William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians at Shackamaxon
William Penn’s “memorable treaty with Tamanend and other Delaware chiefs, of the Turtle Clan, under the great elm at Shackamaxon, within the limits of Philadelphia," is full of romantic interest. Unarmed, clad in his somber Quaker garb, he addressed the assembled Native Americans, uttering the following which will be admired throughout the ages:
“We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. We are the same as if one man’s body was to be divided into two parts; we are of one flesh and one blood.”
The reply of Tamanend, is equally noble:
“We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.”
There is no actual record of the “Great Treaty,” the treaty made familiar to many by Benjamin West’s painting and Voltaire’s allusion to it “as the only treaty never sworn to and never broken.” The lack of agreement among historians as to the time when the event took place also adds to the confusion of its authenticity. Some claim it occurred in late November, shortly after Penn arrived in his colony. “Under the shelter of the forest,” to quote Bancroft, “now leafless by the frosts of autumn, Penn proclaimed to the men of the Algonquin race, from both banks of the Delaware, from the borders of the Schuylkill, and…even from the Susquehanna…”
Other historians place the date of the treaty on June 23, 1683, when Penn purchased two tracts of land from Tamanend and his associates, with the assumption that the transaction and the “Great Treaty” took place at the same time and place. Some study West’s painting of the treaty scene and note the trees have full foliage and “thus not suggesting a late autumn or winter day, as contended by Bancroft, but rather a day in the leafy month of June.” Even if the “purchase of the two tracts of land from Tamanend and others" on the 23rd of June, 1683, as being the impetus for the “Great Treaty,” it was most certainly a treaty of great importance and entitled to a prominent place in the Indian history of Pennsylvania and the Nation.”
Jenkins writes in his “Pennsylvania, Colonial and Federal”:
“In the years following 1683, far down into the next century, the Indians preserved the tradition of an agreement of peace made with Penn, and it was many times recalled in the meetings held with him and his successors. Some of these allusions are very definite.
In 1715, for example, an important delegation of the Lenape chiefs came to Philadelphia to visit the Governor. Sassoonan –afterward called Allummapees, and for many years the principal chief of his people – was at the head, and Opessah, a Shawnee chief, accompanied him. There was ‘great ceremony,’ says the Council record, over the ‘opening of the calumet.’ Rattles were shaken, and songs were chanted. Then Sassoonan spoke, offering the calumet to Governor Gookin, who in his speech spoke of ‘that firm Peace that was settled between William Penn, the founder and chief governor of this country, at his first coming into it,’ to which Sassoonan replied that they had come ‘to renew the former bond of friendship; that William Penn had at his first coming made a clear and open road all the way to the Indians, and they desired the same might be kept open and that all obstructions might be removed,’ etc."
In 1720, Governor Keith, writing to the Iroquois chiefs of New York, said: “When Governor Penn first settled this country he made it his first care to cultivate a strict alliance and friendship with all the Indians, and condescended so far as to purchase his lands from them." And in March, 1722, the Colonial Authorities, sending a message to the Senecas, said: “William Penn made a firm peace and league with the Indians in these parts near forty years ago, which league has often been repeated and never broken. In fact the “Great Treaty” was never broken until the Penn’s Creek Massacre of October 16, 1755.”
According to the historian C. Hale Sipe, the “Great Treaty” was “preserved by the head chiefs of the Turtle Clan of Delawares for generations.” On March 24, 1782, Chief Killbuck is said to have lost the historic wampum that contained the treaty that Tamanend and others had made with Penn a hundred years previously. He had been forced to flee to Fort Pitt to escape death at the hands of the Scotch-Irish settlers from Chartiers Creek, who attacked him and other friendly Delawares at Smoky Island, also called Killbuck’s Island, in the Ohio River, near Fort Pitt.
The “Great Treaty” at Shackamaxon occupies a “high and glorious place in the Indian history and traditions of Pennsylvania and the Nation. Though the historian labors in vain to establish the date, the fact of the treaty remains as inspiring to us of the present days as it was to the historians, painters, and poets of the past.”
Shackamaxon – Working Headquarters of Penn’s New Colony
In Theodore Bean’s History of Montgomery County (1884), Bean realized the early importance of Shackamaxon and its role in the founding of Philadelphia. As Bean shows, Shackamaxon was the gathering place for many of William Penn’s major officials, including William Penn himself, upon their arrival in the Pennsylvania Colony. Thomas Fairman, an early settler at Burlington, New Jersey, married Elizabeth Kinsey, who previous to her marriage, had purchased 300 acres in the Delaware Valley from Lasse Cock an original Swedish settler who was Penn’s interpreter at the Peace Treaty. Elizabeth Kinsey had completed a land transaction in 1678 that was initiated by her father, John Kinsey the previous year. John Kinsey, one of the founders of Burlington, New Jersey and a commissioner for West Jersey, died in 1677 before the land deal was completed.
After marrying Kinsey in December 1680, Thomas Fairman moved to Shackamaxon where he built a substantial home. He would eventually build a larger brick dwelling that would come to be known as “Fairman’s Mansion.” This stately house was depicted in Benjamin West’s famous painting of Penn’s Treaty, but was in fact not yet constructed of brick at the time of the Peace Treaty.
Thomas Fairman was known as a good surveyor. When Penn acquired his colony of Pennsylvania in 1681, Fairman was hired to assist Penn’s Surveyor-General, Thomas Holme. Fairman, had been in the Delaware Valley for several years before Penn’s arrival. He was more familiar, than Penn’s people, with the local geography and inhabitants, including the Swedish settlers who owned the land where Penn wanted to build his city. Fairman was appointed to negotiate the purchase of the land for the location of the City of Philadelphia, which was owned by the Swanson family.
When Thomas Holme, Assistant to the Deputy Governor and Surveyor-General of the province, first arrived at the Pennsylvania Colony, William Markham, Penn’s cousin and the Deputy Governor of the colony, or one of his people, directed Holme to Thomas Fairman’s house at Shackamaxon. Markham had already been staying with Fairman. When Thomas Fairman handed in his accounts to William Penn, the accounts included expenses for lodging Markham and Holme.
Fairman assisted Markham and Holme on “various exploratory trips to identify the areas to be surveyed.” Upon Holme’s arrival, Fairman loaned him horses so that he was able to “ride into the interior of the land and see what it held," and often accompanied him on these excursions. After Holme surveyed an area for himself, he had Fairman and several others set aside 500 acres next to Deputy Governor Markham, adjoining Penn’s Pennsbury Manor. On the other side of Holme’s land was William Haige, another of Fairman’s boarders. Haige was one of four land commissioners appointed by William Penn to help develop the land policies for the establishment of Penn’s Colony. All of these high officials had their country estates surveyed for them next to each other on the Delaware River, north of the city. The proprietor of Pennsylvania, William Penn, his Deputy Governor William Markham, Penn’s Surveyor-General Thomas Holme, and his land commissioner William Haige, were all early residents of Shackamaxon, who originally stayed at Thomas Fairman’s home. It is no wonder then that the Treaty of Amity and Friendship that Penn would make with the Indians take place at Shackamaxon, as it was in effect the initial working headquarters of Penn’s new colony.
Thomas Fairman according to Bean, was instrumental in “starting the ‘Long Lost Oxford’ Monthly Meeting." In the records of Abington Monthly Meeting Fairman is recorded as providing the “book” for the first meeting there as well as donating land for the meetinghouse on the “24th of the Seventh Month, 1688.” Earlier, Fairman had given up his Shackamaxon home to William Penn and removed to “near Frankford,” where his son William was born in 1683. The Abington Meetinghouse is one of the earliest congregations dating back to when people gathered at Thomas Fairman’s home at Shackamaxon, before the arrival of William Penn.”
