Irish Americans in World War I

American neutrality prior to the United States entering World War I had a great deal of support. Irish Catholics who now lived in the United States did not have a particular fondness for the United States aligning itself with Great Britain. Irish Americans strongly supported neutrality in the war. Many of the Irish Catholics who had emigrated to the United States did so to escape what they saw as the oppressive British rule in Ireland. The Irish had fought for decades to force the British out of Ireland because of the British Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish policies. The Irish who now lived in the United States now faced backlash in the United States for being unpatriotic in their pro-neutrality beliefs. Despite the resistance to the war and the backlash against Irish Americans; Irish American men joined the United States military and fought with valor.

            Irish immigrants had a troubled history in the United States. In the 1840’s the Irish emigrated en masse to the United States to escape the Irish Potato Famine and continuous oppression of British colonization. “The Famine Irish were branded as un-American and disloyal from their arrival in America. In the late 1840s, the “Famine Irish” quickly found themselves the victims of a brutal nativist campaign, which culminated with the Know-Nothing Party’s substantial gains in the mid-1850s.”[1] The portrayal of the Irish as Anti-American continued until the beginning of the American Civil War when Irish Americans overwhelmingly served in the Union Army and served with distinction throughout the war. “While they lobbied for an easy path to citizenship and equality for all, the Irish also claimed that Irish Catholics were inherently more American than anyone else by virtue of their special affinity with Jeffersonian politics and their contributions to the founding of the country itself.”[2]

            In the period between the American Civil War and World War I, the gains that the Irish Catholics had made as heroes in the war had faded. The Irish were strong supporters of the Democratic Party, in 1916, Woodrow Wilson was the democrat running for re-election, Wilson’s main platform was that he had kept the United States out of the war in Europe. Many Irish had concerns with Wilson’s friendliness towards Britain and felt that Wilson was not showing true neutrality. They protested Wilson’s “isolationism” vehemently, easily recognizing that Wilson’s isolationism was really a calculated war policy inching the country progressively closer to a full-fledged alliance with England, the great Irish nemesis.:[3] The Irish Catholics felt that if the United States was to remain neutral, they should not show favoritism to Britain and continue to supply Britain with war materials.

The Anti-British stance that most Irish Catholics had was not popular with many Protestant Americans. “The movement for an Ireland free from English rule was intensifying overseas, and many prominent members of Irish America opposed England in the war, to varying degrees. Irish nationalists now had organizations supporting Sinn Fein (an Irish political faction devoted to total Irish independence from Britain), and many of these radicals hoped to incite an Irish rebellion during the First World War while England was distracted by fighting on the European mainland.”[4] The Catholic press in the United States was also showing a pro-neutrality stance. Catholic newspapers were telling their readers to avoid taking sides in the war. “In August of 1914, when other publications were speculating on who should be blamed for the war, the Sacred Heart Review warned its readers that all of the facts were not known and that undoubtedly both sides shared in the guilt.”[5] The Sacred Heart Review and other Catholic press publications in the United States held strong to a neutral stance on the war.  Another editorial in the Sacred Heart Review stated, “How this nation to become engulfed in the European cataclysm would be a stupendous political blunder, if not a political crime, which the patriotic President and Secretary of State will not commit.”[6] The Catholic Press had taken an anti-war stance and also strongly supported the Irish Catholic cause.

Once the United States had declared war on Germany and had entered the war, there was a change in the Irish attitude towards the war. As they had done in the American Civil War, Irish Americans supported their new country and many Irish enlisted in the military. “Once war was declared, Irish America rallied behind Wilson, burying for the time being some serious criticism that he hadn’t done enough on behalf of the cause of independence for Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising…”[7] Irish American men would support the United States, but not necessarily Great Britain.

As part of the Irish support for the war, the return and support for the New York 69th Infantry, which became famous as the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War joined the front lines in France. “For World War I, the 69th landed in France in late autumn of 1917, engaging in its first combat mission a few months later. A succession of bloody engagements followed in the fields and forests north of Paris until the Armistice on 11 November 1918.”[8] The unit was again largely made up of Irish Catholics, and the chaplain for the unit, Father Francis Patrick Duffy became a decorated hero of the war and wrote a popular memoir of the war. “The highly decorated priest realised that some soldiers in his unit came from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, but those circumstances didn’t bother him. According to Father Duffy, the non-Irish in his ranks were ‘Irish by adoption, Irish by association, or Irish by conviction’.”[9]

Though the Irish Catholics in the United States supported neutrality and protested United States support of Great Britain in World War I, their attitude changed once the United States had entered the war. The Irish showed their patriotic spirit for the United States through the war and many Irish American soldiers fought valiantly in the war. Once the war had ended, the Irish renewed their calls for independence for the Republic of Ireland during the peace talks in Versailles where despite earlier calls for Irish “self-determination” by President Wilson, the struggle of the Irish nation was ignored by the United States government.

[1] French, John. 2009. “Irish-American Identity, Memory, and Americanism During the Eras of the Civil War and First World War.” Dissertation, Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press. Marquette University. Page 4.

[2] French. Page 4-5.

[3] French. Page 5.

[4] French. Page 5.

[5] Esslinger, Dean R. “American German and Irish Attitudes toward Neutrality, 1914-1917: A Study of Catholic Minorities.” The Catholic Historical Review 53, no. 2 (1967): 194-216.

[6] Esslinger. Page 197.

[7] Schmuhl 2016, Robert. 2016. “FEATURE: America & the Irish Independence Question.” FEATURE: America the Irish Independence Question | Century Ireland..

[8] Schmuhl. 2016.

[9] Schmuhl. 2016.

The Bonus Army and the Great Depression

In 1932, the United States was deep in the grips of the depression with bread riots happening throughout the country and shanty towns or Hoovervilles in many cities. “After victory in World War I, the US government promised in 1924 that servicemen would receive a bonus for their service.”[1] The 1924 act that guaranteed that bonus stated that the bonus would not be paid out to the veterans until 1945. Because of the depression, most of these men had lost their jobs, homes, and any savings that they may have acquired.

On May 17th, 1932, 400 veterans gathered in Portland, Oregon, led by fellow veteran Walter Waters. “They began a long trek to Washington aboard a freight train, loaned to them for free by the rail authorities. After exiting the train in Iowa on May 18 they hitched rides and walked the rest of the way to Washington. Smaller splinter groups reached the capital on their own. By June 1, some 1,500 men, some with their families, were in Washington.”[2] These veterans began to gather in shantytowns, as more and more veterans began to descend on Washington eventually reaching numbers as high as 20,000. By June 1932, the crowd had reached 45,000 and, on that day, they marched to the U.S. Capitol Building to demand their bonus.

One of the biggest fears among the U.S. Government was that the color-line had basically vanished in the camps.[3] This gave many in the government fear of a revolution. Members of Congress and the military had a great fear that with all of these veterans working together and organized, that they may attempt to overthrow the government. Once the Congress had ended its session, Hoover ordered the military and police to remove the veterans. Police initially moved in to remove the veterans and their families, but after several acts of violence, the military took over the operation. Using tear gas and with bayonets fixed, U.S. Army troops moved on the camps forcing the veterans to leave. Following the cavalry and infantry push, there were tanks and armored vehicles.[4]

Hoover would later say that there were very few veterans among those gathered in the group in Washington and that the group gathered were Communists and Communist sympathizers. The fact that U.S. troops were used against U.S. veterans is deeply sad. The fact that the bonus bill was vetoed by Roosevelt later is even more saddening. But Roosevelt saw the error of his ways and pushed and passed the G.I. Bill.

[1] “The 1932 Bonus Army (U.S. National Park Service).” 2019. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. September 3.

[2] “The 1932 Bonus Army (U.S. National Park Service).” 2019. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. September 3.

[3] “The March of the Bonus Army.” 2021. Rapidtext YouTube Video Captioning. PBD. Accessed June 11.

[4] “The March of the Bonus Army.” 2021. Rapidtext YouTube Video Captioning. PBD. Accessed June 11.

African Americans in the World Wars: A Comparative Study

Approximately 350,000 African American soldiers fought for the United States military in World War I. More than one million African American men and women served in the U.S. military and Women’s Army Corps during World War II. African Americans were given their first opportunity to enlist for military service in the United States at the outset of World War I. The military was segregated, African Americans were unable to serve is some positions, they were banned from serving in the U.S. Marines and would only be allowed limited duties in the U.S. Navy. In all of the services, African Americans were limited largely to support roles for the military such as cooking and supply. In World War II, African American soldiers remained segregated from white soldiers, but the opportunities in the military began to expand. African Americans’ roles within the military were expanded, but limits and segregation kept them from many combat roles until late in the war.

            The intent of this research is to use a historiographical study to compare the treatment of African American soldiers in World War I and World War II. In this study, I will use secondary sources from multiple historians to compare how African Americans were treated in both conflicts and the overall reaction to having African Americans among the U.S. military. The words of African American leaders who held influence over the African American population will also be used to discuss the feelings of the larger population of African Americans towards the wars and African American involvement.  By focusing on the two conflicts, a clear understanding of what changes had happened between the two wars, and what problems continued to exist. The study will compare articles in academic journals and texts to view what issues African American service members dealt with in World War I compared to World War II. The intent is when comparing the treatment in both wars, was there a significant improvement in race relations in the inter-war time period, was there no change, or was there regression in that time period.

            In this comparative review, the author will establish what changes occurred for African American service members per military policies and whether the changes truly occurred for the service members. The author will also define the roles of African American service members in their military units and different branches of the military. When reviewing the evidence, the author will identify details of discrimination, intervention and violence against African American service members. This study will also review how African American service members were viewed by United States allies during the war. The study will draw conclusions from the historiographical evidence to answer whether or not there was significant change for African American service members in the various branches of the military.

            W.E.B. Du Bois was a prolific African American writer and activist in the early twentieth century. He wrote extensively about World War I and the African American soldiers who served. “The practice of history for Du Bois required challenging the ‘master narrative’ and creating a counter-memory that revealed black people as ‘the central thread of American history.’”[1] Du Bois wrote editorials, articles, and prose regarding the African American experience during and after World War I. Chad Williams studies Du Bois’ writings in a Cambridge University Modern American History article. “Du Bois’s particular sense of historical imagination was informed by his unique background and positionality as a black historian, by a view of the production of historical knowledge as a form of art with the power to transform both minds and souls, and by a belief that historical facts must address the problems of the contemporary world.”[2] Overall, Du Bois worked to document the history of African Americans in contemporary history, as well as literature. Du Bois was recognized as an African American leader throughout the United States. Du Bois was traumatized by the war, but also fascinated with the war. In an article in the NAACP magazine, The Crisis, in 1914, Du Bois wrote, “Make no mistake, he argued, the war represented “one of the great disasters due to race and color prejudice and it but foreshadows greater disasters in the future.” While most observers pointed to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Du Bois asserted that the real cause lay in “the wild quest for Imperial expansion among colored races between Germany, England and France primarily, and Belgium, Italy, Russia and Austria-Hungary in lesser degree.”[3] Once President Woodrow Wilson declared that the United States would be joining the war, Du Bois who had been largely critical of Wilson, saw a chance for African Americans to show their equality more than ever. In a June 1917 editorial in The Crisis, Du Bois poignantly wrote, “Let us, however, never forget that this country belongs to us even more than to those who lynch, disfranchise, and segregate. As our country it rightly demands our whole-hearted defense as well today as when with Crispus Attucks we fought for independence and with 200,000 black soldiers we helped hammer out our own freedom.”[4] Du Bois became a strong supporter of the war effort, He encouraged African American men to join the military, however, Du Bois was critical of continued discrimination. “He continually raised his voice against racial injustice, even as he faced constant surveillance from federal investigators concerned about the potentially subversive content of The Crisis.”[5] Even after threats against some of Du Bois’ writings he remained outspoken on discrimination issues both within the military and on the home front. Du Bois overall was an important voice in support of the war and getting African American men to enlist. He was also an important voice in pointing out the discriminatory issues that continued to exist throughout the war.

While African Americans were given the rights to citizenship status following the Civil War, by 1917 they had not really obtained a status with full rights. Segregation was prevalent in both the north and the south, and attitude had not changed much in the early years of the 20th Century. “Therefore, the passage of the Selective Service Act of May 1917, which did not refuse African Americans the right to be drafted into the United States military, was an important opportunity for African-Americans.”   African American men had the opportunity to show their value to the country which held them as captives for so long. What would happen when they were part of the military? How would they be treated in the U.S. military during World War I and beyond.

            In the book Light in the Darkness author Nina Mjagkij discusses the YMCA and its outreach centers for troops on leave from the front lines in World War I. In her writing, Mjagkij states that one of the major programs that the YMCA was responsible for was education of soldiers who had not had a full education prior to joining or being drafted into the military. “Government officials feared that the large number of foreign-born and illiterate soldiers as well as the poor education among all draftees would hamper military efficiency and pose a threat to the nation’s security…. Illiteracy rates among the African American troops were even higher, since 80 percent of the men were draftees from the South who had been systematically deprived of educational opportunities. Illiteracy rates among these men ranged from 35 percent at some camps to 75 percent at others.”[6] The illiteracy rate among white soldiers was around twenty-five percent. Establishing an education system for all service members in World War I was important for the military leadership. “The army hoped that the YMCA’s programs would help improve the fighting efficiency of the troops and maintain ‘contentment, camp spirit, and camp morale.’”[7]

            Mjagkij begins to point out a significant issue with how the YMCA programs would work for white soldiers versus African American soldiers. “In accordance with its Jim Crow policy, the YMCA maintained segregation in its work among American soldiers throughout the war and the period of demobilization. YMCA services for African American troops “were in almost every case inferior” and suffered from a shortage of personnel.”[8] In her discussion of African American soldiers in Europe, Mjagkij explains that most of the African American soldiers serving there were unable to maintain their education from the YMCA. “Most of them were “detailed to manual labor . . . [and] as a rule, moved more often than white troops.” Moreover, the YMCA’s educational efforts among African American troops were obstructed by a shortage of personnel, facilities, and equipment, as well as by white opposition.”[9] Many officers in Europe did not want African American soldiers to be educated, so they created roadblocks to the educational opportunities offered through the YMCA.

            In the article, African Americans in World War II, historian Andrew Kerstan discusses the growth in employment opportunities prior to U.S. involvement and how they were a boon for growth for American workers and business owners alike, Kerstan shows on caveat to that successful period however. “But not all felt the return of prosperity equally. Some Americans, blacks in particular, were left behind as the economy geared up for war… s American industry converted to war production, African Americans demanded equal treatment in obtaining the new jobs. At first, that was not forthcoming. Less than six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a little over half, 144,583 out of 282,245 prospective war-related job openings were reserved for whites only.”[10] In the build-up to World War II, things had not changed significantly from the industrial build-up for World War I. Discrimination for jobs and education based on race was still a prominent issue in the United States.

            Within the military, there was still a challenge for African American Service members. The Committee for Participation of Negroes in National Defense began to work for African American soldiers before the United States entered World War II. “African Americans took great pride in their past service in American wars and were angry at their exclusion from the military preparedness program. Initially, Rayford W. Logan, black historian, World War I veteran, and leader of the Committee for the Participation of Negroes in National Defense, led the charge to break the racial barriers in the military. The committee’s major success was the inclusion of nondiscrimination language in the 1940 Selective Service Act which required that draftees be taken and trained regardless of race.”[11] Further work included representatives of the NAACP and the National Urban League meeting with President Roosevelt. “League, and A. Philip Randolph met with President Roosevelt. “They brought a list of seven demands: that black officers and men be assigned on the basis of merit, not race; that more black officers be trained; that African Americans be allowed to serve in the Army Air Corps; that blacks be allowed to participate in the selective service process; that black women be permitted to serve as nurses; and that ‘existing units of the army and units to be established should be required to accept and select officers and enlisted personnel without regard to race’. Although Roosevelt seemed receptive to these ideas, he later signed policy statements which reaffirmed segregation in the military and established a racial quota system to limit black participation in the military to nine percent, roughly the African American proportion in the general population.”[12] Roosevelt had no plans to change the segregation that existed in the military despite pleas from the African American community. Roosevelt would continue with Jim Crow restrictions for African American service members. After protests and fear of losing African American support for Democratic candidates, Roosevelt chose to make some concessions to African Americans regarding the military. “Roosevelt made some concessions such as forming an all-black Army Air Corps unit, promoting Colonel Benjamin O. Davies to the rank of general (making him the first African American to hold that rank), and appointing Colonel Campbell C. Johnson as Negro Advisor to the Selective Service Director and William H. Hastie, dean of Howard Law School, as civilian aide to the Secretary of War.”[13] Roosevelt made other changes including the establishment of an Army Air Corps pilot school at the Tuskegee Institute, a traditionally black college.

             It is clear in reviewing these two documents that establishing a solid ground for African American service members in the build-up to both World Wars was problematic. Jim Crow policies stood in the way of African Americans in the wartime economic build up prior to World War I and World War II. Jim Crow policies also maintained discriminatory practices inside the military as well in segregation of troops and the jobs chosen within the military services for white soldiers versus African American soldiers. As the United States entered these wars would a significant change take place, and how were African American soldiers received by our European allies?

            Racial Violence was not something that remained on the home front, in World War I and World War II there was a significant number of violent acts against African Americans in the armed forces. A comparison of acts of racial violence in the two wars will be discussed. The articles reviewed will discuss violence within the military against African Americans, and violence against soldiers when they returned home.

            “When Wilbur Little, an African American soldier, returned to Blakely, Georgia from service in World War I, a group of white men met him at the train station and forced him to strip off his uniform. A few days later he defied their warning not to wear the uniform again in public, and a mob lynched him.”[14] According to many historians, the story of Wilbur Little was not an uncommon occurrence in the south as African Americans returned home from fighting in World War I. Racial violence grew after World War I, and was increasing before the United States entered into World War I. A resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan during the years before the war, and the release and popularity of the silent movie The Birth of a Nation, caused a popularization of the Ku Klux Klan. Wilbur Little was one of many African American war veterans who would be attacked or lynched in the coming years. The violence was no longer limited to the south. “On 28 July 1919 African American war veteran Harry Haywood, only three months removed from service in the United States Army, found himself in the midst of a maelstrom of violence and destruction on par with what he had experienced on the battlefields of France. The previous day, simmering tensions between black and white residents of Chicago reached a boiling point following the stoning and subsequent drowning of young Eugene Williams who had dared to challenge the color-line at Lake Michigan’s 29th Street beach.”[15] Because of the attacks on African Americans after World War I, a secret paramilitary group was formed called the African Blood Brotherhood, the group was largely made up of African American war veterans and the intent was to protect African Americans from continued racial violence. African American veterans had received the same military training as white soldiers, so these men had the skills to defend their people.

