, and especially the Quakers, had so long sought to publicize:4 “This very Ground, that is under me (striking it with his Foot) was my Land and Inheritance, and it is taken from me, by Fraud.” When urged to say what he meant by fraud, he charged that “when I had agreed to sell the Land, to the old Proprietary, by the Course of the River, the young Proprietaries came, and got it run, by a straight Course, by the Compass, and, by that Means, took in double the Quantity intended to be sold.”5 At a Council meeting the next day, Secretary Richard Peters and Conrad Weiser, the interpreter, both long charged with negotiations for proprietary land purchases, denied that any injustice had been done and proposed that the matter be looked into upon the governor’s return to Philadelphia, where the records were.6 Denny decided to promise the Indians a full investigation but first called on Franklin and the other commissioners for advice. They pointed out that promised investigations had so often been used as excuses for inaction that the Indians would have no faith in another such promise. They urged, therefore, that the presents provided by the government and the Quakers be distributed to the Indians regardless of the justice of the charges, since only thus could they be persuaded to cease their attacks. Denny concurred, and an “Answer to their [the Indians] Complaints was framed accordingly.” The portions of Denny’s speech printed below, probably agreed upon at this time though perhaps drawn up by Franklin and the commissioners earlier, were delivered on the 15th following some brief, friendly comments on other matters Teedyuscung had mentioned two days before.7

[November 15, 1756]


You have opened your Heart and shown us the Reasons you thought you had for differing with us. You have done well in speaking so plainly on that Head. But you should have made your Complaint to us before you lifted your Hand to strike, and that might have prevented the Mischief. When the great Creator made Man, he gave him a Tongue to complain of Wrongs, two Ears to hear a Brother’s Complaints, and two Hands to do him Justice by removing the Cause; all these were made before the Hatchet, and should be first used. Had the Man, in your Comparison, whose Pipe was taken from him, said, Brother, you took my Pipe from me at such a Time, and I must have Satisfaction; his Brother might have answered, I did not think you valued a Pipe so much; don’t let us differ about a small Matter; here Brother, take two of mine. That this Method, agreable to our ancient Treaties, may be remembred, and Complaints always made by you to us, or by us to you, in a publick Manner, and Justice demanded before we strike, I give you this Belt [String].8

Give a Belt [String]


I am but lately come among you; the Grievances you mention are of old Date. If former Indian Kings have, as you say, sometimes sold more Land than they had a right to sell, in so doing they injured us, and we, as well as you, have Cause to complain of them. But sometimes, tho’ they sold no more than their own, sold it fairly, and it was honestly paid for by the English, yet, when the Indian Children grow up, they may forget that their Fathers sold the Lands and divided the Goods; and some evil Spirit or bad Man that loves to make Mischief, may tell them, The Land is still yours, your Fathers never sold it, the Writings are false. Moreover, many People both English and Indians concern’d in former Purchases of Lands are now dead; and as you do not understand Writings and Records it may be hard for me to satisfy you of the Truth, tho’ my Predecessors dealt ever so uprightly; Therefore, to show our sincere Desire to heal the present Differences, and live in eternal Peace with you our Brethren, tell me what will satisfy you for the Injustice you suppose has been done you in the Purchase of Lands in this Province; and, if it be in my Power, you shall have immediate Satisfaction, whether it be justly due to you or not. The good People of this Province are willing and ready to open their Hands9 and help me by contributing freely to this good Work. Or, if you are not impowered to receive such Satisfaction at this Time, or have not Convenience to carry away the Goods that may be given you on that Account; then I will lodge the Goods in such Hands as you shall appoint, till you bring to our next Meeting your old Men of the several Nations who may have a Right to a Share in the Division of those Goods, where they shall be ready to be delivered to them and you. This may be done at a Council Fire to be rekindled at Philadelphia for you and us, or here, as you shall chuse; when we expect and insist that you bring down all the Captives that still remain in your Country.

And as you mention Grievances from the neighbouring Governments,1 I make no doubt but on proper Application you will have the utmost Justice done you; and if I can be of any Service to you in making the Application, it will give me great Pleasure. In Testimony whereof, I give you this Belt.2

A Belt

Endorsed [in Richard Peters’ hand]: Mr. Franklin Minute at Easton Novr. 1756

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2In BF’s hand; apparently a fair copy rather than a draft. Peters’ endorsement on it may indicate BF furnished this copy to Peters after the conference; in any case, it is virtually identical with the official printed version (Minutes, pp. 26–7), and almost certainly is the part of Denny’s speech particularly representing the views of BF and the commissioners.

3See above, p. 17.

4See above, VI, 253–5, for proprietary and Quaker differences on Indian policy. Armed with substantial funds and a zeal to uphold Indian rights, Israel Pemberton and other Quakers organized the “Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures,” and appeared more and more at conferences as their counsellors. Convinced that the Indians had been cheated and aware of the advantage to themselves that publication of such fraud would bring, the Quakers doubtless encouraged the Indians to recall and magnify forgotten or fancied grievances. Hence, at this and other Indian treaties, both sides of the dialogue bore Quaker marks: through the provincial commissioners they saw to it that questions on land frauds were asked, and then they put the desired answers into Teedyuscung’s mouth. This string-pulling, of course, infuriated the official negotiators who felt that the Quakers were acting treasonably in emboldening the Indians, and undercutting efforts to control them. Theodore Thayer, Israel Pemberton King of the Quakers (Phila., 1943), pp. 123–31, relates the Quaker role at Easton.

5The terms of the famous “Walking Purchase” of 1737 provided for sale of as much land north and west of a point in Bucks Co. as could be covered in a walk of a day and one half. The Indians expected the walk would be a normal one: along a crooked path in the woods with leisurely stops for meals and rest. Instead the proprietary agents cleared a straight path and hired strong woodsmen to make a non-stop walk, thus permitting a claim for far more than the Indians intended to sell, including the lands at the forks of the Delaware where the treaty was held. The alleged fraud of this purchase played a prominent role in the protests against proprietary rule in Pennsylvania which were soon to send BF to London. Charles Thomson, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (London, 1759), published with BF’s assistance, details the Quaker side of the argument. Teedyuscung’s doubtful assertion that he had been cheated in the Walking Purchase, and his pointed reference to the venality of the new Proprietors, Thomas and Richard Penn, as compared to the goodness of their father, William Penn, are probably examples of Quaker promptings in his speeches.

6Ibid., p. 101; Paul A. W. Wallace, Conrad Weiser (Phila., 1945), pp. 459–65; Minutes, p. 24.

7Ibid., pp. 24–7.

8Changed to “String” by another hand, probably Peters’, in the MS and so printed in the official minutes.

9The assemblymen present at the conference had made this offer to help out in a critical situation, but because the matter was not settled at once (see next document), they reported, Jan. 29, 1757, that the responsibility should be left with the Proprietors, where it belonged.

1Teedyuscung had spoken of injustices to the Indians in New Jersey, and on November 16 he explained that he wanted to see “some of my Brethren and Relations” who were confined there. Minutes, pp. 22, 29.

2Denny concluded the day’s negotiations by reminding the Indians that since Sir William Johnson now had final authority in Indian treaties, Teedyuscung should go to “a general Council-Fire at his House on the Mohochs River … to obtain Confirmation, and take Advice as to your future Conduct,” and then announced that £400 worth of blankets, clothing, utensils, ammunition, and trinkets provided by the government and the Quakers would be distributed. Ibid., p. 27.

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