Paxton Boys

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Paxton Boys

PAXTON BOYS. 1763–1765. As a result of Indian depredations that began during the French and Indian War and culminated in Pontiac's uprising, many Scots-Irish and German settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier came to believe that they had license to exterminate all Native Americans. They also nursed a grudge against the Quaker-dominated government of the colony, which they thought should have done more to protect their homes and families. On 14 December 1763, some fifty-seven rangers from Paxton and Donegal in Lancaster County, led by Lazarus Stewart, senselessly massacred six Christian Indians living at Conestoga Manor, eight miles west of Lancaster. Two weeks later, another gang rode into Lancaster and, pushing aside token resistance from the sheriff, broke into the workhouse where they slaughtered the remaining fourteen Conestoga Indians who had taken shelter there. Five of the twenty Indians were women and eight were children. Governor John Penn ordered the culprits brought to trial, but sympathetic justices and juries made this impossible. The "Boys" then undertook a political campaign to win better representation for the settlers in the legislature and backed it up with the very real threat of violence. In early February 1764, some 600 of them marched under arms towards Philadelphia, intending, it seems, to kill 140 Indians who had taken refuge in the city's military barracks. When 250 of them reached Germantown, they were confronted by over 500 armed citizen-volunteers and 250 regular troops, with artillery at the ready. The crisis abated when the "Boys" accepted promises of amnesty for their previous actions from government spokesmen (including Benjamin Franklin), along with the promise of a chance to present their grievances to the governor and legislature. "Their major grievances—paucity of frontier defenses, underrepresentation, and Quaker favoritism to Indians—received scant attention from the legislature," according to the historian Alden T. Vaughn. ("Frontier Banditti," p. 85).

Thereafter, the Pennsylvania frontier degenerated into a morass of violence and murder, where white men were effectively free to kill Indians at will and where no Indian could expect to receive any sort of legal protection or justice. In May 1765 at Sideling Hill, a group of frontier banditti with blackened faces, called by some the "Black Boys," even went so far as to hijack a convoy of gifts and trade goods being sent to Fort Pitt and faced down the regular troops sent to recover the wagons. From London, Franklin was aghast: "The outrages committed by the frontier people are really amazing," he said (ibid., p. 87). By then, the name "Paxton Boys" had become an umbrella term for all frontiersmen who were willing to use violence to achieve their ends. As can readily be imagined, Native Americans on the Pennsylvania frontier had no sympathy for the rebel fight against the British imperial government after 1775.

Lazarus Stewart, disgusted with the proprietary government and threatened with prosecution, moved with his followers to the Wyoming Valley in 1769 and was granted a township by the Connecticut authorities. He was killed in the Wyoming Valley massacre of 3-4 July 1778.

SEE ALSO Pontiac's War.


Dunbar, John R., ed. The Paxton Papers. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1957.

Hindle, Brooke. "The March of the Paxton Boys." William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, 3 (1946): 461-486.

Martin, James K. "The Return of the Paxton Boys and the Historical State of the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1764–1774." Pennsylvania History 38 (1971): 117-133.

Vaughan, Alden T. "Frontier Banditti and the Indians: The Paxton Boys' Legacy." In Roots of American Racism: Essays on the Colonial Experience. Edited by Alden T. Vaughn. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

                           revised by Harold E. Selesky