            The army in World War I largely assigned African Americans to non-combat roles, loading an unloading ships, digging trenches, laying railroad tracks, cleaning latrines, and burying the dead. With incredible reluctance, the army allowed for two African American combat units, the 92nd Division, made up of draftees, and the 93rd which was made up of African American national guard troops. “Racist white commanders and deliberate neglect from the War Department doomed the performance of the division from the start, while its black officers, Du Bois’s shining examples of “Talented Tenth” manhood and racial leadership, endured humiliation after humiliation. African Americans could point to several notable battlefield triumphs and moments of racial pride. But for most black soldiers, the war for democracy that Du Bois had so enthusiastically championed devolved into a personal hell.”[16] When soldiers in World War I weren’t being tasked with menial labor and given the chance to fight, the victories that African American soldiers obtained were largely ignored by the war department or white units were given credit for the victories. Once African American soldiers were discharged, they faced racial violence at home.

            In an article in the Journal of American History, Harvard Sitkoff discusses racial violence during World War II. Sitkoff notes that a change had begun to occur prior to World War II for African Americans with gains through the court system and the update of some laws, African Americans began to see that they may sometime soon be able to accomplish the American Dream. As the U.S. entered World War II, the calls from African American political leaders such were not like those from W.E.B. Du Bois in World War I. “If we don’t fight for our rights during this war,” said one Harlem leader, “while the government needs us, it will be too late after the war.”[17] A movement started among African American leaders that was intended to not only support the war effort but to fight for the civil rights of African Americans, “the Negro press proclaimed the “time ripe for a new emancipation” and mobilized a “Double V” campaign to fight fascism and racism both abroad and at home.” The African American soldiers who were inducted by joining or being drafted were forced to deal with the same discriminatory struggles they dealt with before the military. “Throughout the South a Negro in uniform symbolized ‘a nigger not knowing his place.’ White bus drivers habitually refused to transport blacks to and from their bases. White military police enforced jim-crow seating restrictions, and off-base bars and restaurants used them to keep blacks out. To avoid friction with the local community, base commanders continuously enjoined blacks to obey the local customs of segregation and some even prohibited blacks from securing leave.”[18] Though it was not outright violence that plagued the African American military communities, they were often subjected to verbal violence and discriminatory practices after they were serving in the military. “Many blacks responded with cynicism and despair, and the war department regularly received reports on the low morale of the Negro soldier and accounts of black suicides, mental “crack-ups,” desertions, and AWOL’s due to discrimination and racist brutality.”[19] African Americans were punished at home for the color of their skin, and once they joined the military they had to deal with just as much bigotry without a way to escape except by suicide, mental breaks and breaking the law, and many chose those escapes rather than dealing with bigotry and violence for one more day.

            Discriminatory practices eventually reached an explosive point inside the military. “Although the war department systematically suppressed most evidence of black revolt and labeled most of the deaths due to race battles as combat fatalities or ‘motor vehicle accidents.’ army statisticians, nevertheless, reported an unusually high number of casualties suffered by white officers of Negro troops and at least fifty black soldiers killed in race riots in the United States.”[20] There was also lynching of African American service members on US military bases.

“In 1941, army authorities found a black private, arms and legs bound, lynched at Fort Benning. Brutality by the military police in Fayetteville, North Carolina, led to a pitched gun battle with black soldiers. Forty-three blacks went AWOL to escape the harassment and terrorization by whites in Prescott, Arizona. Black soldiers at Fort Bragg, Camps Davis, Gibbon, and Jackson Barracks fought white soldiers and police. Although complaints and protests from Negro soldiers, chaplains, NAACP, and National Lawyers Guild poured into the war department and White House, neither would publicly respond.”[21]

            As the number of race riots in American cities and on military bases increased, white military members and white civilians fought to keep African American soldiers in ‘their place’ and pushed a narrative of African American disloyalty to the United States. These riots did not get publicized in the national news. The military and FDR could not afford to have signs of dissent shown in the American Press, for fear it would be used as propaganda by the Axis powers. Race riots continued throughout American cities out of fear of job losses to African American workers due to fairness in labor standards created by the Roosevelt administration.

            In Gary Mormino’s article from the Florida Historical Quarterly, he examines the plight of African American servicemen in Florida during World War II. Mormino’s article points out much like other historians, that African American men were restricted to certain positions within military branches, mainly non-combat positions. Mormino also discusses the violence that occurred in Florida due to African American soldiers being brought to the state for training. “Between 1941 and 1946 racial conflict boiled over on and off Florida military bases. Participants included commissioned and noncommissioned officers, civilians, and prisoners of war, military police and county sheriffs, Northerners and Southerners.”[22] In letters to notable African American Press and the NAACP, African Americans wrote discussing the conditions they were dealing with, in a letter to the NAACP soldiers wrote about their conditions at Mabry Field in Florida, ld.” Writers noted, “Above all, we have Southern White Crackers as officers over us who abuse us, and treat us worse than we would treat the lowest of dogs.” The complaints pointed out that German prisoners of war received more respect and better food than African Americans.[23] Despite the push for change in the U.S. military for African Americans, no significant change would be made for several years after the war was over.

            With all of the racial tension that happened in both World War I and World War II, there were some African Americans who were recognized for their bravery and perseverance in the wars. Lieutenant Charles Jackson, of the 370th, was in a machine gun company, as the platoon leader of four machine gun crews with approximately fifty men. This was one of the most dangerous commands. His platoon would have been attached to infantry. Jackson was the recipient of the Croix de Guerre for bravery in combat near the Belgium town of Lorgny.[24] The Tuskeegee Airmen in World War II who were the first entirely African American fighter squadron flew over 1,500 missions and over 15,000 sorties in the last two years of World War II. The unit was highly decorated, and their example would lead to significant change within the U.S. Military.[25]

            In review of the literature, it is clear that a significant number of racial issues remained within the U.S. military from World War I through World War II. Racial tensions remained high in the interwar period and gained fuel due to the Great Depression. The U.S. Government offered no significant changes to military policy regarding race in between the wars and Jim Crow laws in Southern states compounded by discriminatory practices in Northern states stoked a fire of racial inequities that would grow into explosive incidents during World War II and beyond.

            In the aftermath of World War II, significant changes had to be made for the sake of peace inside the military as it moved from a World War to a Cold War with the Soviet Union and other communist countries. “African Americans increasingly refused to be intimidated by the constraints of a system of segregation rooted in physical threat and force. Their experiences in military service emboldened black veterans to challenge the social hierarchy built on race, making World War II and the civil rights movement inextricably intertwined as two watershed events in the twentieth century American experience.”[26] On July 26, 1948, Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order #9981 stating; “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”[27] Finally ending segregation within the military, while it would take several more years to completely integrate the military forces, African Americans had shown that they were an important part of the U.S. Military despite the constant challenges of discrimination.


Davis, David A. “Not Only War Is Hell: World War I and African American Lynching Narratives.” African American Review 43, no. 3/4 (2008): 477–91.

“Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948).” Our Documents – Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948), July 26, 1948.

German, Kathleen M. Promises of Citizenship: Film Recruitment of African Americans in World War II. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2017.

Kersten, Andrew E. “African Americans and World War II.” OAH Magazine of History 16, no. 3 (2002).

LaRue, Paul. “Unsung African American World War I Soldiers.” Black History Bulletin 80, no. 2 (2017): 16–20.

Mjagkij, Nina. “Serving African-American Soldiers in World War I.” Essay. In Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946, 86–100. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, n.d.

Mormino, Gary. “GI Joe Meets Jim Crow: Racial Violence and Reform in World War II Florida.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 73, no. 1 (July 1994): 23–42.

Percy, William Alexander. “Jim Crow and Uncle Sam: The Tuskegee Flying Units and the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe During World War II.” The Journal of Military History 67, no. 3 (2003): 773–810.

Sitkoff, Harvard. “Racial Militancy and Interracial Violence in the Second World War.” The Journal of American History 58, no. 3 (December 1971): 661–81.

Williams, Chad L. “Vanguards of the New Negro: African American Veterans and Post-World War I Racial Militancy.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 3 (2007): 347–70.

Williams, Chad. “World War I in the Historical Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois: Modern American History.” Cambridge Core. Cambridge University Press, March 8, 2018.

[1] Williams, Chad. “World War I in the Historical Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois: Modern American History.” Cambridge Core. Cambridge University Press, March 8, 2018.

[2] Williams, 2018.

[3] Williams, 2018.

[4] Williams, 2018

[5] Williams, 2018

[6] Mjagkij, Nina. “Serving African-American Soldiers in World War I.” Essay. In Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946, Page 86.

[7] Mjakij. Page 87

[8] Mjagkij. Page 87.

[9] Mjagkij. Page 92.

[10] Kersten, Andrew E. “African Americans and World War II.” OAH Magazine of History 16, no. 3 (2002).

[11] Kerstan. Page 15.

[12] Kerstan. Page 15 – 16.

[13] Kerstan. Page 16.

[14] Davis, David A. “Not Only War Is Hell: World War I and African American Lynching Narratives.” African American Review 43, no. 3/4 (2008): Page 477.

[15] Williams, Chad L. “Vanguards of the New Negro: African American Veterans and Post-World War I Racial Militancy.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 3 (2007): Page 347.

[16] Williams, Chad. “World War I in the Historical Imagination of W. E. B. Du Bois: Modern American History.” Cambridge Core. Cambridge University Press, March 8, 2018.

[17] Sitkoff, Harvard. “Racial Militancy and Interracial Violence in the Second World War.” The Journal of American History 58, no. 3 (December 1971): Page 662.

[18] Sitkoff, Page 667.

[19] Sitkoff. Page 668

[20] Sitkoff. Page 668

[21] Sitkoff. Page 668

[22] Mormino, Gary. “GI Joe Meets Jim Crow: Racial Violence and Reform in World War II Florida.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 73, no. 1 (July 1994): Page 25

[23] Mormino. Page 27.

[24] LaRue, Paul. “Unsung African American World War I Soldiers.” Black History Bulletin 80, no. 2 (2017): 16–20.

[25] Percy, William Alexander. “Jim Crow and Uncle Sam: The Tuskegee Flying Units and the U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe During World War II.” The Journal of Military History 67, no. 3 (2003): Page 808.

[26] German, Kathleen M. Promises of Citizenship: Film Recruitment of African Americans in World War II. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2017. Page 210.

[27] “Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948).” Our Documents – Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948), July 26, 1948.

The Maryland Campaign: A Historiographical Examination of the Tactical Decisions

In September of 1862, General Robert E. Lee began a campaign into Maryland. Lee’s plans included capturing the City of Frederick, Maryland and moving east towards Baltimore and Washington. In early September, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia numbered 70,000 soldiers among them infantry, cavalry, artillery, and support units. Lee’s troops were in poor condition, food was scarce, uniforms were tattered, and many were in poor health. These issues stretched Lee’s army into an extremely long caravan, causing the full army to take nearly 4 days to cross the Potomac River into Maryland. Lee was unaware however, that his plans had fallen into the hands of General George McClellan after a private in the 27th Indiana Infantry found them while resting at the Best Farm in Maryland, near the Potomac.[1] McClellan received these recovered enemy plans on September 13th, 1862, the day before the Battle of South Mountain. The loss of these Confederate orders and the fact that they ended up in Union hands would set the stage for several days of battle in the border state of Maryland. These battles would be fought at Harper’s Ferry, South Mountain, and Antietam.

The purpose of this essay is to understand how historians have viewed the military decisions made by the Union commanding generals and their subordinates during this campaign. The essay will also discuss the state of the Union Army, their readiness and abilities for this campaign. Finally, this paper will discuss the battle of Antietam and the decision-making processes during and after the battle to determine what historians believe could have been done differently by the commanders. Historian have shown that mistakes were made on both sides during Lee’s Maryland Campaign, the question remains, how could those mistakes been used against the other side to affect the war. To begin, a brief discussion of the Battle of Second Manassas, the battle in which the Maryland Campaign began.

Second Manassas – American Battlefield Trust

The Aftermath of Second Manassas

             The second Battle of Manassas took place August 28-30, 1862. Lee chose to attack the north before the Union troops would have a chance to recover after Union losses in the Peninsula Campaign as they attempted to capture the Confederate capitol at Richmond, Virginia. Lee believed that as he moved north into Maryland, which was still a slave owning state, that he would gain support of the local population and possibly even grow his army as he threatened Washington. On the 27th of August, General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and his troops destroyed the Union Depot at Manassas Junction, less than a mile from where the first battle of the war took place.[2] On the afternoon of August 28th, Confederate forces under Jackson attacked a Union column on the Brawner Farm along Manassas Creek. Several hours of fighting led General Pope, Commander of the Union Army of Virginia to fight and hopefully capture what he thought was a skirmishing unit led by Stonewall Jackson.[3] It was clear that Pope had no intelligence that Lee had begun moving north. Over the next two days, The Union Army of Virginia would face Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in some intense fighting. “The Union left was crushed, and the army was driven back to Bull Run.”[4] By September 12, 1862, General Pope was removed from command and his Army of Virginia was merged into the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan. McClellan had to reorganize and merge these armies into one force to protect the nation’s capital and prepare offensive operations against the Confederates.

McClellan – World Digital Library

George McClellan

            Historians have a myriad of opinions regarding McClellan as did Lincoln’s Cabinet. McClellan. McClellan is seen as a great military leader by some and incompetent and politically motivated by others. McClellan was a graduate of West Point, served in the Army Engineer Corps during the Mexican War under General Winfield Scott. After the war he returned to West Point as an instructor.[5]

            Dr. Mark Grimsley, Professor US History and Military History at Ohio State University wrote about the relationship between Lincoln and McClellan in an article for the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. In this article Grimsley writes, “If Lincoln is a secular saint, McClellan is the arrogant narcissist, the hubristic “Young Napoleon.” He dreams of saving the republic, yet proves so timid in battle, so self-pitying in defeat, and above all so disdainful of Lincoln that he is widely despised—and held completely to blame for the ultimate failure of the relationship between Lincoln and himself.”[6]

            Noted Civil War historian and author of a book on the relationship of Lincoln and McClellan, John C. Waugh wrote a chapter in the reappraisal of Lincoln and McClellan’s relationship in the book Exploring Lincoln. In this chapter he writes, “George B. McClellan was a charming man, a brilliant man, a courageous soldier, a military comet. However, as scores of historians have delighted in pointing out, he bore a fatal flaw, and that was his unbridled hubris. McClellan was what the British nineteenth-century radical John Blight called a self-made man who worshipped his creator.[7]

            Dr. Grimsley and Dr. Waugh largely paint a similar picture of McClellan as charming, brilliant, and egotistical. Other historians, however, see McClellan in a different light. In Defense of McClellan, historian Ethan S. Rafuse, a professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command General Staff College and author of the book McClellan’s War: The Failure for Moderation in Defense of the Union. Rafuse writes, “ultimately responsible for this attitude and the resulting actions was not Hooker or McClellan, or any other general for that matter. Rather, it was the man at the very top of the chain of command.”[8] Arguing that Lincoln above all was responsible for any mistakes or blunders by his generals. He further writes, “problems that Lincoln and the Union war effort had in the East have, with no little justification, been blamed on George McClellan. To be sure, McClellan’s particular personality unquestionably played a role in his problems, for it led him to respond to the problems he faced in ways that fostered trouble between the general and others in the chain of command.”[9]

            We know that McClellan was well loved by the men under his command. McClellan had incredible military knowledge and organizational skills. He was part of the famous West Point Class of 1846, 37 out of the 59 men who graduated that year served as officers on either side of the Civil War. McClellan taught at West Point after his graduation. We also know that McClellan was narcissistic, headstrong, and politically motivated. All of this weighs on how he served as a commander and how he is viewed by historians.

Lee Moves into Maryland

            A day after Manassas, Lee made the decision to push forward. On September 9th, Lee would issue Special Order 191, mapping out a plan for the move through Maryland capturing the City of Frederick and the town of Sharpsburg, the plan here was to gain control of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, a lifeline to Washington, Baltimore, and the Union Army.[10] Lee also believed that Maryland though a border state was still a slave state, the people would rise up and support the confederacy. Lee even thought that he would gain army volunteers.[11] Lee admitted to Jefferson Davis in a letter that his army was not prepared to invade enemy territory, Lee explained why he intended to do so, “We cannot to be idle, and though weaker than our opponents in men and military equipments, we must endeavor to harass if we cannot destroy them.”[12] On September 13th, Lee’s special order would land in the hands of the Union Army and General George McClellan. “McClellan telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln at noon on September 13,”Will send you trophies.”[13]

Special Order No. 191 – Antietam Battlefield Guides

            In discussion of McClellan receiving General Lee’s actual orders and plan to strike and surround Washington DC, historians discuss the importance of this moment. According to Colonel Colgrove, who’s unit discovered the orders, “My recollection is that it was somewhat earlier than noon that Colgrove appeared with the Lee order, it certainly could not have been later, “I did not take the order myself as we were momentarily expecting orders to move forward, which expectation was heightened by the importance of the paper so opportunely falling into our possession.”[14] James I Robertson, Professor of American History and Civil War author stated, “McClellan knew that Lee’s Army was divided, he knew where the sections were, he knew when they were coming together, and most importantly, McClellan was closer to either one of the Confederate sections than they were to each other. Never has an American military commander been the beneficiary of more great intelligence than McClellan was at Frederick Maryland.”[15] Gary M. Gallagher, Professor of History at the University of Virginia speaking regarding McClellan having Lee’s orders states, “He lets the fifteenth go by, the sixteenth goes by with only light skirmishing, two full days go by without him pressing the issue with Lee. That gives Lee the opportunity to bring up the soldiers from Harper’s Ferry, and by the end of the day on the sixteenth, through that night and on the early morning of the seventeenth, both sides knew that something would happen that day, that there would be a big fight.”[16] McClellan had verified orders, and an army that outnumbered Lee’s, McLellan’s Army was close to its supply line and rested, it could have struck heavily against Lee’s Army with great surprise, but McClellan delayed action. There is also no evidence that McClellan shared this intelligence with his junior officers, Hooker, Cox, and Burnside in preparation an offensive or defensive movement against Lee.

            In researching McClellan’s receipt of Lee’s orders, no defense of McClellan’s delay in taking significant action to stop Lee’s advance into Maryland immediately. Union divisions in Maryland had the ability to attack more of Lee’s forward units but received no orders to take action. While McClellan would push units to attack Confederate forces at South Mountain, many historians feel that he could have done much more to stop Lee’s Progress.

