Walking Purchase Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Pennsylvania, relying on a questionable deed and practices, acquired a great deal of Lenni Lenape tribal territory. This acquisition led to a greater colonial presence, diminished the prestige of the Lenni Lenape tribe, and thereby enhanced Iroquois dominance over the other tribes of eastern Pennsylvania.

Summary of Event

The first half of the eighteenth century was a time of profound population growth in Pennsylvania. Europeans, especially Scotch-Irish and German settlers, came into the colony in unprecedented numbers. The steadily expanding population put considerable pressure on the provincial government to make additional acreage available for settlement. The demand for land also created potentially lucrative opportunities for aggressive speculators, Speculation;land particularly speculators who also served as provincial officials. Such was the case with those who initiated the 1737 Walking Purchase. [kw]Walking Purchase (Sept. 19, 1737) [kw]Purchase, Walking (Sept. 19, 1737) Land acquisition in colonial America Colonization;Europeans of North America American Indians;territory losses Walking Purchase (1737) [g]American colonies;Sept. 19, 1737: Walking Purchase[0920] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Sept. 19, 1737: Walking Purchase[0920] [c]Colonization;Sept. 19, 1737: Walking Purchase[0920] [c]Trade and commerce;Sept. 19, 1737: Walking Purchase[0920] Penn, Thomas Nutimus Logan, James (1674-1751)

The Lenni Lenape Lenni Lenapes (also known as the Delaware) were among the first Native American tribes to negotiate with William Penn. At the time that Pennsylvania was founded, the Lenni Lenapes occupied much of the land between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers. Penn’s policies toward the Lenni Lenapes were more benevolent than were the tribal policies of most colonial administrators. Penn generally recognized native land rights and usually was tolerant of the indigenous lifestyle.

By the 1730’s, Pennsylvania settlers along the Delaware River had moved well north of Philadelphia. This was Lenni Lenape territory, and the natives refused to share possession. Some provincial officials, including William Penn’s son Thomas, disputed the Native American claim. The younger Penn maintained that the Lenni Lenapes had promised his father that they would surrender a portion of the land. The younger Penn no doubt also had ulterior motives for contesting the Lenni Lenape land. While serving as the colony’s governor, he was beset with ever-growing family debts. In an effort to solve his financial woes, he chose to sell some of his family’s real estate. Among the most desirable and salable parts of his acreage was the Lenni Lenape land along the Delaware.

When confronted by Thomas Penn’s claim to their land, the Lenni Lenapes acknowledged that the Penn family had title to a portion of the land along the Delaware. They agreed that Mechkilikishi, Mechkilikishi one of their chiefs, had granted to William Penn some acreage north of Philadelphia. According to Nutimus, a Lenni Lenape chief who was present when land was given, the Penn claim ended at the Tohickon Creek, which is about 30 miles north of Philadelphia. James Logan, an influential member of Thomas Penn’s council, led several Pennsylvania officials in challenging Nutimus’s assessment. He contended that Penn’s land extended beyond the Forks of the Delaware, which was more than 50 miles to the north.

To resolve the dispute, Thomas Penn called Nutimus and two other Lenni Lenape chiefs to his home at Pennsbury Manor. Assisted by Logan, Penn showed the Native Americans a copy of a deed dated 1686. The agreement transferred to the Penn family a large tract of land west of the Delaware and extending “back into the woods as far as a man can walk in one day and a half.”

Nutimus argued that the walk had been made and ended at the Tohickon. The creek, therefore, was the formal border between Penn land and Lenni Lenape territory. Additionally, since Nutimus’s village had for several centuries occupied the Forks area, Mechkilikishi, who was chief of another Lenni Lenape village, had no authority to turn over land at the Forks to William Penn.

Nutimus’s arguments were greeted with disdain by several influential Pennsylvania officials who, like Penn, had interests in the Forks area beyond providing more land for settlers. One of the most concerned Pennsylvanians was James Logan. A few years earlier, he had begun operating an iron furnace in the region and hoped to expand his facility. Two other interested parties were Hamilton, Andrew Andrew Hamilton and his son-in-law, William Allen. Hamilton was mayor of Philadelphia, and Allen was on his way to becoming one of the colony’s most successful entrepreneurs and the chief justice of the provincial court. Allen already had begun negotiating quietly for a large tract in what is today Allentown. Once he acquired the land, he hoped to divide it into lots and sell the lots to settlers.

Although the Pennsylvanians passionately argued their claim, the 1686 deed upon which they based their arguments was suspicious in several ways. Among other shortcomings, it lacked signatures and seals. There were also blank spaces in several crucial places, including the spot where the final dimensions of the tract should have appeared. In most cases, such a document would have been voided by the British courts. When questioned about the flaws, Penn and Logan claimed that it was a copy of an original that had been lost. Nevertheless, they continued to uphold the document as valid.

