Beware of Two Frenchmen Who Trade with Local Indians

Dateline: Philadelphia, 17 May 1701. Danger! William Penn himself spelled out the dangers and advantages of confining two Frenchmen who were trading with Natives. On which grounds? Were they spies?

In the big picture, England was at war with France in King William’s War (1687-97), where the man theater of war was New France or Canada. Then Queen Anne’s War (1701-13) carried it on in the same area.

So in addition to theological differences, war and politics influenced the English attitudes towards their French neighbors.

Council: The Proprietary and Governor, William Penn

Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, Thomas Story, John Blunston, Caleb Pusey, Humphrey Murray, all Esquires.

The transcription is modernized:

The Proprietary [Gov. Penn] having proceeded to inform this board of the great abuses committed in Indian trade, the great dangers that might arise from thence, and the advantages that might accrue from it to the Province in general;

[He] proposed that some measures might be concerted [united in] for the regulation thereof, and redressing the grievances that we generally labored under upon that score, and especially by means of two Frenchmen, Louis and P. [Pierre or Peter] Besahon [sic, read Besalion], who have been suspected to be very dangerous persons in the traffic with the Indians in this troublesome conjuncture [convergence] of affairs.

Resolved:

That it was absolutely necessary the said Frenchmen should be confined and restrained from inhabiting or trading amongst the Indians;

And that some way should be agreed on to carry on that trade by a certain number or company, who should take all measures to induce the Indians to a true vale and esteem for the Christian religion, by setting before them good examples of probity and candor, both in commerce and behavior;

And that care should be taken to have them duly instructed in the fundamentals of Christianity;

And further consideration hereof is referred to the next meeting of the board.

The Governor also acquainted the board that reports were brought that some of the Five Nations of Indians had sent an embassy to our Indians on Delaware, requiring their aid and concurrence [alliance]

And that it was suspected the French of Canada have been endeavoring to debauch the said Indians from their fidelity to the Crown of England.

Resolved:

That care should be taken to inquire into the grounds of the said reports.

And then [they] adjourned, etc.

Transcription ends.

Penn points out the dangers and advantages in suppressing or at least controlling the trade between the French and Indians. Did the council have “probable cause” to confine Louis and P. Besahon? (P. probably stands for Pierre / Peter and is Peter Besalion). At least the minutes end with the sound advice to investigate further.

Here are the results of their investigation.

21 May 1701

Council:

The Proprietary and Governor, William Penn

Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, Griffith Owen, Thomas Story, Humphrey Murray, Caleb Pusey, all Esquires.

In pursuance of the resolution made by this board on the 17th instant,

That care should be taken to know the grounds of the reports concerning the Indians, the Governor informed the council that after the sessions, a certain young Swede, arriving from Lechay, brought advice:

That on the 5th day last some young men of that place going out a-hunting, being but a little while gone, several shots were heard to go off very thick, which was suspected to have been some of the Senecas coming down upon them;

And that thereupon he had sent two messengers, viz. Edward Farmer and John Sotcher [sic], who, returning, brought advice that the alarm was false and that the shot was only at some swans and the whole reports groundless.

Let’s hope the two Frenchmen were unconfined.

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SOURCE

Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838), pp. 13 and 15.

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