How do we reconcile disgraceful episodes in history? On September 21st, a group of people began the process by following the route of the Walking Purchase of 1737.
The Walking Purchase, masterminded by Thomas Penn, was a deceitful attempt to acquire prime Lenape hunting grounds. ‘As much land as a man could walk in a day and a half’ was what the Lenape had reluctantly agreed to concede. But the Penn brothers had hired Edward Marshall, a trained athlete, who ran most of the way. Eventually a plot roughly the size of Rhode Island was wrested from the stunned Natives. This shattered harmonious relations between the Lenape and the settlers, and provoked bloodshed.
Christopher Black of the Bachmann Players in Easton, PA, initiated the idea of traveling the original route. The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania agreed to join the caravan. Chief Chuck Gentle Moon DeMund stated that their purpose was “to heal the land, which holds the memory; to heal themselves as Lenape descendants; and to represent the ancestors as best they could.”
Participants gathered first at the Wrightstown (PA) Friends Meeting House. Clan Mother Shelley DePaul thanked the land and the Great Spirit for our presence, together, at that moment. David Rose as William Penn read Penn’s letter to the Lenape, dated 1681. It advocated co-existence between the Europeans and the Natives. Christopher Black portrayed Benjamin Franklin, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who described Thomas Penn as “contemptible.” Smudging of the earth closed the ceremony.
Our second stop was the Buckingham Friends Meeting House, with the festive annual Peace Fair underway. Nancy Tate and Tom Stinnett’s smiles graced the LEPOCO booth. Nearby, Shelley DePaul spoke in the Lenape tongue about the inheritance of the land stolen from her ancestors. An actor depicting Conrad Weiser translated her speech.
Chief Chuck stated that “a new time has come to us. We all need to be of one mind, heart, and soul—to accept what happened and to move forward in a good way.” A big round dance, with all holding hands in a circle, was performed in the spirit of William Penn and Chief Tammamend, “to show that friendship still exists,” said Chuck.
Next we met at an historical monument in Hellertown, where the original walkers had eaten lunch. Although there was smudging and a prayer, Chief Chuck disclosed that he “was trying very hard to be positive.”
At Allen Academy in Bath, where the Governor Wolf Historical Society greeted us, Chuck addressed the assembly haltingly. “We carry the blood, memory, and ache of the ancestors. It’s becoming more and more difficult to remain positive as the day wears on. Although coming to this situation was part of the Creator’s vision, I’m having difficulty dealing with what happened.”
After talking among themselves, the Lenape decided to accept the refreshments that had been offered to them, which honored the bonds of friendship. “We walk a good path by eating their food,” Chuck stated.
In Northampton, where the original walkers had camped overnight, Chuck thanked the group for its support, “as we find a way to heal, as difficult as it is.”
Dusk descended at our last stop, the Bond Farm in Jim Thorpe. Shelley sang a song honoring the ancestors. Chuck admitted that “this was a lot harder to do than I realized when Christopher Black presented the idea.” He described the experience as “healing, sad, and emotional, but a good day.”
Almost 300 years ago, the injustice of the Walking Purchase was inflicted upon the Lenape and future inhabitants of our area. How do the descendants of the victims recover? Is forgiveness possible? The Walking Purchase Healing Journey may have been a first step in that direction.