It was this familiarity with Shackamaxon, the center of activity for Penn and his officials that would make William Penn venture north to Shackamaxon from Upland, the “official” capital, in order to treat with the Indians in the now famous “Treaty of Amity and Friendship.”
Penn’s Arrival at his new Colony
William Penn sent various officers of his colony before him to organize and regulate activities. On August 30, 1682, William Penn himself finally set sail for America on the ship Welcome, Robert Greenaway, master. This was the first of a fleet of 23 ships, that brought more than 2,000 men, women, and children to Pennsylvania. Penn is said to have arrived at the mouth of the Delaware River on October 27, 1682, and first set foot on Pennsylvania soil at Upland (Chester, Pa.) the day after. Upland served as the original capitol of the colony and it is where the first legislature met. Upon learning from his Deputy Governor, his cousin William Markam, that the land on the waterfront was already in the hands of others and they wanted high prices, Penn decided to relocate the capital, eventually moving it to Philadelphia.
Shackamaxon, besides being the home of Thomas Fairman and a temporary residence for Penn and his officers, had also been a summer fishing place for the Lenni Lenape Indians, as well as a place where they would hold tribal councils. Peter Lindestrom, an early Swedish traveler to the Delaware Valley, states that one meaning of the word Shackamaxon may come from Sakima, or Sachemen, which would mean “chief,” or “king” and with the suffix “-ink” then would mean “where the kings are,” or “at the meeting place of kings.” Later historians and linguists agree with this definition and have put the meaning of Shackamaxon as “place where the chiefs meet.”
Further studies seem to indicate that it was indeed where the local American Indian chiefs met. The Turtle Clan of the Unami is known to have lived at Shackamaxon prior to the Europeans’ arrival and the area is also said to have been the capital of the Lenni Lenape tribe. The tribal council leader was always a Turtle Clan member from the Unami, as the Unami was the “grandfather” to the other two groups that made up the Lenni Lenapes.
Shackamaxon was the initial working headquarters of William Penn’s colony stationed for a time at Thomas Fairman’s home, as well as the place where the indigenous tribes would hold their councils. It would seem only natural for William Penn, in late November 1682, only several weeks after his arrival in Pennsylvania to hold a council with the Lenni Lenape in order to convey to them that he and his people had come in peace.
Penn’s “Treaty of Amity and Friendship” is often confused by some as being a treaty where land was exchanged therefore some who refuse to believe it took place at all because there is no written document. It does not appear to matter that there are centuries of tradition and oral histories and that a “Treaty of Amity and Friendship” did not necessarily have to be written down.
Those Present at the Peace Treaty
At this historic treaty, it is said that his cousin, Deputy Governor William Markham, accompanied Penn. Also in attendance was Thomas Holme, Penn’s Surveyor-General. Lasse Cock, an original Swedish settler and Penn’s interpreter, was also present, as were several members of the Pennsylvania Council, probably John Simcox, William Haige, Christopher Taylor, and Thomas Pierson, grandfather of the painter, Benjamin West. It is from him that West most probably developed his impression for his famous depiction of the Peace Treaty.
William Cooper, of New Jersey, is also supposed to have attended the treaty gathering. He owned land opposite Shackamaxon and commerce between there and the Jersey side of the river (Pyne Point) was already established by the canoe routes of the local Indians. There are also some who say that Thomas Storey, a minister and friend of Penn was present at the Treaty. Some historians write that there were probably several earlier Dutch and Swedish colonists, as well as local English colonists, who were in attendance simply out of curiosity. Since William Penn would have probably traveled to Shackamaxon by barge, it is also probable that his coxswain and six oarsmen might also have been present.
The American Indians, are supposed to have been represented by members of the Lenni Lenape, the Six Nations (Mengwes), the Shawanese Nation (Shawnese), the Gawanese, and the Conestogas (Mingoes). Leading the Native Americans was Tamanend, the chief, or sachem of the Lenni Lenapes, and a member of the Turtle Clan, whose home was Shackamaxon.
The assemblage of American Indians was such that the chief would have sat in the middle of a half moon, with his council sitting on each hand. Behind them or at a short distance would have sat the younger members of the council, also in a half moon shape. Presumably Penn and his people would have joined them in a similar configuration.
The setting of the treaty was said to have been a sloping bank that extended down to the sandy beaches of the Delaware. The river bordered one side and the surrounding forests of chestnuts, oaks, beech, cedars, cypress, pines, and elms, formed an enclosure of a wide amphitheatre reaching up to and around the Treaty Elm. At the time of the historic meeting the Treaty Elm was one of the largest of its species and even then “venerable in years.”The first home that Thomas Fairman built presumably, would have been nearby and the shoreline would have been much closer to the ancient Elm Tree than it is today.
Since there in no written record of the Peace Treaty, some believe that it never took place. However, tradition reflects that since no land was being transferred, there was no reason to record a treaty. Most conservators of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians think that the event was more of a diplomatic mission, an “entente” of sorts, where Penn and the Indians met with mutual and complementary efforts on both sides, establishing a sense of compatible objectives, to come to foundation for a trusting relationship. Just as today, an entente can be agreed on orally or in writing, but the concept is generally less binding than a treaty relationship. The fact that Penn’s entente with the Indians lasted for the rest of his life and well after, is an indication of the character of Penn and of the Indians that he treated with.
In August of 1683, about ten months after Penn’s Treaty, William Penn wrote a long letter to the Free Society of Traders, in which he describes a council that he had with the Indians. Some think that this letter might possibly contain reference to the “Great Treaty.” In any event, the letter does give one some insight into how a possible treaty with the Indians might have looked and been carried out:
Their order is thus: The King sits in the middle of a half moon, and has his council, the old and wise on each hand. Behind them or at a little distance sit the younger fry in the same figure.
Having consulated and resolved their business the King ordered one of them to speak to me. He stood up, came to me and in the name of his King saluted me, then took me by the hand and told me he was ordered by his King to speak to me, and that now it was not he, but the King who spoke, because what he should say was the King’s mind.
Which done another made a speech to the Indians in the name of all the Sachamachers or Kings; first to tell what was done: next to charge and command them to love the Christians and particularly to live in peace with me and the people under my government; that they should never do mine or me any wrong. At every sentence of which they shouted, and in their way said, Amen.
Great promises passed between us of kindness and good neighborhood, and that the English and Indians must live in love as long as the sun gave light.
The “Peace Treaty” between William Penn and the Native Americans was reported to have ended with these words of the Native Americans as quoted by Governor Gordon at the Council at Conestoga, May 26, 1728:
We will be brethren, my people and your people, as the children of one father. All the paths shall be open to the Christian and the Indian. The doors of the Christian shall be open to the Indian and the wigwam of the Indian shall be open to the Christian.
The Christian shall believe no false stories, the Indian shall believe no false stories, they shall first come together as brethren and inquire of each other; when they hear such false stories they shall bury them in the bottomless pit.
The Christian hearing news that may hurt the Indian, or the Indian hearing news that may hurt the Christian, shall make it known the one to the other, as speedily as possible, as true friends and brethren.
The Indian shall not harm the Christian, nor his friend; the Christian shall not harm the Indian, nor his friend; but they shall live together as brethren. As there are wicked people in all Nations; if the Indian or the Christian shall harm the one or the other, complaint shall be made by the sufferer, that right may be done; and when right is done, the wrong shall be forgotten, and buried in the bottomless pit.
The Indian shall help the Christian, and the Christian shall help the Indian, against all evil men, who would molest them.
We will transmit this League between us to our children. It shall be made stronger and stronger, and be kept bright and clean without rust or spot, between our children and our children’s children, while the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.
