Historical Markers
Conestoga Indian Town [American Revolution} Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

Conestoga Indian Town [American Revolution}

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
SR 3017 (Safe Harbor Rd.) at Indian Marker Rd. near Letort, 4 miles SW of Millersville

Dedication Date:
September 13, 1924

Behind the Marker

Pennsylvania's Conestoga Indians were a remnant of the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannocks, which European settlers had driven from the Susquehanna Valley in the seventeenth century. The tribe resettled in the lower Susquehanna Valley under the dual protection of the Iroquois and Pennsylvania's provincial government. During the first half of the eighteenth century "Conestoga" was an important post in the fur trading activities of Philadelphia merchants. William Penn established a manor near one of these Indian settlements, giving the village a further measure of protection. But Penn's sons, who assumed the proprietorship of the colony after his death in 1718, exploited the region to enhance their own wealth.
A city scene of the Paxton Expedition.
The Paxton Expedition, by Henry Dawkins.

Opening the Susquehanna frontier to German and Scots-Irish immigrants in order to collect rents from them, the Penn brothers jeopardized the welfare of the Conestoga people. Despite the acceptance of white ways, these Indians" presence was an affront to, newly-arrived European immigrants, who believed that all Native Americans were alike, and detrimental to the interests of white settlers. When the French and Indian War ended two generations of peace between Pennsylvania and its Native American inhabitants, the security of the Conestogas became difficult to ensure.

In 1763, "Pontiac's Rebellion" in the Great Lakes Country spread into Pennsylvania, renewing hostilities between whites and Indians. Pennsylvanians, who had been ordered off their lands because of the Proclamation Line of 1763 prohibiting white settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, sought revenge. On December 14th, German and Scots-Irish settlers from Paxton Township, just north of modern Harrisburg–some of whom had been displaced from settlements west of the Appalachian mountains–vented their anger on the village of Conestoga, burning it to the ground. Six Indians died in the attack and others were taken into protective custody at the Lancaster County Workhouse. Two weeks later, on December 27th, another mob from Paxton entered Lancaster and broke into the workhouse, killing more than a dozen Indians. They then turned their attention to Philadelphia, where they believed the Quaker-controlled Assembly and the proprietary government had been protecting the frontier's Indians instead of white settlers. Their suspicions were correct.

Philadelphia authorities had taken more than one hundred Delaware Indians into their protection, temporarily housing them on Providence Island on the Delaware River. When rumors spread that the Paxton Boys intended to take their protest to Philadelphia, those Indians were sent to north to New Jersey or New York. Officials in those colonies refused to take responsibility for them, though, and returned the Indians to Philadelphia. In February, several hundred Paxton Boys marched toward Philadelphia intending to force the Assembly to adopt an Indian removal policy. Drawing reinforcement from other alienated back country men as they went, the Paxtons were headed off by Benjamin Franklin and a private force of a thousand Philadelphians at Germantown. Franklin, who had temporarily put his differences with the Penn proprietorship aside for the safety of the city, shrewdly persuaded the mob to return to the frontier in exchange for an agreement to place their grievances before the Assembly.

The Assembly heard their complaints but never acted upon them. The Quaker and Proprietary factions did, however, launch a brief but virulent pamphlet war against each other, in which the Quaker Party accused the proprietors of "coddling" murderous frontier ruffians, while the Proprietary Party charged that their Quaker opposition was unwilling to protect white settlers. Soon enough, however, both sides returned their attentions to the ongoing struggle over royal government. They would pay for their alienation of the Paxton Boys, though. Infuriated by the Assembly's refusal to address the protection of the frontier, the Paxtons and their allies joined the Connecticut settlers of the Wyoming Valley in their struggle to wrest control of northeastern Pennsylvania from the proprietary government. At the same time, western Pennsylvania remained a chronic sore point for the Assembly, and when Revolution came, the grievances of its inhabitants would intensify the bloody violence in the War for American Independence.
Back to Top