Harper’s Ferry

            Harper’s Ferry was the Union Supply Depot, in Harper’s Ferry Virginia (now West Virginia), Part of Lee’s plans were to capture the Union depot to gain supplies and hamper the supply efforts for the Union. Harper’s Ferry also sits on a peninsula between the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers surrounded by mountains making it a significant target for artillery barrage. Harper’s Ferry also has limited accessibility because of the surrounding hills and mountains. Historian Benjamin Cooling stated that McClellan had confidence that the 12,000-man garrison at Harper’s Ferry could resist any Confederate movement against them.[17] McClellan did not feel he needed to send reinforcements to Harper’s Ferry. Cooling writes, “Finally piecing together reports from Pleasonton about sounds of gunfire from Harpers Ferry and signal station reports from Sugarloaf Mountain, McClellan began dictating movement orders at 6:00 p.m. on September 13.”[18] With Lee’s orders in his hand, knowing that Stonewall Jackson had an entire division on their way to capture Harper’s Ferry, McClellan did not begin to send assistance to Harper’s Ferry until the evening of September 13th. Colonel Dixon Miles was the commander at Harper’s Ferry and did everything in his power to try to defend his post with the 12,000-men that were assigned there. According to Cooling, Miles had been made aware that Lee’s Army had crossed into Maryland and that Harper’s Ferry Arsenal was a likely target. Cooling writes, “He especially disregarded subordinates’ protestations about Harpers Ferry’s weakness once Lee had crossed into Maryland and undertook no aggressive reconnaissance that might have aided McClellan.”[19] This reconnaissance would have not only helped the Union Army, but likely would have had reinforcements sent to aid Miles at Harper’s Ferry much earlier. In the end, Miles ordered the surrender of the armory, and shortly afterwards was struck down by a Confederate artillery shell.

Battle of Harper’s Ferry – National Park Service

            Dr. Earl J. Hess, Ph.D is a recognized leader in the field of Civil War history. After terms at the University of Georgia, Texas Tech University, and the University of Arkansas, he I now the Stewart McClelland Chair at Lincoln Memorial University, in Harrogate, Tennessee. Dr. Hess is a predominant Civil War Historian and has written over twenty books and published more than 120 articles on the Civil War in academic journals. Dr. Hess writes regarding Harper’s Ferry, “Lee’s plan to eliminate the roadblock in the Valley was issued to his commanders on September 9. He divided the army into four parts, three of which were to make rapid movements to Harpers Ferry, reduce the place, and rejoin him at Boonsboro about twenty miles north of Harpers Ferry.”[20] Hess points out again that Lee had a strong plan to take out Harper’s Ferry and continue into Maryland for further attacks. McClellan had telegraphed Lincoln at noon on the 13th that he had Lee’s plans in his hand, but he did not send assistance or warning to Harpers Ferry until the evening of the 13th. Hess also points out that the commander at Harper’s Ferry, Colonel Dixon Miles, “already had a checkered war career,” and, “Jackson would be greatly aided by the incompetence of his opponent.”[21] Colonel Miles faced a court martial for incompetence following the Battle of First Bull Run, due to being, “visibly inebriated during the engagement.”[22] Miles was placed in command of Harper’s Ferry to keep him away from frontline battles. Hess further points out failures with the command decisions at Harper’s Ferry:

“Miles had 11,000 men at Harpers Ferry, organized into brigades, but most were green troops who had never been tested in battle. As the three Confederate columns converged on the place, Brig. Gen. Julius White brought an additional 2,500 men from Martinsburg on September 12. Although White outranked Miles, he gave up command of the post and its threatened garrison to the colonel.”[23]

            Hess highlights that Stonewall Jackson is leading this attack against Harper’s Ferry with seasoned troops against a smaller force that has not experienced a battle prior to this, being led by a commanding officer that had been removed from battlefield command. Harper’s Ferry was surrendered to Jackson. “Jackson captured 12,500 men and seventy-three guns but lost only 286 men. Only 217 Unionists were killed and wounded. The Northerners were outnumbered, inadequately fortified, and ineptly led, and their loss of supplies and prestige was enormous.”[24]

            Cooling and Hess both point out significant failures that led to the defeat at Harper’s Ferry. From a military standpoint there are clear errors in the decision-making process. Better defenses could have been put in place to protect a military supply depot and armory in close proximity to the Confederate forces. A more experienced commander with a less tumultuous history would likely have placed more consideration to the defenses of such a post, and drilled the soldiers manning it for multiple scenarios of attack. An experienced senior officer arriving at a post should take command from a subordinate officer upon his arrival unless extraneous forces prevent it from happening. Finally, if there is intelligence of a possible attack on a post in the hands of another commander, that intelligence should be passed along to the appropriate post.

South Mountain

            Twenty-four hours, as it turned out, was the whole difference between saving and losing Harper’s Ferry”; but McClellan “did not call upon his men for any extraordinary exertion.”[25] McClellan had Lee’s orders in his hand, he knew lee’s objectives and the individual movements of the divisions under Lee’s junior officers. “On the morning of September 14, McClellan thought the main force of the enemy was still at Boonsboro and numbered at least 60,000 there.”[26] Based on a miscount McClellan believed that Lee’s army numbered 110,000 men, McClellan had a history of overestimating enemy numbers, according to Schmeil.[27] General Cox and his corps proceeded to South Mountain, for reconnaissance on Confederate positions. Schmeil writes, “Unfortunately, as one historian noted, McClellan “had not shared the finding of the Lost Order with his senior generals and his orders for the day carried no particular urgency, and Burnside and Jesse Reno . . . had not hurried the rest of the corps forward.”[28] Cox had taken his corps to South Mountain under McClellan’s order with an inaccurate estimate of the enemy force and without the military intelligence that McClellan had in his possession. McClellan at this point had shared that he was in possession of Lee’s orders with Lincoln and Seward, but not with the commanders of his own divisions. After Cox made initial contact with the enemy and after his corps had fought them for nearly four hours, Cox had his men take up a defensive position and rest, hoping that reinforcements were on their way. Not until mid-afternoon would Cox and the IX Corps get reinforcements from Hooker’s I Corps, at around four in the afternoon, the Union began to push the Confederates off of South Mountain. By evening, the Confederates had retreated, and it was noted that they were much smaller in number in the initial estimates given by McClellan.

Battle of South Mountain – Maryland DCNR

            Dr. Hess in his discussion of South Mountain is critical of McClellan from the beginning. Hess writes, “The loss of Special Orders No. 191 gave McClellan the information needed to move on these divisions, but the Union commander delayed half a day before acting. He did not expect much resistance at the passes of South Mountain and thus was unprepared for a major battle.”[29] Hess like other historians points out the significant delay of McClellan in his reaction to having Lee’s orders in his hands. Hess is not critical of the Union commanders at South Mountain, given the fact that the orders given to them were delayed, the commanders moved quickly to stop Confederate advances in the gaps of South Mountain. Hess commends the Union effort and eventual victory on South Mountain, but again turns his ire towards McClellan.

By the time the fighting had ended, all of McClellan’s army was on the battlefield. If he could have accomplished this at dawn and then moved swiftly, the passes probably would have been forced more easily. McClellan’s half-day delay after he found Lee’s lost order had given the Rebel commander time to shift large numbers of men to the passes by midafternoon, and the swift movement to a decisive showdown with Lee west of South Mountain was no longer possible. Instead, McClellan was forced into a heavy battle merely to secure possession of the gaps.”[30]

            Both Hess and Schmeil point out the delays in the Union response to South Mountain. Hess goes further to say that had McClellan acted sooner, it is likely Union forces could have broken through the gaps at South Mountain and advanced to Harper’s Ferry giving valuable assistance there and likely could have stopped the surrender of the Union army depot. Hess is also critical of Lee’s decision making at South Mountain. Confederate troops had ample opportunity to create breastworks and other defenses to halt a Union advance, however these defenses were never put into place.


            There was no plan by Lee to have a battle in Sharpsburg, Maryland along the Antietam Creek. McClellan and his commanders knew Confederate troops were moving through the area and their plan was to prevent Lee and his troops from proceeding north into Pennsylvania or east towards Washington and Baltimore. Albert Castel is a Civil War historian and author of several books on the subject, he wrote the book Victors in Blue along with Dr. Brooks Simpson, professor of History at Arizona State University and himself an author of several books on the civil war. The authors discuss the Maryland campaign from beginning to end in their book. The authors are critical of the command decisions prior to Antietam and the actions in preparation for that day.  While McClellan had Lee’s orders, he delayed any further attack on Lee’s forces after the Union victory at South Mountain. “Worse, McClellan relapsed into his customary caution on coming into contact with the enemy, whom he credited with totaling 120,000, maybe more, in number. Not until the evening of September 16 did, he post 75,000 of his 95,000 available troops for an attack.”[31] McClellan had once again inflated the numbers that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was bring to the field, Lee’s army is estimated at 45,000 troops.[32] McClellan prepared his army for a defensive position rather than take an offensive position.

            Steven W. Knott is an advancement officer with the United States Army War College, he is also the author of Lee at Antietam an article for Army History Magazine. He discusses the decisions made by Lee at Antietam and the Union responses. Knott writes, “The battle necessitated extreme risk for the Confederates; defeat would have probably resulted in the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia. The defensive fight so skillfully waged by Lee at Sharpsburg succeeded only by the narrowest of margins—yet still proved unable to prevent the failure of his campaign.”[33] Knott acknowledges the risk Lee had taken in his invasion of Maryland and that Lee to plan a defensive strategy as the Battle of Antietam began. Knott also states that Lee’s strategy was not to attack cities or even Washington, he writes, “Lee tied Confederate fortunes to the pursuit of a decisive battle of annihilation. He adamantly believed that only the utter destruction of the Army of the Potomac—the most politically significant Union force—would produce the psychological blow required to collapse Northern will.”[34] Lee’s target was the Army of the Potomac, if he can take the Army of the Potomac out of the fight, he could take the support for the war in the north. Lee’s foray was to attack and occupy the Army of the Potomac. Knott uses a quote from historian Russell Weigley in his article which also support’s his statement regarding Lee and the Army of the Potomac. “Critical of the Confederate general in his landmark book, The American Way of War, Weigley’s subsequent appraisal fully endorsed Lee in seeking the destruction of the Army of the Potomac as “the only real chance he had to win the war—though it was still a very long shot.”[35]

            Hess also discusses Lee’s strategy at Antietam, Hess writes, “Lee fought a defensive battle at Sharpsburg even though the terrain offered few advantages to his outnumbered army. With only 35,000 men at the start of the engagement, he arrayed his divisions so as to reap every possible benefit from the landscape.”[36] Western Maryland is an area of rolling hills that allows troops to hide in the valleys between the hills. This terrain would benefit both sides at different times during the battle. Hess also discusses McClellan’s preparation for the battle, “McClellan also did not fortify when he reached the vicinity… McClellan knew he had to attack, and there was no reason to dig works.”[37] Neither of the commanders saw this as a place to dig in, keeping their troops mobile and using the advantages of the terrain seemed to be the method of approach for both.

Burial Crew at Antietam – National Park Service.

            Thomas Buell, in discussing the Battle of Antietam states, “If McClellan had hit Lee with a full-scale coordinated attack on September 17, the massed power would have overwhelmed and destroyed Lee’s emaciated army.”[38] Lee’s army had been marching for two weeks, with multiple skirmishes in that period of time. Lee had no reserve to take pressure off of any units at Antietam. “Instead, McClellan committed the Army of the Potomac incrementally right to left, allowing Lee wiggle room to shift blocks of troops to the points of the severest action.”[39] Here Buell becomes very critical of McClellan’s decision-making at Antietam. “McClellan issued no plan, no order, and his later report of what he intended to do was so vague that confusion and misunderstanding were assured.

            Castel and Simpson are also highly critical of the lack of planning on the Union side. “Rarely, too, has such contempt proved more justified. Instead of attacking simultaneously all along the enemy line, McClellan first struck the Confederate left, then center, and finally right, thereby enabling Lee to shift units from sector to sector, where just barely and with heavy loss, they managed to repel the Federal assaults, inflicting terrible casualties.”[40] Castel and Simpson, like Buell, point out that had McClellan had a better coordinated attack, the Union likely would have had significantly more success. They go on to point out further flaws in the attack. “Burnside’s IX Corps, which, unlike the other Union formations, had to cross Antietam Creek in order to engage, broke through on Lee’s right and swept, virtually unopposed toward the village of Sharpsburg and the sole road by which the Confederates could retreat across the nearby Potomac.”[41] While Burnside’s Corps had great difficulty crossing the Antietam Creek, as they were taking fire from the hill above the bridge, once the army had crossed the bridge the units on the hill above scattered.

“All McClellan needed to do was close his hand, turn it into a fist, and then deliver the blow. Standing in his command post atop a hill east of the Antietam and observing the battlefield through a spyglass, he turned toward Porter but said nothing, for the expression on his face clearly asked: “Should we attack?” Slowly Porter shook his head from side to side: “No.” It was the answer McClellan desired. Enough, he believed, had been accomplished, and to attempt more would be to play into the hands of Lee, whom he still believed vastly outnumbered him and so quite likely had many thousands of fresh soldiers concealed in the dense woods north of Sharpsburg, ready to pounce.”[42]

            Castell and Simpson point out that The Army of the Potomac had Lee’s Army in their grasp, McClellan could have captured or destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia in September of 1862, an act that could have ended the war much sooner. In a memory written in 1886, long after the war by Thomas M. Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel, Ninth U.S. Infantry, an officer in a unit that McClellan held in reserve at Antietam, Anderson writes: “After the war, I asked General Sykes why our reserves did not advance upon receiving Dryer’s report. He answered that he remembered the circumstance very well and that he thought McClellan was inclined to order the Fifth Corps but that when he spoke of doing so Fitz John Porter said: “Remember, General! I command the last reserve of the last Army of the Republic.”[43] While this gives a limited reasoning to McClellan’s actions, it does not give a full picture of the incident or justify the lack of pursuit by McClellan.

            Buell in discussing the end of the battle states, “The decision on whether to resume the attack (on Lee’s retreating troops) belonged to the corps commanders, for McClellan was in his headquarters at the Pry House, across Antietam Creek, removed from the battle.”[44] There was a fresh corps outside of the headquarters who had not seen battle and had remained as a ready reserve. Sumner the Senior Corps Commander was still “shell-shocked from the battle.” And did not want this Franklin’s reserve corps to attack. “Franklin appealed to McClellan, who naturally agreed with Sumner.”[45]

            Among the historian reviewed, there is little disagreement that the battle of Antietam could have been better approached by the Union command, specifically General McClellan. All of these historians have shown that McClellan had been given a unique gift giving him Lee’s plans and unit movements, yet McClellan failed to use this advantage. Much like Lincoln, these historians strongly criticize McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee and capture what was left of the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan wrote to his wife after the battle, “Those in whose judgement I rely,” he wrote Ellen on September 18, “tell me that I fought the battle splendidly & that it was a masterpiece of art.”[46] McClellan again wrote his wife, “I feel some little pride in having with a beaten and demoralized army defeated Lee so utterly, & saved the North so completely. Well—one of these days history will I trust do me justice in deciding that it was not my fault that the campaign of the Peninsula was not successful.”[47] McClellan’s failure to capture or destroy Lee’s army would cause Lincoln to remove McClellan from the command of the Army of the Potomac a short time after the battle.


            In the Maryland campaign, both the Union and the Confederates had a mixture of successes and failures. These successes and failures lay solely in the decision that were made by the commanders involved in these campaigns. Lee sought to move north in a belief gain support from Marylanders gaining needed supplies and volunteers to the Confederate cause. Lee also sought to destroy the Army of the Potomac and the morale of the Union public. He did not succeed at either. McClellan was presented with a gift of having Lee’s plans and failed to act in a significant way to take advantage of it. With Lee’s orders in his hands that had been authenticated by one of McClellan’s officers, McClellan could have beefed up the defense of Harper’s Ferry which may have stopped it from being surrendered to Jackson or at least prolonged the battle there, keeping Jackson’s forces from assisting at Antietam. McClellan was also presented with the opportunity to destroy Lee’s army, or capture it at Antietam, and he chose to let Lee and his remaining troops retreat back to Virginia even though Union troops were available to stop Lee. McClellan’s only complete success of the Maryland Campaign was the Battle of South Mountain.

            There are areas in which further research may shed a better light on this subject. A closer review of the Confederate strategy and plans, and historiographical input would help clarify Lee’s strategy better. If given more focus on Lee’s strategic goals, a more complete view of the campaign could be utilized to balance the narrative of the battles. Steven Knott’s article gave a cursory glance at Lee’s viewpoint, but further research would paint a better picture. Another area of further research would be to view the reports and communications of McClellan’s subordinate officers and their view of the campaign. Having their voices would solidify a view of the Union command throughout the campaign.

            The Maryland campaign presented opportunities for both the Union and the Confederates to end the war on a much earlier timeline. Had Lee been successful in capturing or destroying the Army of the Potomac, he would have taken away the northern support for the war. Lee also may have had the opportunity to capture Washington and give a very different outcome to the war. Had McClellan taken advantage of Lee’s orders sooner, he may have been able to destroy or capture the Army of Northern Virginia and then potentially move again against Richmond, capturing the Confederate capitol bringing an end to the war. Neither of these scenarios played out leading to a longer and bloodier war.


“An Invitation to Battle: Special Orders 191.” 2020. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. May 27.,1880%2D1901)%2C%20vol.

“Antietam.” 2021. American Battlefield Trust. January.

Battle of Antietam. 2014. 10 Days That Changed America. History Channel.

“Battle of Second Manassas Facts & Summary.” 2020. American Battlefield Trust. December 16.

Buell, Thomas B. 1997. “Chapter 11: Antietam.” Essay. In The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War, 105–25. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

Castel, Albert, and Brooks D. Simpson. 2015. “Nobody at Antietam.” Essay. In Victors in Blue: How Union Generals Fought the Confederates, Battled Each Other, and Won the Civil War, 96–119. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. “South Mountain and Harpers Ferry.” In Counter-Thrust: From the Peninsula to the Antietam, 196-227. Lincoln; London: University of Nebraska Press, 2007

Cozzens, Peter, and Thomas M. Anderson. 2002. Essay. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 5, 197–98. Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Dew, Charles B. 2004. “How Samuel E. Pittman Validated Lee’s ‘Lost Orders’ Prior to Antietam: A Historical Note.” The Journal of Southern History 70 (4)

 “General Robert E. Lee’s ‘Lost Order’ No. 191.” American Battlefield Trust.

George B. McClellan.” 2021. American Battlefield Trust. March 22.

Grimsley, Mark. 2017. “The Lincoln-McClellan Relationship in Myth and Memory.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 38 (2)

Hess, Earl J. “Second Manassas, Antietam, and the Maryland Campaign.” In Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864, 130-53. University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Knott, Steven W. 2015. “Lee at Antietam: Strategic Imperatives, the Tyranny of Arithmetic, and a Trap Not Sprung.” Army History – U.S. Army Center of Military History, no. 95: 32–40.

Rafuse, Ethan A. 2017. “‘The Spirit Which You Have Aided to Infuse’: A. Lincoln, Little Mac, Fighting Joe, and the Question of Accountability in Union Command Relations.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 38 (2)

Williams, Frank J., Craig L. Symonds, Harold Holzer, and James C Waugh. 2015. Essay. In Exploring Lincoln: Great Historians Reappraise Our Greatest President, 214–27. New York, NY: Fordham University Press. Page 214.

[1] “An Invitation to Battle: Special Orders 191.” 2020. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. May 27.,1880%2D1901)%2C%20vol.

