Intoxicated Indians dance for naturalist John Bartram

SUNBURY, Pa.Sunbury Press has released John L. Moore’s Traders, Travelers, and Tomahawks, the second of eight volumes in the Frontier Pennsylvania series.

tt&t_fcAbout the Book:
As he traveled across the Pennsylvania Frontier in 1743, naturalist John Bartram didn’t know what to expect when he accepted an invitation to spend the night in the cabin of a white man who traded goods for furs with the Indians. The cabin was near the native town of Shamokin (present-day Sunbury) along the Susquehanna River. “About midnight, the Indians came and called up him and his squaw,” Bartram wrote later. “She sold the Indians rum. … Being quickly intoxicated, men and women began first to sing and then dance round the fire.”

Bartram is one of many early Pennsylvanians that people this colorful non-fiction work. Others include Conrad Weiser, the Pennsylvania Colony’s Indian agent; William Penn, the colony’s visionary founder;Madame Montour, an interpreter who was the daughter of an Algonquin mother and French father; and Major General Edward Braddock, who led British troops against the French army in the Ohio River Valley.

Author John L. Moore raises and answers many questions about who the frontiersmen and natives were and what they did. What was William Penn’s colony like in its early days? How did the Lenni Lenape Indians living in Penn’s colony obtain their food? What did they eat? How did they get along with Penn, and how did Penn get along with them? Why did Penn’s sons recruit athletic young men to walk the boundary of land the Lenape weren’t especially interested in selling?

These true stories are set mainly in the valleys of the Delaware, Juniata, Lehigh, Ohio and Susquehanna rivers. They chronicle many aspects of a nearly forgotten past.

The Iroquois, for example, claimed the land along the Susquehanna and its tributaries by right of conquest of the Susquehannocks. They regarded the Juniata River Valley as prime hunting land. During the late 1740s they became distressed to see white settlers cross the Susquehanna and begin to build homesteads in territory they hadn’t sold and had intended to reserve for themselves.

In May 1750 a posse of magistrates and lawmen sent by Gov. James Hamilton rode up the Juniata and began evicting the squatters. Iroquois representatives accompanied them and forced the Pennsylvanians to set fire to the cabins of the homesteaders.

Eventually, the Indians left the Susquehanna Valley. White settlers who subsequently ventured into the upper Susquehanna during the 1780s came into a region that was still remote and desolate. The forests and fields of Pennsylvania still teemed with game, and one of these whites, Philip Tome, became a professional hunter. He let his dogs chase deer, used torchlight to hunt at night, and kept written records. One year, “every time I saw a bear, I marked it down, and in a month I counted 43,” Tome said.

July 1743
To be sure, a Philadelphia naturalist named John Bartram wrote about his encounters with venomous reptiles as he and his companion followed the Tulpehocken Trail west and north from Reading during the summer of 1743…

“At this place we were warned by a well known alarm to keep our distance from an enraged rattle snake that had put himself into a coiled posture of defense within a dozen yards of our path. … He had been highly irritated by an Indian dog that had barked eagerly at him, but was cunning enough to keep out of his reach or nimble enough to avoid the snake when he sprung.”

Bartram kept careful notes as he traveled. The night of July 6, for instance, he recorded that his party camped “in a fine vale, where we … were grievously stung all night with small gnats, so I slept very little.”

On July 8, a full five days after leaving Philadelphia, Bartram and his companions reached the Indian town of Shamokin, now the site of Sunbury, along the Susquehanna River. “It contains eight cabins near the river’s bank right opposite the mouth of the river’s West Branch,” he wrote.

The Indians welcomed the travelers. “As soon as we alighted, they showed us where to lay our baggage, and then brought us a bowl of boiled squashes cold.” Bartram, who had not spent much time among the Indians before this, viewed the meal as “poor entertainment.” The naturalist was in the first week of a two-month journey to visit Iroquois leaders at Onondaga in upstate New York, and he had plenty of time to learn to appreciate native hospitality. In his own words: “Before I came back, I had learned not to despise good Indian food.”

That night, “I quartered in a trader’s cabin, and about midnight, the Indians came and called up him and his squaw, who lay in a separate part where the goods were deposited. … She sold the Indians rum. … Being quickly intoxicated, men and women began first to sing and then dance round the fire.”

johnAbout the Author:
John L. Moore, a veteran newspaperman, said he employed a journalist’s eye for detail and ear for quotes in order to write about long-dead people in a lively way. He said his books are based on 18th and 19th century letters, journals, memoirs and transcripts of official proceedings such as interrogations, depositions and treaties.

The author is also a professional storyteller who specializes in dramatic episodes from Pennsylvania’s colonial history. Dressed in 18th century clothing, he does storytelling in the persona of “Susquehanna Jack,” a frontier ruffian. Moore is available weekdays, weekends and evenings for audiences and organizations of all types and sizes.

Moore has participated in several archaeological excavations of Native American sites. These include the Village of Nain, Bethlehem; the City Island project in Harrisburg, conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission during the 1990s; and a Bloomsburg University dig in 1999 at a Native American site near Nescopeck. He also took part in a 1963 excavation conducted by the New Jersey State Museum along the Delaware River north of Worthington State Forest.

Moore’s 45-year career in journalism included stints as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal; as a Harrisburg-based legislative correspondent for Ottaway News Service; as managing editor of The Sentinel at Lewistown; as editorial page editor and managing editor at The Daily Item in Sunbury; and as editor of the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal in Bethlehem.

TeedyuscungTraders, Travelers, and Tomahawks
Authored by John L. Moore
List Price: $9.99
5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
110 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620065174
ISBN-10: 1620065177
BISAC: History / United States / State & Local / Middle Atlantic…

Cover artwork by Andrew Knez, Jr.  For more information about Andrew’s work, please see:


2 responses to “Intoxicated Indians dance for naturalist John Bartram

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