Historical Markers
Purchase of 1768 Historical Marker
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Purchase of 1768

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
US 219 at Cherry Tree

Dedication Date:
July 2, 1948

Behind the Marker

In October 1768, the "Great Carrying Place" - an overland portage between the Mohawk River and Oneida Lake (modern Rome, New York) became a temporary city teeming with Indians, colonists, soldiers, missionaries, and royal officials. Sir William Johnson, the British Crown's Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies, had called a grand treaty conference to settle once and for all a western boundary line between the king's dominion and the Indians' territory.
Map of Pennsylvania lands ceded at Fort Stanwix Treaty, 1768.
Map of lands ceded to Pennsylvania by Indian tribes

Fort Stanwix, the military post that guarded the Great Carrying Place, was repaired and cleaned to serve as Johnson's headquarters. Boatmen and traders brought in provisions, livestock, and alcohol for "entertaining" the Indians during their stay, as well as wagonloads of trade goods to distribute to them as presents.

With such a spread, it is not surprising that more than 3,000 Indians appeared to take part in the treaty. They came from western New York, the Great Lakes, the Susquehanna, Allegheny, and Ohio Valleys, entire families and even villages, anxious to partake in Johnson's largesse. Johnson was indeed generous, but it was a devil's bargain. In return for the food, drink, presents, and even cash, Johnson expected them to part with a substantial slice of the western frontier, stretching from Fort Stanwix south into modern Kentucky.

The dispossession of native peoples in Pennsylvania took a giant step forward at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Before the Seven Years' War, Indian land purchases in Pennsylvania were conducted by agents of the Penn family, but fraudulent transactions such as the markerWalking Purchase in 1737 had sullied the Penn family's reputation for fairness and soured Indian relations within the colony.

In 1755, the British Crown tried to correct such abuses by decreeing that all future land purchases in the northern colonies be conducted only by the royally appointed Superintendent for Indian Affairs, William Johnson of New York. In 1763, the Crown also created the Proclamation Line to divide colonial from Indian lands along the Allegheny Mountains, ordering that no settlements or land purchases occur west of the line without crown approval.

Thus, by the mid-1760s, the purchase and settlement of lands in western Pennsylvania was taken out of the Penn family's hands and vested in those of the British crown and its agents. The idea of creating such centralized authority over Indian affairs may have looked good on paper, but it did little to prevent squatters and land speculators from continuing their pursuit of Indian lands. Recognizing that much of the land supposedly guaranteed to the Indians by the Proclamation Line was already thickly settled with whites, the crown ordered Johnson to convene a treaty conference at which he would negotiate a new, more westerly boundary line.
Council Scene with Sir William Johnson, c. 1770.The scene at the top depicts the sort of exchanges that went on at meetings like the Fort Stanwix Treaty in 1768.  Johnson gives a peace medal to an Indian counterpart, while others watch around the council fire.
Council Scene with Sir William Johnson, c. 1770.

In the negotiations at Fort Stanwix, Johnson recognized the New York Iroquois' claim to sovereignty over native peoples living in Pennsylvania, thereby locking out of the negotiations the Delaware, Shawnee, and Ohio Iroquois who inhabited much of the land in question. This marked the culmination of a long process initiated by the Penn family's agents in the 1730s, by which they used the legal fiction of an Iroquois conquest over tribes living in the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Allegheny-Ohio valleys to justify land purchases that dispossessed the native inhabitants of those regions. Johnson was also attached to land speculation schemes in western territory, and he acted out of his interests rather than the Indians' when he pushed for more land cessions in the Ohio country.

According to the terms negotiated by Johnson and the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix, the native lands ceded in Pennsylvania extended southwest from the northern branch of the Susquehanna River to the Forks of the Ohio at modern Pittsburgh. Only a small part of the upper Allegheny valley was left in Indian hands, a blow to those people who had made their homes in the Wyoming, Susquehanna, Juniata, and lower Allegheny valleys. The Ohio Indians would not recognize the legitimacy of this purchase, and their fight to defend their homelands from white encroachment continued into the 1790s.

After the American Revolution, in a series of treaties convened between 1784 and 1792, Pennsylvania and the federal government of the United States completed the purchase of lands that created the modern borders of Pennsylvania, with the exception of a small triangle of land encompassing Erie. These purchases were merely sequels to the deal Johnson and the Iroquois orchestrated at Fort Stanwix in 1768, their completion delayed but not prevented by the American Revolution.
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