The Conestoga Massacre - Part 1

The Paxton Boys were a group of backcountry Scots-Irish frontiersmen from the area around the central Pennsylvania, near the settlements of Paxton Church, Paxtang, Pennsylvania, the area now defined as Dauphin County, who formed a vigilante group in response to the American Indian uprising known as Pontiac's Rebellion. The Paxton Boys felt that the government of colonial Pennsylvania was negligent in providing them with protection, and so decided to take matters into their own hands.

As the nearest belligerent Indians were some 200 miles west of Paxton, the men turned their anger towards the local Conestoga (or Susquehannock) Indians - many of them Christians - who lived peacefully in small enclaves in the midst of white Pennsylvania settlements. (The Paxton Boys believed or claimed to believe that these Indians secretly provided aid and intelligence to the hostile Indians.) On December 14, 1763 a group of more than fifty Paxton Boys marched on an Indian village near Millersville, PA, murdered the six Indians they found there, and burned the bloody cabin in which the killings were done. Later, colonists looking through the ashes of the cabin, found a bag containing the Conestoga's 1701 treaty signed by William Penn, which pledged that the colonists and the Indians "shall forever hereafter be as one Head & One Heart, & live in true Friendship & Amity as one People."

The remaining fourteen Susquehannocks were placed in protective custody by Governor John Penn in Lancaster. But on December 27, Paxton Boys broke into the workhouse at Lancaster and brutally killed and mutilated all fourteen. These two actions, which resulted in the deaths of all but two of the last of the Susquehannocks, are sometimes known as the "Conestoga Massacre". The Governor issued bounties for the arrest of the murderers, but no one came forward to identify them.

Outraged that the eastern establishment leaders would, as they saw it, defend Indians but not settlers, in early 1764 the Paxton Boys set their sights on other Indians living peacefully within eastern Pennsylvania, 140 of whom fled to Philadelphia for protection. About two-hundred and fifty Paxton men then marched on Philadelphia in January of 1764, where only the presence of British troops and Philadelphia militia prevented them from doing more violence. Benjamin Franklin, who had raised the local militia, negotiated with the Paxton leaders and brought an end to the immediate crisis. A third of the Indians subsequently died of smallpox contracted in the crowded barracks where they had been provided refuge.