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Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania Peacemaker

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Conrad Weiser Homestead, Womelsdorf, PA

This post will be a doubly special one since it will be my "October Holiday" edition and the first in my new series of "Historical Connections." The "October Holiday", which is also known as "Columbus Day", has increasingly become a focus on the Native American peoples and the impact the European immigrants had upon their way of life. As a tribute, I offer this post about an individual who devoted a good portion of his life in America to bringing and keeping peace between the indigenous population and the settlers.

This is also the first of the new series I am calling "Historical Connections." It will explore people and events who have a relationship to my family tree, although it may be through marriage and not blood (blood relatives are featured in either the "Profiles" or "Notable Relatives" series depending on location in the family tree).

Johann Conrad Weiser, Jr.

Johann Conrad Weiser, Jr. was born in Baden-Württemberg on 2 November 1696. After his mother died in 1709, his father, like so many other German Palatine families, were enticed by the promise of a better life in America, free from the ravages of war and pestilence. However, not all immigrants from the Palatinate were able to travel directly to the New World. Many made their way to London, England. They were so numerous that camps were set up for them outside the walls of London.

The next year, in an effort to encourage settlement of the New York colony, the Crown, under Queen Anne, offered passage in exchange for their labor working in camps to produce supplies, such as tar, for the Royal Navy. At the end of their indenture, they could trade their labor for land. So in 1710, Conrad and his family sailed with about 3,000 other immigrants to the work camps on the Hudson River.

No sooner had he arrived in the New World when, at the age of 16, his father agreed to a Mohawk chief's offer for the youth to live among the tribe. The Mohawks were the easternmost tribe that belonged to the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee, an alliance of tribes in the New York and Pennsylvania region that was also known as the Six Nations (the six nations being the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora). During the next 8 months he lived the life of an Indian. Under the guidance of the Mohawk chief Quagnant, he learned the language, culture and shared their hand to mouth existence, especially during the winter months. He absorbed much of the lore and customs of a people who remained a mystery to the great mass of white settlers in America. His experience made him, while still in his teens, an interpreter between the European settlers and the neighboring tribes.

On 22 November 1720, at the age of 24, Conrad married Anna Eve Feck (Feg). In 1729 they followed other Palatine immigrants south down the Susquehanna River from Schoharie, New York to settle in Womelsdorf, Berks County, Pennsylvania. They would establish a farm and have fourteen children, only seven of which would survive to adulthood.

Chief Shikellamy of the Oneida

Conrad's colonial service began in 1731 when the Iroquois sent Shikellamy, an Oneida chief, as an emissary to other tribes and the British. He lived on the Susquehanna River at Shamokin village, located near present-day Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Per an oral tradition, Conrad and Shikellamy met one day while hunting. However they met, the two became friends. The Oneida chief trusted him and considered him an adopted son of the Mohawk. When Shikellamy travelled to Philadelphia to meet with a delegation of Pennsylvania leaders, he took Conrad with him. The Pennsylvania governor and his council were impressed by Conrad's abilities as an interpreter and by the trust that the Iroquois had in him. As a result, he became an important envoy and interpreter between the colonial government and the Native American tribes in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In 1736, Shikellamy and Conrad negotiated a deed of sale for land drained by the Delaware River and south of the Blue Mountain. In making this purchase, the Pennsylvania leaders favored the Iroquois, acting on their claim to the land rather than the competing claims of the Lenape or Delaware people. William Penn, who had died in 1718, had never taken sides in disputes between tribes. This sale, along with the Walking Purchase of the following year, degraded relations between the Lenape and Pennsylvania colonists. It did, however, persuade the Six Nations of the Iroquois to strengthen their bonds with the English, particularly in regard to trade.

Conrad was also commissioned by William Gooch, the Governor of Virginia, in February 1737 to broker a peace between southern tribes and the Iroquois since the latter had been hunting in the Shenandoah Valley. Conrad, accompanied by Stoffel Stump, set out on a six-week journey struggling with snow, freezing temperatures and sparse rations to reach the Iroquois capital of Onondaga in update New York near present-day Syracuse. He convinced them to not send any war parties south but failed to have them send representatives to talk with the southern tribes. The Iroquois were so impressed with his fortitude that they named him Tarachiawagon (Holder of the Heavens). Through his successful negotiations, he was able to avert conflicts between the Iroquois and southern tribes, such as the Catawba, which settlers feared might draw Virginia and Pennsylvania into a war with the Iroquois.

