Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Just before sunrise on Monday, September 19, 1737, a strange gathering of Indians, white settlers and professional woodsmen assembled beneath a mam­moth chestnut tree along the Durham Road in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The Indians were Minsi and Shaw­nee of the Delaware Nation, along with two of their chiefs, Tisheekunk and Nutimus; the white settlers were men anx­ious for Pennsylvania to ac­quire more Indian land; and the three tall, strong woodsmen – Edward Marshall, James Yates (or Yeates) and Solomon Jennings – were hire­lings of Proprietor Thomas Penn, the second son of Wil­liam Penn and the Penn fami­ly’s principal representative in America. That day formally marked the date of The Walk­ing Purchase, later known in American history as “the day Thomas Penn scalped the Indians” and “The Great Penn­sylvania Fraud.”

Such fraud would not have been permitted in William Penn’s day. The founder re­peatedly urged his agents to treat the Indians fairly in all circumstances. From the time of his arrival in the New World, he treated the Native Americans with the utmost respect and good will. He acquired Indian land not on demand, as he held a grant issued by King Charles II of England – described as “cover­ing Delaware Valley land rich for farming and with minerals, 300 miles by 160 miles” – but by purchasing it from the Indians with fair amounts of the goods they wanted. Later, during the periods he spent in England he demanded that additional land acquisitions be handled in the same way. William Penn firmly believed that God had been instrumen­tal in granting him the magnif­icent New World province, and he endeavored to operate it in a Christian manner so that it would serve as a model for future colonization. He knew, too, that friendship with the Indians would be a vital factor in his colony’s keeping peace with them. They certainly thought of him as their friend, and he was just that. Consid­ering that William Penn was actually in Pennsylvania a total of less than four years – this due to illness, financial prob­lems and urgent business in England having to do with protecting Pennsylvania’s charter – the relationship be­tween the founder and the Indians was quite remarkable.

In 1682, soon after his ar­rival, thirty-eight year old Penn made a “Treaty of Friend­ship” with the Native Ameri­cans, which laid the foundation for the peaceful relationship that lasted throughout his lifetime and for some years thereafter. The spirit of the treaty was ac­cented by benevolence and altruism: “We meet in the broad pathway of good faith and good will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. The friendship between me and you I will not compare with a chain, for that the rain might rust or the falling tree might break. We are the same as if one man’s body were to be divided into two parts; we are all one flesh and blood.” Little wonder that the Found­er’s greatest success in Penn­sylvania was with the Indians.

For some time after William Penn’s death in July 1718, the Indians and colonists contin­ued to coexist without serious problems. His widow, Hannah Callowhill Penn – who had demonstrated great business ability during her husband’s long illness – and her sons chose as the family’s repre­sentatives in Pennsylvania agents who would operate largely in the manner of the founder. William Penn had been survived by four sons: William, Jr., by Letitia, his first wife, and John, Thomas, and Richard by Hannah. Son Wil­liam was a gambler and drinker known as “William the Wastrel,” whom the father disinherited. Hannah’s three sons became the Proprietors of Pennsylvania; John’s interest in the Proprietary was one-half, Thomas’s and Richard’s each one-fourth. But Hannah virtually controlled the Penn­sylvania holdings until her death in 1727.

Thomas, a tall, handsome bachelor, assumed responsibil­ity for managing the family’s English estates upon his fa­ther’s death. Of the three Proprietors, only he assumed greater control of Pennsylvania affairs. He conducted the provincial affairs by correspon­dence, but by 1731 pressing problems in the colony could no longer be solved by his directives. Land sales were particularly snarled, partly because immigration had increased through the years, and was growing even more rapidly.

A land office, managed by trusted friends of Thomas’s, had been established in Phila­delphia. All routine land sales were supposed to be made through that office, which received applications, author­ized surveys and issued deeds to purchasers. The managers, who were not as efficient as Thomas, faced more than they could handle. Problems con­tinued to mount. Some tracts were sold and occupied with­out proper surveys; deeds were not always recorded; purchases were often made by speculators who never visited the colony and had no plans to do so; titles that were faulty from the outset still changed hands. The Penns’ personal agent in Philadelphia, Isaac Norris, dispatched a frantic plea to the family in England begging that at least one of the absentee landlords hurry to Pennsylvania to stem the chaos. Since his brothers knew and cared little about business affairs in the colony, Thomas prepared to make the journey.

Proprietor Thomas Penn arrived in Philadelphia in 1732, well received by both colonists and officials. He promptly assumed his father’s position as Assembly leader; he settled old land disputes and con­ducted affairs at the land office competently; and he made a concerted effort to be a fair and just Lord Proprietor. But he was not successful in ob­taining the Assembly’s sup­port in instituting laws disallowing Indian land claims.

