The Paxton Boys’s Massacre

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The Paxton Boyss Massacre


Frontier Rage . The bitterness of whites in the back-country of Pennsylvania was substantial after years of bloody guerrilla warfare with various Indian tribes. In late 1763 settler rage led to vindictive bloodletting against the Indians and open confrontation with a colonial government they felt had failed to protect them. A band of frontier ruffians, self-styled the Paxton Boys (after one of the towns on the Susquehanna River from which they came), lashed out against the so-called civilized Indians m the praying or mission towns of south-eastern Pennsylvania.


As a Quaker and a prominent member of the Pennsylvania legislature, Benjamin Franklin had strong moral and political objections to the massacres of Conestoga Indians. Franklin denounced the attackers in a pamphlet published in early 1764, finding them markedly inferior to Heathens, Turks, Saracens, Moors, Negroes, and Indians, in the Knowledge and Practice of what is right/ Franklin described the brutal killing of fourteen defenseless Indians at the Lancaster workhouse and remarked on the casual departure of the perpetrators:

The barbarous Men who committed the atrocious Fact, in Defiance of Government, of all Laws human and divine, and to the eternal Disgrace of their County and Coulour, then mounted their Horses, Huzzad in Triumph, as if they had gained a Victory, and rode offunmolested!

The Bodies of the Murdered were then brought out and exposed in the Street, till a Hole could be made in the Earth, to receive and cover them.

But the Wickedness cannot be covered, the Guilt will lie on the whole Land, till Justice is done on the Murderers, THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT WILL CRY TO HEAVEN FOR VENGEANCE.

Source: Benjamin Franklin, A Natrative of the Late Massacres in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, volume 2 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1967).

Conestoga Manor . On 15 December 1763 this small band of fifty-seven men descended on the village called Conestoga Manor, a government-protected settlement where some twenty Conestoga Indians lived peacefully, cultivating the soil and practicing Christianity under the direction of Moravian missionaries. The settlement was hundreds of miles from territory threatened by warlike tribes and was surrounded by white-settled areas. Finding only six Indians at homethree men, two women, and one boythey killed and scalped these hapless victims. They then set the village on fire, celebrated their victory, and rode off in search of the other Conestogas. Officials in the town of Lancaster heard of the massacre and, wishing to protect the remaining residents of Conestoga Manor, gathered them in the county workhouse.

Lancaster. However, the frontiersmen had little respect for, or fear of, the authorities, so great was the sympathy for their cause (if not necessarily their tactics) among the population. On 27 December they gathered at the workhouse and massacred the rest of the Conestogas. The sixteen unarmed Indians divided into family groups, fell to their knees, and declared their love of the English. They were murdered while in the posture of prayer, and the Paxton Boys mounted their horses and rode off in celebration. It is not clear whether the local authorities at Lancaster had offered some show of resistance or if they stood by passively. No witnesses could ever be found to testify against the members of this mob, and they went unprosecuted.

The Government Retreats. The colonial authorities in Pennsylvania demanded justice against the killers, and frontiersmen rallied in their defense. Instead of there being a trial, Philadelphia was forced to raise a militia to defend itself against a ragtag army of six hundred frontiersmen who marched on the capital demanding military protection for the backcountry, relief from taxation, and greater representation in government. The colonial government forestalled any violence by accepting a formal petition from the protesters. This lack of vigorous action in the face of open defiance of colonial authority reflected the sharp division in public opinion, and not just on the frontier. The Quakers who dominated the legislature (including Benjamin Franklin) expressed their outrage, but they realized they faced a formidable mass of poor and middling folk in the West and in the suburbs of Philadelphia who sympathized with the Paxton Boyss basic motivations. These less wealthy and politically disfranchised folk tended to be Lutherans and Presbyterians, and they were contemptuous of Quaker and Moravian missionary efforts among Indians. The colonial government worried that widespread lawlessness might even extend to a massacre of the Indians sheltered on Providence Island in Philadelphia.


Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America (New York: Norton, 1988);

Matthew Smith, A Declaration and Remonstrance of the Distressed and Bleeding Frontier Inhabitants of the Province of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Printed by W. Bradford, 1764).

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The Paxton Boys’s Massacre

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