In June of 1744, scores of Native Americans began to gather outside of Lancaster in a make-shift Indian village. By the middle of the month, the number had swelled to several hundred. Luckily Lancaster’s English and German inhabitants, members of the Six Nations had assembled not to make war but peace.
It was here at Lancaster’s original courthouse, located in the center of what is now Penn Square, that the Great Indian Treaty of 1744 would be negotiated and signed. For two weeks, from June 22 through July 4, colonial leaders from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia met with the brightly painted Indian chieftains of the Six Nations. This important conference had two main purposes: secure Native American land for English settlement and receive a guarantee that the Indians that they would not join with the French in the border war.
Colonial leaders offered trade goods like gunpowder, shot, jewsharps, blankets, guns, shirts, and rum to accomplish these goals. With the assistance of Conrad Weiser as an interpreter, Indian leaders inspected goods, examined crude maps, and made lengthy speeches. Each speech ended in thunderous applause, shouts of “Jo-Hah!” from the Indians, and the exchange of wampum belts.
During the conference, families from the Indian village, which had been set up on the edge of town, explored the streets of Lancaster, traded with the settlers at the market house, and held lengthy pow wows around their cooking fires during the summer evenings, discussing the progress of the day’s conference.
Smoke from the cooking-fires along with the smell of bear grease filled the summer air. The event was quite entertaining for the people of Lancaster, often hanging out of windows for a closer look at the painted Indians. Likewise, the Indians checked out the town and the townspeople with equal curiosity as they traded in the shops and at the market. Many townspeople were shocked to see the Indians eat their food with their hands.
Finally, after much drinking of health and a final bonus of rum, Chief Canassetaga was presented with a scarlet coat from the Virginians, and Chief Gachadow received a bold-laced hat from the Maryland commissioners.
Canassatego, chief of the Onondaga nation and prominent diplomat, was the start of the 1744 treaty. He recommended that the colonies adapt a form of government similar to the Iroquois by forming a confederacy. He feared that the colonies lacked a strong coordinated policy to address the military threat of New France. His words were published and read by colonial leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, and influenced the United States Constitution forty years later.
Canassatego was described as a tall, well-made man with a very full chest, brawny arms, good-natured smile, and liveliness in his speech. He was assassinated in 1750 by pro-French forces.
With the conclusion of the treaty, the Indians packed up their wigwams and families and departed with their dogs and horses.
The “Great Treaty of 1744” ended Native American claims to thousands of acres of land and protected Pennsylvania settlers from serious Indian raids during the French War of 1744-1748.