The first planters in these parts were the Dutch, and soon after them the Swedes and Finns. The Dutch applied themselves to traffic, the Swedes and Finns to husbandry. There were some disputes between them for some years; the Dutch looking upon them as intruders upon their purchase and possession, which was finally ended in the surrender made by John Rizeing, the Swedish governor, to Peter Stuyvesant, governor for the States of Holland, anno 1655.
The Dutch inhabit mostly those parts of the province that lie upon or near the bay, and the Swedes the freshes of the river Delaware. There is no need of giving any description of them, who are better known there than here; but they are a plain, strong, industrious people, yet have made no great progress in culture, or propagation of fruit-trees; as if they desired rather to have enough than plenty or traffic. But I presume the Indians made them the more careless by furnishing them with the means of profit, to wit, skins and furs for rum and such strong liquors. They kindly received me as well as the English, who were few before the people concerned with me came among them. I must needs commend their respect to authority, and kind behaviour to the English. They do not degenerate from the old friendship between both kingdoms. As they are people proper and strong of body, so they have fine children, and almost every house full: rare to find one of them without three or four boys and as many girls; some six, seven, and eight sons. And I must do them that right; I see few young men more sober and laborious.
The Dutch have a meeting-place for religious worship at Newcastle; and the Swedes three; one at Christina, one at Tenecum, and one at Wicoco, within half a mile of this town.
There rests that I speak of the condition we are in, and what settlement we have made; in which I will be as short as I can. The country lieth bounded on the east by the river and bay of Delaware and Eastern Sea. It hath the advantage of many creeks, or rivers, that run into the main river or bay, some navigable for great ships, some for small craft. Those of most eminency are Christina, Brandywine, Skilpot, and Sculkil, any one of which has room to lay up the royal navy of England, there being from four to eight fathom of water.
The lesser creeks or rivers, yet convenient for sloops and ketches of good burthen, are Lewis, Mespillion, Cedar, Dover, Cranbrook, Feversham, and Georges below; and Chichester, Chester, Toacawny, Pammapecka, Portquessin, Neshimenck, and Pennberry in the freshes: many lesser, that admit boats and shallops. Our people are mostly settled upon the upper rivers, which are pleasant and sweet, and generally bounded with good land.
The planted part of the province and territories is cast into six counties: Philadelphia, Buckingham, Chester, Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex, containing about four thousand souls. Two general assemblies have been held, and with such concord and despatch that they sat but three weeks, and at least seventy laws were passed without one dissent in any material thing. But of this more hereafter, being yet raw and new in our gear. However, I cannot forget their singular respect to me in this infancy of things, who, by their own private expenses, so early considered mine for the public, as to present me with an impost upon certain goods imported and exported, which, after my acknowledgment of their affection, I did as freely remit to the province and the traders to it. And for the well-government of the said counties, courts of justice are established in every county, with proper officers, as justices, sheriffs, clerks, constables; which courts are held every two months. But, to prevent lawsuits, there are three peacemakers chosen by every county court, in the nature of common arbitrators, to hear and end differences between man and man. And spring and fall there is an orphans' court in each county, to inspect and regulate the affairs of orphans and widows.
Philadelphia: the expectation of those who are concerned in this province is at last laid out, to the great content of those here who are any ways interested therein. The situation is a neck of land, and lieth between two navigable rivers, Delaware and Sculkill, whereby it hath two fronts upon the water, each a mile, and two from river to river. Delaware is a glorious river; but the Sculkill, being an hundred miles boatable above the falls, and its course north-east toward the fountain of Susquehannah, (that tends to the heart of the province, and both sides our own), it is like to be a great part of the settlement of this age. I say little of the town itself, because a platform will be shown you by my agent, in which those who are purchasers of me, will find their names and interests. But this I will say, for the good providence of God, that of all the many places I have seen in the world, I remember not one better seated; so that it seems to me to have been appointed for a town, whether we regard the rivers, or the conveniency of the coves, ducks, and springs, the loftiness and soundness of the land, and the air, held by the people of those parts to be very good.