[2] “Battle of Second Manassas Facts & Summary.” 2020. American Battlefield Trust. December 16.

[3] “Battle of Second Manassas Facts & Summary.” 2020. American Battlefield Trust. December 16.

[4] “Battle of Second Manassas Facts & Summary.” 2020. American Battlefield Trust. December 16.

[5] “George B. McClellan.” 2021. American Battlefield Trust. March 22.

[6] Grimsley, Mark. 2017. “The Lincoln-McClellan Relationship in Myth and Memory.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 38 (2): Page 70.

[7] Williams, Frank J., Craig L. Symonds, Harold Holzer, and James C Waugh. 2015. Essay. In Exploring Lincoln: Great Historians Reappraise Our Greatest President, 214–27. New York, NY: Fordham University Press. Page 214.

[8] Rafuse, Ethan A. 2017. “‘The Spirit Which You Have Aided to Infuse’: A. Lincoln, Little Mac, Fighting Joe, and the Question of Accountability in Union Command Relations.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 38 (2): Page 3

[9] Rafuse, Ethan A. 2017. Page 6-7.  

[10] 2020. “General Robert E. Lee’s ‘Lost Order’ No. 191.” American Battlefield Trust.

[11] Buell, Thomas B. 1997. “Chapter 11: Antietam.” Essay. In The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War, 105–25. New York, NY: Crown Publishers. Page 106.

[12] Buell, Thomas B. 1997. Page 106.

[13] Dew, Charles B. 2004. “How Samuel E. Pittman Validated Lee’s ‘Lost Orders’ Prior to Antietam: A Historical Note.” The Journal of Southern History 70 (4): Page 866.

[14] Dew. Page 868

[15] Battle of Antietam. 2014. 10 Days That Changed America. History Channel. Time stamp 14:02

[16] Battle of Antietam. 2014. 10 Days That Changed America. History Channel. Time stamp 14:57

[17] Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. “South Mountain and Harpers Ferry.” In Counter-Thrust: From the Peninsula to the Antietam, 196-227. Lincoln; London: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. Page 204.

[18] Cooling. Page 205.

[19] Cooling. Page 208.

[20] Hess, Earl J. “Second Manassas, Antietam, and the Maryland Campaign.” In Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864, Page 139-140.

[21] Hess, Page 142.

[22] Hess, Page 142.

[23] Hess, Page 142.

[24] Hess, Page 144.

[25] Schmiel, Eugene D. 2014. “Citizen-General on the National Stage The Maryland Campaign.” Essay. In Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era, 57–97. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. Page 67.

[26] Schmeil. Page 67.

[27] Schmeil. Page 66.

[28] Schmeil. Page 69.

[29] Hess. Page 144.

[30] Hess. Page 146.

[31] Castel, Albert, and Brooks D. Simpson. 2015. “Nobody at Antietam.” Essay. In Victors in Blue: How Union Generals Fought the Confederates, Battled Each Other, and Won the Civil War, Page 115.

[32] “Antietam.” 2021. American Battlefield Trust. January.

[33] Knott, Steven W. 2015. “Lee at Antietam: Strategic Imperatives, the Tyranny of Arithmetic, and a Trap Not Sprung.” Army History – U.S. Army Center of Military History, no. 95: Page 33.

[34] Knott. Page 34.

[35] Knott. Page 34.

[36] Hess. Page 146

[37] Hess. Page 147

[38] Buell. Page 116.

[39] Buell. Page 116.

[40] Castel/ Simpson. Page 115.

[41] Castel/ Simpson. Page 115.

[42] Castel/ Simpson. Page 116.

[43] Cozzens, Peter, and Thomas M. Anderson. 2002. Essay. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 5, 197–98. Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press.

[44] Buell. Page 120

[45] Buell. Page 120

[46] Castel/Simpson. Page 116.

[47] Castel/Simpson. Page 116.

The Irish at Antietam

The Flag of the NY 88th Regiment

THE mess-tent is full, and the glasses are set,
And the gallant Count Thomond is president yet;
The vet’ran arose, like an uplifted lance,
Crying—“Comrades, a health to the monarch of France!”
With bumpers and cheers they have done as he bade
For King Louis is loved by the Irish Brigade.
“A health to King James,” and they bent as they quaffed,
“Here’s to George the Elector,” and fiercely they laughed,
“Good luck to the girls we wooed long ago,
Where Shannon, and Barrow, and Blackwater flow;”
“God prosper Old Ireland,”—you’d think them afraid,
So pale grew the chiefs of the Irish Brigade.

“But surely, that light cannot be from our lamp
And that noise—are they all getting drunk in the camp?”
“Hurrah! boys, the morning of battle is come,
And the generale’s beating on many a drum.”
So they rush from the revel to join the parade:
For the van is the right of the Irish Brigade.

They fought as they revelled, fast, fiery and true,
And, though victors, they left on the field not a few;
And they, who survived, fought and drank as of yore,
But the land of their heart’s hope they never saw more;
For in far foreign fields, from Dunkirk to Belgrade,
Lie the soldiers and chiefs of the Irish Brigade. – Thomas Osborne Davis

Actual Battle Flag of the 69th NY Irish Brigade

The Sixty-ninth is on its way – France heard it long ago,
And the Germans know we’re coming, to give them blow for blow.
We’ve taken on the contract, and when the job is through
We’ll let them hear a Yankee cheer and an Irish ballad too.

The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back.

We brought back from the Border our Flag – ’twas never lost;
We left behind the land we love, the stormy sea we crossed.
We heard the cry of Belgium, and France the free and fair,
For where there’s work for fighting-men, the Sixty-ninth is there.

The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back.

Campaign Flag of the 63rd New York

On the 17th of September, 1862, in a cornfield along Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg Md. Father William Corby mounts a horse with a bucket of holy water. Assembled in the field in front of him were the 63rd New York, 69th New York, 88th New York and 29th Massachusetts, The Irish Brigade. (Second Brigade, First Division Second Corps, Army of the Potomac) Father Corby rode through the assembled men, granting absolution and blessing them with holy water.

Buck and Ball Ammunition

As the brigade began to march forward across the cornfield, they encountered a rail fence, the men at the front of the lines began to fire volleys as the fence was torn down. The brigade was now around 300 paces from the enemy, General George B. Anderson’s Brigade, the 2nd, 4th, 14th and 30th North Carolina Infantry Regiments.  After several volleys of buck and ball, the Irish Brigade charged with fixed bayonets and charged, Anderson’s Brigade fell back to the sunken road at the end of the field, now called the Bloody Lane. Most brigades would have been routed from that field long before they ran out of ammunition. The brigade rose up, formed column and ignoring the fire of the Confederates, disdaining it, and charged into the Confederate line. As the brigade came off the field, Colonel Richardson called out to the men of the 88th New York, “Bravo, 88th, I shall never forget you!” He had little chance to break that promise, he would be mortally wounded within minutes by a rebel shell fragment. After a bloody hand to hand fight, the Irish brigade who was now out of ammunition was relieved.

It is believed that 60% of the Irish Brigade was killed or wounded at Antietam, The Brigade would continue to recruit and grow adding regiments from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to their numbers.

You can read the reports of the command staff of the Irish Brigade here: The Irish Brigade at Antietam.

Battle Flag of the 29th Massachusetts

Women in the American Revolution

On March 12, 1776, the Continental Congress released a public notice thanking the women who were contributing to the revolutionary cause. The notice first appeared in a Baltimore newspaper. The notice urged others to recognize women’s contributions and announced, “The necessity of taking all imaginable care of those who may happen to be wounded in the country’s cause, urges us to address our humane ladies, to lend us their kind assistance in furnishing us with linen rags and old sheeting, for bandages.” Nursing and “camp followers” were not the only contribution that women gave to the revolutionary cause. There are many examples of women doing far more than nursing and making bandages.

Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson was 22 years old when she dressed in men’s clothing and enlisted in the Continental Army as Robert Shirtliff. Sampson joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, a light infantry regiment in Uxbridge. Light Infantry Companies were elite troops, specially picked because they were taller and stronger than average. Light infantry units were usually used for to protect a larger units flank, provide a rear guard, or were sometime sent on reconnaissance missions. Because she joined an elite unit, Sampson’s disguise was more likely to succeed, since no one was likely to look for a woman among soldiers who were specially chosen for their above average size and physical ability. At the battle of Tarrytown, New York, Sampson was injured taking two musket balls in the thigh and a laceration to the head. She was taken to a doctor who examined the head wound and bandaged it. She then snuck away, removing one of the musket balls on her own, with a pocket knife. she sewed the wound closed and returned to her unit. The other bullet remained in her leg for the rest of her life. Sampson was then reassigned as the personal attendant of General John Paterson. Paterson and his company were sent to quell a riot in Philadelphia in the summer of 1783. While in Philadelphia, Sampson became ill and was sent to Dr. Barnabas Binney. Binney removed Sampson’s clothing and discovered that she was disguised, but instead of revealing this to Sampson’s Commander, he had her taken to his house where Binney’s wife and daughters nursed Sampson back to health. When Dr. Binney asked Sampson to deliver a note to General Paterson, she correctly assumed that it would reveal her sex. In other cases, women who pretended to be men to serve in the army were reprimanded, but Paterson gave her a discharge, a note with some words of advice, and enough money to travel home. She was honorably discharged at West Point, New York , on October 25, 1783, after a year and a half of service.

Deborah Sampson: Frontispiece of The Female Review: Life of Deborah Sampson, the Female Soldier in the War of Revolution

Prudence Cummings Wright

When the men of Pepperell, Massachusetts marched off to fight for the patriot cause, the women of the town mustered their patriotic spirit and formed their own militia to protect the town. Prudence Cummings Wright was elected the leader of this militia named Mrs. David Wright’s Guard. The militia unit originally formed when Wright had overheard her brother-in-law discussing giving intelligence to the British in Boston. The all female militia unit would dress in men’s clothing and carry hunting rifles and farm tools as weapons. Wright’s Militia watched the only bridge that these British spies could cross. The Militia caught the spies and turned over the information to continental authorities.

Prudence Cummings Wright – New England Historical Society

There are many more stories out there of the women who fought and assisted the revolutionary cause. Women who did not gain the notoriety of Martha Washington, or Abigail Adams. Please check out the links below that will tell you more about the Women who are heroes of the American Revolution!

American Battlefield Trust – Women of the Revolution

Journal of the American Revolution – 10 Amazing Women of the Revolutionary War

Women and the American Story

The Role of Women in the American Revolution

The Treason of Aaron Burr and American Politics

Aaron Burr was an attorney, military officer, senator, and the third Vice President of the United States, by definition a founding father of the United States. His legacy however is forever tarnished by his actions at Weehawken, New Jersey where he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. His legacy became further tarnished when he became the leader of a plot to cause the secession of some new United States territories in an attempt to form a new country in these territories that had been purchased from France during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a time that Burr himself served as Vice President. The political ramifications of Burr’s actions would become an indelible stain on the history of the new nation. The purpose of this paper is to examine the actions of Aaron Burr and his co-conspirators to view how these actions would affect the political positions of the new United States territories and the country as a whole. The players involved in the conspiracy and the prosecution were some of the most important people in American politics at the time. For many years, historians have written about Burr’s Conspiracy, there has however been no clear discussion of how it affected the political future of the United States. By examining historical documents, court documents and the writing of other historian on the topic, a political picture of Aaron Burr’s treasonous actions can be observed.

            In considering the political climate of the new republic there are several items that should be brought to the forefront of United States politics in 1800. The United States Government had only been in place for twenty-nine years, the U.S. Constitution had only been in place for twenty-three years. 1800 saw the fourth presidential election of the new republic. The United States political system broke to a two-party system in 1792. The United States was a young nation handling the growing pains of expanding territory, and development of a government and laws that had not been in existence for very long. The political climate itself was very tense due to a perceived threat to separate political parties in the Alien and Sedition Acts and the loss of the political father of the nation, George Washington, in 1799. This new nation was ill prepared for any significant internal political strife. The occurrences that would follow the election of 1800 would have a significant political impact on the country for some time. The Trial that would follow Burr’s conspiracy would involve both political parties, Thomas Jefferson a Democratic-Republican directing the prosecution from Washington, Chief Justice John Marshall who had been appointed by John Adams, a Federalist, and Aaron Burr who had left the Federalist Party and joined the Democratic- Republicans.  

Aaron Burr

            The election of 1800 was a tumultuous time for the new republic, there were two parties and a defined line between the two. It was a time of strong political fervor with strong allegation being thrown out against the opposing party. A Connecticut Federalist concerned about a Jefferson victory in the election stated, “There is scarcely a possibility that we shall escape a Civil War. Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will all be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”[1] This election was a significant break from the prior three presidential elections that have been held, while elections were competitive, the political slander that would happen in the election of 1800 would create a polarization in American politics. There was a strong fear that a civil war might be imminent. While political discourse was still largely peaceful, there was a divide between the two parties that caused strong rhetoric. Democratic-Republicans in the South felt that the Alien and Sedition act was a direct response to the forming of the party. Other concerns were, “the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions, coupled with the alleged stockpiling of arms and other defensive measures by Virginia, had convinced the Federalists that the Virginia Republicans were at the forefront of a movement to defy the government.”[2] In the election of 1796, Jefferson ran for president reluctantly after encouragement from his friends in Virginia and other Democratic-Republicans. When he lost the election to John Adams, there were many within the party that believed he would not serve his term. Surprisingly, Jefferson took on a new political sense and became very active in the leadership and the viewpoints of the Democratic- Republicans. Jefferson as Vice-President was also and active voice of dissent inside the Presidential Cabinet. This became a point of contention with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions calling the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional.[3] There was a strong resentment between the President and Vice-President and the two political parties as the election of 1800 approached. As 1800 approached, it was clear that Jefferson would be the presidential candidate for the Democratic- Republicans, Adams however had become unpopular in the Federalist Party. Members of his own cabinet were taking advise from outside influencers including Alexander Hamilton. When Adams was renominated as the Federalist candidate a deep schism then grew among the Federalists.

            Enter Aaron Burr a senator from New York who joined the Democratic- Republicans to challenge Phillip Schuyler. After winning that seat he was determined to gain more political power. Burr was signed on as the Vice-Presidential candidate with Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 election. While running for the vice- presidential position, Burr cast himself as a better candidate than Jefferson and openly campaigned for himself in the presidential position over Jefferson. When the vote reached the Electoral College, the votes were tied between Jefferson and Burr. When the matter went before the House of Representatives, Alexander Hamilton convinced some Federalists to support Jefferson over Burr. Jefferson won the election and Burr was placed in the Vice-Presidential role. Jefferson noted to Burr that he was aware of his open campaigning against him. The next four years would be difficult between them.

            Thomas Baker’s article, “An Attack Well Directed” Aaron Burr Intrigues for the Presidency highlights Aaron Burr’s want for the power of the presidency, and how he used back room deals and promises to attempt to gain that power over Jefferson. There are historians who believe that Burr’s full intent was to upset the Jefferson Presidency, “many people wondered if Burr had schemed with Federalists in Congress or otherwise taken steps to secure his own election in the ballot.”[4] A letter found in the papers of Representative Edward Livingston revealed a plot to alter the electors towards Burr, crafted by William P Van Ness. William P. Van Ness was a noted New York Lawyer and Democratic- Republican and friend of Aaron Burr. Van Ness scheme included a tie in the electoral college moving the final decision to the House of Representatives. In the House, Livingston was to cast his vote for Burr causing a second vote and attempts to get three other Federalist Representative to endorse Burr. Van Ness assured Livingston that this “attack well directed” would give Burr the presidency and maintain peace in the Capitol.[5] Van Ness’ understanding of the vote was miscalculated, not understanding that each state would get one vote based on the majority of the Representative votes from that state. Baker points out that while there is no exact link to show Burr was directing Van Ness, “There is a compelling pattern of circumstantial evidence, much of it newly discovered, that strongly suggests Aaron Burr did exactly that as part of a stealth campaign to compass the presidency for himself.”[6] Baker lays out the connection between Burr and Van Ness, from their closeness in political meetings in Albany to the fact that Van Ness served as Burr’s second at Weehawken during the duel with Alexander Hamilton. From a political standpoint, Burr had attempted to usurp the power of the Presidency as a Vice-Presidential candidate and conspired with others to do so including sitting Representatives. Also, during the campaign Burr had actively and openly tried to gain votes for President while running for Vice-President in the same party.

            Historians Micheal Drexler and Ed White wrote the book, The Traumatic Colonel: The Founding Fathers, Slavery, and the Phantasmatic Aaron Burr, in the fourth chapter “The Formation of Aaron Burr” they write, “Burr barely existed at the moment, especially when viewed alongside the extensive and rich semiotic portrait of Jefferson, by supporters and enemies alike.”[7] Burr was a relatively unknown person in the national political realm, while Jefferson’s name was highly recognized, yet when it came to votes of the Electors, these men tied on multiple occasions. In May of 1801, a pamphlet was circulated calling the character of Aaron Burr into question. The pamphlet accused Burr of conspiratorial tendencies, hatred of the Constitution, greed, and deceptiveness. The pamphlet further states, “It is time to tear away the veil that hides this monster, and lay open a scene of misery, at which every heart must shudder.”[8] The pamphlet which was put out by Federalists also accused Burr of sexual deviance and the seduction of a young girl who was the daughter of a respected Washington craftsman. A number of anti-Burr pamphlets continued to be released and several pro-Burr pamphlets were released including one written by Willam P. Van Ness entitled, “An Examination of the Various Charges Exhibited against Aaron Burr”[9] which served as a rebuttal to the May 1801 pamphlet. In a pamphlet produced by James Cheetham, who edited New York’s American Citizen newspaper, “Cheetham proposes the theory that Burr, wishing to ‘supplant Mr. Jefferson,’ set out to court the Federalists in the hopes of achieving a second vice presidency under Charles Cotesworth Pinckney”[10] who they suspected would be the Federalist candidate in the next Presidential election.  Some historians would wonder if Cheetham had discovered Burr and Van Ness’ earlier plot and was attempting to expose it. Regardless of who was producing the pamphlets, Burr’s political clout was falling. Burr made attempts to write a book about his political career and block another book being written about him, but the damage had been done. Jefferson and his administration did what the could to distance themselves from Burr, Jefferson saw Burr as a threat to his presidency.

            The political struggles outside of the Capitol were well matched by the struggles that Burr was creating inside the Jefferson Government. The rift between these two men forced a divide along party lines where Burr would actively work against the initiatives of Jefferson, Burr encouraged the Federalists to avoid bargaining with Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans even when Federalists were actively assassinating Burr’s character. In 1804, Burr would run for Governor in the State of New York, Alexander Hamilton spoke out against his candidacy and Cheetham republished allegations that had been made against Burr in 1801. Burr received a crushing defeat from both Federalist and Democratic-Republicans. Hamilton’s protest against Burr would lead to the fateful duel in Weehawken, NJ where Hamilton was killed. Once Burr killed Hamilton in a duel, “he became persona non grata among leading Federalists, Democratic-Republicans and, indeed, in polite society in general.”[11] Burr had left New York as a Coroner’s Jury was deciding whether or not murder charges would be filed regarding the duel.