This League of peace and friendship has been passed down by the Native Americans to their children as witnessed repeatedly in the history of the Pennsylvania Council meetings between the years 1718 to 1735. In 1718 the Chief of the Conestoga Indians, amongst others, showed up at a Council in Philadelphia “to Renew the old League of friendship that had hitherto been between us and them,” and as late as 1734 John Penn, William Penn’s son, stated at a Council meeting in Philadelphia:
I desire you to assure all the Indians, and particularly my good friends of the Six Nations, that it shall be my constant care to strengthen that firm League and Chain of Friendship which my Father first began, and has since been carefully preserved between the Indians and all the People within this Government.
The Wampum Belt
History tells us that during this “Treaty of Amity and Friendship” between Penn and the American Indians, that an exchange of Wampum Belts took place. One such Wampum Belt came into the possession of the Atwater Kent Museum. The Wampum Belt that Granville Penn presented to the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1857 is described by one account as follows:
It is a belt of the largest size, and made with the neatest workmanship, which is generally found in such as are known to have been used in Councils, or in making treaties with the Indians. Its length is twenty-six inches, its breadth is nine inches, and it consists of eighteen strings woven together; it is formed entirely of small beads strung in rows, and made from pieces of clam or muscle shells. These form an entirely white ground: in the center there is a rude but striking representation, worked in dark violet beads, of two men – the one, somewhat the stouter, wearing a hat; the other, rather thinner, having an uncovered head; they stand erect, with their hands clasped together; there are three bands, also worked in dark violet beads, one at either end, the other about one-third the distance from one end, which may have reference to the parties to the treaty, or to the rivers Delaware, Schuylkill, and Susquehanna.”
It was presented to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, on the 25th day of May, 1857, by Granville John Penn, a descendant of the founder. It is framed between glass plates and hangs from the ceiling of a fire-proof room built within the Hall of the Society.
The other Wampum Belt was kept by the American Indians. The Wampum Belts were to the American Indian what a written document would have been to the European. The Indians designated a tribal member to be responsible for remembering what treaties or agreements that they were signatories to. The Wampum Belt usually had some sort of imagery woven into it as a reminder of the specific agreement or treaty for the tribe.
According to the historian C. Hale Sipe, the “Great Treaty” was “preserved by the head chiefs of the Turtle Clan of Delawares for generations” through the Wampum Belt that they kept. However, on March 24, 1782, Chief Killbuck is said to have lost the historic wampum containing the treaty that Tamanend and others had made with Penn a hundred years previously. The chief was forced to flee to Fort Pitt to escape death at the hands of some unruly Scotch-Irish settlers from Chartiers Creek, who attacked him and other friendly Delawares at Smoky Island, also called Killbuck’s Island, in the Ohio River, near Fort Pitt. Chief Killbuck apparently lost the Wampum Belt during his escape to the fort.
Did the Treaty Take Place?
Due to the nature of Penn’s Treaty, one that was never recorded, some historians have come to doubt its very existence. However, throughout history the tradition of Penn’s Treaty has been handed down not only from the historian’s book to the historian’s book, but also orally, generation after generation particularly among Native Americans. Contemporary historians take a great interest in the oral histories of today while oral histories of yesteryear are not as highly valued.
John Oldmixon, in his work, The British Empire in America, published in London in the year 1708, was writing about 25 years after William Penn’s arrival in America. Oldmixon knew Penn personally and had conversations with him. In his book, Oldmixon states “the proprietary (William Penn) upon his arrival in his Colony, entered into treaties with the Indians to buy lands.” Afterwards, however, speaking of Penn’s removal to England, in 1684, he particularly mentions the treaties of friendship that he made with the Aborigines. Mr. Penn, he says, “stayed in Pennsylvania two years, and having made a league of amity with nineteen Indian nations, between them and all the English in America; having established good laws, he returned to England.”
The argument by some historians against Oldmixon’s claims is that Penn could not have made a league of amity with “all the English in America” nor had any influence over the other English settlements, and thus his league of amity with the Indians must not be true as well.
The first American historian to take up the subject was Robert Proud who published his History of Pennsylvania almost 90 years after Oldmixon (1797-1798). In this work Proud mentions the purchases of land by William Penn, but after having spoken of these, he writes: “It was at this time (1682) when he (William Penn) first entered personally into that lasting friendship with the Indians, which ever after continued between them." Again he says “a firm peace was thereupon concluded between William Penn and the Indians, and both parties mutually promised to live together as brethren, without doing the least injury to each other. This treaty was solemnly ratified by the mutual token of a chain of friendship, a covenant indelible never to be broken as long as the sun and moon endure.” Was Proud mimicking Benjamin West’s painting of Penn’s Treaty? Or could have Proud, a teacher in the Quaker community, had access to information from his students’ families, whose fathers, or grandfathers, would have come over to America with William Penn?
Thomas Francis Gordon, hearing the rumbles of “Did the Treaty Take Place” discussed among members of the Historical Society in the 1820’s, wrote in his History of Pennsylvania (1829) that it has been doubted whether the conference between William Penn and the Indians “was holden under the great Elm at Shackamaxon, and whether it was accompanied by a formal treaty.” Gordon responded, “If we suffer ourselves to doubt these facts, historical tradition is unworthy of acceptance, and little credence can be given to ordinary historical testimony.”
To take a step back from the early 19th century historians and look at European writers of the 18th century, we find Francois-Marie Aroutet (1694-1778), better known as Voltaire, writing on the topic of Penn’s Treaty. Said by some to be “one who was without faith in anything human or divine save Pennsylvania and the purposes of its founder,” it is then hard to imagine Voltaire being duped by a myth. Voltaire gave credence to the “Peace Treaty” by his often quoted passage from his work Dictionnaire philosophique published in 1764:
C’est le seul traite entre ces peoples et les Chretiens qui n’ ait point ete jure et qui n’ait point ete rompu. [Dict. phil., 7, 17-18]
This Voltaire quote appears in every notice of William Penn’s life. The whole passage translated actually reads:
“He began by making a league with the American Indians which were his neighbors. This is the only treaty between those persons and the Christians which has not been sworn to, and which has not been broken.”
Voltaire was writing in 1764, which was six or seven years before Thomas Penn commissioned Benjamin West to paint Penn’s Treaty, thus West’s painting could not have influenced Voltaire, as proposed by later generations of historians.
The Conservators of the Tradition
In Charles S. Keyser’s work, Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1882), Keyser examines the whole history of the “Conservators” of the tradition of Penn’s Treaty and finds that these conservators have among them some of the most worthy and honest men that Pennsylvania has produced:
The fact that the treaty lies on tradition of the most reliable character, both in certainty of statement and the persons by whom it was made, should be sufficient to prove that the treaty took place, but some modern historians have taken the stance that written proof is the only conclusive evidence of the treaty taking place. It apparently does not matter to these historians that the tradition does not rest upon the words or writings of inconsiderate men, but that it has come down to us from “the lips of men, one with whom falsehood was impossible, another taught by a life of judicial training to disbelieve except upon the clearest evidence, another incredulous from his nature, another exhaustive in researches, another the friend and companion” of William Penn.
Keyser then offers a list of those that conserved the tradition of William Penn’s “Treaty of Amity and Friendship” with the American Indians. It represents a list of educated and honest men, respected among their peers, and all who would have had some knowledge, or access to those with knowledge, of the Treaty at Shackamaxon, far more knowledge and access than the later generations of historians:
John Oldmixon (1672/3-1742)
Published The British Empire in America in 1708, which mentions Penn’s Treaty of Amity with the Indians. He had conversations with Penn and alleges that his information came directly from the Quaker leader.
