Christians and Indians: Why Begin Philadelphia?

Dateline: Philadelphia, 1707-1708. This is about the Indians of Pennsylvania. What was one of the strong motives for Christians to settle there?

Remember these facts to provide a context. In 1707-08, the French and their Indian allies were always a threat to the peace of Philadelphia, for they harassed the New York and New England colonists. For the Indians of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania to be confirmed in the interest of the crown of England meant that they would not attack the Philadelphians.

There are two legislative bodies the Assembly of freemen, and the Council, usually made up of elite lawyers, graduates of Cambridge or Oxford or Inns of Court, in the early eighteenth century. And it is not clear that all of them were Quakers. In contrast, in the late seventeenth, the Council was primarily, but not exclusively, made up of Quakers, who practiced equality. They did not have to be highly educated, but possess common sense. Things have changed.

Here are the names of the Councilors:

4 Feb 1707

The Honorable John Evans, Esq., Lieutenant Governor

Edward Shippen, John Guest, Thomas Story, James Logan, William Trent, all esquires

Modernized transcription begins:

The Assembly’s Address of the Representative of the freemen of the province of Pennsylvania, met in Assembly the 28th day of December 1708, presented the Lieutenant Governor of the said Province.

May it please the Governor:

We understand that the good purpose of the of the Proprietary [William Penn] to induce the savage persons by a gentle and just manner and civil society and Christian religion was a great motive to his [William Penn’s] obtaining the Royal grant for his province.

That the last Assembly considering the great importance it would be to the peace and welfare of the Inhabitants of all these the queen’s [Queen Anne’s] dominions;

That a friendship be settled and continued between her subjects and the native Indians of these her dominions.

And that they may not only be confirmed in the interest of the crown of England, and alienated from that of our enemies, but also be induced as much as may be by a kind and obliging treatment to embrace the Christian religion did amongst other things enact, that all necessary treaties should be had and made with such Indians and their nations;

And all necessary messages to them should be delayed upon a warrant from the governor and council by the provincial treasurer for the time being. Under this proviso, that a just account of all such treaties and messages with the charge thereof shall be laid before the Assembly as often as they shall see cause to call for the same.

The next paragraph discusses one account of the debits and credits of one treaty.

Then the first half of the third paragraph encourages the Council to appoint the right officers to uphold the treaties and write up the financial accounts and negotiating free trade.

Here begins the second half of the third paragraph:

These negotiations may:

[D]emonstrate their Christianity by a sober and virtuous conversation [way of life], which in our opinion will be the best way to induce the savage natives to embrace the Christian religion and will most effectually engage and confirm them in the interest of the crown of England and render them serviceable to this province in general;

But on the other hand, if men employed or concerned in Indian treaties or trade will take the opportunities to exact upon or defraud the Indians and commit such vile abominations with them (as we are informed some have done to the great scandal of Christianity), the poor heathen will have too much cause to conclude that it is better to remain in their natural state than advance towards the Christian religion, especially if they conclude that the professors thereof [of Christianity]  will give them no better example than we understand some have done, both lately [recently] and formerly in their Indian visits;

And moreover we are of opinion that if such of the French nation as have been at Canada and hold correspondence there be not restrained from trading with and residing amongst the Indians, all our endeavors to engage them in the interest of the crown of England will be to little purpose.

Signed by the order of the House, nemine contra Dicente [no one speaking against, or the vote was unanimous], the 28th of December 1708.

Transcription ends Emphasis added)

Does the English Assembly express cultural superiority, or does it fight for Christianity and the crown to maintain the peace? If one culture really is superior to the other, how does one measure this? Buildings and ships and roads and commerce? Is it right to persuade others to join one’s own religion? English / Quaker communities were more advanced in technology like building and such things. The main thing is that the Indians should come to know God.


Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838), pp. 310-12.

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