Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
This 1771 painting by Benjamin West shows William Penn’s 1682 treaty with the Lenape. After his death, relations between whites and Natives went downhill.

Native History: Greed, Deception and Exile Result in 1756 Scalp Act

Christina Rose
4/8/14

This Date in Native History: On April 8, 1756, “The 1756 Scalp Act was the result of close to 40 years of the Penn family lying to Delaware and Shawnees,” Pennsylvania Historian Norman Houser said. The act legalized the taking of scalps for money, paid by the Pennsylvania government. The Scalp Act passed as a means to get rid of the Delaware once and for all.

By the 1700s, the times were changing, unpredictably and rapidly, for the peoples who lived along the Susquehanna River. The area was named De La Warr by the Dutch and the people known as the Lenape became the Delaware Tribe, reported Brice Obermeyer, director of the Delaware Tribe Historic Preservation Office.

“Through the treaties, displaced people were forced into villages where others were speaking similar languages. There they developed into a political organization, moving into territory that was claimed by Iroquois, who had a close affiliation with British.”

When William Penn arrived in 1682, he developed a respectful relationship with all of the local tribes. But after his death, “The Penn Family changed from ‘Let’s work with the Natives’ to ‘This land is ours; now get off of it,’” Houser said.

Portrait of a young William Penn in armor, date and artist unknown. (Atwater-Kent Museum)

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