James Logan (1674-1751), Secretary for William Penn
Often sat in Councils with the Native Americans and related in public record of the Pennsylvania Council of July 12, 1720, that the Chiefs of the Mingoes stated:
“That when Governor Penn first held Councils with them, he promised them so much Love and Friendship that he would not call them Brothers, because Brothers might differ, nor Children because these might offend and require Correction, but he would reckon them as one Body, and Blood, one Heart and one Head; But few of the old men who were at those Councils were living; These were removed, and those who were then very young are now grown up to succeed, but they transmitted it to their Children, and they and all theirs should remember it forever.”
Benjamin Lay (1681-1759), Quaker Abolitionist
Immigrated to Philadelphia about 1732, befriended Judge Richard Peters when Peters was a youth. He once pointed out the Treaty Tree to Judge Peters relating its history and affirming to Peters that it was a place of reverence.
Guillaume Thomas Francois Raynal (1713-1796)
French writer, his most important work is L’Historie philosophique et politique des etablissements et du commerce des Europeens dans les deux Indes, published in Amsterdam in four volumes in 1770. It was continuously published in 20 successive editions to 1820 and was translated into all the modern languages. He states that Penn’s Treaty of Amity with the Indians stands in his estimation as the sole relief in modern civilization’s black horrors of crimes. He said of William Penn that, “He signalized his arrival by an act of equity by which he endeared his person and made his principles acceptable.”
Robert Proud (1728-1813), Pennsylvania Historian
This historian was associated with the Society of Friends, and was a Quaker teacher. His students most likely were the grandchildren of people who traveled to Pennsylvania with Penn. He settled in to Philadelphia in 1751 and commenced his history of Pennsylvania in 1791, when the events of the treaty were still fresh in people’s minds.
Benjamin West (1738-1820), Artist.
Painter of the famous Penn’s Treaty with the Indians at Shackamaxon, 1771. His mother’s family was friends with William Penn and his grandfather was said to be present at the Peace Treaty. West had depicted the Treaty in a rendering that was highly prized by his family but which was eventually lost. He painted a second work on a large canvas, determined to depict the event that he had every reason to believe had taken place.
Richard Peters (1743-1828), Judge for the U.S. District Court of PA, Delegate to the Continental Congress.
Interviewed in 1825 by Roberts Vaux of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s committee to investigate Penn’s Treaty. Benjamin Lay told him directly that the Great Elm marked the place where Penn made the Treaty. As youths, he and David Conyngham bathed in the area near the Penn Treaty Elm and learned that the history of the Treaty was considered fact to the people living close by.
Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), Abolitionist, Biographer of William Penn.
His book, The Public and Private Life of William Penn was published in 1813. In this work he wrote the description of “The Treaty.”
These individuals, as well as other historians of the 18th and 19th centuries have researched and documented this event. investigations of the Amity Treaty were conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and all have come to the it was at Shackamaxon.
Vaux, Duponceau, Fisher, and Watson
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania appointed a committee to research the occurrence of Penn’s Treaty. Their report was published in the Society’s Memoirs in 1836. The committee was comprised of Mr. Peter S. Duponceau and Mr. J. Francis Fisher, both esteemed and worthy men of their generation. A contemporary of these men and a compatriot in the Historical Society’s causes, was Roberts Vaux, who died before Duponceau and Fisher’s report was issued. Vaux however had earlier conducted his own investigation of Penn’s Treaty.
Vaux communicated or corresponded with, a number of individuals who thought could help him get to the bottom of the problem of, “Did the Treaty take place or not?” One of the first he communicated with was Deborah Logan, the wife of George Logan, who was the grandson of William Penn’s Secretary, James Logan. Deborah Logan presided over Stenton House, in Germantown. She had no doubt that the Treaty took place at Shackamaxon, even going so far as to say:
“I never could account for the propensity of some to unsettle every received opinion, either on subjects which, though speculative, are of the highest importance to the comfort as well as to the well-being of every individual, and to society; or on those minor topics, which, like the present instance, have afforded so much innocent satisfaction in consecrating, as it were, a local spot, sacred to the recollections of the dignity of moral virtue But, in the present instance, I believe they have nothing on which to found their opinion….”
Vaux also communicated with Judge Richard Peters, and through Peters, with Peters’ friend David H. Conyngham. Both Peters and Conyngham related the story of bathing near the Treaty Elm as youths, which would have been in the 1750’s. It was at this time that the aged Benjamin Lay pointed out the Treaty Tree to them and related its history of the place where William Penn made his Treaty with the Indians. After further investigations and communications with others, Vaux appeared convinced and called for a memorial for Penn’s Treaty to be erected, at Shackamaxon, now known as Penn Treaty Park.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Committee issued the report of Duponceau and Fisher, just after Vaux died in 1836. Their investigation delved into a communication by John F. Watson, who previously stated that the lands for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania were not treated for at Shackamaxon, but elsewhere. Duponceau and Fisher acknowledged Watson’s assertion; the deeds he produced showed that various treaties were made at various places, none being at Shackamaxon. However, the “Treaty of Amity and Friendship” that Penn made with the Indians was held at Shackamaxon. Long celebrated throughout our history, this treaty was not made for the acquisition of land and most probably was never written down.
Duponceau and Fisher addressed the problem:
“…The Committee were induced to inquire into the whole history of the great Treaty, which they found involved in much doubt and obscurity, principally from the want of contemporary records, in consequence of which popular notions have crept in amidst the various traditions that have been made by curious inquirers to removed the doubts, and clear up the obscurity, by means of insulated documents which have been discovered from time to time, have been attended only with partial success, and sometimes have failed of their object, by inducing erroneous notions, arising from the misapplication of those documents, or false inferences drawn from them.”
After examining all available records and communicating with anyone who might have had information on, or knew about, the Treaty, Duponceau and Fisher concluded:
“That this treaty was held at Shackamaxon, under the celebrated Elm Tree, shortly after the arrival of William Penn in 1682, we think that the least doubt cannot at present be entertained. The testimony of all the historians concurs with uninterrupted tradition in establishing these facts. As to the locality, the veneration with which, the celebrated Elm Tree has been regarded from time immemorial attests it, in our opinion, with sufficient certainty…We even believe that there is some evidence to prove that Shackamaxon and the Elm Tree, before the arrival of William Penn, were the scene of a former treaty made with the Indians by Markham and the commissioners associated with him, which was afterwards confirmed by the Proprietary on the same spot.”
But Did the Treaty Take Place at Shackamaxon?
Some still argue that if the Treaty did take place, it would not have taken place at Shackamaxon. However, almost every historian who has examined the subject has stated that the treaty would not have taken place at Upland (Chester, PA, the first capitol of the Colony) or at any other fortified area. Even though Upland was the original capitol of Penn’s Colony, Penn would not have wanted to negotiate a treaty with the Native Americans in a military setting.
Shackamaxon was already known as a place where the Native American chiefs of different tribes would meet for Council. It was also the setting where Thomas Fairman, Penn’s deputy surveyor, had established his home, housed and entertained the early arrivals of Penn’s officers and Council, people such as William Markham, William Hague, Thomas Holme, and Penn himself.
A long tradition, evidenced by Judge Richard Peters’ and David Conyngham’s testimonies to Roberts Vaux on September 6, 1825, shows Shackamaxon to be the place of the treaty. As youngsters they remember bathing on the shores of the sandy beach near the famous Elm Tree, Their youths predating Benjamin West’s famous painting of 1771 by a number of years. It was an accepted fact in these years that the Treaty Elm at Shackamaxon was the place of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians and no one doubted it at that time. Benjamin West is purported to have visited family near the Treaty Elm and spent time drawing and painting there.
