The French Are Coming! The French Are Coming! Ride!

Dateline: Philadelphia, 2 and 26 June 1701. A special emergency ‘pony express’ was set up in case the French, setting sail from Spanish West Indies, might attack the mid-Atlantic colonies. A French privateer did land in 1709.

This could be the original ‘pony express’ before the nineteenth-century pony express, though on a much smaller scale.

The larger context was Queen Anne’s War (1701-13), which was waged in the New World, launched from New France or Canada.

The County of Sussex is now in Delaware, but had been within the jurisdiction of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. It was the southernmost county.

Let’s call it an ‘emergency relay race’ using horses pressed or conscripted into service.

The transcription has been modernized.

2 June 1701


The Proprietary and Governor, William Penn

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

For the greater security of this Province and territories and for preventing as far as may be surprises by vessels from the sea,


That the magistrates of the County of Sussex shall appoint and take care that a constant watch and ward be kept on the hithermost [nearest on this side] Cape, near Lewis, in the said county;

And in case any vessel appear from the sea that may with good grounds be suspected of evil designs against any part of this government,


That the said watch shall forthwith [immediately] give notice thereof, with as exact a description and account of the vessel as possibly they can to the sheriff of the said county, who is required immediately to dispatch a messenger, express, with the same to the County of Kent, from thence to be forwarded from sheriff to sheriff through every county, till it be brought to the Governor at Philadelphia, which watch and expresses shall be a provincial charge.

The last phrase charges the expense to the province, not to the counties. It was important to know such details.

26 June 1701

The goal of this ‘pony express’ system was to signal the government in Philadelphia to be on their guard and “take all care [precautions] for the security of the Province [of Pennsylvania].”


The Proprietary and Governor, William Penn

William Clark, Edward Shippen, Samuel Carpenter, Humphrey Murray, Thomas Story, all Esquires

Whereas, there was an order formerly made that in case any danger should happen or enemies appear, etc. that the same should be signified by the sheriff of the county of Sussex and do from sheriff to sheriff of the county of Sussex and so on from sheriff to sheriff, etc.

But to prevent delays, a special express is ordered to be sent by the sheriff with all care and expedition possible, to give notice thereof to the Governor and council, etc.

And the sheriff is hereby empowered to press horses for expedition and in the sheriff’s absence the magistrates, etc. to the see the same performed.

Long before Paul Revere’s midnight ride in 1775, the council of Philadelphia set up its own emergency pony express, which ran from southern Delaware to Philadelphia. The Quakers were not averse to self-defense on a certain level. Plus, the council had to warn non-Quaker citizens who did not believe in pacifism.


The French Are Here! Row Your Boat! Row for Your Lives!

Philadelphia’s First Nighttime Town Crier Is Appointed

Philadelphia Quakers Set Up a Public School, Part 1

Philadelphia Quakers Set Up a Public School, Part 2

Neighboring Indians Ask Pennsylvania English for Protection

Will French and Indians Attack Philadelphia in 1689-90?

Don’t Fire Guns from Ships! It Scares People!


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. 17 and 19.

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