The Treaty Elm: A Symbol of Peace

Treaty Elm Box
The Treaty Elm Box was found in the Berks History Center Museum Collection during the Collections Management Initiative

The “Treaty Elm” was an enormous tree which stood near the present day neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia. Tradition holds that William Penn pledged an oath of friendship with the Lenape Indian Chief Tamanend at the treaty elm in 1682. While there is no definitive documentation of this meeting, the Treaty Elm came to symbolize Penn’s desire to live in harmony and peace with Native Americans.   After the tree fell during a storm on March 5, 1810, relic hunters salvaged pieces of its wood in order to create mementos of the famous tree.

Today, artifacts crafted from this wood can be found in the collections of several museums.  However, it was with some surprise that we recently discovered a treaty elm box in our collection. While we are not exactly sure of its connection to Berks County, it is inscribed by its maker, a Philadelphia merchant named Benneville D. Brown (1779-1863). Brown was related to several Berks County families including the Keims and Bertolets.

Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

Colonial Records – Response to Penn’s Letter

10th Febry, 1697-8.

Att a Councill Held at philad die Jovis, 10th February, 1697-8.  WM. MARKHAM, Esqr., Governor et ysdem ut antea.

Joseph Growdon, Chairman on the Comittee appointed further to peruse the sd Letter & strictlie to inquire into ye Complaints yrin mentioned, & to report the same to the Gor & Council by way of ansr to the said Letter, this day Exhibited to the Gor & Council their report in writing, viz: The Comittee having perused & thoroughly Considered the proprietor’s Letter, Charging the Governor & Council to suppress forbidden trade & piracie; & also the growth of vice & Loossness, & within this governmt, doe Humblie make this Report unto the Governor and Council.

First.  As to the Scotch & dutch trade, wee are not privie yrto nor any of us Concerned therein, but if any such trade has been & escap’t unpuneshet, It may rather be attributed to the Connivance or neglect of those officers appointed by Edward Randolph to inspect those things, or others particularly appointed in that behalf; for wee can say, that the magistrats & Courts of Justice have been ready & diligent upon all occasions to punish, suppress, & Discourage all illegal trade that came to their knowledge.

Second.  As to Imbracing of pirats, &c. Wee know of none that has been entertained here, unless Chinton & Lassell, with some others of Avery’s Crew, that happened for a smal time to sojourn in this place, as they did in some of the neighbouring governments; but as soon as the magistrats in Philadelphia had received but a Copie of the Lords Justice’s proclamation, gott all that were here apprehended, & would have taken the Care & Charge of securing ym, untill a Legall Court had been erected for their trial, or an opportunity had presented to send ym to England; but before that Could be effected, they broke goale & made their escape to New york, where Hues & Crys wer sent after ym,  And as to pirats’ shipps wee know of none Harboured or ever came in here, much Less encouraged by the Gor or people, who as it is well known, are generally sober & industrious, & never advanced yr estates by forbidden trade, piracie, or other ill ways, notwtstanding what is suggested by or enemies to the contrary.

As to the growth of vice, Wee cannot but owne as this place hath growne more populous, & the people increased, Loossnes & vice Hath also Creept in, which wee lament, altho’ endeavours have been used to suppress it by the care & industry of the magistrats from time to time, offenders Having received deserved & exemplary punishments, according to Law.

As to Ordinaries, Wee are of opinion that there are too many in this governmt, especiallie in philadelphia, wch is one great cause of the growth of vice, & makes the same more difficult to be supprest & keept under.

On the whole, Wee being at all times Heartily inclined to show or Loyalty to the King, & readie ovedience unto His Laws, do think it necessarie, & do yrfore make or request to the Gor & Council, that an Ordinance be made, & a proclamaon do forthwith Issue from the Governor & Council, strictly to suppress forbidden trade & pirats, if any shall Happen; and also the growth of vice & Loossnes within this governmt, until some wholsome & severer Laws be made for more effectuall remedy, and the ordinaries or Houses of entertainment be reduced to a Less number, & and that all such as have not alreadie given good securitie for keeping good orders, and discharging the plave according to Law, be speedilie required so to do or otherwise to be suppressed, & for the future that the Justices in the Quarter Sessions in each Countie may have the approbaon, if not the Licensing Ordinarie keepers throughout the government.

The which report being read in Councill, It was put to the vote by the Gor, Whether they approved yrof, & whether they esteemed it to be a proper ansr to the sd Lettr.  It was Caried in the affirmative, N. C.