Richard Peters was a long serving judge for the United States District Court of Pennsylvania and a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782-83. He was also the nephew of Richard Peters (1704-1776), the rector of Christ Church, in Philadelphia. He was born in 1744, and therefore would be bathing near the Treaty Elm in the 1750’s, only 65 years or so after of Amity Treaty of Amity took place. At this time, there still would have been people that were living when the Treaty was held. Benjamin Lay, the Quaker abolitionist who was born in 1681, pointed to the Treaty Tree and told Judge Peters and Conyngham that this was the place where Penn made his Treaty with the Indians. Presumably Lay, who had settled in the Philadelphia area about 1732, would have talked with and known many people who were living at the time of the Treaty. As early as the 1730’s, the setting by the Delaware River, known as Shackamaxon, appears to have been accepted as being the site for the Treaty.
The significance that the Great Elm marked the site of William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians is demonstrated by the actions that were taken by British General Simcoe. While quartering his men in the Kensington area (Oct 1777 – Feb 1778) during the British occupation of Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, General Simcoe posted a sentinel at the Treaty Tree so that it would not be harmed. Many of the trees in the area were being felled not only by the troops for firewood, but also by the local population. Even the British General recognized that this one mighty tree was honored and even revered as a living memorial to a unique historical moment.
The living testimonies at the time of Judge Peters and his friend Conyngham, and their earlier conversations with the elderly Benjamin Lay, as well as the number of historians who recounted Penn’s Treaty, and West’s memorial painting, all point to the Treaty’s authenticity. The beliefs, customs, and traditions of those who lived near the Treaty Elm in the 18th and 19th centuries, of those who lived near the Treaty Tree, cannot be discounted. All of this evidence led the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s committee investigating William Penn’s Treaty, to conclude that it indeed took place and that it took place at Shackamaxon.
Benjamin West and Penn’s Treaty with the Indians at Shackmaxon
Benjamin West (1738-1820) was born in Springfield, Chester County, PA, the son of John West, an innkeeper, and his second wife, Sarah Pearson. While both parents had Quaker backgrounds, Benjamin did not follow their faith. An English born artist, William Williams, encouraged the young West, to study painting. West also had some encouragement from John Valentine Haidt, a German artist who was living in Bethlehem, PA. West’s artwork came to the attention of the Rev. William Smith, provost of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania). Smith was impressed with West and invited him to come to live in Philadelphia and get a classical education that would help further West’s career.
West moved to Philadelphia about 1756 and attended college for a short while before traveling to Italy in 1760, again with Smith’s help. From Italy, West went to Paris, then to London. He successfully exhibited paintings at the Society of Artists (precursor to the Royal Academy) in London. In 1764 he decided to stay in London. His fiancée, Elizabeth Shewell joined him there and they were married in the fall of 1764. West’s father also accompanied Elizabeth to London and remained there as well.
West’s reputation as an artist excelled and he became the teacher for several generations of painters, including American artist Wilson Peale who came to London in the 1760’s, and Charles Robert Leslie who traveled to England in 1811. Two of America’s most famous painters, Gilbert Stuart and John Trumbull, worked in West’s studio as assistants in the 1770’s and 1780’s, as did West’s two sons who assisted their father in later years.
West made his reputation as a painter of history and became the “leading exponent of neoclassicism in England.” At this time he helped found the Royal Academy, which was established by royal commission in 1768. West later became its second president and served the longest of any president, twenty-seven years. To support a “distinguished national school of painting,” King George III commissioned about 60 paintings. In 1772 West became the “History Painter to the King,” which lasted until 1801 when the decline in health of George III, his patron, dried up his royal commissions. He continued however, to receive a royal stipend of 1,000 pounds per year until 1811.
Benjamin West died on March 10, 1820, almost exactly 10 years to the day that the Treaty Tree was uprooted in a storm.
At about the time West was made “History Painter to the King,” he painted a depiction of the death of General James Wolfe during the English victory over the French at Quebec in 1759. In this painting West depicted the characters in modern dress. This caused a stir in art circles as “historic painting” was to be “historic” not modern. It was also at about this time (1771-1772) that Benjamin West executed one of his most famous paintings, Penn’s Treaty with the Indians at Shackamaxon. He also depicted the characters in this work in the then modern attire. West took great liberties in order to make the painting an “epic.” While this painting came to be famous in America, it garnered hardly a notice in John Galt’s two-volume biography of Benjamin West.
Benjamin West’s interest and knowledge of Penn’s Treaty would have come from a background that included his birth in Pennsylvania, the religious background of his Quaker parents, and the fact that his mother’s father was a friend of William Penn. West also had the opportunity as a youth to gain some knowledge of the local Native Americans, when a party of Indians came to Springfield. After seeing West’s sketches of birds and flowers the Indians purportedly taught him how to prepare red and yellow colors that they used to paint their ornaments.
West’s painting of Penn’s Treaty is said to have been commissioned in 1770 or 1771 by William Penn’s son, Thomas Penn, and completed sometime in 1771-1772. Little did West know that his painting of Penn’s Treaty would begin a centuries-long fascination with the subject. Some say that Thomas Penn commissioned the painting as a way to try to "restore favor" with Pennsylvanians, by using his father’s "popular image as a man of peace" to support Thomas Penn’s interests in Pennsylvania. His reputation had been previously tarnished by his supposed "greed and treachery" toward the American Indians. He had inherited a share in Pennsylvania, along with his brothers John and Richard, on the death of William Penn in 1718. Thomas surprised many Quakers by leaving the Society of Friends and joining the Church of England. This proved to be one of a number of actions that brought him into confrontation with Pennsylvanians. He also fought the Pennsylvania Assembly’s efforts to tax his land and made concerted efforts to collect back rents due to his family.There was also the problem of settlers encroaching on Indian lands which the Penn family was unable to prevent.
In order to stem the criticism of his fellow citizens, Thomas Penn needed to do more than commission one paintingHe turned to the English publisher John Boydell (1719-1804) who was well known for his reproductions of engravings. In 1773 Boydell began to advertise his plan to issue a print of Penn’s Treaty, copied from the West painting. During the next few years, an engraver in Boydell’s employ, John Hall, set about engraving the plate for the print. The print was published in London in 1775, with the title William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1681. In Hall’s engraving the image was reversed from West’s painting. The original copper plate was continuously used to reproduce the print as late as the year 1932.
By publishing this engraving of Penn’s Treaty, the image could be received by a wide audience. The engraving was sent to America for sale and proved such a success it was copied by many other artists. Through West’s painting of Penn’s Treaty and Boydell’s print of West’s painting, the Treaty Tree itself also became a popular subject for artists not only in North America, but in Continental Europe as well. The same Boydell print was copied in a smaller version by French printmaker Robert Delaunay (1749-1814), measuring only 12 by 12 inches, with the figures re-arranged, the whole scene compressed and titled, Guillaume Penn Traite avec des Indiens. This version appeared around 1778. It was featured as the frontispiece in Atlas Ameriquain Septentrionale, an atlas of North America. The scene was executed by another French printmaker, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune (1741-1814) in 1780. Moreau le Jeune was the designer and engraver to the King of France, as well as an illustrator for the works of Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire. Heinrich Guttenberg (1749-1818), a German artist working in Paris, copied the Moreau le Jeune print in 1789 and reproduced it in Histoire Philosophique du Commerce des Indes. James Charles Armytage (ca.1820-1897), an English engraver, also published the same scene as a plate in a book that measured slightly less than 7 by 4 inches. Thus began the generations of reproducrions of West’s famous painting.
In 1791, the American painter Edward Savage (1761-1817for whom President Washington posed, went to London to further his artistic studies. Part of his academic training included making copies of several Benjamin West paintings, including his Peace Treaty painting. By 1794 Savage was back in America and in 1795 he was in Philadelphia exhibiting some of his work. He later opened a museum in New York City. Another version of Penn’s Treaty was painted about 1798, by Jacob Whitman.
