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Our Undying Past

'Cataclysmic Change'

An elegant summary of Pennsylvania’s fraught history with its original people has just been posted on the online Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. A good friend who runs a Philadelphia tour-guide business alerted me to the new essay, and now I commend it to your reading as well.

The author, Gettysburg College history professor Timothy J. Shannon, highlights many of the points that come through in Visions of Teaoga, my historical novel about Indian-settler conflicts in the 1700s. His opening passage captures the problem: “Relations between Pennsylvania’s Native American and European peoples underwent cataclysmic change during the second half of the eighteenth century. Despite the reputation for peaceful intercultural relations that Pennsylvania had enjoyed since its founding in 1681, a series of wars engulfed its frontiers after 1754, leading to the dispossession and exile of the colony’s native peoples.”

The essay covers the same bloody ground that I do in the book. Shannon recounts the fraudulent land purchases, chief among them the notorious Walking Purchase. Also, the arrival into Pennsylvania of other dispossessed native groups from the south, and their being herded into what he calls “polyglot” refugee towns. As my readers know, the protagonist of Visions of Teaoga, the Shawnee matriarch Queen Esther, led just such a mixed village.

Further, Shannon writes about how the Iroquois Confederacy big-footed smaller native groups in the state and even sold land out from under them. He describes the intra-tribal tensions this caused, and the Delawares’ particular determination to regain their hold on the Wyoming Valley. The raids and counter-raids of the French and Indian War resulted in a mutual, raw animosity that has never died. From then on, Shannon writes, “frontier settlers assumed all Indians were hostile and tacitly condoned their exile or murder. Speculators from within and outside the colony competed against each other for Indian land, paying little heed” to prior agreements.

The Revolutionary War brought more bloodshed and revenge raids on a grand scale; these events comprise perhaps the most dramatic era in the state’s history, and the most powerful chapters in my book. Again, in Shannon’s words: “By the war’s end, nearly every Indian community within Pennsylvania’s borders had either been destroyed or abandoned and their survivors forced to seek refuge in Ohio or New York. The state of Pennsylvania recognized no federal or state Indian reservations within its borders.”

Tough stuff, but true.

Take a few minutes to absorb this little-told but important chapter in our history. You can find it here: http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/native-american-pennsylvania-relations-1754-89-2/
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