Quotable Pennsylvania: Indigenous Peoples

A big part of why Pennsylvania’s history is so rich and interesting is because of the region’s tribes and people’s who made them up. Until the last few decades, the contributions and perspectives of Pennsylvania’s native peoples were neglected by historians, only getting mentioned in connection with Europeans like William Penn and his sons (if you’re not familiar with the Walking Purchase educate yourself).

Part of the reason why indigenous Pennsylvanians aren’t as prominent in its historical record is likely the lack of written sources by tribes and their members (they’re out there, but not as widely available as other sources). It was easy for me to find a bunch of white writers talking about their native neighbors, but I found precious few from Delaware, Shawnee, Susquehannock, or Iroquois speakers.

Recommended listening:As Long as the Grass Shall Grow” by Johnny Cash and “Full of Life” by the Red Blanket Singers.

Treaty of Penn with the Indians
Benjamin West, “Penn’s Treaty with the Indians,” 1772. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

“In liberality they excel; nothing is too good for their friend. Give them a fine gun, coat, or other thing, it may pass twenty hands before it sticks; light of heart, strong affections, but soon spent, the most merry creatures that live, [they] feast and dance perpetually; they never have much, nor want much. Wealth circulates like the blood, all parts partake; and though none shall want what another has, yet [they are] exact observers of property….”

-William Penn (1683)
Letter from William Penn, Proprietary and Governor of Pennsylvania in America, to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders of that Province, residing in London

“Fathers of the Quaker State: You have now got the most of our lands, and have taken the game upon the same. We have only the privilege of hunting and fishing thereon. I, therefore, would make this further request, that a store may be established at Fort Pitt for the accommodation of my people and the other nations when they go out to hunt; and where they may purchase goods at a reasonable price. For, believe me, Fathers, you yourselves would be frightened were you to know the extravagant prices we are obligated to pay for the goods we purchase.”

-Cornplanter, 1790
“Listen to Me, Fathers of the Thirteen Fires,” published in “Indian Oratory: Famous Speeches by Noted Indian Chiefs, page 40

“I was filled with melancholy by the reflection that, in the whole extensive state of Pennsylvania, there is not a trace remaining of the aboriginal population. O! Land of Liberty!”

-Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied, 1834
“Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834,” page 97

Cornplanter Home with Family.jpg
Cornplanter Reservation Home and Family, c. 1950. State Museum of Pennsylvania.

“This very Ground that is under me (Striking it with his foot) was my Land and Inheritance, and is taken from me by Fraud.”

-Teedyuscung, 1756
Quoted by Benjamin Franklin in a Petition to the King in Council, February 2, 1759

“I could not but think—as I looked at these feeble and tremulous productions of hands which could draw the longest arrow to the head in a stout elk-horn bow, or split a bead or feather with a rifle-ball—of Crabbe’s musings over the Parish Register, and the irregular scratches made with a pen, by men who would plough a lengthy furrow straight from end to end.  Nor could I help bestowing many sorrowful thoughts upon the simple warriors whose hands and hearts were set there, in all truth and honesty; and who only learned in course of time from white men how to break their faith, and quibble out of forms and bonds.  I wonder, too, how many times the credulous Big Turtle, or trusting Little Hatchet, had put his mark to treaties which were falsely read to him; and had signed away, he knew not what, until it went and cast him loose upon the new possessors of the land, a savage indeed.”

-Charles Dickens, 1842

American Notes, page 99

“Pennsylvania has got to be the worst in its treatment of native people. The state of Pennsylvania needs to recognize us. We are the only nationality that must prove we are who we say we are. That in itself is disgusting to me as a human being. I served as a Marine in 1970-1973. I hold down a job, pay taxes, help put my kids through school, but yet because we have native ancestors, we are second class citizens to Pennsylvanians. We are not seen. To say we don’t exist here is crazy. All I want from Pennsylvania is for them to recognize our tribe and make grants available to our tribe so we can build a cultural center. That’s all I want. Nothing more!”

-Unnamed Lenape man, 2008

“Invisible Indians: Native Americans in Pennsylvania” page 61

“Everyone thinks that Pennsylvania is a pretty progressive state, it really is a racist state.”

-Donna Fann Boyle, quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer 2020

“In Pennsylvania Public Schools, an ‘Epidemic’ of Native American Mascots and Nicknames”

Longest Walk.JPG
American Indian demonstrators taking part in the “Longest Walk” march down the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1978 on their way to Washington D.C. to bring awareness to threats to tribal lands and Native water rights. Pennsylvania State Archives.

“We’re not asking for any special hunting or fishing licenses. We’re not asking for any land back. We’re not asking for any casinos. All we’re asking is that the state of Pennsylvania recognizes the people they recognized in 1682 and in 1737 and in 1752 and throughout history, they recognized the Lenape people as being the indigenous people of Pennsylvania. We don’t want nothing special. We don’t want anything. The only thing we really want is really helpful to the state of Pennsylvania. We want to celebrate the culture of Pennsylvania, which will help tourism. So, that’s not a bad thing. We just want to have people come and find the correct history instead of the things that have been taught- that there’s nobody here. We’re still here. I guess that’s what the main thing would be- that we’re still here.”

-Lenape Chief (unnamed but possibly Robert Red Hawk Ruth), 2008

“Invisible Indians: Native Americans in Pennsylvania,” page 66

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