IN the early twilight of a September morning, more than one hundred and sixty years ago, a remarkable company might have been seen gathering about a large chestnut-tree at the cross-roads near the Friends' meeting-house in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania. It is doubtful whether any one of us could have guessed what the meeting meant. Most of the party were Quakers in wide-brimmed hats and plain dress, and if it had been First-day instead of Third-day, we might have thought they were gathering under the well-known tree for a neighborly chat before "meeting." Nor was it a warlike rendezvous; for the war-cry of the Lenni-Lenape had never yet been raised against the "Children of Mignon" (Elder Brother), as the followers of William Penn were called; and in a little group somewhat apart were a few athletic Indians in peaceful garb and friendly attitude. But it evidently was an important meeting, for here were several prominent officials, including even so notable a person as Proprietor Thomas Penn.

In 1686, fifty-one years before this, William Penn bought from the Lenni-Lenape, or Delaware Indians, a section bounded on the east by the Delaware, on the west by the Neshaminy, and extending to the north from his previous purchases "as far as a man can go in a day and a half." No effort was made to fix the northern boundary until the Indians, becoming uneasy at the encroachments of the settlers, asked to have the line definitely marked. On August 25, 1737, after several conferences between the Delawares and William Penn's sons, John and Thomas, who, after their father's death, became proprietors of Pennsylvania, the treaty of 1686 was confirmed, and a day was appointed for beginning the walk. This explains why the crowd was gathering about the old chestnut-tree in the early dawn of that day, September 19, 1737.

"Ready!" called out Sheriff Smith.


At the word, James Yeates, a native of New England, "tall, slim, of much ability and speed of foot," Solomon Jennings, "a remarkably stout and strong man," and Edward Marshall, a well-known hunter, over six feet tall, and noted as a walker, stepped from the crowd and placed their right hands upon the tree.

Thomas Penn had promised five pounds in money and five hundred acres of land to the walker who covered the greatest distance; and these three men were to contest for the prize. Just as the edge of the sun showed above the horizon, Sheriff Smith gave the word, and the race began.

Yeates quickly took up the lead, stepping lightly. Then came Jennings, accompanied by two Indians, who were there to see that the walking was fairly done. Closely following them were men on horseback, including the sheriff and the surveyor-general. Thomas Penn himself followed the party for some distance. Far in the rear came Marshall, walking in a careless manner, swinging a hatchet in one hand, "to balance himself," and at intervals munching a dry biscuit, of which he carried a small supply. He seemed to have forgotten a resolution he had made to "win the prize of five hundred acres of land, or lose his life in the attempt."

Thomas Penn had secretly sent out a preliminary party to blaze the trees along the line of the walk for as great a distance as it was thought possible for a man to walk in eighteen hours. So, when the wilderness was reached, the walkers still had the best and most direct course clearly marked out for them. The Indians soon protested against the speed, saying over and over: "That's not fair. You run. You were to walk." But the treaty said, "As far as a man can go," and the walkers were following it in letter, if not in spirit, as they hurried along. Their protests being disregarded, the Indians endeavored to delay the progress by stopping to rest; but the white men dismounted, and allowed the Indians to ride, and thus pushed on as rapidly as ever. At last the Indians refused to go any farther, and left the party.

Before Lehigh River was reached Jennings was exhausted, gave up the race, and lagged behind in the company of followers. His health was shattered, and he lived only a few years.

That night the party slept on the north side of the Lehigh Mountains, half a mile from the Indian village of Hokendauqua. Next morning, while some of the party searched for the horses which had strayed away during the night, others went to the village to request Lappawinzoe, the chief, to send other Indians to accompany the walkers. He angrily replied: "You have all the good land now, and you may as well take the bad, too." One old Indian, indignant at the stories of how the white men rushed along in their greed to get as much land as possible, remarked in a tone of deep disgust: "No sit down to smoke; no shoot squirrel; but lun, lun, lun, all day long."

Scarcely had the last half-day's walk begun before Yeates, who was a drinking man, was overcome by the tremendous exertions and intemperance of the previous day. He stumbled at the edge of Big Creek, and rolled, helpless, down the bank into the water. When rescued he was entirely blind, and his death followed within three days.

Marshall still pressed on. Passing the last of the blazed trees which had hitherto guided him, he seized a compass offered by Surveyor-General Eastburn, and by its aid still continued his onward course. At last, Sheriff Smith, who for some time had frequently looked at his watch, called, "Halt!" Marshall instantly threw himself at full length, and grasped a sapling. Here was the starting-point for the northern boundary of the purchase of 1686, sixty-eight miles from the old chestnut-tree at Wrightstown, and very close to where Mauch Chunk stands to-day. The walk was twice as long as the Indians expected it to be.

Unfortunately for the Delawares, they knew too little of legal technicalities to notice that the deed did not state in what direction the northern boundary was to be drawn. They naturally expected it to be drawn to the nearest point on the Delaware. But the surveyor-general, to please Penn, decided that the line should run at right angles to the direction of the walk, which was almost exactly northwest. Draw a line from Mauch Chunk to the Delaware so that if extended it would pass through New York city, and another to the point where New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania meet. The first is the Indian's idea of the just way to lay out the northern boundary; the second is the line which Surveyor-General Eastburn actually finished marking out in four days after Marshall's walk ended.

And so the three hundred thousand acres which the Indians would have given to the Penns as the result of Marshall's walk were increased to half a million by taking selfish advantage of a flaw in the deed.



The Lenni-Lenape had loved and trusted William Penn because he always dealt openly and fairly with them. "We will live in love with William Penn and his children," said they, "as long as the sun and moon shall shine." But the wrongs inflicted on them in the "walking purchase" aroused the deepest indignation. "Next May," said Lappawinzoe, "we will go to Philadelphia, each one with a buckskin to repay the presents and take back our land again." It was too late, however, for this to be done.

At last, in 1741, the Indians determined to resort to arms to secure justice. But the Iroquois, to whom the Delawares had long been subject, came to the aid of the Penns, and the last hope of righting the wrong was gone forever.

There seems a sort of poetic justice in the later experiences of the principal men in the affair. Marshall never got his five hundred acres of land, and his wife was killed in an attack by the Indians. Eastburn was repudiated by Thomas Penn, and his heirs were notified that they "need not expect the least favor." Penn himself was brought before the king and forced to disown many of his acts and agents in a most humiliating manner.

But all this did not repair the injury to the Delawares, and they never again owned, as a tribe, a single inch along the river from which they took their name.

A small monument, erected by the Bucks County Historical Society, marks the spot where the old chestnut-tree formerly stood. In order that this might not seem to condone an unworthy deed, the monument was dedicated, not to those who made or conducted the walk, but to the Lenni-Lenape Indians—"not to the wrong, but to the persons wronged."

The inscription on the stone reads:

September 19, 1737.