Thomas Penn resembled his father in appearance, but oth­erwise he was distinctly differ­ent. Whereas the founder had been warm, kind and patient, Thomas was cold, unsympa­thetic and eventually unpopu­lar with the colonists. Because he had forsaken his father’s Quaker faith and joined the Church of England, he was not in harmony with the ideals of the provincial Quaker lead­ers. William Penn believed his colony to be a gift from God, but to businessman Thomas Penn, Pennsylvania was an estate which should be ex­ploited to produce as much profit as possible. He was described by an early historian as “unscrupulous, overbear­ing, dishonest, greedy, stingy and cruel…interested only in money-getting and money-­keeping.” Benjamin Franklin, who had never seen William Penn, Jr., but had heard about him, and did know Thomas and John, remarked to a friend that, “according to all ac­counts, there was more of the gentleman in Billy Penn drunk than there is in both Thomas and John sober.”

In fairness to Thomas Penn, he had to solve greater prob­lems with settlers and Indians than his father. White settlers had occupied Pennsylvania for several decades and had grad­ually taken unfair advantage of the Native Americans. In Wil­liam Penn’s era, the Delaware had believed white men to be gracious and courteous, but, by the time Thomas arrived they knew better. Thomas’s brother John joined him in Pennsylvania a few years after his arrival, but John, as far as Indian affairs were concerned, deferred to Thomas. He did not remain in Pennsylvania long.

The Indians trusted Thomas Penn for a time, partly because he was the son of the man their fathers – and several of them – had affectionately called “Onas,” or “quill,” and who figured so pleasingly in Indian lore and legend. Thomas had given them a fair amount of goods for rights to the first lands he acquired from them. But by 1737 the continuing flow of immigrants and the pressing need for additional land apparently became more important to Thomas than dealing fairly with the Delaware.

More than five decades earlier, William Penn had struck the first “Walking Pur­chase Agreement” with the Indians. During prolonged ceremonies, according to leg­end held beneath a great tree on the bank of the Delaware River, the founder and many chiefs of the Minsi and Shaw­nee tribes pledged friendship. The chiefs agreed that Penn would purchase, for blankets, guns and trinkets, land along the Delaware to extend “as far as a man can go in a day and a half” from a point in Bucks County. Soon afterward, the event took place, with both Indians and white men walk­ing, and with Penn and several chiefs accompanying them. Although some rode on horse­back, William Penn chose to walk.

It was a rather leisurely event, with the walkers stop­ping frequently to eat and rest. Shortly before the end of the journey, William Penn, certain that he had acquired all the land he would need for the foreseeable future, called a halt to the walk. Penn was satisfied and so were the Indians. The Indians agreed that there would be another such walk if and when Penn so desired. There was no written agree­ment or treaty covering the land purchase, nor survey or measurement of any kind establishing its exact borders, but Penn recorded all the events relating to it, and drew a rough map of the recent acquisition. According to sev­eral early accounts, the Indi­ans wove scenes depicting the walk into ceremonial belts which the chiefs treasured as sacred.

By 1735, seventeen years after William Penn’s death, Thomas Penn was determined to arrange another walk. He had already tried – unsuccess­fully – to purchase more Indian lands. Chief Nutimus, who lived with his tribe of Dela­ware around the “Forks of Delaware,” showed no inclina­tion to release more territory. Accounts do not agree as to whether Thomas Penn’s pro­posed walk was to be partially a retracing of his father’s to cover part of the territory not included by it, but seemingly included in the Founder’s sketch, or to be a walk begin­ning at the same point as the first but extending farther. Most early sources confirm that it commenced at Wrights­town, in Bucks County, just as the first one had. Some writers suggest that the “copy” of the founder’s map which Thomas Penn produced probably differed considerably from the original. There was little, if any, settlement in William Penn’s Walking Purchase ac­quisition on land which was sold by the Founder’s agents, but settlers occupied land in all areas surrounding Philadel­phia without buying it from either the Penn family or the Indians.

As had his father, Thomas Penn held a series of meetings with councils of chiefs, accom­panied by friend and adviser, Thomas Logan. Logan had arrived in Pennsylvania as secretary of the Founder’s last visit to the colony, and had remained as one of the Penns’ agents. By the time of Tho­mas’s Proprietorship, Logan had held several important positions in Pennsylvania government and was ex­tremely influential in colonial affairs.

