“Ye Land Affair which is Dirt” Teedyuscung’s Struggle for a Homeland
Kendra Whitaker Yates
University of Utah
Winner: Department Essay Prize
Published in Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers, Vol I.
On November 12, 1756, during a treaty council in Easton, Pennsylvania, Governor William Denny asked Teedyuscung,self-proclaimed King of the Delawares,”Have we, the Governor or People of Pennsylvania done you any kind of injury?” Teedyuscung’s famous reply was, “This very ground I Stand on was our land & Inheritance, and is taken from me, by Fraud.” This reply dredged up the Walking Purchase of 1737, gave one possible explanation for Delaware violence against the British during the previous year, complicated peace negotiations, and changed the course of Teedyuscung’s life. What factors led to Teedyuscung’s answer? What pressures came to bear on him, inducing him to pursue a land grievance against Pennsylvania’s proprietary government instead of simply suing for peace? The three principal components leading Teedyuscung to answer the way he did were a desire for autonomy, substantial support from the Quakers, and the truth of his claim.
By resurrecting a land transaction in which the Iroquois had betrayed the interests of the tributary Delawares, Teedyuscung was asserting Delaware autonomy. Allowing the dominant Iroquois to represent them in relations with the Proprietary government had not served the Delaware Indians well in the past, and by negotiating directly with Governor Denny regarding land, Teedyuscung was trying a new strategy which he hoped would better provide for his people. Another factor in Teedyuscung’s choice was the knowledge that he had the support and encouragement of the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures (a Quaker organization) for his petition. There is ongoing debate among historians as to the extent of Quaker influence on Teedyuscung’s actions, whether they were instigators or just assistants, but there is no doubt that they played a vital role in furthering (and complicating) his cause. The amount of emphasis placed on Quaker interference at the time of negotiations, in the official records of proceedings, and by historians for generations afterward has deemphasized perhaps the most important reason behind Teedyuscung’s answer, namely, that it was the truth. The Delawares had their land fraudulently purchased out from underneath them in the Walking Purchase of 1737, and when their complaints were finally attended to at a council in Philadelphia in 1742, the Iroquois used it as an opportunity to reassert their dominance over the Delawares, again betraying them. This encounter stayed with Teedyuscung, to be brought forth at Governor Denny’s request for a “full Answer” regarding “any just Cause of Complaint.”
The importance of these three factors is borne out in the outcome of Teedyuscung’s petition for justice over the land fraud. The Iroquois reacted vehemently, forcing Pennsylvania to recognize their dominance over the Delawares; the fighting between Quaker Commissioners and the Proprietary government eclipsed Teedyuscung’s cause; Teedyuscung eventually capitulated his land fraud lawsuit, hoping, in return, to receive a deed to the Wyoming Valley so that he and his people would have a permanent, untouchable homeland. Unfortunately, in April of 1763 this dream, too, went up in smoke.
 Quotation in the title from Paul A.W. Wallace, Conrad Weiser: Friend of Colonist and Mohawk. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945), 257; also in Samuel Hazard, ed., Pennsylvania Archives [1st Ser.] (Philadelphia, 1852-56), 3:257; Alden T. Vaughan and others, eds. Early American Indian Documents: Treaties and Laws 1607-1789 (Washington D.C.: University Publications of America, Inc., 1979), 3:146 and 3:149. Vaughan, Early American, 3:146.