            In August of 1804, Burr contacted Anthony Merry who served as the British Ambassador to the United States. Prior to contacting Merry, Burr had spoken with General James Wilkinson, the commander of the U.S. Army suggesting the formation of a new separate country in the Louisiana Territory. Burr advised Merry of this plan and Merry sent a dispatch to Britain detailing Burr’s offer to “effect a separation of the western part of the United States” from the rest of the country. In return, Burr wanted money and ships to carry out his conquest.[12] On August 14, 1804, Burr, Van Ness and Nathaniel Pendleton (who served as Hamilton’s Second) are indicted by a grand jury in New York for Dueling.[13] Burr had fled New York at the time and later in August he arrived in Georgia where he spent time at the plantation of Pierce Butler, little is known about the time Burr spent there.

            After Burr returned to Washington, he would preside over the impeachment trial of Federal Judge Samuel Chase, this would be Burr’s last action as Vice-President and President of the Senate. On March 2, 1805, Aaron Burr resigns his position as Vice-President in a speech to the Senate. Burr would be the first Vice-President to resign from his position causing a short vacancy in the position. Burr had still not answered the charges against him in New York. Over a month later he would ride on horseback to Pittsburgh to travel on a boat that he had built down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. On April 30, 1805, Burr and a companion who would serve as his secretary launched from Pittsburgh on a journey to gauge popular attachment to the union and military actions against Spanish territory.[14] Burr’s plan was to meet with politicians to sense their loyalty to Jefferson and the United States and to plant the seeds of insurrection with those that he could.

            On May 30, 1805, Burr met with Wilkinson in Nashville and was treated to large dinners and balls in his honor, Burr would stay for four days as a guest of General Andrew Jackson. Burr then set sail for Fort Massac, which was in the Kentucky territory at that time, now in Illinois to meet with Wilkinson who was now the Governor of the Kentucky Territory to begin the plan to recruit and prepare forces for their planned separation from the United States. In October of 1805, Burr returned to Washington where he met and had dinner with Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson was aware of Burr’s travels in the west, however, little is known about their meeting. Lexington’s Kentucky Gazette reported that Burr was “merely traveling for amusement and information.” [15] In early November a Kentucky Federalist wrote to his brother-in-law in Virginia stating the Democratic-Republicans in Kentucky had paid “a great deal of attention to Colonel Burr;” “It is thought there will be attempts made by him to separate the western country from the Union.”[16] In 1806, Joseph Hamilton Davies who had been the Federal District Attorney for Kentucky wrote twice to Thomas Jefferson, in January and again in April, in his letter warned Jefferson of “Traitors among us” and “A plot for a separation of the Union in favor of Spain.” Davies, who was a Federalist, warned that people on “High Office” and among Jefferson’s “friends” were “deeply tainted with this treason.”[17] In the later letter, Davies named potential co-conspirators including, “James Breckenridge (the brother of the U.S. Attorney General), Senator John Adair, Rep. John Fowler, federal judge Harry Innes, Kentucky Judge Benjamin Sebastian, Attorney Henry Clay, Ohio Senator John Smith, and territorial governors, William Henry Harrison, and General James Wilkinson.”[18] Davies was naming prominent members of Jefferson’s Government and members of the Democratic- Republican party, but did not directly name Burr in his letters. From a political standpoint, this was a significant insurrection plot inside the standing government of the United States and United States Territories. Later in his book, James Lewis writes “To many Americans, the Burr crisis posed a grave threat to their young republic. History, both ancient and modern, and theory had taught Americans that all republican governments were fragile and fleeting.”[19] Historians have shown that young republics are ripe for insurrections and coup d’etat, it would appear that Burr’s actions along with Wilkinson and others were a planned insurrection. “Americans had worried that their republican government would share the fate of past republics even before it was fully established.”[20]

            During Early 1806, Burr had been writing individuals seeking financial support for his endeavors. In March of 1806, Burr again meets with Jefferson, the meeting was an attempt for Burr to obtain some type of political appointment, Burr leaves empty-handed and Jefferson does not mention the conspiracy.[21] In July, Burr notifies Wilkinson in a cyphered letter, “he had ‘commenced the enterprise and detachments from different points and under different pretences will rendezvous on the Ohio’ River on November 1. Burr writes that the troops will be at Natchez in early December to meet Wilkinson.”[22] In October, Wilkinson would receive cyphered a letter from Samuel Swartwout, one of Burr’s co-conspirators advising him that “Burr’s Army is poised to move down the river,”[23] this was meant to keep Wilkinson involved; however it had the Opposite effect and Wilkinson wrote to Jefferson, informing him of Burr’s plot.

            In November of 1806, Joseph Hamilton Davies, the U.S. Attorney General for Kentucky begins to take independent action, no longer waiting for word from Jefferson. Davies convenes a grand jury seeking to “indict Burr for high misdemeanor for preparing military action in Spanish Territory in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1794.”[24] The grand jury refused the indictment. Davies would try again in December of 1806, but he would not succeed. At the end of November Wilkinson would take military control of New Orleans out of fear an invading force was to set upon the town. On December 10, Harman Blennerhasset and a small group of Burr’s men would meet at Blennerhasset Island but would retreat down river when a group of Ohio Militia were spotted coming to the island. The Ohio Militia seizes eleven boats commissioned by Burr at Blennerhasset Island.

            In Washington, in October of 1806, Jefferson would hold several cabinet meetings to discuss whether or not the information received from Wilkinson was reliable. In November of 1806, an agent sent by Jefferson meets with Harman Blennerhasset, the agent approaches Blennerhasset as a man wanting to join Burr’s confederacy. Blennerhasset reveals the plan to this agent over a short period of time. The agent then reports back to Jefferson. On November 17, 1806, Jefferson announces a conspiracy in the western states has been uncovered that was planning an attack on the Spanish Territories, Jefferson does not mention Burr’s name, but request that those responsible be apprehended and brought to justice. U.S. Navy ships are sent to New Orleans to apprehend any boats connected to the conspiracy. “On January 10, 1807, when Aaron Burr moored his boats on the Louisiana shore opposite Bayou Pierre, he already appeared to be a ruined man. Ever since leaving Tennessee he had known that General James Wilkinson had deserted him.”[25] Burr knew that federal authorities were looking for him, and on January 11, 1806, the Governor of the Mississippi territory was notified that Burr was in Bayou Pierre. Burr had arrived there with nine boats and nearly one hundred men. “On the thirteenth he (Burr) sent a letter to Mead declaring that his intentions were entirely peaceful but hinting at resistance in case force were used against him.”[26] After several days of negotiation, Burr surrendered to authorities from Mississippi, Burr and his men were then transported to Washington where they would face trial.

Aaron Burr’s Arrest

            On January 22, 1807, Jefferson would send a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives detailing the conspiracy of Burr, and essentially prosecuting the case before the two houses. Jefferson writes, “Sometime in the latter part of September, I received intimations that designs were in agitation in the western country, unlawful, and unfriendly to the peace of the Union, and that the prime mover in these was Aaron Burr, heretofore distinguished by the favor of his country.”[27] Jefferson wanted it to be known that he would be involved with the prosecution of the conspirators, which is very much outside the purview of the Office of the President.

            Burr was indicted for Treason on August 17, 1807, his indictment stated that Burr “wickedly devising and intending the peace and tranquility of the same United States to disturb and to stir, move, and excite insurrection, rebellion and war against the said United States.” The indictment further cited, “to the number of thirty persons and upwards, armed and arrayed in a warlike manner, that is to say, with guns, swords and dirks, and other warlike weapons, as well offensive as defensive, being then and there unlawfully, maliciously and traitorously assembled and gathered together, did falsely and traitorously assemble and join themselves together against the said United States.”[28] If convicted Burr would face death by hanging. The indictment enlists the fact that Burr, as a Colonel, Lawyer, Senator, Vice-President had sworn an oath to the United States, and uphold the law and that he knowingly broke that oath. The indictment itself is strongly politically charged to point out Burr’s former offices.

            Historian and Legal Scholar R. Kent Newmeyer analyzes the intricacies of the conspiracy and trial. Newmeyer calls the trial of Aaron Burr, “Legal Theater,” he shows that the people involved in the trial were among the most important people in the new government, The President, Vice-President, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The public of Richmond, Virginia flocked to the courthouse to see what was happening and who they could see attending the trial. Newmeyer writes, “What made the Burr trial truly national, however, was not the national audience, but the issues at stake and the national figures who symbolized those issues.”[29]  Newmeyer further highlights the legal theater that was occurring in the trial by showing the interplay of the attorneys involved in the trial itself. Burr’s attorney delayed the trial on multiple occasions with technical objections, the same attorneys then argued against delays when a key witness, General Wilkinson failed to appear on the date he was scheduled, and the prosecution could show an exact day he would appear. During a delay from June 3 to June 11, Chief Justice Marshall allowed the jurors to go home, not sequestering the jurors allowed them to read news coverage and speak to people about the trial itself.

Burr Trial

            Newmeyer discusses how the United States vs. Burr case is used to this day in citations for treason cases in federal court. The first treason case brought before the Supreme Court was United States vs. Bollman, which was a case directly related to the Burr case. The Bollman case did not bring the same fanfare as the Burr Trial, but it did establish precedent for the Burr trial. Newmeyer writes that these two cases are “foundational rulings on American Treason law, the decisions taken singularly and in tandem are difficult to unscramble”[30]  The decisions made between these two trials served as a strong precedent for the making of treason law within the court system. Newmeyer also reviews items regarding the jury for Burr’s trail and the difficulties it was to find jurors. The first problem was in finding impartial jurors in a high-profile case that had been heavily covered in the newspapers even prior to Burr’s arrest. “The second problem which surfaced during witness interrogation, was the stubborn indeterminacy of the facts themselves.”  The arguments being made were over the legal meaning of “Levying War” which was the charge in Article III of the case against Burr. Newmeyer argues that creating a meaning for “levying war” was argued between the attorneys involved. The arguments from the prosecution and defense took some time, but the defense deferred that they would likely not be able to find jurors with complete impartiality.[31]

            At the end of the trial and presentation of all evidence, Chief Justice Marshall wrote a lengthy decision on the case on August 31, 1807. In his decision, Marshall writes, “that the prisoner (Burr)was not present when that act, whatever may be its character, was committed, and there being no reason to doubt but that he was at a great distance, and in a different state.”[32] The case that was brought forth had stated that the conspirators were arrested at Blennerhasset Island, Burr was not present at the time of the arrests there, and the prosecution had stated such. Marshall’s decision continues stating, “1st. That, conformably to the constitution of the United States, no man can be convicted of treason who was not present when the war was levied. 2d. That if this construction be erroneous, no testimony can be received to charge one man with the overt acts of others until those overt acts as laid in the indictment be proved to the satisfaction of the court.”[33] Marshall held steadfast to the letter of the law in regard to his decision. Newmeyer cites the previous trial of the United States vs. Bollman, one of the co-conspirators, in that decision, Judge William Cranch writes, “To a man of plain understanding it would seem to be a matter of little difficulty to decide what was meant what was meant in the Constitution by Levying War.”[34] Cranch made his decision stating that anyone person should understand what levying war meant, the difference being that Bollman was present at the time of arrest and Burr was not.

            After Burr was found innocent of treason, he continued a normal and seemingly destitute life. Some of his co-conspirators were sent to prison for their parts in the conspiracy. James Wilkinson had been a spy for the Spanish during the entire incident and as early as 1791, Wilkinson died in 1825 in Mexico City as the U.S. Envoy to Mexico, in 1854 his spying was discovered and published.

            In the Trial of Aaron Burr a significant amount of political information was discovered about the new republic and the fragility of the union. The separations between the branches of government were set clearly between the Executive Branch and the Judiciary. John Marshall showed that the Executive branch should have no power over the Judiciary, Marshall refused to bow to political pressures and showed that the Judiciary had clear rules it would follow to define law. Marshall’s decision in the Treason case set a precedent that is still interpreted the same over 200 years later. The conspiracy showed that politically strong people could cause significant division in the republic and that the systems of checks and balances helps to keep that power in check. Historians have the ability to see the evidence well after the trial was over and decided and based on the evidence that exists today, a very different trial would probably take place.


“Aaron Burr, Fugitive and Traitor, 1804.” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2012.

Abernathy, Thomas Perkins. “Aaron Burr in Mississippi.” The Journal of Southern History 15, no. 1 (February 1949): 9–21.

Baker, Thomas N. “‘An Attack Well Directed’ Aaron Burr Intrigues for the Presidency.” Journal of the Early Republic 31, no. 4 (2011).

Critchlow, Donald T., John Korasick, Matthew C. Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson. “Aaron Burr’s Conspiracy – Thomas Jefferson.” Essay. In Political Conspiracies in America: a Reader, 14–18. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008.

Hay, William, and John Randolph. “Indictment of Aaron Burr (August 1807).” Famous Trials. UMKC School of Law, 1995.

Lewis, James E. The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019.

Newmyer, R. Kent. The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

“Statement of Aaron Burr (March 31, 1807).” Famous Trials. University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law, n.d.

United States v Burr (Opinion and Judgement) (Famous Trials By Professor Douglas O. Linder August 31, 1807).

[1] Sharp, James Roger. “The Election of 1800,” in American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 226-249. Page 226.

[2] Sharp. Page 226.

[3] Sharp. Page 228.

[4] Baker, Thomas N. “‘An Attack Well Directed’ Aaron Burr Intrigues for the Presidency.” Journal of the Early Republic 31, no. 4 (2011). Page 253.

[5] Baker. Page 554- 555.

[6] Baker Page 556

[7] Drexler, Michael J., and Ed White. “Burr’s Formation, 1800–1804.” In The Traumatic Colonel: The Founding Fathers, Slavery, and the Phantasmatic Aaron Burr, 102-34. New York; London: NYU Press, 2014. Page 103.

[8] Drexler/White. Page 107.

[9] Drexler/White. Page 108.

[10] Drexler/White. Page 109.

[11]Newmeyer, R. Kent. The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation Chapter 1 (E-Book) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[12] “Aaron Burr, Fugitive and Traitor, 1804,” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2012,

[13] Newmeyer. Chapter 1.

[14] Newmeyer, R. Kent. The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation (E-Book) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Chronology of the Conspiracy and Additional Trial Proceedings.

[15]Lewis, James E. The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). (E-Book) Chapter 2.

[16] Lewis. Chapter 2.

[17] Lewis. Chapter 2.

[18] Lewis. Chapter 2.

[19] Lewis. Chapter 7.

[20] Lewis. Chapter 7.

[21] Newmeyer. Chronology of the Conspiracy and Addition Trial Proceedings

[22] Lewis. Chapter 2

[23] Newmeyer. Chronology of the Conspiracy and Addition Trial Proceedings

[24] Newmeyer. Chronology of the Conspiracy and Addition Trial Proceedings

[25] Abernathy, Thomas Perkins. “Aaron Burr in Mississippi.” The Journal of Southern History 15, no. 1 (February 1949): 9–21. Page 9.

[26] Abernathy. Page 10.

[27] Critchlow, Donald T., John Korasick, Matthew C. Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson. “Aaron Burr’s Conspiracy – Thomas Jefferson.” Essay. In Political Conspiracies in America: a Reader, 14–18. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008.

[28] Hay, William, and John Randolph. “Indictment of Aaron Burr (August 1807).” Famous Trials. UMKC School of Law, 1995.

[29] Newmeyer. Chapter 3.

[30] Nemeyer. Chapter 3.

[31] Nemeyer. Chapter 3.

[32] United States v Burr (Opinion and Judgement) (Famous Trials by Professor Douglas O. Linder August 31, 1807).

[33] United States v Burr (Opinion and Judgement) (Famous Trials by Professor Douglas O. Linder August 31, 1807).

[34] Newmeyer. Chapter 4.

The Movement of the Lenni Lenape and Colonialism

The Lenni Lenape people were the primary inhabitants of the area that is now Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware prior to European arrival and settlement. As the Europeans began to resettle and expand their settlements, the Lenni Lenape were unsettled by the encroachment and began to move their settlements further west. The arrival of William Penn showed a European leader willing to work with the Natives and give Natives a fair value for the land. When Penn moved away, the Lenni Lenape were subjected to fraudulent land deals and squatters who moved beyond agreed upon lands. This fraud by the Pennsylvania Colony and the further push of European re-settlers into the colony forced the Lenni Lenape to continue to move their settlement west, through the Allegheny Mountains, and into the Ohio Country. The purpose of this research is to trace the movement of the Lenni Lenape from the Delaware River valley to the Ohio Country and document the difficulties that they experienced with European re-settlers.

            The Lenni Lenape tradition and cultural belief is that they have been the inhabitants of the lands that we now know as New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and some areas of Southern New York for over 10,000 years. The Lenni Lenape peoples occupied the lands from the Atlantic Ocean and across the Delaware. They called the river that we know as the Delaware, Lenapewihittuck, ‘the river of humans,’ and the Lenape people controlled the valley where the river ran and well beyond it on both sides.[1] Since European arrival on the continent, the Lenape people showed a willingness to trade with the Europeans, trade for land with the Swedes and Dutch who had arrived and even help them establish crops on the land. In 1671, George Fox, a man known as the founder of the Quaker church arrived in New Castle (Delaware). He and a party of other Quakers came to explore the land, in search of a place to establish a Quaker colony in the new world. Lenape people greeted the Quakers and worked with them as guides as they toured the area. After exploring the region, Fox wrote to Quakers in England, including William Penn stating that the Lenape territory is “ripe for colonization.”[2] In 1681, Charles II granted William Penn the land west of the Delaware River to begin to build his colony.

            Understanding Lenni Lenape culture and settlements is important to understanding the spread of the peoples throughout this territory and their moves further west as European settlers began to encroach further into the Lenape territory. Jean Soderlund writes in her book, Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn, that the Governor of New Sweden, Johan Printz wrote of his dealings with the Lenni Lenape people; “When we speak to them about God they pay not attention, but they will let it be understood that they are free people, subject to no one.”[3] The Lenni Lenape had no centralized form of government, they maintained their agreements between each other using decentralized organization of affiliated towns.[4] The Lenni Lenape were known to hold good relations with neighboring Native groups and the wars with other Native groups were largely to protect their lands and peoples. The Lenape socio-political structure was democratic and egalitarian, Sachem held authority only by consulting a council of elders and following the expectations of their people.[5]

From Lenape’ Lifeways

The Lenni Lenape villages were built in a wigwam style with a wooden frame and a skin of woven grasses or bark which had been girdled from trees, villages could contain over a dozen of this wigwam style of house. The villages were not surrounded by a palisade fence which was common in other nearby Native cultures.  Diet consisted of maize corn, beans, and squash which was often supplemented by fish, deer, bear, and other local game, as well as local fowl like turkey, grouse, ducks and geese.[6] Agriculture and hunting was also supplemented by local flora of nuts, berries, and other wild edibles. Archeological evidence shows an extensive system of trade by the Lenni Lenape throughout what is now much of the middle eastern United States.[7] The Lenni Lenape occupied a vast land area, with many agricultural villages, a notable system of governance, and a strong trade system.

