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Treaty of Easton gives sides new hope for peace

| Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008

This series of occasional articles is presented in conjunction with this year's Ligonier 250 Celebration and follows the Gen. John Forbes Campaign as it marched across Pennsylvania in 1758. The series is written by Burton Kummerow, author of the book, "Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail."

By mid-October 1758, Gen. John Forbes and his 6,000-man redcoat army were still struggling to cross the Allegheny Mountains.

The far outpost at Loyalhanna (Ligonier) had survived a French and Indian assault on Oct. 12. Deputy commander Col. Henry Bouquet had finally discovered a practical path over the grueling slopes of Laurel Hill. Thousands of men and miles of supply trains were slogging through the mud and rain to beat the onset of winter and reach Loyalhanna, the base camp for the final assault on French Fort Duquesne.

On the other side of Pennsylvania, 300 miles to the east, another important drama was unfolding at Easton, the frontier settlement north of Philadelphia. An Indian council, the third in as many years, had been seeking regional peace for a week.

The outdoor gathering was a spectacular display of Indian diplomacy. Five hundred Indians were there to meet with the Pennsylvania and New Jersey governors.

The 13 nations in attendance included the Iroquois, who sent three important leaders to guarantee their continued domination of the whole region. One of their vexations was Teedyuscung. The flamboyant eastern Delaware headman had declared himself king of the Indian nations and had signed a separate peace treaty with Pennsylvania.

The meeting began with solemn ceremonies honoring the dead and cleansing the diplomats of bad spirits after their long journeys through the forest. Long speeches, punctuated with strings of wampum, and even longer pauses for reflection followed. The slow-moving proceedings were going nowhere.

Given to bouts of heavy drinking, Teedyuscung responded badly to diplomatic pressures at the conference. The Iroquois wanted the erratic upstart put in his place. Pennsylvania wanted his claims to more land, reserved for the Delawares, to go away. His Quaker supporter, Israel Pemberton, was now focused on peace with all Indian nations, if necessary at Teedyuscung's expense.

As the next week unfolded, a drunken, quarrelsome Teedyuscung embarrassed himself in front of the whole gathering. He told the Iroquois leaders they were fools and everyone else that he was king of the world.

William Denny, the irascible Pennsylvania governor, had little patience for the shenanigans.

Teedyuscung, rapidly losing his influence, was forced to apologize, calling himself a "bird on a bough." He confessed that "I look about and do not know where to go; let me ... come down upon the ground."

The confusion continued until the Western Delaware leader Pisquetomen, followed later by envoy Christian Frederick Post, rode in from the back country to break the impasse. They brought welcome word that Western Indians were willing to stop fighting the British if settlers stayed off their ancestral hunting lands.

An important bargain, known as the Treaty of Easton, was struck during the next five days. The Iroquois were given back large tracts of frontier land ceded to Pennsylvania for settlement a few years earlier. Denny rekindled a generations-old council fire, agreeing to again talk directly to the Delawares without Iroquois interference. With new hope that the treaty would end years of bitter fighting, the council ended Oct. 26 after the necessary feasting was held and wagonloads of gifts dispersed among the 13 attending Indian nations.

Now the burden again was on Post and his unlikely ally and protector Pisquetomen. They left immediately, carrying the treaty on another punishing ride across Pennsylvania, this time using the newly cut Forbes Road.

Post found the new road "one of the worst that was ever traveled." Pisquetomen, the recent brutal raider of frontier settlements, was recognized and harassed by settlers. But, just 13 days after leaving Easton, the small party was delivering the good news to Forbes, now finally at Loyalhanna.

A short time later, the exhausted but hopeful travelers were again finding their way to the Western Delaware villages. Stopping on the way, Post shared a letter with a pleased Pisquetomen from Forbes to the Indian nations: "The ancient friendship is renewed with our brethren, and fixed on a firmer foundation than ever. ... I write to you as a warrior should ... with candor and love."

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