Barralet’s Influence on William Birch’s Views of Philadelphia from Kensington and the Treaty Tree
John James Barralet (1747-1815), a watercolorist of French descent was born in Ireland. He immigrated to Philadelphia from England in 1795. A year later, he painted one of his most famous works, A View of Philadelphia from the Great Elm Tree in Kensington (1796). This painting was completed several years before William Birch (mentioned below) published his volume of engravings (1798-1800).Perhaps William Birch styled his engravings after Barralet, but since Birch published numbers of books and not just one painting, we hear more about Birch than Barralet.
William Russell Birch (1755-1834) was born in Warwickshire, England, the son of a successful surgeon. After a poor showing at Latin School, he was apprenticed to a London jeweler and goldsmith. He eventually went on to study enamel painting. He became quite successful at this and learned the art of engraving as well. He counted Sir Joshua Reynolds as a friend and mentor. He was encouraged to move to America by Judge Samuel Chase of Maryland, whose stepmother was Birch’s sister.
In 1794, preceding Barralet, Birch immigrated to Philadelphia with his family, which included his equally talented son, Thomas Birch (1779-1851). William Birch carried a letter of introduction from none other then Benjamin West, addressed to William Bingham. This helped Birch move easily into the "affluent and sophisticated segment of Philadelphia society" enabling him to find ready patrons for his artwork.
Birch’s best known work is The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania as it Appeared in 1800. He was assisted by his son Thomas, as well as the engraver Samuel Seymour, probably an English engraver who worked between the years 1797 to 1824 as a landscape painter on the Major Stephen H. Long’s Expedition through Arkansas Territory, the Platte River, and the Front Wall of the Rockies. This collection of Philadelphia views by Birch and company, when published in 1800 offered the:
“First series of views of any American city…. The prints provide a unique visual record of Philadelphia at a time when it was the most important and cosmopolitan city in the Western Hemisphere, and for a time was the capital of the newly formed United States.”
The fact that Philadelphia was considered one of the most important and cosmopolitan cities in the Western Hemisphere is precisely why people like Birch and Barralet were immigrating to the city. The city also produced England’s most famous painter of the day, Benjamin West. Birch’s view of Philadelphia proved very popular and a 2nd Edition was published in 1804, a 3rd Edition in 1809 and a 4th in 1827-28. This work of Birch includes as its frontispiece, the famous engraving titled, Penn’s Tree, with the City & Port of Philadelphia, on the River Delaware from Kensington. In this print Birch took the spotlight off of William Penn and the Indians and put it upon the Treaty Tree itself. This focus on the Treaty Tree image would be repeated over and over by other engravers, printmakers, and artists, for the rest of the 19th century and into the present.
Edward Hicks, folk artist of Penn’s Treaty and Peaceable Kingdom
Shortly after West, Savage, Barralet, and Birch, and the more popular forms of art that followed them in the first several decades of the 19th century, art that brought to the eyes of many Americans and Europeans "Penn’s Treaty of Amity and Friendship," one Bucks County, Pennsylvania artist, was going about his work in his own quiet way. Edward Hicks (1780-1849), later considered by many as one of America’s leading folk artists, was born in 1780 in Langhorne, Bucks County, Pa. He was the son of Isaac Hicks, a subscriber to the Anglican faith and a Loyalist sympathizer at the time of the Revolution. Isaac had married his first cousin, Catherine Hicks, and was forced to leave her and his son in Langhorne and flee the area as a result of the war. His wife died soon after and the 18 month-old Edward was taken in by friends, the Twining family, who were Quakers, and thus Edward was raised a Quaker.
At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to a coach maker where he displayed a talent for painting and eventually became a partner in the business. He married in 1803 and eventually had a family of five children. He moved to Newtown, Pa., and in 1812, having been a devout Quaker his whole life, became a Quaker preacher. His devoutness to the Quaker faith left him feeling that his sign painting and carriage decoration was not compatible with his religion. He quit painting and took up farming, which proved a financial disaster and he returned to painting, the "only thing he understood." He changed his medium and focused "primarily [on] themes of a religious or highly moral nature," which he thought would be more compatible to his Quakerism.
Around 1820 or 1821, it is not known for sure, Hicks became fascinated with the prophecy of Isaiah (Book of Isaiah, Chapter XI, Verses 6-9): "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them." This prophecy, as "interpreted by Christianity" is "a prophecy of the coming of Christ and the arrival of a peaceful world, in which all animals and human beings live in harmony and prosperity." Hicks began a series of paintings upon this topic that came to be titled The Peaceable Kingdom. He produced more than 60 versions of this painting, continuing to paint this subject for the rest of his life.The last one was completed the day before his death.
Hicks’ paintings followed Isaiah’s prophecy "closely in its details" and many vignettes that are described in the Bible passage are depicted in his paintings. Over the course of the variant versions of the subject, biblical scenes were continually worked into the paintings in some formalong with events of the day, like the Hicksite schism among the Quakers, led by his cousin, Elias Hicks.
The influences on The Peaceable Kingdom came from various sources, but the most predominant origin came from John Hall’s engraving of Benjamin West’s Peace Treaty with the Indians, which appears in almost every one in the series of paintings. For Hicks the Peace Treaty symbolized the "Quaker attributes of peace and brotherly love." Most versions of the painting show an open wilderness, usually with several children surrounded by animals, arranged in the biblical vignettes. Somewhere, perhaps in the background, are figures of men resembling Penn’s Treaty with the Indians.
Hicks’ religious background, his devotion to the Bible, and his love of animals and children, seem to be the major influences that held him to this subject. It is said "because Hicks knew no other profitable trade and since Quaker ministers were not permitted salaries, he needed the income from his painting to support his large family. The Peaceable Kingdom, as a religious subject and a kind of visual sermon, perhaps helped Hicks to justify his vocation." In addition to The Peaceable Kingdom series, Hick also painted some historic subjects, including several versions of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians.
The Followers of West, Birch, and Hicks
After West, Birch, and Hicks, many subsequent artists have followed with their own ideas and often unique interpretations of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, some emphasizing the Peace Treaty, others the Treaty Tree.
In 1790 portrait engraving of William Penn was produced by Stanier after Sylvanus Bevan’s bust of Penn. Below the portrait is a small drawing taken from a medallion representing William Penn shaking hands with an Indian Chief.
English engraver George Cooke’s (1781-1834) engraving after William Birch, Philadelphia From the Great Tree, Kensington (London, May 1812) was widely popular and made available across Europe. This print was soon copiedabout 1827 by a German artist named J. During. During’s painting Philadelphia von dem grossen Baum zu Kingston (Philadelphia from the Great Tree of Kensington) is very similar to Cooke’s engraving and would seem to have been the model to produce his work. Measuring 19 by 23 inches, it was painted on woven paper. Its "heavy gray border and thick painterly technique was a common tool used by artists across Germany."
The Encyclopaedia Londiniensis, published in 1823, also had a portrait of William Penn, engraved after Bevan’s bust. Below the portrait is an interesting device – the hands of an Englishman and an Indian clasped and holding between them a short stick carrying a cap of liberty.
There was also a full-length mezzotint from a painting by Henry Inman (1801-1846) that was published by J. Earle of Philadelphia. In it William Penn stands under a tree in the foreground with a scroll in one hand. In the background are some Indians. Inman was born in Utica, NY, and gained prominence in New York City as an artist and was one of the principal founders of the National Academy of Design. He moved to Philadelphia in 1831 where he teamed with the engraver Cephas G. Childs and was able to get a commission from the Penn Society to do a full-length portrait of William Penn in 1832. The firm of Childs and Inman produced many prints from Inman’s portraits.
