Promised Land

Penn's Holy Experiment, The Walking Purchase, and the Disposession of Delawares, 1600-1763
Steven Craig Harper
Lehigh University Press - Promised Land

Focusing on The Walking Purchase as the central event in the long process of dispossessing Delawares both geographically and ethnically, Steven Harper observes the transformation of a fragile, if generally peaceful middle ground, habitable by Delawares and English on negotiable terms, to an English colony determined to possess a boundless landscape by fraud and force.

Months after King Charles II promised William Penn a tract of American land, Delawares exchanged "great promises. . .of kindness and good neighborhood" with Penn's agents. The integrity of such a promise depended on how "the Indians and the English" conceived of the landscape. To Penn it was all land promised by Charles II, but even more by a Supreme Being who expected the erection of a new Israel characterized by peace and harmony. Delawares needed a benefactor, an ally to maintain an existence independent of Iroquois domination.

Initially, then, Delawares and Penn incorporated each other into their political and ceremonial arrangements. But Penn's inheritance notions of land militated against the mollifying influence of his Quakerism and gave Pennsylvania an ambiguous legacy.

By the 1720s, Pennsylvania stopped incorporating and began resisting Delawares, who, in turn, fought to preserve their already circumscribed power in an increasingly possessive culture. The Walking Purchase of 1737 marked the end of negotiated boundaries in Pennsylvania, both geographical and cultural. Dispossessed by the fraudulent purchase and the conspiratorial diplomacy associated with it, Delawares chose variations on several responses. Nutimus and others negotiatiated, and failing that, migrated. Weshichagechive and his kin converted. Tishcohan and Tunda Tatamy and their families adopted European names, religion, and farming practices and by doing so gained power to remain in the Lehigh Valley. Teedyuscung and his family first migrated, then converted, then struck violently against Pennsylvania before leading Delawares into boundary negotiations. This time, however, only pretense was possible for the Pennsylvania government. It had broken its promise to coexist. It could not conceive of a landscape habitable on any other terms than its own, and it had no incentive to imagine since Pennsylvania now had the power of possession.

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