Historical Markers
Penn Treaty Park Historical Marker
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Penn Treaty Park

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
At Park on Delaware River, foot of Cecil B. Moore (Columbia)Avenue

Dedication Date:
September 18, 1976

Behind the Marker

Oil painting of William Penn leading a group of his peers into a discussion with a group of Native Americans.
Penn's Treaty with the Indians, by Benjamin West, 1771-72.
It was a beautiful sunny day in early summer - a perfect day. People from two communities gathered together for an outdoor meeting and a special celebration. Old friends greeted each other and made new friends. Some people came from far away, others from nearby. The leaders met in the shade of a big elm tree and talked with each other and they made important agreements.

Afterward they gave speeches pledging brotherhood, friendship, and mutual respect. Folks listened and were pleased with what they heard. The leaders signed documents attesting to the bonds between the two people. Wonderful gifts were exchanged.
The giant elm tree where Native Americans may have met with William Penn became iconic to the founding of Pennsylvania. Known as the "Treaty Elm," it is depicted here in a watercolor by George Lehman.
"The Great Treaty Elm of Shackamaxon (Now Kensington)" Aquatint with watercolor...
Then there was food and drink, music, and dancing. And before the celebration was over, there were promises to do it all again sometime in the future. Maybe that is what it was like in 1683 when William Penn met the Lenape at Shackamaxon for the signing of the great treaty of friendship. But it may never have happened at all.

The story told above seems real enough, but much of it comes from a famous historical painting by eighteenth-century artist Benjamin West. Painted in 1771, Penn's Treaty With The Indians depicts the famous event between the proprietor and the Lenape under a great elm tree at a place Indians called Sachemexon, meaning "place of the sachems" (sachem is what the Lenape called their leaders or chiefs).

No documents survived to mark the event except a large wampum belt supposedly given to Penn by the Lenape, so West based his canvas on oral histories. The descendants of both the Lenape peoples and European settlers who shared this historical moment recalled it with great fondness.
An image of the Port along the banks of the Delaware.
Frontpiece, "The City & Port of Philadelphia, on the River Delaware from...
Whether or not the meeting actually took place, West's painting has been reproduced so many times and in so many different ways that the image and the perhaps mythical event have since fused together to become a part of American mythology.
The tree is lifted by its roots by a heavy equipment spade.
A descendent of the original Treaty Elm being replanted in Penn Treaty Park,...

Both the legend and the painting are based on certain hard facts. Penn did have a very friendly relationship with the Lenape, who met with him on a number of occasions for both business and social purposes. He learned their language, Penn said, so that he "might not want an Interpreter on any occasion." Although no treaty of friendship with the Lenape exists, a document does remain from a meeting Penn had in 1701 with the Conestoga Indians in Philadelphia. The Conestoga Indian leader Sheehays had a copy of it among his possessions when he and the other inhabitants of markerConestoga Indian Town were murdered by the Paxton Boys in December 1763. We also know that Penn traveled to the Susquehanna River Valley where he met with the Conestoga in their village. So it would not be unusual if a meeting and treaty signing actually took place in Philadelphia in 1683.

The giant elm tree where the meeting was reported to have taken place was located in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. From that day forward it was always referred to as "The Treaty Elm" and there it stood, until it was blown down on March 6, 1810 by a great storm. When Philadelphians measured the uprooted old tree at its base, they found that its circumference was twenty-four feet, and estimated its age at 280 years. That meant it would have been a tall, stately old tree in 1683. No wonder they believed it to be the meeting place of Lenape sachems. By 1810, the Treaty Elm was a natural monument. Lumber from the ancient tree was turned into furniture, canes, walking sticks and various trinkets that Philadelphians kept as prized relics.

In 1827, the Penn Society placed a monument at the site known as Penn Treaty Park. Today, the park is located on Delaware Avenue at the foot of Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Whether or not a treaty was actually signed there, the monument and the park serve to remind us of Penn's peaceful relationship with the Indians of his province.
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