When Inman decided to leave the firm of Childs and Inman, he was replaced by a fellow employee of the firm, George Lehman, a landscape painter, engraver, and lithographer from Lancaster County, Pa. The firm became Childs & Lehman until Childs sold his share to Peter S. Duval and the firm became Lehman & Duval. Lehman stayed with the firm until 1837. Before joining Childs’ firm, Lehman produced a number of artworks, one of which was an 1827 aquatint titled, Under which William Penn concluded his treaty with the Indians in 1682 it fell during a storm in 1810 and measuring 15 by 19 inches.
Thomas Birch (1779-1851), William Birch’s son, created a later print of Philadelphia From Kensington, produced in 1830 and measuring 20 by 30 inches. Another Philadelphian, Xanthus Smith (1829-1929), who was born in the city and the son of another noted artist, Russell Smith (1812-1896), painted Treaty Elm, in 1866 and measuring 12 by 18 inches.. Later he became very well known for his depictions of Civil War naval engagements.
Another less well-known artist, Harris Steidler, painted a watercolor titled, Treaty Elm, Philadelphia, which measures 7 x 10 inches. The painting has no date, but is presumably 19th-20th century. J. Bannister after Benjamin West’s William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, 1682 appeared in Sartain’s Magazine.
Reliques of William Penn in Philadelphia in l864, a picture containing six scenes of William Penn’s life, one of which is the Peace Treaty, was done by Max Rosenthal and printed by Bowen & Co. in l864. It measures l2 x l6 l/2 inches.
These post 1860’s renditions of Penn’s Treaty painting and prints were no doubt influenced by the fact that Joseph Harrison purchased West’s painting in England.He brought it to Philadelphia where it was shown privately and in public until Harrison’s death in 1874, when it was given in joint custody to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the United States National Museum of Independence. The painting was shown in 1864 at the "Great Central Fair" in Logan Square held by the United States Sanitary Commissionto raise money for basic necessities and medicine for troops during the Civil War. Penn’s Treaty was shown in the Art Gallery of the Great Fair and copies were made and sold at the fair. Today Benjamin West’s original painting of Penn’s Treaty hangs on the walls of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, in Philadelphia.
Besides the artists, painters, engravers, and printers, the image of the Peace Treaty also appeared in other mediums at this time, including trade cards, posters, calendars, textiles, ceramics, jigsaw puzzles, and a host of others. Even the statue of Penn that was placed on the top of Philadelphia’s City Hall is modeled on this early image of Penn by Benjamin West, a scroll in one hand, the other in an outward mode just like West’s painting. The statue was also placed so that Penn was facing Kensington originally Shackamaxon, the scene of his Treaty of Amity with the American Indians.
By the late 19th century, the people of Philadelphia finally recognized the need to preserve the Penn Treaty Monument once and for all. West’s Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, Birch’s prints of Philadelphia From Kensington, and Hick’s Peaceable Kingdom, as well as a host of others that came after them, helped to put Penn’s Treaty in the minds of many residentsand helped promote the idea that the treaty did indeed take place and was worth preserving.
Relics of the Treaty Tree
one of the founders of the Penn Society, and one of the first advocates and supporters for the erection of a memorial at the site of Penn’s Treaty, appears to have at some point acquired a large enough piece of the Treaty Tree, to have made from it at least eight small boxes that he sent to various friends and associates.
One of the earliest records of Vaux sending a box is noted in a letter written by T. Cadwalader, on January 7, 1821. In the letter Cadwalader thanks Vaux for the “two boxes made of the root of the celebrated tree under which the wise and illustrious founder of Pennsylvania is said to have made his first Treaty with the native Lords of the Soil.” Cadwalader goes on to tell Vaux that he will keep one “as a valued and interesting token” from Vaux, while the other was to be “transmitted to John Penn with a copy of your (Vaux’s) letter.” T. Cadwalader is probably General Thomas Cadwalader (1779-1841), who distinguished himself in the War of 1812.He also took over the affairs of the Penn Family in America in 1817, which occupied so much of his time he retired from his law practice.
In 1822 Vaux wrote to John Binns (1772-1860), offering him a “small box” that was “made of part of the Great Elm” as a:
“…humble memorial of a transaction, which was distinguished for its just & pacific character, and associates recollections of a man who breasted persecution in his native land, when tyranny was at its zenith, who tho he was a Quaker, did certainly contribute no small share in asserting, & establishing the civil, & religious freedom, which has enlarged the circle of human happiness.”
An Irish-born Philadelphia journalist and publisher of The Democratic Press, John Binns, was a liberal reform activist (for which he was imprisoned in the U.K. and tried for sedition in 1799). After his release from the gaol in 1801, he immigrated to America. He was one of the first to realize (about the year 1816) the potential market for a “splendid and correct copy of the Declaration of Independence, with fac-similes of all the signatures.”
United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall was another who received a gift from Roberts Vaux of a small box made from the Treaty Tree. Upon receipt of the box Marshall had this to say in a thank you note to Vaux written on October 6th, 1831:
“The box is to me an inestimable relique. I know no inanimate object more entitled to our reverence than the tree of which it was a part, because I think few events in history have stronger claims on our serious reflection, or our humanity, our sense of right and on our judgment, than the treaty which was made under it and the consequences which followed that treaty. The plainly marked difference of intercourse between the colonists of Pennsylvania and the aborigines, and that which other colonists maintained with them furnishes a practical lesson on the influence which intelligence, real friendship, and justice may acquire and preserves over their untutored minds which ought not even yet to be forgotten.”
Pennsylvania Governor George Wolf (1777-1840) also received a Treaty Tree box from Vaux. Wolf, who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1829 to 1835 writes a note of thanks and respect dated March 10,1830:
“The box itself will be preserved with care and veneration; not only because I esteem it as a precious relict of that mute witness of an important event in the early history of the Commonwealth, by which the foundation of the pacific government of William Penn was laid, but also on account of its highly esteemed and much respected donor.”
Another box made from the Treaty Elm was sent to Hartman Kuhn (1784-1860), who is presumably the Hartman Kuhn who was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and one of the members of the original “State Fencibles,” a company that was raised by Col. Clement C. BiddleHe was a merchant and senior member of the firm of Lyle & Newman. In a letter of June 14, 1832, Kuhn thanks Vaux for box created from the Great Elm.
On November 19, 1832, William Wirt (1772-1834), who served as the Attorney General for the United States for twelve years, writes to Vaux thanking him for the Treaty Tree box. It seems evident that Wirt, like Vaux, was a defender of the rights of American Indians. After his stint as Attorney General, Wirt defended Cherokee rights before the U. S. Supreme Court. Wirt argued in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, that “the Cherokee Nation [was] a foreign nation in the sense of our constitution and law…” and not subject to Georgia’s jurisdiction. While the court did not rule entirely in the Cherokee favor, it did leave open the possibility that it might rule favorably in the future. Wirt got his chance again in Worcester v. Georgia, when the ruling handed down by another Treaty Elm Tree box recipient of Vaux, Chief Justice John Marshall, stated that in the Cherokee Nation, “the laws of Georgia have no force, and…the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter.”
Vaux sent yet another box to the poet and editor Willis Gaylord Clark (1808-1841) who returned his thanks to Vaux in a letter of February 4, 1833. Clark was considered by Edgar Allen Poe to be the “foremost Philadelphia poet of his day.” He was solicited to manage the Philadelphia Gazette, one of the oldest and most respectable journals in Pennsylvania, which he did until his untimely death.