It is advanced within less than a year, to about fourscore houses and cottages, such as they are, where merchants and handicrafts are following their vocations as fast as they can; while the countrymen are close at their farms. Some of them got a little winter corn in the ground last season; and the generality have had a handsome summer-crop, and are preparing for their winter corn. They reaped their barley this year, in the month called May, the wheat in the month following; so that there is time in these parts for another crop of divers things before the winter season. We are daily in hopes of shipping to add to our number; for, blessed be God! here is both room and accommodation for them: the stories of our necessity being either the fear of our friends, or the scarecrows of our enemies; for the greatest hardship we have suffered hath been salt meat, which, by fowl in winter and fish in summer, together with some poultry, lamb, mutton, veal, and plenty of venison, the best part of the year, hath been made very passable. I bless God I am fully satisfied with the country and entertainment I got in it; for I find that particular content, which hath always attended me, where God in his providence hath made it my place and service to reside. You cannot imagine my station can be at present free of more than ordinary business; and, as such, I may say it is a troublesome work. But the method things are putting in will facilitate the charge, and give an easier motion to the administration of affairs. However, as it is some men's duty to plow, some to sow, some to water, and some to reap, so it is the wisdom as well as the duty of a man to yield to the mind of providence, and cheerfully as well as carefully embrace and follow the guidance of it.
Every king hath his council; and that consists of all the old and wise men of his nation, which perhaps is two hundred people. Nothing of moment is undertaken, be it war, peace, selling of land, or traffic, without advising with them, and, which is more, with the young men, too. It is admirable to consider how powerful the kings are, and yet how they move by the breath of their people. I have had occasion to be in council with them upon treaties for land, and to adjust the terms of trade.
Their order is thus: The king sits in the middle of an half-moon, and has his council, the old and wise, on each hand. Behind them, or at a little distance, sit the younger fry in the same figure. Having consulted and resolved their business, the king ordered one of them to speak to me. He stood up, came to me, and in the name of the king saluted me, then took me by the hand, and told me that he was ordered by his king to speak to me, and that now it was not he but the king who spoke, because what he should say was the king's mind. He first prayed me to excuse them, that they had not complied with me the last time. He feared there might be some fault in the interpreter, being neither Indian nor English. Besides, it was the Indian custom to deliberate and take up much time in council before they resolved; and that, if the young people and owners of the land had been as ready as he, I had not met with so much delay.
Having thus introduced his matter, he fell to the bounds of the land they had agreed to dispose of, and the price; which now is little and dear, that which would have bought twenty miles not buying now two. During the time that this person spoke, not a man of them was observed to whisper or smilethe old grave, the young reverent, in their deportment. They speak little, but fervently, and with elegance. I have never seen more natural sagacity, considering them without the help (I was going to say the spoil) of tradition: and he will deserve the name of wise who outwits them in any treaty about a thing they understand.
When the purchase was agreed, great promises passed between us of kindness and good neighborhood, and that the English and Indians must live in love as long as the sun gave light; which done, another made a speech to the Indians, in the name of all the sachamakers or kings; first, to tell them what was done; next, to charge and command them to love the Christians, and particularly to live in peace with me and the people under my goverment; that many governors had been in the river; but that no governor had come himself to live and stay here before; and having now such an one, who had treated them well, they should never do him or his any wrong; at every sentence of which they shouted, and said Amen in their way. . . .
We have agreed, that in all differences, between us, six of each side shall end the matter. Do not abuse them, but let them have justice, and you win them.