In 1742, Conrad attended a meeting in Philadelphia between the Iroquois and the English when the payment for the land purchased in 1736 finally occurred.

At the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744, Conrad acted as the interpreter for what resulted in the sale by the Iroquois of all their land in the Shenandoah Valley. Afterwards, the colonial officials of Virginia and Pennsylvania believed the Iroquois had sold them settlement rights to the Ohio Valley and began to move onto this land. The Iroquois, however, did not believe that this land was part of the treaty and caused their relationship with the colonists to begin to sour. In response to the British expansion into the Ohio Valley, the French began to move south and build a series of forts to protect their interests. The French also commenced trade with and to befriend disaffected Lenape/Delaware tribes who had relocated to the region as early as the 1720's to escape the pressures of the Iroquois and English.

Conrad lost his friend and ally Shikellamy when he took ill and died on 6 December 1748 when returning home after visiting Moravian missionaries in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

When Conrad travelled to Onondaga in 1750 he learned that the political dynamics within the Six Nations had shifted. Canasatego, who had always been pro-British, had died and several Iroquois tribes were now trading and allying themselves with the French. The Mohawk, though, remained pro-British and continued their extensive trade relations.

As tensions were building in the summer of 1754 between the British and French in America, Conrad was summoned as a member of the Pennsylvania delegation to a meeting in Albany. The English had called the council in an effort to gain assurances that the Iroquois would support them against the French. Due to the lack of a single leader to speak for the Iroquois Nation, no comprehensive treaty was made. Instead, each colony made separate deals with individual Iroquois leaders as best they could. Conrad negotiated a pledge of support for Pennsylvania as well having some lower-level chiefs deed most of the land remaining in present-day Pennsylvania, including the southwestern part that Virginia also claimed.

Once the French and Indian War began, Conrad took on a new role. In 1756, when the Lenape began to raid central Pennsylvania, he was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel and was charged with Benjamin Franklin to build forts between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers. During the conflict, Conrad continued to advocate for Pennsylvania and maintain a relationship with the Iroquois, while commanding a small company of men against the French and their allies. His ability to strengthen and preserve alliances helped affect the outcome of the War when he attended a council at Easton, Pennsylvania in 1758. The resulting Treaty of Easton led to the agreement of the tribes in the Ohio Valley to abandon their support of the French. When the Native American support collapsed, it played a factor in the French decision to destroy Fort Duquesne and withdraw from the forks of the Ohio.

In addition to being a farmer, tanner and colonial interpreter, he drew up the plan for Reading, Pennsylvania in 1748. He was a key part of the formation of Berks County in 1752 and served as its chief magistrate until 1760. He was also a teacher and lay minister in the Lutheran Church and was one of the founders of the Trinity Church in Reading.

Conrad died on 13 July 1760 at his home in Womelsdorf. Shortly after his death, there was a rapid decline in relations between the colonists and the Native Americans. The British unsuccessfully tried to restrict settlement to the east of the Appalachians in an effort to preserve Indian land. Colonists had other ideas and pushed westward into the various nations' hunting grounds and territory. Without a person such as Conrad to help intercede, relations between the settlers and the Native Americans deteriorated and armed conflicted increased.

Let me close with a story that has been passed down about an experience Conrad once had as told by Clement Zwingli Weiser:

Conrad Weiser once sat resting on a log in his extensive forest land. Presently an Indian, who had stealthily approached, squatted down hard by him. Conrad moved aside somewhat; the intruder pressed harder against him. Again Conrad granted more room; but the Indian pressed still harder on him. Then Conrad demanded an explanation of his strange and rude procedure. The Indian answered: "Thus the whites did to the Indians. They lighted unbidden on our lands. We moved on; they followed. We are moving onward now, and they are following after. Conrad, I will not push you from the log entirely. But will your people cease their crowding, e're we roll into the waters?"

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is also a familial connection to Conrad Weiser. Since it is one of marriage and not blood, I have created the new category "Historical Connections" to note that fact and separate it from the other relations in the family tree.

Here is the connection:

My 4th Great Uncle Jacob Foesig (Fasig) married Eva Marie "Elizabeth" Weiser, a Great Granddaughter of Conrad Weiser, on 8 March 1808.

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