In early 1735, Thomas Penn and Logan began pressuring the Indians. At meetings with the chiefs, they wielded Wil­liam Penn’s “map,” little more than a sketch, altered or not, as proof of the founder’s pur­chase, and showed Nutimus that his territory had already been acquired. Nutimus claimed he knew nothing of any such purchase – he and his tribe had not even lived there at the time of the original purchase – and he didn’t be­lieve that, even a half-century before, the chiefs would have sold so much land for a few blankets and trinkets. His fellow chieftains agreed with him; all said they knew noth­ing of the Indian ceremonial belts depicting the walk. The deliberations ground on. Fi­nally, the chiefs said they would expect more payment for the land if they should accept as truth the “marks” on William Penn’s “paper.” Thomas Penn firmly refused to pay anything more; the Indi­ans, he contested, had no legal right to the land.

Thomas Penn and James Logan apparently had no fear of the Indians becoming hos­tile, as Penn had some of Nuti­mus’s “Forks country” surveyed for sale, opened a small portion of it to settlers and reserved for the Penns a sixty-five hundred acre “In­dian Tract Manor” on which resident Indians were allowed to remain.

At what Thomas Penn advised the chiefs was “a final meeting to discuss the land situation,” he insisted that there be another day-and-a­-half walk, generally following his father’s “original sketch.” This walk would be completely surveyed and legally recorded and no additional payment would be made for the land acquired. However, he quickly promised, there would be additional walks in the future, through which he would buy many thousands more acres of land and for which he would pay a much higher price. The chiefs agreed and, on August 25, 1737, four chiefs – Nutimus (or Nootamis), Lappawinzoe (or Lapawinso), Teeshacomin (or Tishcohan) and Manawkyhickon – signed a deed confirming the sale to William Penn half a century earlier. Proprietor Thomas Penn, with Logan’s assistance, hurriedly drew up a treaty by which the walkers would tra­vel “due north” for a day and a half; from that point a line would be established to the Delaware River and return along the river to the starting point. The land included in the triangle would be “com­pletely free forever from Indian incumbrances.” This treaty cleared the way for the Walk­ing Purchase to take place.

Thomas Penn had been preparing for the walk for weeks. He had the trail staked, and cleared where necessary. But that walkway did not travel north; it pulled decid­edly to the northwest. He had hired his three runners­ – preferring to call them “experi­enced walkers” – and had them in training for quite some time. He had completed plans for the line to be staked out from the end of the walk to the Delaware, and that line would bear sharply to the northeast, at a right angle to the walk line, making the land con­tained in the triangle vastly more extensive than the Indi­ans could have even suspected.

When the walkers, three Indians and Penn’s three woodsmen, left the starting point that early September morning, there was no propri­etor with them; in fact, Thomas never understood why his father had gone along on the first walk. The party was accompanied by sheriff Timothy Smith, surveyor John Chapman, and two chiefs, all on horseback and carrying food and water for the walk­ers.

The walkers had not gone far before Penn’s men quick­ened their pace. The Indians hurried, too, but they were not tribal runners and soon be­came so exhausted they had to slow down and be left behind. In the late afternoon the In­dian walkers disappeared into the forest. The chiefs searched for them but with no success. Two of Penn’s men had over­estimated their stamina. Jen­nings dropped out before twenty miles had been cov­ered. Yates, the next morning, after camping with Marshall overnight near the present Northampton, fell very ill and died two days later. But Edward Marshall pushed on. After covering more than sixty­-five miles in eighteen hours, he stopped at a point on the Lehigh River a few miles north of present-day Jim Thorpe in Carbon County. The walk was over. The line of the purchase was then extended to the Dela­ware River near present-day Lackawaxen. In addition to the territory added by the opening up of the two sides of the triangle, still more land was included on the third side by the Delaware River, which curved. According to one source, Thomas Penn had defrauded the Indians of more than twelve hundred square miles of land.

At first the Indians only mildly complained about the Purchase, but gradually, as a few white men – Thomas Penn’s detractors – assured them they had, indeed, been cheated, they grew resentful. The Delaware believed they were cheated and they never forgot it. Nor did they readily forgive.

Historians generally agree that the Walking Purchase severed the bonds of friend­ship with the Delaware forged so carefully by the founder, and was later the chief cause of the bitter Indian hostility during the French and Indian War. Without question, it resulted in serious consequences as far as the warlike Munsee Clan of the Delaware was concerned. Part of the region covered by the Purchase was the home­land of most of the Munsee; the extent to which they considered they’d been cheated was woven into their ceremo­nies as they bitterly awaited the day of vengeance . By the time that day came, Thomas Penn was living in his home in England. After a nine-years’ residence in Pennsylvania, during which he had lived in the style accorded to a wealthy English gentleman, he re­turned to a land far away from the colonists whose rancor he incurred.