In the months that followed the Pennsbury meeting, Logan quietly expanded his plan of attack. To undermine Nutimus’s authority, he appealed to Iroquois representatives for support. The powerful Iroquois nation dominated most tribes throughout Pennsylvania; without their support, the Lenni Lenapes had little hope of retaining the disputed land along the Delaware. Assisted by Conrad Weiser, Logan was able to get the Iroquois to confirm the Penn claims. With Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois approval secured, it was just a matter of time before the Lenni Lenapes conceded to Penn’s claims. On August 25, 1737, Nutimus and three other Lenni Lenape chiefs grudgingly endorsed Governor Penn’s furtive 1686 treaty. A walk that would determine the extent of Penn’s holdings along the Delaware was soon scheduled.

The walk began at the Wrightstown Quaker Meeting House at daybreak on September 19. Three local men known for their athletic prowess were hired by provincial authorities to make the hike. Two Native American representatives accompanied the Pennsylvanians. The Lenni Lenapes expected that the walk would conform to native customs. The walkers would walk for a while then rest, smoke a peace pipe, and share a meal before resuming their trek. The Lenni Lenapes expected that the journey would cover about 20 miles. Pennsylvania officials, however, had much different plans.

It became clear immediately that the walk would not be a leisurely stroll along the Delaware. Instead it proceeded northwest toward the Kittatiny Mountains and followed a path that had been cut through the backcountry to aid the walkers. Additionally, much of the time the walkers did not walk. They ran. The Pennsylvanians also were accompanied by supply horses carrying provisions, and boats were used to ferry the hikers across streams.

By early afternoon, the unsuspecting Lenni Lenape escorts fell far behind the Pennsylvanians. A few hours later, already well beyond the Tohickon, one Pennsylvanian dropped from exhaustion. A second walker gave up the following morning. The final Pennsylvanian persevered until noon on the second day. In all, he covered 64 miles, more than three times what the Lenni Lenapes had expected. They were forced nevertheless to cede all of this land to Pennsylvania.

Significance

Even after the walk had ended, the Penns’ land grab continued. Rather than draw a straight line from start to finish and then a right angle to the river, surveyors were instructed by Logan to set the borders of the walk in a zigzag course that followed the flow of the Delaware. As a result, another 750,000 acres were acquired from the Lenni Lenape.

During the months that followed, Nutimus and his tribe complained bitterly about the devious tactics employed by provincial officials. However, the Lenni Lenapes had few alternatives to accepting the results. With Walking Purchase completed, the new land was soon opened to Pennsylvania settlers and the Lenni Lenapes relegated to diminished status among Native American tribes living in the colony. The resulting power vacuum was filled, not only by the European settlers, but by the Iroquois as well. Their prestige increased as that of the Lenni Lenapes diminished, and their influence over the actions and decisions of other Native Americans also became greater. This influence of the Iroquois, as well as the resentments of lesser tribes, would affect the allegiances of Native Americans during the Revolutionary War.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jennings, Francis. The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. Offers a detailed explanation of the duplicitous tactics used by Pennsylvania officials to acquire the Walking Purchase acreage.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kelley, Joseph J., Jr. Pennsylvania: The Colonial Years, 1681-1776. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980. Describes the Walking Purchase and many other episodes in Pennsylvania’s colonial history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kraft, Herbert C. The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage, 10,000 B.C.-A.D. 2000. Stanhope, N.J.: Lenape Lifeways, 2001. Kraft, an anthropologist specializing in the study of the Delaware Indians, provides a comprehensive and detailed account of the tribe’s history. The concluding chapters discuss the Lenape’s relations with European settlers, including land treaties and other Indian concessions to colonial settlers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Merritt, Jane T. At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Examines the relationship between Native Americans and whites in eighteenth century Pennsylvania; includes information about the Walking Purchase. Merritt describes how the two groups were tolerant of each other until the Seven Years’ War; by the 1760’s, both groups were aware of racial differences and their relationship had degenerated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pencak, William A., and Daniel K. Richter, eds. Friends and Enemies in Penn’s Woods: Indians, Colonists, and the Racial Construction of Pennsylvania. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. Collection of essays describing how and why relations between colonial settlers and Native Americans degenerated between 1682 and 1763.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, David Hurst, et al. The Native Americans: An Illustrated History. Atlanta, Ga.: Turner, 1993. A colorful history that includes a concise accounting of the purchase.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tolles, Frederick B. James Logan and the Culture of Provincial America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1957. Details the life and career of James Logan, including his role in the Walking Purchase.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Paul A. W. Indians in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1981. Survey of Native Americans, including a general description of the Walking Purchase.

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