            When William Penn arrived on the land deeded to him by Charles II his plan for a Quaker colonial community was his stated goal. In a letter that William Penn sent, via messengers to the Native occupants of the region prior to his arrival, Penn advised the Indian Kings that his intent was to live peaceably with them upon these lands. The letter is known as a Letter from William Penn to the Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania and in it Penn makes several promises to the Native groups. Penn writes, “God hath written his law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help and do good to one another, and not to do harme and mischief unto one an’other.”[8] Penn continues in this letter to acknowledge the poor treatment that Natives have endured from other European explorers and settlers. Penn concludes in stating that he and his representatives will negotiate in friendship and offer good value for the lands which they wish to purchase from them.[9]

. William Penn arrived in 1682, he immediately began to seek out peaceful relations with the Native populations in the region. In 1683, after meeting with Lenni Lenape leaders, William Penn stated, “I am ready to believe them of the Jewish race,”[10] following the belief that Natives on the American Continent were the lost tribe of Israel. From Penn’s own account of his meeting with the Lenni Lenape he wrote about their customs, “I will begin with the Children, so soon as they are born, they wash them in water,”[11] Penn believes this to be similar to a Christian baptism. “If Europeans come to see them or calls for lodging at their house or wigwam, they are given the best place and the first cut,”[12] Penn speaks highly of their manners towards outsiders, welcoming them in a peaceable way. Penn was also impressed with how the Sachems who met with him treated the other Natives in their groups. He was especially impressed with how trade and land deals were shared, “Some Kings have sold, others presented me with parcels of land; the pay or presents I made them, were not hoarded by the owners, but the other neighboring clans being present when the goods were brought out.” Penn was surprised at the sense of communal support that was help among the Lenni Lenape population and saw it as a true testament to their willingness to work with him. Sadly, Penn’s belief in a bright future in his “Peaceable Kingdom” would fall away as Penn returned to England to deal with affairs there.

A change in tone towards the Native population happened when Penn left, and external factors began to cause pressure within Penn’s holy experiment. The troubles for the Lenni Lenape as well as other Native groups then began. Thomas Sugrue explores the troubles incurred by the Natives from what he says in a “once ignored perspective of the Native American.”[13] In the article, The Peopling and Depeopling of Early Pennsylvania: Indians and Colonists, Sugrue uses archeological and ethnographic evidence to track and bring understanding to the movements of Native Peoples in Pennsylvania and their purposes for moving further from the European colonists. Sugrue writes, In the very process of settlement, Penn and his colonists unleashed forces which, even in the absence of coercion and violence, transformed the region’s environment, decimated the native population, and pushed natives westward. Natives weren’t just responding to the seen issues brought by the Europeans, Penn and his followers sought peace, but they also brought environmental changes and disease which would greatly affect the Native populations of Pennsylvania, and Delaware which was still part of Pennsylvania in the early part of Penn’s Colony.

For the Lenni Lenape, existence had been primarily peaceful, in archeological evidence gathered from “Lenni Lenape burials in the Late Woodland Period yield little evidence of violent death.”[14] Sugrue goes on to discuss the nature of the Lenni Lenape governmental system, or more correctly, the lack of a centralized governmental system. The Lenni Lenape had a system of kinship, where elders were respected and largely made the decision for the communities. Surgue argues that this may have been the downfall of the Lenni Lenape; he writes, “it has become clear is that, decentralized and living in small bands, the contact-era Lenape lacked the strong, cohesive tribal organization that enabled natives in other parts of British North America to resist European encroachment.”[15] The Lenni Lenape began to be ravaged by disease in the 1620’s and even more so as European settlers from Britain, Ireland and Germany began to settle in Penn’s colony. A German Minister living in Pennsylvania in 1694 noted, “A great many of these savages have died, even since I came here, so that there are hardly more than a fourth part of the number existing that were to be seen when I came to the country ten years ago.”[16]

Fur Trade

The arrival of the Dutch and Swedes in the Delaware Valley led to the Lenni Lenape to become involved in the fur trade with Europeans. This trade would continue into British colonialization. Prior to their involvement in the fur trade, the Lenni Lenape were primarily subsistence hunters, supplying meat for their villages. The fur trade would require longer hunting trips and competition with other Native groups in the region. The fur trade led to war between the Lenni Lenape and the Susquehannock in 1632, the Lenni Lenape in a search for heavily desired beaver, which were scarce in the Delaware Valley had ventured further west into Susquehannock territory causing a shortly fought conflict. After that conflict, the Lenni Lenape mainly remained mediators for Europeans in those areas but mainly focused on bear and deer that were typically hunted. “Seventeenth century Lenape burial sites yield a growing number of European artifacts that the Indians incorporated into their rituals.”[17] European good became a part of the culture for the Lenni Lenape, the fur trade was bringing more options for clothing, food, household goods and hunting. European life was further encroaching into the culture.

In returning to the discussion of William Penn, Sugrue paints a different picture of Penn and his colony. Penn began advertising the colony in Britain and made promises that the first land purchasers would receive 5,000 acres of riverfront property along the Delaware.[18] This advertisement and sale had taken place before Penn had even received the Charter from Charles II, and much of the land along the river is where Lenni Lenape villages existed.[19] Sugrue’s points do contradict others who show Penn as a man who sought fair negotiation of land sales, yet in this research we see sales of land happening before Penn had even arrived to negotiate. “In his first account of the colony, published in March 1681, Penn guaranteed to purchasers land “free from any Indian incumbrance… By selling land to prospective colonists before treating with the Lenape, Penn displayed an astonishing indifference to Indian rights to the land.”[20] Sugrue argues that while some historians cite the uniqueness of Penn’s negotiation strategy with Native, he still made assumptions and sold land that he had not negotiated for first. Sugrue does go on to point out that Penn did all that he could to rectify the situation and assure that Natives were treated fairly in all negotiation and any land dealings with Natives that were not done fairly would be subject to significant fines and loss of that land back to the Native population. Penn made arrangements for continuous payments to the Lenni Lenape to maintain ownership of the lands that settlers occupied or used. This idea of continuous payments ended in 1700 after Penn had returned to Britain. “1700, during a period of financial difficulty, Penn ordered colonial officials to cease such payments. As it turned out, the retreat of the Lenape westward and the decline in native population diminished the possibility of conflict and thus left the colonists with no compelling reason to offer repeat payments.”[21]

Why were the Lenni Lenape moving west? “The large number of immigrants compensated for the negative natural increase among colonists in the first decades of settlement in Philadelphia. No British colony grew as rapidly as Pennsylvania.”[22] Pennsylvania was growing quickly and the Lenni Lenape were seeing the numbers of settlers grow, and the effect that trade was having on their people. Alcohol was being traded with Lenape peoples causing conflict not only internally but externally with settlers. With their lands decreasing Sachems and elders sought new places away from the Europeans. Some Lenape decided to remain in the Delaware Valley and attempt coexistence with the Europeans, some moved further north on the Delaware, and area less populated with Europeans, most moved west into the Susquehanna Valley to get further away from the further encroachment of European culture. In response to the difficulties of the Lenape, the government of Pennsylvania set aside “manors” to allow the natives to pursue their traditional lifestyle. Groups of natives also moved to areas on the borders of colonial settlement.”[23] One of these settlements called, Okehocking was very successful for a limited period of time. Okehocking was founded in 1701 and bordered a Quaker settlement and as native hunting began to deplete the huntable animals in the area, they became more dependent on the Quaker neighbors for food and had little to trade. By 1735, the Lenni Lenape had abandoned Okehocking, seeking lands further west. “The Lenape found it impossible to maintain their traditional economy and culture in the well-settled and cultivated plains of Eastern Pennsylvania.”[24] Dependent on their religious and cultural convictions, the Lenni Lenape sought a place of better lands and rivers. The Lenni Lenape religious practices had a word that they felt was the reason for their need for movement; “The notion of kwulakan, that an area in which harmony had broken down could not be entered without invoking the wrath of the deities.”[25] Many felt that if they remained near the Europeans, this wrath would continue to haunt them.

Another significant reasoning behind the Lenni Lenape leaving the Delaware Valley and moving west took place in 1737. Known as the Walking Purchase, this was a land deal issued by Thomas Penn, the son of William Penn. Thomas Penn met Lenni Lenape Sachems in order to complete this purchase. Thomas held in his hand what he said was a deed signed by Lenape chiefs in 1686 that sold all land north of Tohikcon Creek on the Delaware River to William Penn. The document stated that the amount of land would be measured by a day and a half’s walk from an agreed upon starting point. The agreed upon walk would take place in September, though the Lenni Lenape had no record of such a deal. In August of 1737, representatives of the Lenni Lenape met with James Logan, who was the Penn’s representative in Pennsylvania and served as the Deputy Governor. Manawkyhickon one of the Lenni Lenape spoke of the trust for William Penn, he also explained that the Lenni Lenape were hesitant to agree to terms because they were not sure exactly how much land Penn’s sons were asking for. In the meeting the Lenni Lenape representatives were shown a map of the purchase and explained the details of the walking purchase. “The sachems marked a document that confirmed an earlier draft deed and called for the walk to be made. The minutes of the meeting agree with this account, but they also reveal how the deceptive image disguised proprietorial intentions.”[26] The map that had been shown to the Lenni Lenape representatives was purposefully vague and crafted to miscommunicate the exact size of the land to the Natives.

 “In September 1737, the young men hired as walkers by the proprietors traveled faster and further northwest than Delawares (Lenni Lenape) assumed they would.”[27] The men who were “walking’ were heavily aided by men with horses, carts and canoes to cross waterways. When the walk had been finished, the three men had covered nearly twelve million acres. The Lenni Lenape immediately protested, at the August meeting, Logan agreed when asked if he would follow Penn’s words ““as the Indians and white people have ever lived together in a good understanding, they, the Indians, would request that they may be permitted to remain on their present Settlements and Plantations, tho’ within that purchase, without being molested.”[28] Thomas Penn had also agreed to these words with the Lenni Lenape prior to the August meeting.

Walking Purchase – Project Muse

William Penn’s sons, Thomas and James, had started selling land to settlers before the Walking Purchase had even been made. “Aware that this land could not realize it’s full value unless it was cleared of encumberences, they made plans to complete the supposed purchase of 1686 and expel the Delawares (Lenni Lenape).”[29] Thomas and James, unlike their father, were not Quakers, they did not hold themselves to the same moral beliefs as their father and were anxious to make a significant profit from land deals in the colony. When the Lenni Lenape protested the purchase and refused to move Thomas Penn sought help from the Iroquois Confederacy to expel the Lenni Lenape from the land. In 1742, Chiefs of the Six Nations of Iroquois met with Thomas Penn at Philadelphia. Penn paid the Iroquois for the land that had been vacated in the lower Susquehanna Valley. He then asked for their assistance in removing the Lenni Lenape from the land that was included in the Walking Purchase. “As you on all occasions apply to us to remove all white people that are settled on lands before they are purchased from you, and we do our endeavours to turn such people off. We now expect from you that you will cause these Indians to remove from the lands in the ffork of the Delaware, and bot give any further disturbance to the persons who are now in possession.”[30] The Iroquois openly scolded the Lenni Lenape, removing them from the lands that had been taken from them, forcing their movement to the west.

In earlier Literature regarding the Walking Purchase, there is some bias towards the British side regarding the purchase that is shown. An article written in 1911 by historian Reverend H.A. Jacobson for the Moravian Historical Society, he discusses the investigation into the Walking Purchase on behalf of the British Crown. The investigation was led by Benjamin Franklin on behalf of the Pennsylvania Colony. After the investigation which took over four years, “the final result was that the white settlers were confirmed in the titles to the lands they occupied, and the Indians were persuaded to vacate and move further westward.”[31] The final part of this article focuses on how hard the life on one of the “walkers” in the walking purchase was. The author generically uses the word “Indians” to describe the actions against Edward Marshall, who was one of the walkers that took part in attacks against him, at no point does he offer any evidence that the attacks were from the Lenni Lenape, or other Native groups. He writes, “There was a mutual hatred between him and the Indians. The Indians hated him because of the part he took in the great Indian Walk; Marshall hated the Indians because he suffered injury at their hands. While he was absent from home, the Indians attacked and burned his house. His wife escaped but was soon captured and murdered.”[32] While the attack on Marshall’s family is truly horrible, the story largely undercuts a significant historical event for Native people.

A large group of Lenni Lenape had settled along the Allegheny River after crossing the Allegheny Mountains, this new settlement was call Kit-Tan-Nee (currently the Pennsylvania town of Kittanning). This village was a shared village that also had many residents that were Shawnee who had come from the Ohio and Monongahela Valleys. While in the Allegheny Valley, the residents of Kit-Tan-Nee began to have trade relations with the French who had largely been trading in the area. The Lenni Lenape saw this relationship as a way to separate themselves from the British and the allies, The Iroquois Confederacy. At the outset of the French and Indian War, the Western Lenni Lenape (those living on the Allegheny) and the Shawnee sided had remained loyal to the British. The Lenni Lenape leader Shingas was part of a delegation who had met with Washington at Logstown on the Ohio River in 1752 when Native leaders in the area had asked that the British build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio (Now Pittsburgh). After the French had attacked the building of that British fort and took the site building Fort Duquesne, Shingas continued to work with the British.[33] At the request of George Croghan, an Indian Agent for the British, Shingas met with General Braddock at Fort Cumberland. At this meeting, Shingas asked Braddock what his plans were for the fort after he took it from the French. Braddock replied, “English should inhabit and inherit the land.” Shingas then asked if Indians friendly to the British would be able to live, trade, and hunt in the territory. Braddock replied, “No savage should inherit the land.”[34] Shingas then advised Braddock that the Lenni Lenape would no longer help the British, to which Braddock replied that he did not need their help.

Shingas would soon ally with the French, and though there is no documentation for it, there are some historians who believe Shingas may have informed the French of Braddock’s plans to attack Fort Duquesne. From Kit-Tan-Nee Lenni Lenape and Shawnee assisted the French as well as other Native allies from further west. Shingas and the Lenni Lenape and Shawnee warriors soon became know for their brutal attacks on British frontier settlements taking many hostages with them back to Kit-Tan-Nee. In 1755 after many attacks against frontier settlements, Governor Morris could do little, Morris found a loophole in the agreements with the Quakers who were pacifists that the Governor could use colonial funds for “associated companies” to be used in the safety of the Crown and protection of the people.  Governor Morris appointed John Armstrong, the state land officer in York County to gather a group of volunteers to protect the settlers on the frontier.[35] Colonel John Armstrong was sent with a force of Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia was sent to attack Kit-Tan-Nee and find Shingas and Captain Jacobs, another noted Lenni Lenape warrior who took part in the attacks. “During a fierce engagement, Armstrong’s force burned the eastern portion of Kittanning and several surrounding cornfields, destroyed a significant cache of gunpowder and ammunition, and killed several Delaware warriors, including the notorious war leader Captain Jacobs.”[36] Shingas, the remaining Lenni-Lenape and Shawnee escaped along with those they had as prisoners. While many viewed Armstrong’s attack on Kit-Tan-Nee as a victory for the British and it was celebrated throughout Pennsylvania, the attacks on British frontier settlements increased.[37] Historian William Hunter sees the attack on Kittanning in a different light, Hunter points out that the attack killed a significant leader in Captain Jacobs which may have helped slow any attacks by him and his followers.[38] “Although the settlements at Kittanning were not entirely destroyed by the attackers, they were abandoned by the Indians for less exposed settlements.”[39] Hunter also contradicts what was written by Myers and Barr in saying, “as subsequent events showed, the Indians’ confidence was badly shaken and they did not resume their warfare with the old vigor and effectiveness.”[40]

Though the articles are written 45-50 years apart, there is no significant change in the evidence and primary documents of the period.

After the death of Braddock and multiple losses to the French by the British, Britain sent General John Forbes to command the war efforts in the Americas. With Forbes new plan he sought better inroads with the Native population. Forbes knew that having Native allies was the only way that British forces could win the war. While Forbes began to direct his plan to retake the Forks of the Ohio, he assigned William Johnson, the British primary Indian Agent to gain alliance with or neutrality from the Native groups in Pennsylvania and the Ohio Country. Forbes especially wanted to get the Lenni Lenape and Shawnee in the region out of the fight after they had assisted the French in the attack on Loyalhannon (Fort Ligonier).[41] Forbes asked for help from the Quakers which was not a request that William Johnson liked. Forbes felt that the Quakers could bring the Western Lenni Lenape to the negotiations and get them to abandon the French and join with the British.[42] At Easton, the New Jersey delegation wanted to address and seek peace from the Eastern Lenni Lenape who had attacked settlements in New Jersey during the war, Pennsylvania wanted to address the Western Lenni Lenape attacks on Pennsylvania settlements during the war. The Lenni Lenape groups wanted a settled homeland and to address the Walking Purchase.[43] George Croghan’s goal was to address both the Pennsylvania Colony and the Quakers, negotiations with Native groups and that they should not be circumventing the Crown on such issues. At Easton, two new Lenni Lenape leaders arose, Pisquetomen and Tamaqua, these men spoke strongly and desired to make peace with the British. Pisquetomen was now seen as the leader of the Lenni Lenape at Allegheny and Tamaqua was the representative leader of the Lenni Lenape. After agreement had been made to return to the side of the British, Pisquetomen took the words and wampum belts and strings to Kuskuskies a settlement of Lenni Lenape and Shawnee on the Ohio River, north of the Forks of the Ohio. The Lenni Lenape and Shawnee were guaranteed lands in the Ohio Country by the British Government. After the war had ended, King George III made the Proclamation of 1763, stating that no British Subjects would live west of the Appalachian Mountains with the exception of the forts that the British now occupied after their defeat of the French. Many of the Lenni Lenape would move further into the Ohio Country and settle there. The American Revolution would change a great deal of how land negotiations were handled and those native groups who remained loyal to the British in the Ohio Country would be attacked during the revolution.

In this research, it should be noted that there remain obvious gaps and unknowns in the literature that exists. Those gaps lead to some difficulties in the research of the movement of the Lenni Lenape. One specific area of missing information is the movement of the Lenni Lenape from the Susquehanna Valley to the Allegheny Valley and if it was done in one solid movement, or there were settlements in between the two areas. There is also a gap in knowing how the relationship between the Lenni Lenape and other Native groups in the Ohio Country. Further research into these gaps could be developed in working with native historians and archaeological research.

