From The Settler's Forts of Western Pennsylvania

By John DeMay

At one time the Susquehanna River represented the western border of the frontier, and Indians raided the settlers east of that river. The carnage was terrible. At that time Philadelphia was the state capital, the legislature met there, and the Quaker government, pacifist and self-righteous, refused to help the frontierspeople in any way. Despite their anguished pleas, the legislature refused to authorize money, powder, lead, guns, men, or equipment to help the settlers. In a rage, some fifteen hundred of those men - known as the Paxton Boys and their followers - set out to attack Philadelphia. Fifteen hundred very tough and very angry frontiersmen was not a force to be ignored. One of them composed a little ditty, directed at the Quakers in Philadelphia:

  • "Go on, good Christians, never spare

     To give your Indians clothes to wear;

     Send 'em good beef, and pork, and bread,

     Guns, powder, flints, and store of Lead,

     To shoot your neighbors through the head."

  • While the Paxton Boys and their followers advanced, a Quaker merchant went out to see where they were and he met a friend of his near Lancaster who advised him that these angry men were The Scotch-Irish, along the Susquehanna who were of the same spirit with the blood-ran, blood-thirsty Presbyterians, who cut off the head of King Charles I," and that they were nearby.

    In great excitement the Quaker raced out of town and back to Philadelphia to spread the awful news. His message caused hysteria, pandemonium, and a general uproar. All hell broke loose! Church bells pealed, messengers raced their horses hither and yon through the streets and endless meetings were held of the legislature and City Council. Quakers had always proudly proclaimed their pacifism and were fond of lecturing the frontierspeople to be kind to the Indians and to disavow fighting as a means of resolving their problems. Now, with a raging fighting force on its way to their city - and themselves as the target - they suddenly forgot the power of "love and kindness," developed an admiration for muskets, and showed up carrying guns and hastily organized themselves into military units. (When this was reported to the invading frontiersmen it brought forth howls of derision.) Artillery was wheeled into place in public squares and aimed down the roads from which the frontiersmen might approach. Crowds roamed the streets, searching for news and spreading rumors.

    At the ungodly hour of 2 AM on Monday, February 6, 1764, the city was awakened to The clanging of fire-bells and the repeated roll of drums. The dreaded moment had arrived! Every house in the darkened city immediately lit up as the citizenry put candles at the windows - per official instructions - to light the streets so that the newly formed militia rushing from their beds and into the roadways could find their way to their assigned positions. The clanging of the bells, the roar of the drums, and the pell-mell rushing about went on till dawn.

    Among those dashing through the streets was a very worded Governor with his counselors and they headed straight for the house of Benjamin Franklin.

    It is a shame that few of us know enough about Ben Franklin nor give him the great credit he deserves for being a leader and patriot. We see him in the paintings - an older man, wearing spectacles on a kindly face, sizable paunch showing beneath his vest, and always holding some paper to show his erudition. In point of fact he was a brilliant man, very understanding of the foibles of human nature - and he had the blessed gift of wisdom. Why else would the Royal Governor be racing for his house in the dead of night? Franklin had two more qualities - in common parlance he had guts and nerves of steel. In later years, during the American Revolution, when the representatives of the states bickered and threatened to go their separate ways he quietly, and chillingly, remarked "Gentlemen, we had better all hang together or we will most assuredly hang separately." He was a very practical man.

     It was the next day - Tuesday - that Franklin rode out of town at the head of a delegation to met the wild backwoodsmen.

    As it happened he used his considerable diplomatic skills to quiet them, then arranged for a delegation to come into town to present their just complaints to the Governor and the General Assembly.

    The revolt petered out and the Paxton Boys went back home. This was in 1764. Four years later, in 1768, it would be these men who poured across the Allegheny Mountains into western Pennsylvania, and eleven years later, in 1775, it was again these men who partook of another revolt - the American Revolution.

  • Sometime later, Franklin the Realist, laughed at it all - and at himself - when he recalled:
  • "The Proprietary Governor ... did me the Honour, on an Alarm, to run to my house at Midnight, with his Counselors at his Heels, for Advice, and made it his Head Quarters for some time; And within four and twenty Hours, your Old Friend was a common soldier, a Counselor, a kind of Dictator, an Ambassador to the Country Mobs, and on their Returning home, Nobody again."

    One might reflect that with a man like Benjamin Franklin as one of our Founding Fathers and the frontiersmen behind him, it is small wonder that we, finally, won that Revolution. What a striking combination they were!

    This threatened attack on Philadelphia by the Paxton Boys and their followers clearly demonstrates the audacity, defiance, and aggressiveness of these "backwoods" people. Just keep in mind that Philadelphia was the largest city in America at that time with a population of 25,000 people. It was the state capital and did have a contingent of Royal troops stationed there. It is outrageous to think that it would, or could, be attacked by a mere fifteen hundred men - but those men were willing to try. They dared to be different - and difficult.

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