There has been much discussion of late years concerning the far-famed Treaty of Penn with the Indians. A circumstance, which has all the interest both of fact and of poetry, was confirmed by such unbroken testimony of tradition that history seemed to have innumerable records of it in the hearts and memories of each generation. But as there appears no document or parchment of such criteria as to satisfy all inquiries, historical skepticism has ventured upon the absurd length of calling in question the fact of the treaty. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with commendable zeal, has bestowed much labor upon the questions connected with the treaty, and the results which have been attained can scarcely fail to satisfy a candid inquirer. All claim to a peculiar distinction for William Penn, on account of the singularity of his just proceedings in this matter is candidly waived, because the Swedes, the Dutch, and the English had previously dealt thus justly with the natives. It is in comparison with Pizarro and Cortés that the colonists of all other nations in America appear to an advantage; but the fame of William Penn stands, and ever will stand, preeminent for unexceptionable justice and peace in his relations with the natives.
Penn had several meetings for conference and treaties with the Indians, besides those which he held for the purchase of lands. But unbroken and reverently cherished tradition, beyond all possibility of contradition, has designated one great treaty held under a large elm-tree, at Shackamaxon (now Kensington4), a treaty which Voltaire justly characterizes as "never sworn to, and never broken." In Penn's Letter to the Free Society of Traders, dated August 16, 1683, he refers to his conferences with the Indians. Two deeds, conveying land to him, are on record, both of which bear an earlier date than this letter; namely, June 23d and July 14th of the same year. He had designed to make a purchase in May; but having been called off to a conference with Lord Baltimore, he postponed the business till June.
The "Great Treaty" was doubtless unconnected with the purchase of land, and was simply a treaty of amity and friendship, in confirmation of one previously held, by Penn's direction, by Markham, on the same spot; that being a place which the Indians were wont to use for this purpose. It is probable that the treaty was held on the last of November, 1682; that the Delawares, the Mingos, and other Susquehanna tribes formed a large assembly on the occasion; that written minutes of the conference were made, and were in possession of Governor Gordon, who states nine conditions as belonging to them in 1728, but are now lost; and that the substance of the treaty is given in Penn's Letter to the Free Traders. These results are satisfactory, and are sufficient corroborated by known facts and documents. The Great Treaty, being distinct from a land purchase, is significantly distinguished in history and tradition.
The inventions of romance and imagination could scarcely gather round this engaging incident attractions surpassing in its own simple and impressive interest. Doubtless Clarkson has given a fair representation of it, if we merely disconnect from his account the statement that the Indians were armed, and all that confounds the treaty of friendship with the purchase of lands. Penn wore a sky-blue sash of silk around his waist, as the most simple badge. The pledges there given were to hold their sanctity "while the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure."
While the whites preserved in written records the memory of such covenants, the Indians had their methods for perpetuating in safe channels their own relations. They cherished in grateful regard, they repeated to their children and to the whites, the terms of the Great Treaty. The Delawares called William Penn Miquon, in their own language, though they seem to have adopted the name given him by the Iroquois, Onas; both which terms signify a quill or pen. Benjamin West's picture of the treaty is too imaginative for a historical piece. He makes Penn of a figure and aspect which would become twice the years that had passed over his head. The elm-tree was spared in the war of the American Revolution, when there was distress for firewood, the British officer, Simcoe, having placed a sentinel beneath it for protection. It was prostrated by the wind on the night of Saturday, March 3, 1810. It was of gigantic size, and the circles around its heart indicated an age of nearly three centuries. A piece of it was sent to the Penn mansion at Stoke Poges, in England, where it is properly commemorated. A marble monument, with suitable inscription was "placed by the Penn Society A. D. 1827 to mark the site of the Great Elm Tree."
1Penn had already been part proprietor of West Jersey when in 1681 he received the grant of Pennsylvania, as compensation for a claim of his father's estate against the English Government. He came out in person to America in 1682, made his famous treaty with the Indians and founded Philadelphia. He returned to England in 1684, and again visited Pennsylvania in 1699-1701. His account is printed in Hart's "American History Told by Contemporaries."
2Letter from Penn to the Free Society of Traders, dated Aug. 16, 1688.
3Mr. Ellis was a Unitarian clergyman, long pastor of a church at Charlestown, Mass.
4Kensington is now a part of Philadelphia, being the northeastern section. It lies on the Delaware River, about two miles distant from the City Hall, and is a center of the ship-building industry.