Then the Gor did Resolve the whole members of Council Into a grand Comittee, to draw up a proclamaon to suppress forbidden trade & unlawll piracie, the growth of vice & Loossnes; & to regulate & reduce the ordinaries, untill severer Laws can be made agt such enormities, & to bring in their report & a draught of a proclamaon to the Gor & Council the 12th instant.

Adjourned to the 12th February, 1698

Colonial Records – William Penn’s Letter on Vice

While we at the HJL focus on Berks County starting roughly around 1720s.  It is just one piece of a huge history that was taking place in Pennsylvania.  English history in Pennsylvania begins with the signing of the Charter in 1682.  Following the charter an entire system of government is established and people begin populating the area around Philadelphia.  This history is not totally lost to us.  Buried in our stack room, is a series of books titled the Colonial Records. The Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC) references the Colonial Records as such: “A total of sixteen volumes containing the minutes of the Provincial Council, 1683-1775, in Volumes I-X; those of the Council of Safety (and of the Committee of Safety), 1775-1777, in X and XI; and those of the Supreme Executive Council, 1777-1790, in XI-XVI. These were printed directly from the manuscript books with no editing apparent Issued 1838-1853.

These records, which precede the Pennsylvania Archives Series, are full of history tidbits on the founding and running of our province.  Buried in the minutes are Sheriff Appointments, Road Petitions, Accusations of Witchcraft, and the Crafting of Laws.  And yes, while reading government minute books often fall on the “boring side” (have you ever read the Congressional Record?  There are 2 pages of debate on whether to give the congressional janitor a raise, before the debate on the Repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. snore), you never know what gems you may find, when turning the pages.

The Colonial Records are the story of Us.  It is the Us before we became a county and a state.  It tells the story of trying to carve out a civilization in a new world and away from those that govern you.  It tells individual stories and some of those stories are really interesting.

While Luke continues to bring more of Scholla to life, I will try and highlight some of the interesting “goings on” occurring almost 4 centuries ago.  As always, if you would like to learn more about any document or collection we have in the HJL, please visit us!

Att a Council Held att Philadelphia Die Mercury, 9th Febry, 1697-8

The Governor exhibited to the Council a Lettr from the proprietor, directed for him, to be opened only and read in a full Council; Which being through to be as full a Council as could be got in such a season of ye year, It was yrfor Resolved that the sd Lettr should be opened and read which was done.  The contents grof wer as follows, verbatim, viz: “London 5th 7m., 1697.  Friends, The accusaons of one sort, & the reports of another that are come for England agt yor governmnt, not only tent to or ruin, but disgrace.  That you wink at Scotch trade and a Dutch one too, Receiving European goos from the latter, as well as suffering yors, agt the Law & English interest, to goe to the other; Also, that you doe not onlie wink att but Imbrace pirats, Shipps and men.  These are yor accusaons, and one Fra. Jones of philadelphia has Complained of them to Gor Nicholson, becaus it wa not redrest in the governmt.  The Reports are, and a nameless Lettr is come to me besides from Philadelphia, to ye same purpose, that there is no place more overrun with wickednes, Sins so very Scandalous, openly Comitted in defiance of Law and Virtue: facts so foul, I am forbid by Comon modesty to relate ym.  I do yrfore desire and charge you, the Gor & Council for the time being, to issue forth some act or acts of state forthwith to suppress forbidden trade and piracy, and also the growth of vice and Loosness, till some severer Laws be made agt them: And I do hereby charge that no Licence be granted to any to keep publick houses, that do not give great securitie to keep Civil houses, and are not known to be of a sober Conversaon, and that the Courts of Justice in each County have approbaon, if not Licensing of ym, In order to prevent such acts of the Lewdness and Idleness as are too often seen in such places; And that you take Care that Justice be Impartially done upon trangressors, that the wrath and vengeance of God fall not upon you to blast your so very flourishing beginning.  I hasten to you as fast as ye Complaints here agt you will give me leave, that make my presence now but too necessary.  Let neither base gain nor a byast affection mak you partial in these Cases, but for my sake, yor own sakes, and above all for God’s sake, Let not the poor province Longer suffer under such grievous and offensive Imputations; and will oblige him that loves you, prays for you, and prays to be with you, and is with true Love your real friend & affectionate proprietary.                             WM. PENN.”

The Contents whereof, & the Complaints yrin mentioned being strictlie inquired into, The Gor did appoint Samll Carpenter, Joseph Growdon & Wm. Clarke a Committee of Council further to peruse the sd Letter, & to inquire into the sd Complaints, & to make report yrof to the Gor & council next day, by way of ansr to ye sd Letter.

Adjourned to 10th instant.