The first three wars of the struggle between England and France in America – King Wil­liam’s (1689-1697), Queen Anne’s (1702-1713) and King George’s (1744-1748) – were fought too far north for Penn­sylvania to be seriously af­fected. But part of the fourth, the French and Indian War, a great issue of which was con­trol of the Ohio Valley, was fought in Pennsylvania, begin­ning in 1755 (see “Into the Valley of Death” by Iola B. Parker, winter 1988). The French, aware of the Indians’ hostility toward the English that had been brewing since the Walking Purchase, urged them to join the fight to push the English out of the valley. It took little encouragement. If they had to endure white settlement, they much prefer­red the French; the English settled in large numbers and cleared the forests for farms, whereas the French did not disturb the Indian hunting grounds and gave their atten­tion to trading with the Indi­ans. The Indians had no interest in developing the fine, rich countryside of Pennsylva­nia for farming, which the English did, and the French largely ignored.

With the French furnishing the arms – and the rum – the Delaware went to war. They harassed and, in some cases, completely destroyed frontier settlements, killing many settlers and laying waste to many homesteads. A follower of Nutimus, Delaware Chief Teedyuscung, who was still denouncing the Walking Pur­chase at the time of the French and Indian War, did much to fan the Indian hatred of the English. Teedyuscung was feared as he was capable and clever, and he would act dar­ingly if he had imbibed suffic­ient quantities of rum, which he routinely did. At a confer­ence in Easton in 1756, he boldly denounced the English to Pennsylvania Governor William Denny. Stamping his foot and shaking his fist, Teedyuscung stormed: “This very land that is under me was my land and inheritance, and it was taken from me by fraud … When one man once had liberty to purchase lands, and he took the deed from the Indians for it and then died, and after his death his children forged another deed with the same Indian names to it as the true one, and thereby took lands from the Indians which they never sold, that is fraud!”

The war was waged until Great Britain was victorious in 1763, but the terrible Indian raids in Pennsylvania, which wreaked havoc on thickly populated areas as well as outlying settlements, lasted, with a few exceptions, only about a year. The terror ended when the Pennsylvania gov­ernment took the necessary aggressive measures against the raiders.

Two centuries after Thomas Penn’s questionable deal with the Indians, an American statesman observed: “The Walking Purchase was the most expensive land transac­tion in the long run ever made by the Penns.” It was due to the long-lasting effects of the Purchase that it secured such a firm niche in American his­tory. Because the truth is that, even under Thomas Penn’s Proprietorship, Indians were treated more fairly in Pennsyl­vania than in most colonies. And Pennsylvania’s Native Americans, under the Proprie­torship of William Penn, had enjoyed many years of honest, friendly and fair treatment unmatched in any other colony.


For Further Reading

Beatty, Edward C. O. William Penn as Social Philosopher. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.

Bolles, Albert S. Pennsylvania, Province and State. Philadel­phia: John Wanamaker, 1899.

Bronner, Edwin B. William Penn’s Holy Experiment: The Founding of Pennsylvania, 1681-1701. New York: Temple University Press, 1962.

Dingwall, E. and E. A. Heard. Pennsylvania, 1681-1756. Lon­don: C. W. Daniel Company, 1937.

Donehoo, George P., ed. Pennsylvania, A History. New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1926.

Dunn, Mary Maples. William Penn: Politics and Conscience. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Egle, William H. History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylva­nia. Philadelphia: E. M. Gardner, 1883.

Fisher, Sydney George. The Making of Pennsylvania. Phila­delphia: J. B. Lippincott Com­pany, 1908.

Foster, Genevieve. The World of William Penn. New York: Scrib­ners, 1973.

Gordon, Thomas F. The History of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and Carey, 1829.

Keith, Charles P. Chronicles of Pennsylvania, 1688-1748. Phila­delphia: Patterson and White Company, 1917.

Scharf, J. Thomas and Thompson Westcott. History of Philadel­phia, 1609-1884. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Company, 1884.

Trussell, John B. B. William Penn: Architect of a Nation. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commis­sion, 1980.

Wallower, Lucille. Colonial Pennsylvania. Camden, N. J.: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1964.

Wildes, Harry Emerson. William Penn. New York: Macmillan, 1974.


Peggy Robbins of Gulfport, Mis­sissippi, is a native of Tennessee, where she graduated from Martin College in Pulaski. She has writ­ten numerous articles for many national and regional magazines, including Smithsonian, South­west Art, Sporting Classics, American History Illustrated and Civil War Times Illus­trated. The history of Pennsylva­nia is one of her favorite subjects for research and publication. This is her third contribution to Penn­sylvania Heritage.