In the overall discussion of Native movements whether voluntary or forced, it is important to bring in new voices regarding Native relocation and colonialism. It is understood by all of the historic references in this article that the movement of the Lenni Lenape over the Allegheny Mountains and into the Ohio Country is a direct result of European colonialization. Dr. Linda Tulawahi-Smith writes in her book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples she suggests that even today acts of European colonialism “continue relentlessly and brings with it a new wave of exploration, discovery, exploitation, and appropriation.”[44] The patterns that existed with European colonialization continue to affect native populations around the world and in the Americas. George III in his Proclamation of 1763 wrote, “It is essential to our interest and the security of our colonies that the several nations or tribes of Indians… who live under our protection, should not be molested or disturbed.”[45] This proclamation may have been clear in word, but not in deed, as he kept active forts far past the Proclamation line of the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains. Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in her book An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. The history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism—the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft.”[46] This is a history that began before the formation of the United States itself in its colonial state. The movements of the Lenni Lenape were important for the preservation of their culture and heritage, while the Lenni Lenape still occupy some of their original lands along with Europeans and Africans who had re-settled there, the majority of the surviving Lenni Lenape live in shared reservations hundreds of miles from their original homelands.


Barr, Daniel P. “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War in Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 131, no. 1 (January 2007): 5–32.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. 2015. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Canada: Penguin Random House Canada

George. 2012. “Royal Proclamation of 1763.” Royal Proclamation of 1763 . Land of the Brave.

Harper, Stephen C., “The Map That Reveals the Deception of the 1737 Walking Purchase,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 136, no. 4 (October 2012): pp. 457-460

Hunter, William A. “Victory at Kittanning.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 23, no. 3 (1956): 376-407.

Jacobson, H. A. “The Walking Purchase.” Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society 9, no. 1/2 (1911): Pages 16-35.

Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

McConnell, Michael N. “Easton and the Kuskuskies, October–November 1758.” Essay. In To Risk It All: General Forbes, the Capture of Fort Duquesne, and the Course of Empire in the Ohio Country, 242–60. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020.

Myers, James P. “Pennsylvania’s Awakening: The Kittanning Raid of 1756.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 66, no. 3 (1999): 399-420.

Newman, Andrew. On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Penn, William. “‘Letter from William Penn to the Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania.’” HSP Digital Library: Item: William Penn letter to the Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania, 1681 [8044]. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, August 18, 1681.

Penn, William, and Albert Meyers. William Penn’s Own Account of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. Moorestown, NJ: Middle Atlantic Press, 2000.

Soderlund, Jean R. Lenape Country Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc., 2016.

Sugrue, Thomas. “The Peopling and Depeopling of Early Pennsylvania: Indians and Colonists, 1680-1720.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 116, no. 1 (1992): 3–31.

Tuhiwai-Smith, Linda. 2020. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: ZED Books LTD.

Wallace, Paul A. W., and William A. Hunter. Indians in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2005.

[1] Soderlund, Jean R. Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc., 2016. Page 1 (Introduction).

[2] Soderlund, Page 4.

[3] Soderlund Page 12.

[4] Soderlund. Page 12.

[5] Soderlund. Page 13.

[6] Wallace, Paul A. W., and William A. Hunter. Indians in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2005.Pages 27-28.

[7] Wallace. Pages 37 – 38.

[8] Penn, William. “Letter from William Penn to the Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania,” (1681)

[9] Penn, William. “Letter from William Penn to the Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania,” (1681)

[10] Newman, Andrew. Lenape Annals. On Records: Delaware Indians, Colonists, and the Media of History and Memory. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Page 25.

[11] Penn, William, and Albert Meyers. William Penn’s Own Account of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. Moorestown, NJ: Middle Atlantic Press, 2000. Page 25.

[12] Penn. Page 28.

[13] Sugrue, Thomas. “The Peopling and Depeopling of Early Pennsylvania: Indians and Colonists, 1680-1720.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 116, no. 1 (1992)

[14] Sugrue. Page 9

[15] Sugrue. Page 10

[16] Sugrue. Page 12.

[17] Sugrue. Page 13.

[18] Sugrue. Page 16.

[19] Sugrue. Page 16.

[20] Sugrue. Page 17.

[21] Sugrue. Page 23.

[22] Sugrue. Page 26.

[23] Sugrue. Page 28.

[24] Sugrue. Page 30.

[25] Sugrue. Page 30

[26] Harper, Stephen C., “The Map That Reveals the Deception of the 1737 Walking Purchase,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 136, no. 4 (October 2012): pp. 457-460 Page 458.

[27] Harper. Page 457.

[28] Harper. Page 460.

[29] Kenny, Kevin. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Page 46.

[30] Kenny. Page 47-48.

[31] Jacobson, H. A. “The Walking Purchase.” Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society 9, no. 1/2 (1911): Page 33.

[32] Jacobson. Page 34

[33] Kenny. Page 67

[34] Kenny. Page 67-68

[35] Myers, James P. “Pennsylvania’s Awakening: The Kittanning Raid of 1756.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 66, no. 3 (1999): 399-420. 401

[36] Daniel P. Barr, “Victory at Kittanning? Reevaluating the Impact of Armstrong’s Raid on the Seven Years’ War in Pennsylvania,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 131, no. 1 (January 2007): pp. 5-32. Page 5.

[37] Barr. Page 5-6.

[38] Hunter, William A. “Victory at Kittanning.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 23, no. 3 (1956). Page 405.

[39] Hunter. Page 405.

[40] Hunter. Page 405

[41] Michael N. McConnell, “Easton and the Kuskuskies, October–November 1758,” in To Risk It All: General Forbes, the Capture of Fort Duquesne, and the Course of Empire in the Ohio Country (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), pp. 242-260. Page 243

[42] McConnell. Page 244.

[43] McConnell. Page 244.

[44] Linda, Tuhiwai Smith. 2020. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: ZED Books LTD.

[45] George III. 2012. “Royal Proclamation of 1763.” Royal Proclamation of 1763. Land of the Brave.

[46] Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. 2015. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Canada: Penguin Random House Canada.

Colonel George Croghan: Diplomat and Intercultural Advisor

The Trader – Robert Griffing

            George Croghan was a fur-trader who moved to the Pennsylvania colony in 1741 leaving his home in Ireland. Croghan’s ability to navigate the Pennsylvania woods and make significant inroads to the Ohio Country made him a useful tool of relations for the Pennsylvania Colonial Government, and the British Government. Croghan used tools that he saw used by the French fur traders to establish his own fur trading posts in the Appalachian Mountains and in the Ohio Country. George Croghan learned Mohawk, Onondaga, and Lenni Lenape languages and was made an Onondaga Council Sachem.  Croghan became an Indian Agent for the British Government, working with other notable Indian agents including Sir William Johnson, Christopher Gist, and Captain William Trent.

            In 1742, Croghan began his life as a trader working for Edward Shippen, a well-known Pennsylvania businessman and land speculator who was well known throughout the Pennsylvania colony. Shippen entrusted Croghan to move trade goods from Lancaster to a fur trader named Peter Tustee employed by Shippen who lived along the Allegheny River. Croghan would then transport furs and deer skins back to Lancaster for shipment to England. Croghan would begin to invest the money he earned into purchasing trade goods creating his own trading ventures into the Ohio country, trading with the Seneca along the Cuyahoga River near Lake Erie.[1] Croghan was dealing in trade goods in areas claimed by the French for their trade, the Iroquois Confederacy had agreed to only trade with the French, so long as the French could keep their hunters and villages with trade goods. The Seneca, along the Cuyahoga, would continue their trade with Croghan, since there was nothing stated in the agreement with the French that would restrict them from trading with English traders.[2] Croghan’s inroads with the Seneca in the Ohio Country helped him to establish a good trade relationship among the Seneca and other Iroquois groups.

Major Croghan – University of Southern Florida

Croghan would continue his trade with the Seneca after war broke out between England and France in 1744. That year, the French who had agreements with the Ottawa at Fort Detroit, sent a war party of Ottawa Natives to pillage, and capture British traders in the Ohio Country near Lake Erie[3]. The attacks by the Ottawa, never materialized, and Croghan took advantage of the void of trade goods in the region. While Croghan worked with the Seneca at Cuyahoga, he began to learn and master the languages of the Iroquois, which then helped him to expand his ability to work with more Native groups in the region. In April of 1745, the French sent a French Trader and a Native ally to the village to capture Croghan, the Seneca protected Croghan and sent his enemies away empty-handed.[4] Croghan arrived back at Tustee’s post to find that all of his goods that were stored there had been taken by Shawnee who had been encouraged by the French to do so.

Upon Croghan’s return to Philadelphia, he met with Shippen and other representatives from the Pennsylvania Colony, reporting the French encroachment into the region and this new pact with the Shawnee. The Pennsylvania Government sent Croghan back to the Ohio Country with gifts for the Shawnee who had been friends of the British to help sway them to remain on the British side.[5] This was the colony’s first attempt at negotiation with the Shawnee and they entrusted Croghan to carry out this negotiation. Croghan’s work secured a neutrality with the Shawnee.

Croghan had established himself as a capable go-between for the colonial governments. He established a new trading post near the Forks of the Ohio (present day Pittsburgh). Croghan regularly visited the Native village at Logstown. Logstown was a village along the Ohio River that had been established by the Shawnee, it however had a shared Native population of Shawnee and Seneca. “On August 2, 1749, the three most important Iroquois chiefs’ resident in that area, in return for an immense quantity of Indian goods, confirmed him in the title of 200,000 acres in the vicinity of the Forks of the Ohio”[6] Further negotiations would establish the permissions of Native leaders to establish a British military fort at the Forks of the Ohio. This fort construction would not begin until 1754 and was built by the Ohio Company, established by Christopher Gist, William Trent would lead he construction at the site beginning in January of 1754.

After the Seven Years War began, Croghan’s fur trade business would collapse, in 1756, Croghan took on a commission as Deputy to Sir William Johnson as Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Government. Johnson recognized the work that Croghan had done as a trader to establish relations with Native groups in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Ohio Country and felt that using his established contacts would further help the British fight the French and gain allies with more Native groups. Croghan would remain in this position throughout the war, and his relations in the Ohio Country would be put to the test when a rebellion among Native groups began at Fort Detroit led by Pontiac, an Ottawa leader.

In 1765, George Croghan wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin discussing Pontiac’s Uprising. Croghan wrote, “I returned from England last winter, when I found the General not a little distressed—In that, all his endeavours had hitherto failed, with respect to gaining the Ilinois. I therefore thought it the Duty of my Department, to propose to him that I would use my best endeavours with the Natives (with whom I had been long acquainted and flatterd myself, had some influence) to obtain their consent to His Majesty’s Troops, peaceably, possessing that Country.”[7] Croghan actively worked to end the uprising, working with his established contacts to bring an end to hostilities. His work would continue after the uprising had ended to establish a lasting peace, and negotiate agreements between native groups and the British governments.


Croghan, George. “Founders Online: To Benjamin Franklin from George Croghan, 12 December 1765.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, 2002.

Wainwright, Nicholas. “Hockley, Trent, and Croghan.” Essay. In George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat, 22–46. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1959.

Wainwright, Nicholas. “George Croghan and the Indian Uprising of 1747.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 21, no. 1 (January 1954): 21–32.

[1] Wainwright, Nicholas, “George Croghan and the Indian Uprising of 1747,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 21, no. 1 (January 1954): pp. 21-32. Page 23.

[2] Wainwright. Page 23

[3] Wainwright. Page 24

[4] Wainwright. Page 26

[5] Wainwright. Page 26

[6] Wainwright, Nicholas. “Hockley, Trent, and Croghan.” Essay. In George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat, 22–46. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1959. Page 28

[7] George Croghan, “Founders Online: To Benjamin Franklin from George Croghan, 12 December 1765,” National Archives and Records Administration (National Archives and Records Administration, 2002),

Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania

The topic of slavery in Pennsylvania has been reviewed by many historians over the years focusing on specific periods. Pennsylvania, being the first state to push the abolition of slavery would make it an understandable target for research. Within the existing research there are some gaps that exist in regard to how a majority of Pennsylvanian’s changed socially to accept and anti-slavery or abolitionist mindset. A significant gap exists in the study of how Pennsylvania moved from a state where slave ownership was an accepted practice to a point where fugitive slave hunters were attacked and held in local jails in rural Pennsylvania. This would require a significant societal change in the people in the state .Using a social lens of investigation we will examine how the beliefs of the people of Pennsylvania have changed and what was the major contributor to that change. Pennsylvania’s actions against slavery shows a significant point of change in colonial America and likely ushered in a sea change throughout the northern states. To better understand that social change the research that exists currently must be reviewed and compared. Primary documents will also be reviewed to understand where and how the movement against slavery began. The purpose of this research is to fill the gap of research on Pennsylvania’s history of slavery and abolition from beginning to end and look at a notable societal change within the state when it comes to the issue of slavery. Viewing the Pennsylvania colony and state as a history of the people that lived within its borders and how their behavior towards slavery changed in a span of nearly 200 years.

The Pennsylvania colony was founded in 1681 when William Penn was granted land by King Charles II. Penn had a design for a “Peaceable Kingdom” in the new world where the Quaker people would live peacefully and respectfully with the native peoples in the new colony. Pennsylvania, like the rest of the colonies was also involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade and some of the Quakers, including William Penn himself were slave owners. Slavery would be an issue for Pennsylvania through the early 19th century. Pennsylvania would be the first state, during the American Revolution to outlaw slave importation and introduce a law called the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780. Pennsylvania eventually became a haven for self-emancipated slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.

William Penn – National Park Service

In examining the history of slavery in Pennsylvania, it is important to understand that the Quaker faith and how it contributed to this change. The Quaker church is also known as the Religious Society of Friends. The social movement against slavery in Pennsylvania began in the Quaker church. Quakers believe that God is in everyone and that every person has unique worth to the world. Quakers also believe that all people have equal value and must oppose anything that may threaten another. These are the beliefs which William Penn wished to build his peaceable kingdom upon. Dr, Katharine Gerbner, Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of Minnesota looks closely at the Quaker religion and slavery in her book Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. Gerbner writes, When George Fox, widely regarded as the founder of Quakerism, arrived on Barbados at the beginning of October 1671, he was deeply troubled by the effect of slave owning on his followers.[1]  Fox’s concern at that time was more for the white Quakers who may have viewed some polygamy among the slaves as a temptation against the church. Fox and his followers began with a belief the slavery was acceptable as long as you were merciful with your slaves, and as friends embraced “Spiritual Equality.” This meant that if Quakers treated their slaves as equals and encouraged them to learn the word of God, the fact that they owned slaves was within the beliefs of the Quaker faith.[2]

This Quaker view of slavery would begin to change, not in Barbados, where Fox and many of his followers had moved but in William Penn’s colony on the mainland of North America. When William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania, slavery had already been established in the land he now owned. The Dutch and the Swedes who had occupied the Delaware River valley as early as 1639.[3] As the number of Quakers increased in the colony, there was an ambivalence from the Quakers towards slavery, “Many owned Africans to provide labor on their estates, including William Penn himself, who at one point owned at least twelve slaves.”[4] In The History of Slavery in ‘Free’ States, James Delle, Graduate Dean of Sociology and Anthropology at Millersville University who has published two books on slavery in the colonial period in Colonial America and on the Plantations of Jamaica looks at Pennsylvania and analyzes the slave history. Delle’s research shows that in 1710, twenty percent of the City of Philadelphia’s population was enslaved, “By 1765, about two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 5,500 slaves lived and toiled outside the city of Philadelphia.”[5] Many of those enslaved were working alongside indentured servants from Europe, not only on farms, but in new industries in Pennsylvania including boatbuilding and the burgeoning iron industry.

Some of the Quakers were having moral concerns about the growth of slavery in Pennsylvania and those concerns were expressed as early as 1688 in Germantown, which is now part of the City of Philadelphia. Quaker teachings believed in the sanctity of all life and the rights of all humans under God. There were members of the Quaker community who were speaking out against slavery. Francis Daniel Pastorius among several other Germantown Quakers wrote a petition against slavery based on the biblical proverb “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” well known in the modern world as the Golden Rule and a standard teaching in the Quaker Church. Pastorius and the others presented this petition to their local Friends Meeting. The petition was asking the Quakers to make a stand against slavery. These Quakers wrote the following passage.

            “Here is a liberty of conscience which is right and reasonable; here ought to be a liberty of ye body, except of evildoers, which is another case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against. In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppressed who are of black colour… Now consider will this thing, if it is good or bad, And in case you find it to be good to handle these blacks at that manner, we desire and require you hereby lovingly, that you may inform us here in, which at this time never was done… To the end we shall be satisfied in this point, and satisfie likewise our good friends and acquaintances in our natif country, to whose it is a terror, or fairful thing, that men should be handled so in Pennsylvania”[6]

The writers of the petition felt strongly that it was time for their meeting group to stand against slavery. The petitioners were pointing out that the Quakers themselves had moved away from Europe because of political persecution of their religion and the contradiction that existed when they persecuted others. When these men brought this forward to their meeting house, they knew that it would not be possible to make slavery illegal in the colony, their aim was to get the Quaker church to openly state that slavery was wrong. The Germantown Friends decided to forward the petition on to the Philadelphia quarterly meeting of Friends. The petition was discussed at the Philadelphia quarterly meeting and forwarded to the yearly meeting, which is the meeting that decides the plans for the Quaker church in the colonies. At the yearly meeting, the petition was discussed and felt that the abolition of slavery was a too much of a weighty matter for the colonial meeting to decide upon. The Philadelphia meeting forwarded the issue to the London annual meeting which makes decisions for the church as a whole. Sadly, there was no mention of the petition in the minutes of the London annual meeting. While the Quakers took no position officially on slavery, A Minute Against Slavery, Addressed to Germantown Monthly Meeting, 1688, began a movement within the Quakers that would continue through the Civil War. In 1693, the issue of slavery once again became a point of dispute in the Quaker church, a Quaker named George Keith helped write a printed protest against slavery called An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes. This document reiterated the issue raised in the Germantown petition, it condemned Christians for enslaving any person “for whom Christ has shed his precious blood.”[7] The Germantown protest, and Keith’s document pushed some Quakers to continue to push forth an anti-slavery movement at the Philadelphia annual meetings.

