Will French and Indians Attack Philadelphia in 1689-90?

Dateline: Philadelphia. You are there! Rumor and true reports hit Philadelphia. Panic. The Provincial Council decide on its strategy. This primary document gives the impression of being right there during the debate. Lots of names on the Council are in this post.

The main issue is that the French, also known here as papists because of their Catholic heritage, allied themselves with northern Indians and threatened the colonists. The French and Indians had already attacked some colonists in New England and killed one hundred persons.

The Governor was John Blackwell, and this first council meeting was held at his lodging. Blackwell had an extensive career in English government. He became a Massachusetts governor and was a puritan. Quakers had a “friendly dislike” of puritans, especially since magistrates up in Massachusetts had executed Quakers for heresy two decades earlier. But William Penn appointed him anyway because he was impressed with his administration and finances and efficiency.

29 Aug 1689

The meeting took place at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Modern transcription begins:

The Governor acquainted the Council that the reason of his calling them together at this time was to mind [remind] them that there had been formerly several rumors of danger from the French and Indians in conjunction with the papists for the ruin of the Protestants in these parts and of the alarm formerly given, as if nine thousand French and Indians were then near approaching, for that purpose, upon which the justices and sheriffs of the two lower counties with the people thereof had betaken themselves to arms for their defence;

Whereof he then gave the Council an account from letters he received out of the said counties; as also of a letter he had received from one Capt. Le Tort (A Frenchman living up in the country) agreeing therewith, which they did not see any reason to give heed unto.

And further to acquaint them that had lately received a letter from Joshua Barkstead out of Maryland, advertising there was sufficient proof that the papists in Maryland had been tampering with the French and northern Indians to assist them to cut off the Protestants or at least to reduce them to the See of Rome etc., which letter was read in the Council, adding an account thereto of the cruelties and barbarous usage of the French Indians upon the people of New England, murdering about 100 persons, burning houses and plundering the people of their goods and cattle etc (using the proverb that there was no smoke without some fire).

That these things might be expected to come suddenly upon us, as well as our neighbors.

That his office was to be their watchman and he durst [dare] not conceal the knowledge of these things without acquainting them and receiving their opinions and advices what was fit [appropriate] to be done therein for their security and settling the minds of the people, who in some places, particularly in New Castle, upon the apprehension of fear from these things had been very much disquieted and taken themselves to arms, but were quieted by the justices of that county residing amongst them.

Transcription ends.

The next brief section is a discussion on whether to proclaim King William king of England.

Let’s return to the French and Indian threat, same date.

Modernized transcription begins:

Whereupon Peter Alrichs gave an historical account of the proceedings of the Mohawks in the year 1665, concluding he did not think they were any great number or that there was cause to be afraid of them, etc.

Wm. Clark said he believed something might have been heretofore intended of such a nature as was suggested, but that being frustrated he believes that design [of an attack] is wholly dead.. Nevertheless that he thought they were obliged to the Governor for signifying these things to them.

John Simcock said he did not see but that we are safe, keeping peaceable, as those that had made all this strife.

Griffith Jones said he saw no cause of danger if we can but keep quiet among ourselves.

John Bristow said he saw no need of raising forces, for he saw no danger, but that he looked upon it as the privilege of the people to have their members present if there be (so also said John Simcock) [sic] To which the Governor replied he had given order to have all such as were allowed members of the Council to be summoned., but if the refused to come he could not help it. He must and would be satisfied with the opinion and advice of such as were present.

John Hill said he had spoken with every eminent knowing [knowledgeable] men and saw no likelihood of danger.

Samuel Carpenter said he had spoken with two persons that came from Maryland who did not believe what was talked [about]; that he did not fear anything from any news we had thence [from there] and that he was of opinion with John Bristow, for having all their members present.

Bartholomew Coppock said the news was new to him and it did not appear to him that we are in any danger—at present—by the Indians or papists either; and was of the same opinion about having all their members present;

John Curtis said he had heard rumor a great while of these things, but they signify nothing but a rumor; as for the Indians they are quiet and for his own particular [case] he had no fear upon him and that he was of the same opinion about having all their members present.

Wm Markham said he apprehended that to speak of danger from the Indians would but scare the women and children and that our Constitution will not admit us to defend ourselves. The only way is to forebear all thought or seeming fears of the knowledge of it; for that will represent us as people frightened etc., unless we were under such Constitution of government as to take arms to be ready upon occasion if anything should come. …

Whereupon the Governor gave them thanks for so particularly and freely advising him and told he had nothing further to occasion their stay at present unless they or any of them had anything to impart from the respective counties fit [suitable] for present consideration. It being replied by divers [various ones of them] that they had not, he adjourned the Council to meet at New Castle the tenth day of next month about some particulars relating to the county and the adjacent neighborhood.

Transcription ends.

