William Penn had the opportunity to act upon his convictions that all persons living in the province of Pennsylvania should be treated justly. Penn insisted on purchasing land from the Lenni Lenape Indians although Charles II of England gave him ‘right’ by title to the land.
In November of 1682, Penn met with the Lenape under the ‘Treaty Tree’ in Kensington, Pennsylvania. The initial treaty was held beneath a great Elm tree. As long as Penn watched over the affairs between the Lenape and the colonists of Pennsylvania there was mutual friendship. There is no written record of the first treaty to be found but there are peripheral references and traditions concerning the treaty.
Penn’s treaty held beneath the great Elm and its stipulations are often referred to in Provincial Council Meetings, discussions, and speeches.
One may find in the Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania an account of what happened while the British occupied Philadelphia and sought firewood; General Simcoe placed a sentinel beneath the tree to protect it.
On May 20, 1728, Governor Gordon held a council with several Indian chiefs in Philadelphia.
“My Brethren, You have been faithful to your Leagues with us. Your Hearts have been clean & you have preserved the Chain from Spotts or Rust …your Leagues with your Father William Penn & our Children’s Children may have them in everlasting Remembrance. And we know that you preserve the memory of those things amongst you by telling them to your Children & they again to the next Generation, so that they remain stamp’d on your Minds never to be forgott."
1st. “That William Penn’s People or Christians, and all the Indiand should be brethren, as the Children of one Father, joined together as with one Heart, one Head & one Body.
2nd. “That all Paths should be open and free to both Christians and Indians.”
3rd. “That the doors of Christian Houses should be open to the Indians & the Houses of the Indians open to the Christians, & that they should make each other welcome as their Friends.”
4th. That the Christians should not believe any false Rumours or Reports of the Indians, nor the Indians believe any such Rumours or Reports of the Christians, but should first come as Brethren to enquire of each other; And that both Christians & Indians, when they hear any such false Reports of their Brethren, they should bury them as in a bottomless pitt.
5th. “That is the Christians hear any ill news that may be to the Hurt of the Indians, or the Indians hear any such ill news that may be to the Injury of the Christians, they should acquaint each other with it speedily as true Friends & Brethren.”
6th. “That the Indians should do no manner of Harm to the Christians nor their Creatures, nor the Christians do any Hurt to any Indians, but each treat the other as their Brethren.”
7th. “But as there are wicked people in all Nations, if either Indians or Christians should do any harm to each other, Complaint should be made of it by the Persons Suffering, that Right may be done; and when Satisfaction is made, the Injury or Wrong should be forgot & be buried as in a bottomless Pitt.”
8th. “That the Indians should in all things assist the Christians & the Christians assist the Indians against all wicked People that would disturb them.”
9th. “And lastly, that both Christians & Indians should acquaint their Children with this League & firm Chain of Friendship made between them & that it should always be made stronger and stronger & be kept bright and clean, without Rust or Spott between our Children and Children’s Children, while the Creeks and Rivers run, and while the Sun, Moon & Stars endure.”
A memoir of the Treaty was written in 1836 which affirms that William Penn was an honorable man keeping his word with the Lenape.
“The true merit of William Penn, that in which he surpasses all the founders of empires whose names are recorded in ancient and modern history, is not in having made treaties with or purchased land of the Indians; but in the honesty, the integrity, the strict justice with which he constantly treated [them] – in the fairness of all his dealings with them – in his faithful observance of his promises – in the ascendancy which he acquired over their untutored minds – in the feelings of gratitude with which his character inspired them, and which they, through successive generations, until their final disappearances from our soil, never could nor did forget, and to the last moment kept alive in their memories.”