            Dr. Marcus Rediker is a distinguished professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales / Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme in Paris. In 2017 his wrote, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: the Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, a book that looks at a Quaker man who added  his voice and some theatrics to the quaker fight against slavery. At the Philadelphia Annual Meeting in September 1737, a man who stood just over four feet tall rose to speak. The man, known as Benjamin Lay, was wearing a great coat, which was seen as odd for early autumn, in one had he held a book. He spoke in a deep and booming voice to the assembled Quakers about the evils of slavery. He asked how any followers of God’s golden rule could abide keeping slaves. Lay then stated, “Thus shall God shed the blood of those persons who enslave their fellow creatures.”[8] What he did next surprised everyone in the room, Lay opened his coat suddenly, underneath he was wearing a military style uniform and had a sword at his side. Lay drew the sword and plunged the sword through the book he was carrying, inside the book was a sheep’s bladder filled with red pokeberry juice which splattered on several Quaker slave owner who were seated nearby. Lay was then forcibly removed from the meeting.[9] Lay’s actions that day and his writing that he published weeks later “All Slave-Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates,” targeted wealthy slave owning Quakers for having abandoned their faith by owning other human beings. Lay wrote this passage for those attendees of this major Quaker gathering:

“Friends, by the tender Mercies of our God, to consider, can be greater Hypocrisy, and plainer contradiction, than for us as a People, to refuse to bear Arms, or to pay them that do, and yet purchase the Plunder, the Captives, for Slaves at a very great Price, there by justifying their selling of them, and the War, by which they were or are obtained; nor doth this satisfy, but their Children also are kept in Slavery, ad infinitum.”[10]

Benjamin Lay – Swarthmore College

Lay had worked on slave ships and had seen the brutality committed against slaves. When he left the sailing trade, he set his mind to push a resistance to slavery and he did so with his words and radical theatrical deeds, such as the Philadelphia meeting. Sadly, Lay’s fight against slavery would again fall on deaf ears, lay was considered extremely radical. Lay’s statements were recorded in the writings and minutes of Quaker meetings; however, affluent Quakers often wrote off his radical style of beliefs. Within the less affluent Quaker ranks, the words of the Germantown Quakers and radicals such as Benjamin Lay began to take hold and Quaker meeting houses began to gain better understanding of the horrors of slavery, both in Pennsylvania and in London. In 1750, there were over 6,000 slaves in the Pennsylvania colony, slaves made up nearly twenty percent of the population of the colony. In 1758, and upswell of Quakers came to the Philadelphia meeting to demand that the Quakers take and official stance against slavery, this time the majority of Quakers passed an Anti-Slavery statement. In 1775, the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society was chartered, with plans among Quakers that belonged to the society to develop the first “Negro School” in Philadelphia within two years. Members of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society would include many quakers, free blacks and founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and other notable men like Anthony Benezet. Benezet had started teaching classes for free blacks in 1750. Benezet would be the first President of the Pennsylvanian Anti-Slavery Society. In 1775, the Anti-Slavery Society would begin to push for an Abolition of Slavery in the Pennsylvania colony. Among the other strife happening within the American colonies, immediate action within the colony was difficult. A social change was arising from within the Quaker community that was also spreading to Mennonite and Presbyterian communities on the eastern side of Pennsylvania who would continue to make pushes within the Pennsylvania assembly.

In 1780, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, the law largely blamed Great Britain for the cause of African slavery stating; “We esteem a peculiar Blessing granted to us, that we are enabled this Day to add one more Step to universal Civilization by removing as much as possible the Sorrows of those, who have lived in undeserved Bondage, and from which by the assumed Authority of the Kings of Britain, no effectual legal Relief could be obtained.”[11] By reviewing the words within this law we see that it was a conservative law that freed few slaves immediately but did give a road map for freedom from slavery. The law did immediately ban the importation of slaves into the colony, although slave owners were allowed to sell slaves that they had registered to others in the state. The following year there were attempts to lengthen the time that slave owners had to register those they enslaved and attempts to repeal the law altogether. Through the strength of the growing anti-slavery movement, any challenge to the law was blocked. In 1788, the law was strengthened further by blocking illegal importation from other states which had been happening along the southern borders of the state near Maryland and Virginia. The law also stated that slavery for life would be eliminated:

“Be it enacted and it is hereby enacted by the Representatives of the Freemen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met and by the Authority of the same, That all Persons, as well Negroes, and Mulattos, as others, who shall be born within this State, from and after the Passing of this Act, shall not be deemed and considered as Servants for Life or Slaves; and that all Servitude for Life or Slavery of Children in Consequence of the Slavery of their Mothers, in the Case of all Children born within this State from and after the passing of this Act as aforesaid, shall be, an hereby is, utterly taken away, extinguished and forever abolished.”[12]

Gradual Abolition of Slavery –

Once registered, any adult slave would receive their freedom within four years and provide them all rights as free men. Any child slave would be freed upon their twenty-eighth birthday.[13] The child slave portion was a cause of some cheating among slave owners who would alter birth dates of children, since no record of slave births existed at that point in time. Some slave owners would write a later birthday in an effort to get a longer period of service from those children they enslaved. Under provisions in the law, slave owners had to register those they enslaved as well as their birth dates to the county prothonotary where they lived each year.

            The Gradual Abolition of Slavery was the first anti-slavery law in the United States, the initial law was passed before the war for independence had been won. It stopped all importation of slaves to the state and ended public sale of slaves in the state. The catalyst for the law was the large population of Quaker and Mennonite citizens of the state and the growth of anti-slavery teachings within those sects. The law faced a significant amount of resistance, the law remained in place and provided for the freedom from slavery within the state and a growing movement against slavery throughout the state. The Quaker church was by far the catalyst for abolition in Pennsylvania and notable Quakers were supporting the anti-slavery movement.

            The anti-slavery movement soon developed beyond the borders of Pennsylvania, which was largely due to the prominent members of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society which included Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and Anthony Benezet, all of whom were active in the passing of the Pennsylvania law. A national organization rose from the passing of the Pennsylvania law, the organization called, the American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race.[14] The organization was largely made up of Pennsylvanians and it met in Philadelphia yearly from 1781 through 1832. By 1832 there was representation in the organization from every northern state and territory. Pennsylvania had shown itself as a beacon of the anti-slavery movement, however, many of the newer states in the movement had passed laws that ended slavery in a much shorter timeline.

            In his book, On the Edge of Freedom: The Fugitive Slave Issue in South Central Pennsylvania, 1820-1870, Dr. David G. Smith who is a researcher on the Civil War and Social Historian specializing in societal conflict, writes about how fugitive slavery was being dealt with in the Northern Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania and how the abolition movement is fighting to protect fugitive slaves on free soil. The southcentral part of the state was nearest to Maryland and Northern Virginia (now West Virginia) and this area of the Appalachian Mountains offered plenty of places to travel and hide which were difficult for fugitive slave hunting parties to traverse. Smith writes that many of the abolitionist lawyers in the southcentral part of the state were unhappy with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society’s less-aggressive stance in their response to helping fugitive slaves who had crossed into the state. The anti-slavery groups in southcentral Pennsylvania began to take a more aggressive approach towards those who chased slaves inside the state. Smith calls this more aggressive approach “Garrisonian” named for William Lloyd Garrison a well noted radical abolitionist and publisher of The Liberator which was the first anti-slavery newspaper in the country. Garrison and his friends and followers were pushing an immediate end to slavery in all forms throughout the United States, and believed that once a Fugitive Slaved reached “Free Soil,” they could no longer be pursued, despite a federal law that said otherwise. “The decision of the state’s antislavery minority, particularly in southern Pennsylvania, to adopt an aggressive legal strategy prosecuting kidnappers….”[15] This Pennsylvania Personal Freedom Law that hade been passed with the help of anti-slavery advocates would be challenged in 1842 in a case that would be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court after the arrest of a slave owner in York County, Pennsylvania for violating the 1826 law. Edward Prigg was a slave catcher from Maryland who was seeking a runaway slave named Margaret Morgan, who had run from a slave owner in Maryland. Prigg captured Morgan in York County, however the York County Sheriff arrested Prigg on the basis that he had kidnapped a free woman and attempted to take her to be enslaved outside of Pennsylvania. Prigg was tried and convicted of kidnapping in the York County Court, and after the Pennsylvania Supreme court upheld his conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case. The case dealt a blow to the anti-slavery movement once a judgement was released:

“The clause of the Constitution of the United States relating to fugitives from labor manifestly contemplates the existence of a positive unqualified right on the part of the owner of the slave which no state law or regulation can in any way qualify, regulate, control, or restrain. Any state law or regulation which interrupts, limits, delays, or postpones the rights of the owner to the immediate command of his service or labor operates pro tanto a discharge of the slave therefrom.”[16]

            Despite Pennsylvania’s law giving escaped slaves the same rights as citizens of the state, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution stated otherwise. This did not, however sway the anti-slavery societies in Pennsylvania, the Personal Liberty Law of 1847 now made it necessary that to recover a fugitive slave inside the state, the slave catcher must bring the fugitive slave before a local magistrate. Local magistrates in Pennsylvania are an elected position, so the local community had a strong say on the magistrate and that community would have a sway on how that magistrate might rule. “If judges could be convinced to rule in favor of the fugitives rather than the owners in doubtful cases, the tide of remanded fugitives could be checked legally, without tumultuous antislavery lecturing, forcible resistance, or outright violation of the law.”[17] A ruling of this type from one local magistrate could create a precedent by which other judges within the state could use to free others. Another important part of Pennsylvania’s new Personal Liberty law was that it made it illegal for any law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania to take part in the capture of a fugitive slave. Pennsylvania legislators were doing everything that could be done to maintain the freedom of those who sought it while they remained in the state.

            An important aspect of the social change in southcentral and southwestern Pennsylvania was the growth of communities of free blacks. Those that had been emancipated started to create communities of their own in these growing areas of Pennsylvania. With towns like Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Indiana, and Blairsville, free black communities were supported and assisted by the growing abolitionist movement around these communities. “In south central Pennsylvania, free blacks could shelter escaping African Americans, guide them through the region, direct them to additional help, or even entice slaves to flee”[18] In Indiana County, Pennsylvania free black communities as well as the white community had a history of helping slaves escape to freedom. By the mid 1840’s, there were at least two African Methodist Episcopal Zion congregations whose mission was to “aid refugees.” Other denominations like the Wesleyan Methodists and the Baptists were now opposing slavery as well and assisting fugitive slaves in their escape.[19] In 1845, an escaped slave names James Hollingsworth was working on the farm of James Simpson as a paid farmhand. Two men working for Hollingsworth’s former Virginia owner found him working in the field along the road, they captured him an took him to Indiana, PA the county seat, where the men stayed in the boarding house of a pro-slavery Sheriff. The people of Indiana soon learned that the only reason Hollingsworth was being held is that he had been born a slave, they began to gather outside the boarding house, surrounding it. A well-known abolitionist attorney agreed to represent Hollingsworth the next day in front of Judge Thomas White. The Judge asked the slave catchers to produce a copy of the Virginia Constitution showing that the state allowed slavery. The slave catchers were unable to produce the document, so Hollingsworth was set free. The Sheriff and the two slave catchers were unaware that Judge White was a member of the local abolitionist society. A similar incident took place in Blairsville Indiana County, in 1858 when a Pennsylvania Constable and Pennsylvania Marshal arrived to capture an escaped slave who was working at a local store. When the two men attempted to capture the former slave, they were attacked by a crowd of townspeople, local abolitionist leaders intervened to save the two men, worried they would be killed. Armed citizens chased the two out of town, and the fugitive slave was placed on a train to Philadelphia.[20]

Pennsylvania Abolition Society –

            In Western Pennsylvania, there was also a large abolitionist movement that worked heavily in the Underground Railroad. There were still slaved in Washington and Allegheny counties in the Early 1800’s. After 1780 the numbers began to lower, Washington county still a largely rural county, in 1782 slave owners registered 443 slaves, by 1830 the number of slaves in the county was down to one person.[21] Allegheny County, which contained Pittsburgh went from Fifty-nine in 1790, up to seventy-nine in 1800, and none were listed in 1830.[22] The Gradual Abolition of Slavery had made no provision for those living outside the state who owned slaves other than to make slave-owners adhere to the registration and abolition of slaves in accordance with the timeline set forth in the law.

            Under the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, once slaves received their freedom, it was important for them to report to the county prothonotary and carry those papers with them always should their freedom be in question. Freedmen from outside of the state were unable to register within the state unless they had paperwork from another state to prove their freedom. This prevented runaway slaves from going to the office to get freedom papers. “Free Black people still faced danger. Many appeared in court to ask for a Certificate of Freedom. The claimant had to prove that he/she was born free or had been previously freed. If the court was satisfied, it would issue a certificate with a description of the person including skin shades, hair texture, and body scars. Freedom papers were essential for freedmen who wanted to travel, particularly those working on the rivers.”[23] To work any essential job in the Pittsburgh region, it was important to have these freedom papers. Many of the jobs in the region were on board boats, in delivery of goods or in the shipbuilding industry at that time which meant regular travel throughout the region including into Ohio and Virginia.

            The slave trade was still prominent across the Virginia border,  Washington county, which until the Civil War bordered Virginia (now West Virginia) on two sides which made it easy to move slaves across the ill-defined border from slave auction sites in Wheeling and Morgantown.[24] Washington County also had a rising abolitionist sentiment which began to assist runaway slaves crossing the border from Virginia. Abolitionists in Washington County along with Abolitionists and Free Blacks in Allegheny, Beaver and Butler Counties on the western side of the state began to learn the intricacies of the Underground Railroad.[25]

The increasing freedom of blacks led to free black communities in Western Pennsylvania, these communities developed in Pittsburgh with Little Hayti and Arthursville,[26] within the city of Washington and in Monongahela, Washington County, and in Uniontown, Fayette county.[27] These free communities became important to escaped slaves who were trying to find their way to freedom. Free blacks used these communities to harbor fugitive slaves until they could move them to another station, towards freedom. In some cases, free blacks took active roles in the freedom of slaves who were traveling through these areas with slave owners. On several occasions at the Monongahela Hotel in Pittsburgh, black staff members dressed slaves from out of state in extra uniforms and snuck them out of the hotel to freedom in Arthursville or in one of the Free black owned businesses in Market Square which at the time was the largest market district on the western side of the state.[28] From Pittsburgh, many of the fugitive slaves were transported to towns along the Ohio River like Sewickley and Hopewell and to the north through northwestern Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio to Canada and freedom. The growth of free black communities throughout Pennsylvania also helped direct escaped slaves to freedom in the Philadelphia area and in the central part of the state.

After nearly 200 years of effective social change, Pennsylvania had moved from a slave owning state, to a state where residents had actively interfered in attempts to apprehend fugitive slaves, even in defiance of federal laws that prohibited interfering in the apprehension of fugitive slaves. Although this evolution took time to develop, Pennsylvania became noted as a strong anti-slavery state and a significant travel point for the underground railroad. The growth of Pennsylvania from Penn’s Peaceable Kingdom of a planned Quaker settlement to a land of free black communities to the development of the first among many African Methodist Episcopal church in Philadelphia shows the evolution of freedom for blacks throughout the state. evolution of freedom for blacks throughout the state.

             The Quaker church was the catalyst for the development of the anti-slavery movement in Pennsylvania and those teachings grew to other faiths to help eliminate slavery in Pennsylvania and throughout the northern states and territories. The growth of the abolitionist movement eventually led to the freedom of all slaves in the United States, though it would take a war to accomplish that effort. Pennsylvania progressed from a state where slavery was allowed, to a state that fought hard against slavery when it was still legal in other states and in the numbers of Pennsylvania soldiers who fought against slavery in the American Civil War. The development of strong free black communities throughout the state shows how Pennsylvania evolved away from slavery and became a safe place for former slaves to settle.


Blairsville Area Underground Railroad. Blairsville Underground Railroad Museum, 2015.

Burns, Edward M. “Slavery in Western Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania History Magazine, 1964, 204–12.

Delle, James A. 2019. The Archaeology of Northern Slavery and Freedom. Sarasota: University Press of Florida.

Free at Last? Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th Centuries. University of Pittsburgh, 2009.

Gerbner, Katharine. 2018. “Quaker Slavery and Slave Rebellion.” In Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, by Katharine Gerbner, 49- 73. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Henderich, Garret, Derick up de Graeff, Francis Daniell Pastorious, and Gabriel up Den graef. “A Minute Against Slavery, Addressed to Germantown Monthly Meeting, 1688.” German Mennonite Historic Trust. German Mennonite Historic Trust. Accessed October 28, 2020.

“Indiana County and the Underground Railroad.” Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Mainwaring, W. Thomas. 2018. “The Twilight of Slavery.” In Abandoned Tracks: The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania, 19 – 43. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

“PHMC Abolition of Slavery.” Abolition of Slavery | PHMC Our Documentary Heritage. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Accessed November 1, 2020.

“Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842).” Justia Law. Accessed November 14, 2020.

Rediker, Marcus. The Fearless Benjamin Lay: the Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018.

[1] Katharine Gerbner, Christian Slavery. Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Page 49.

[2] Gerber. Page 53.

[3] James A. Delle and Michael S. Nassaney, “The History of Slavery in ‘Free’ States,” in The Archaeology of Northern Slavery and Freedom (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2019), Page 41.

[4] Delle. Page 41.

[5] Delle. Page 42.

[6] Garret Henderich et al., “A Minute Against Slavery, Addressed to Germantown Monthly Meeting, 1688.,” German Mennonite Historic Trust

[7] Katharine Gerbner, “Quaker Slavery and Slave Rebellion,” in Christian Slavery. Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), pp. 49-73. Page 72

[8] Marcus Rediker, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: the Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

[9] Marcus Rediker, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: the Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

[10] Benjamin Lay, All Slave-Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. 1737. (Evans Early American Imprint Collection – University of Michigan)

[11] “PHMC Abolition of Slavery,” Abolition of Slavery | PHMC: Our Documentary Heritage, accessed October 11, 2020,

[12] PHMC Abolition of Slavery,” Abolition of Slavery | PHMC: Our Documentary Heritage, accessed October 11, 2020,

[13] PHMC Abolition of Slavery,” Abolition of Slavery | PHMC: Our Documentary Heritage, accessed October 11, 2020,

[14] Myers, John L. “The Early Antislavery Agency System in Pennsylvania, 1833-1837.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 31, no. 1 (1964): 62-86.

[15] Smith, David G. “The Fugitive Slave Issue on Trial: The 1840s in South Central Pennsylvania.” In, On the Edge of Freedom: The Fugitive Slave Issue in South Central Pennsylvania, 1820-1870, 87-114. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. Page 87.

[16] “Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842),” Justia Law,

[17] Smith. Page 89-90

[18] Smith, David G. “South Central Pennsylvania, Fugitive Slaves, and the Underground Railroad.” In On the Edge of Freedom: The Fugitive Slave Issue in South Central Pennsylvania, 1820-1870, 12-38. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. Page 18.

[19] “Indiana County and the Underground Railroad,” Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), accessed November 1, 2020,

[20] “Blairsville Area Underground Railroad,” Blairsville Area Underground Railroad (Blairsville Underground Railroad Museum, 2015),

[21] Edward M. Burns, “Slavery in Western Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania History. Page 207

[22] Burns. Page 207

[23] Free at Last? Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th Centuries (University of Pittsburgh, 2009)

[24] W. Thomas Mainwaring, “The Twilight of Slavery,” in Abandoned Tracks: The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2018), pp. 19-43. Page 27

[25] Mainwaring. “The Twilight of Slavery,” Page 34

[26] Free at Last? Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th Centuries (University of Pittsburgh, 2009)

[27] W. Thomas Mainwaring, “The Twilight of Slavery.” Page 36-37

[28] Free at Last? Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th Centuries (University of Pittsburgh, 2009)