Next, here is an interesting letter from Whitehall, London, dated 13 Apr 1689. It reassures the colonists that their Majesties, the recently crowned William and Mary, would defend his provinces and territories in the New World.

1 Nov 1689

Modernized transcription begins:


I am by his Majesty’s [William III’s] commands to acquaint you that his Majesty being sensible [aware] of the great and frequent injuries his subjects daily receive from the French, in apparent violation of the treaties between the two Crowned and particularly the assistances that the King has lately given and continues to give his enemies in Ireland;

And by the invading his Majesty’s territories in America, and disturbing the trade of his subjects in those part for several years last past;

His Majesty has therefore directed all necessary preparations to be made for a speedy war with the French king [Louis XIV or 14th], which has occasioned the giving you this notice of it;

That you may with all possible diligence take effectual care for the opposing and resisting any attempts of the French upon his Majesty’s Province of Pennsylvania;

And that all ships coming from thence [Pennsylvania] do sail hereafter otherwise than in fleets;

And you are also to assure his Majesty’s subjects in that Province of his Majesty’s protection by sending forthwith a considerable squadron of ships into the West Indies and other succors [help or aid] that shall be requisite, not only securing his Majesty’s plantations in America, but obliging the French to make reparation for the unjust and violent proceedings and attempts against his Majesty’s subjects in those parts.

I am, Sir, your very humble servant,


Transcription ends.

2 Nov 1689

Gov. Blackwell said the Council must decide about the king’s letter. The non-Quakers said they should be prepared. The Quakers replied that the case is hard. On the one side, they must protect the province. On the other side, their peaceful principles said no arms or a squadron of ships. One of them said they can trust God.

Let’s listen in on their debate.

Governor: John Blackwell.

Members of the Council: Samuel Carpenter, Griffith Jones, John D’Hayes, John Hill, Peter Alrichs, Luke Watson, John Simcock, John Bristow, Bartholomew Coppock, Wm. Markham, Secretary

Transcription begins.

The Governor then desired they would have consideration of the letter before recited and desired they would give him their advice on it.

Griffith Jones said: He thought we might suspend the execution of it for the present, being in expectation of hearing from England; perhaps there will be no need of putting the country to so great a charge. We are not able to bear it unless there were a necessity that required it. Let us wait a little longer.

John D’Hayes: What if any hurt come in the meantime if we delay it, before we are prepared. I think notice should be given to all the people to get powder and shot and their arms in a readiness against the occasion. That will do no hurt [harm].

John Simcock: I see no danger but from the beards and wolves. We are well and in peace and quiet. Let us keep ourselves so. I know not but a peaceable spirit and that will do well. For my part I am against it clearly; and Governor, if we refuse to do it, thou wilt be excused.

John Hill: He thought if we put ourselves into arms, the Indians would rise against us, suspecting harm to them. I desire, therefore, we may forebear till we hear out of England.

Luke Watson: You [Governor] having received such orders from the King, if the thing be done and any hurt come [upon] the country, for my part I think he may require our lives and estates at our hands. Twenty men, as things are now, may come and do what they will. I look upon it that you should settle a militia to defend his Majesty’s subjects, according to his directions from Whitehall.

Griffith Jones: Besides repeating what he said before, said: He desired the country might not be put to these charges. It will be looked upon as grievous and burdensome.

Here the Governor read the clauses of power given to the Proprietor by the King’s grant to him etc.

John Simcock said: He was against it; expressing that what was granted by the King to the Proprietor was but a lease to him that he might do it and said, “I will have no hand in it.”

Luke Watson: The people in the country look upon themselves to be in danger and desire they may be put into a condition to defend themselves, etc.

John Hill answered: I will engage [wager] they will not appear one in five upon [military] training.

William Markham: My opinion is that we ought to have our arms as well fixed and prepared in time of peace as war, for we know not how soon war may come upon us, especially in this country, where we have such sort of people amongst up. And whether it be come or not, etc. I always keep my own arms prepared.

Griffith Jones: Everyone that will may produce his arms. My opinion is that it be left to the discretion of the Governor to do what he shall judge necessary.

Samuel Carpenter: I am not against those that will put themselves into defence, but it being contrary to the judgment of a great part of the people and my own too; I cannot advise to the thing, nor express my liking it. The King of England knows the judgment of Quakers in this case before Governor Penn had his patent. But if we must be force to it, I suppose we shall rather choose to suffer than to do it, as we have done formerly.

Bartholomew Coppock: I am of the same opinion with Samuel Carpenter in what he spoke last.

Griffith Jones proposed again that they would refer it to the Governor’s discretion to do what is fit and necessary in the case, to which some others seemed to agree.

Whereupon, the Governor spoke to the Secretary to draw a question to be put for that purpose.

John Simcock and Samuel Carpenter declared against that, conceiving it might be prejudicial to them to be otherwise than passive in the matter, so no question could be agreed upon/

The Governor therefore adjourned the debate in the 2nd day of the next week.