John Fanning Watson
Not to be outdone, John Fanning Watson seemsto have acquired a bit of the Treaty Elm as well. Watson has stated that he presented to several persons snuffboxes “formed of a plurality of kinds of relic wood”, including the Treaty Tree. He also owned a "lady’s work-stand of the Treaty Tree, ornamented with the walnut tree of the Hall of Independence, and some mahogany from Columbus’ house." Watson also owned several picture frames that had the corners made from the Treaty Tree.
In his writings, Watson relates that a part of the famous tree was "constructed into something memorable and enduring at Penn’s Park, in England." He might be referring to a large piece of the Treaty Elm that was sent by Samuel Coates to John Penn, of Stoke Park, England, which "Penn so highly valued as to cause it to be placed on a pedestal in one of the apartments of his mansion and added a brazen tablet to it with a description of its history."
Watson had a particular fascination with the Treaty Elm. He writes that he:
“…had seen another sucker growing on the original spot [of the Treaty Tree], a dozen years ago, amid the lumber of the ship yard. It was then about 15 feet high, and might have been still larger but for neglect and abuse. I was aiding to have it boxed in for protection; but, whether from previous barking of the trunk, or from injuring the roots by settling the box it did not long survive the intended kindness.”
In 1836 a notice was published of a gift that Watson presented to the “Town House in Kensington,” acknowledging the welcome reception of two elm trees that he planted in the front court yard of that house as mementos of the Treaty Elm. They were transplanted from the premises once owned by Richard Townsends, where he had erected the first mill in Philadelphia County, later called Roberts’ Mill, in Germantown. This “Town House” of Kensington was the District of Kensington’s Commissioners’ Hall, which was located at Frankford Avenue & Master Street. Later, The Commissioners of Kensington themselves acquired some of actual Treaty Tree and constructed a “Great Arm Chair of relic wood formed of the real Treaty Tree and sundry other woods designated in a secret drawer attached, so as to perpetuate the facts intended to be consecrated to posterity by the enduring presence of the elegant chair.”
Besides the Commissioner’s Hall in Kensington, Watson also planted a scion from the Treaty Tree at his home at 122 Price Street, in Germantown. Along with the Treaty Tree he also planted some ivy grown at the William Penn estate in Ireland. A Treaty Tree from the Godfrey farm on Mill Street was also transplanted by Watson to the front of his old home on Main Street below Shoemaker’s Lane, which flourished for some time there before disappearing.
Other Relics of the Treaty Tree
It is not known who gave a Treaty Tree box to President John Quincy Adams, possibly Vaux, Watson, or Duponceau, but Judge Richard Peters observed President Adams, using a Treaty Elm box to keep his snuff at the Second Annual Penn Society dinner.. In a letter dated November 21, 1825, and sent to Roberts Vaux, Peters relates his observation:
“At the Penn dinner, the President (U.S.) took a pinch of snuff out of a very shabby box, said to be made from the wood of the Elm. I was ashamed of the squalidity of the box. I told Mr. Adams, that such a box should only be used [on a pinch] but I would endeavor to prevail on some of our society to have one small more respectful to Penn’s memory so that he should not turn up his nose at the box, whatever is contents might titillate him to do. Can such a grave solemn appearance be effected? If all the wood be gone, we are all in a hard box.”
Besides Vaux and Watson, many others took souvenirs of the Great Elm. The eminent Dr. Benjamin Rush had a study chair, made out of the Treaty Tree, presented to him in 1811 by Mrs. Pritchett. Samuel Breck, 2d Vice-President for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, visited the Treaty Elm as it lay in ruins and removed a limb, which he gave to Captain Watson, of the British Navy, who promised to present it to the museum in Exeter, England.
Not only had original pieces of the Treaty Tree become collectibles, but also later generations and offshoots of the tree were valued as well. On May 17, 1841, J. & A. Crout, cabinet makers on 6th Street above Green, had in its inventory a table designed for communion service for one of the local churches, made from the stock of the Penn Treaty Tree, which grew in the Pennsylvania Hospital lot. This “Hospital Lot” Treaty Tree was from a “shoot” of the original. The same company also manufactured a looking glass frame made from the wood of the original Treaty elm. This sucker that J. & A. Crout worked with had been located at the “western vacant lot” of the Hospital was cut down in 1841 when Linden Street was put through. Coates and Brown, managers, had placed it there somewhere around 1816.
In October 1842, at an exhibition of American Art and Manufactures held at the Franklin Institute, there was a large frame on display that was composed of 26 different American woods, including a piece of the Wm. Penn Treaty elm that grown in the Penn Hospital yard, on Spruce Street.
On December 29, 1846, workmen assigned to the hospital grounds dug up the remains of the old Penn Treaty Elm. A large number of roots were found, causing some excitement. A number of people again carried off souvenirs. This might have been the occasion when one “Miss Eyre” came into the possession of some of the roots of the Treaty Elm. There is an account where a Miss Eyre dug up the Treaty Tree roots and took them with her, when she moved from Kensington to Bethlehem, Pa. She lived in a quaint old house, known as the “First Moravian Store,” now torn down. The old roots stood in her parlor, and were used as a “What-not,” and their curious appearance attracted the attention of visitors. They were deposited by her executrix and niece, Miss Rosalie Tiers, in the Museum of the “Young Men’s Moravian Missionary Society,” at Bethlehem, Pa.
James E. Murdoch, in January 1864, had constructed an anchor with chain attached, the cross piece of the anchor being made from a piece of the Penn Treaty Tree cut off the morning after the old elm was blown down, by his father, Lieut. Thomas Murdoch. The flukes and shaft of the anchor were from the keel of the old Alliance, one of John Paul Jones’ vessels that had been moored at Petty’s Island that had fallen into disrepair and was abandoned.
At the Navy Department Library in Washington, DC, there is said to be a “fragment of the Penn Treaty Tree.” It came into their possession sometime prior to February 1911.
There is also a cup made from the Treaty Tree that found its way into the collection of museum objects of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The cup, along with other objects and manuscripts of the Lamb family, were given to the Society in 1969-1970, by Misses Aimee and Rosamond Lamb. The Treaty Tree cup is said to have manuscript documentation and provenance to go with it.
One Treaty Tree box went up for auction in California in the year 2004 and was described as follows:
“Elm wooden box of tongue-and-groove construction with a brass hinge, 4_ in length x 2_ in. in width x 1 1/8 in. in height, with beautiful red-rose toning and deep wood grain lines showing.”
The box included this accompanying note in ink on the underside of the lid:
“1841 H.S. Gardiner This Box.”
An accompanying note written by Gardiner states:
“…The Tree was held in high veneration by our Citizens and when it fell as many as could get a piece of it which being made into small Boxes Cups &C. and sent by many to their friends in a far distant Country as a relic to be placed in there [sic] cabinet to keep alive the memory of what that tree had witnessed, of which this Box is made from a piece of the root.”
As recently as March 2006, Dorrance Wright presented piece of Treaty Elm to the library in Levittown. A one-time foreman at Kensington’s Neafie and Levy’ Shipyard was in the neighborhood at the time the tree blew down in March of 1810. He was one of the men who helped to cut it up, and it was distributed among them as relics. After he died, his stepson Robert D. Webb, employed as a carpenter at the P.R.R. Kensington freight station, Philadelphia, obtained possession of his father’s cut of the Great Elm. Several ornaments were made of the wood and there were several pieces remaining, one of which was given to the library.
In 2007, a Treaty Tree box emerged in Northeast Philadelphia. It was a small box with an inlaid liberty shield on the top cover. The inscription on the inside of the box read:
“The Liberty Shield in the top is from the Elm Treaty Tree Kensington. H. Manderson, June 8th 1865.”
Research on the box shows that it was probably constructed by Henry Manderson, a member of an old Kensington family. The present owner of the box did not know its history: it was a gift to him from forty years ago.