“Pennsylvania History Presents” is an online feature of the Pennsylvania Historical Association’s (PHA) website. Begun in 2019, we offer for free public access one article from the current issue of its quarterly award-winning journal, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies.
For the Summer 2021 issue (88.3), we are making available “The ‘Four Nations of Indians Upon the Susquehanna’: Mid-Atlantic Murder, Diplomacy, and Political Identity, 1717–1723” by Paul Douglas Newman. Abstract: In the wake of the first murder of an Indian by two Pennsylvania colonists in 1722, the Delaware (Lenape), Shawnee, Conoy (Piscataway), and Conestoga (Susquehannock/Mingo) Indians engineered a confederated diplomatic and political identity to defend their homeland. They styled themselves “the Four Nations of Indians upon the Susquehanna” to counteract the “Covenant Chain” devised by the Iroquois and colonial governments. Anthropologists have identified “ethno-genesis” wherein peoples from multiple Indian cultures wracked by epidemics intertwined to form wholly new cultures and nations. This, however, is a story of “politico-genesis.” These four nations retained their individual languages and governing structures while living in multi-national or adjacent towns and joined together to present a single diplomatic voice to the English government and the Iroquois League who sought to control them. This was an early and significant attempt at political and diplomatic confederation that Indian peoples would employ in centuries to follow.
The article is chosen quarterly by the journal’s editor, and often connects to current events in Pennsylvania and American history. The initiative helps to meet the PHA’s mission of understanding how the past informs the present to help us shape a better future.