Transcription ends.

In the ensuing debate dated 4 Nov 1689, the councilmen gave in a little and agreed to turn it over to the Governor to decide. He gave a long speech soon afterwards on this and related matters; surprisingly in the long speech, Gov. Blackwell resigned on 1 Jan 1689-90. Maybe he was fed up with passive Quakers.

Then a year later Marylanders came into the Council to raise the alarm. Thomas Lloyd is now the president of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.

24 Apr 1690

Modern transcription begins:

A letter was read from the Assembly of Maryland, bearing date the 11th of April 1690.

The president is desired to return an answer from himself and the board to the late speaker of the Assembly of Maryland.

The petition of several of the freemen of this province willing and ready to bear arms in defence of the same was read, which follows, verbatim, viz.

To the Honorable Provincial Council, now deputy Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania.

The Humble petition of some of the inhabitants willing and ready to bear arms for the service and defence of this government, sheweth [shows]:

That whereas there is a war between the crown of England [William III] and France and that our enemies, the French, have barbarously murdered many of his Majesty’s subjects very near the confines [borders] of this province, which have struck no small terror in us and our families and may happen to attack us when we least think of it:

We humbly pray that you, our Governor, will be pleased forthwith to settle the country in such a posture that we may be able by force of arms to defend it against any assault of our enemies, and as duty bound shall pray.

Wm. Markham

Lacy Cock

Swan Swanson

John Holme

Andrew Binkson

The board being informed that Lassie Cock intends [to go] up the Schuylkill [River] among our Indians, the beginning of the next week, do request that the President with the present members give instruction to the said Lacy [sic] Cock to make particular inquiry concerning the store and quantity of ammunition in the custody of the French families seated up the said River; and in case he shall find greater store than shall be judged expedient to be left there, to have the same secured in order to be brought to Barnabas Wilcox’s store, assuring the owner’s reasonable satisfaction for the same;

And further that such of the said French who may be justly suspected of unfaithfulness to this province may be the most suitable means persuaded [to come] down here;

And that the Chief Sachem of our Indians may be assured of our good intentions towards them and their people;

And that we desire a meeting with their Chief men as soon as they can conveniently, giving us notice of the time nine or ten days before;

And if he sees occasion to employ four or six likely persons for the discovering of any designs [plans or strategies] of the French or their Indians against the peace, who shall have competent satisfaction at their return to us.

And our desire is that Capt. Markham, Rob. Turner with such credible persons as may be persuaded upon this service go along with the said Lassie Cock and that he upon all occasions take advice and concurrence [consensus] of the said persons;

And in the meantime [let] care be taken for suitable presents for them at their meeting with us.

Transcription ends.

22 May 1690

No war erupted with the Indians at that time because the Provincial Council welcomed them into their presence, as follows.

Modern transcription begins:

Some number of Indians this day coming into town supposing to make application to the government, ordered that Capt. Lawrence Cock be sent for to be in town by eight tomorrow morning to interpret;

And in case the Council are not sitting that the President [Thomas Lloyd] with the present members and justices with other the principal inhabitants do treat them civilly, receive their message and give them answer accordingly.

Transcription ends.

The next record of the Council is dated 30 July 1690, so the conclusion of the matter is not stated. But surely peace prevailed.


Maryland and New England had to deal with the French and their Indians allies. Why would Pennsylvania be exempt? The Council debated the matter and mostly concluded they do not need to prepare for war. The Quaker principle of peace.

A letter came from London, forewarning the Council that King William III was about to declare war on King Louis XIV. Prepare for war. The Council debated the letter and mostly concluded that there was no need to prepare. They trust God. Besides, training men for war would be futile because few would muster out.

Some men, however, were willing to prepare for war—there were non-Quakers among them. They ordered men to spy out the French and the Indians up the Schuylkill R.

So far, no war broke out at least in the record in this post.


One interesting feature is that the Marylanders proclaimed their right to take up arms. One hundred and one years later (1791), the constitutional Founders wrote the Second Amendment, as follows:

A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Maybe it was incidents like the ones described in the Provincial minutes, above, that prompted the founders to word the Second Amendment as they did.


Gateway Ancestors of the Middle Colonies

Second Amendment from 18th-Century Yeoman’s Perspective

Neighboring Indians Ask Pennsylvania English for Protection

Indentured Servants, Indians, and Rum in Philadelphia, 1684-85

1770 Treaty with Cherokee Indians

Six Nations Deed of 1768

How to Deal with Indians Who Steal in Virginia Colony

Queen of the Pamunkey Natives Ask for Restoration

The Grand Assembly Decide How to Fight Indians and Levy Taxes

The March against the Rappahannock Indians


Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852), pp. 298-302, 312-15, 334-35, 340.

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