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"Knowledge is the treasure of a wise man." - William Penn
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    200 Years Later…

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    The Great Elm at Shackamaxon fell in a storm on March 5, 1810. Under the branches of this mighty tree that grew along the Delaware River, William Penn and Lenape Chief Tamanend made a Treaty of Friendship that many people believe represents the best of our human spirit.

    Two hundred years later we will come together to commemorate these principles of fairness, peace and social justice symbolized by the Treaty Tree. Join with us to ensure that the timeless story will never be forgotten.


    In 1682, along the gentle banks of the Delaware River, under the shade of a great elm tree in an area then known as Shackamaxon, William Penn is believed to have made a Treaty of Friendship with the Native Americans.

    Few events in American history are noted for the just and fair treatment of peoples from different cultures.  The legend of William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians became a universal symbol of religious and civil liberties.  Voltaire made reference to the event in 1764, and artists thoughout Europe recreated the scene first painted by Benjamin West in 1771.  Drawings of the transaction were used to promote commercial interest in the emerging land.  American painter Edward Hicks created numerous depictions of the treaty meeting to promote social change.  In the pre-Civil War era, artistic renderings of Penn’s Treaty were used to encourage political movements, religious agendas and social reforms.

    Most artists placed Penn, the English Quaker, and the Native Americans, meeting in friendship and trust beneath the branches of a stately elm tree.  The “Great Elm” as it was known, remained as a living monument to this event until it fell during a violent storm in 1810.  Concerned citizens thought the site, and perhaps the event itself, would be forgotten once the mighty tree had toppled.  Much of the timber was salvaged, however, and many objects were created from the tree, ensuring that the significance of this unique event was not lost.  The first public monument, an obelisk, was placed on what was then private property to mark the site of the historic tree.

    In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall received a box created from the Treaty Elm from Roberts Vaux.  His reply:

     The box is to me an inestimable relique.  I  know no inanimate object more entitled to our reverence than the tree of which it was a part, because I think few events in history have stronger claims on our serious reflection, on our humanity, our sense of rights, and on our judgement, than the treaty which was made under it, and the consequences which followed that treaty. The plainly marked difference of intercourse between the colonists of Pennsylvania and the aborigines, and that which other colonists maintained with them, furnishes a practical lesson on the influence which intelligence, real friendship, and justice may acquire and preserves over their untutored minds which ought not even yet to be forgotten.

    Interest in creating a permanent park and preserving the site continued throughout the years.  Penn Treaty Park was officially established in 1893.  Native Americans have always honored the location of this peaceful event along the river, handing down the story of this historic occurrance in their traditional oral history, and have gathered at the site on numerous occasions in the past 325 years.

    This website, www.PennTreatyMuseum.org,  was inspired by Dr. Etta May Pettyjohn (1909-2005), who for many years championed the preservation of Penn Treaty Park and outlined a vision for a museum in 1970.  Dr. Pettyjohn was a member of the PDF –> Tercentenary Committee * and often spoke of how this simple event had impacted political and social change in the young America.  She believed the story of Penn Treaty Park richly deserved a musuem as a permanent tribute to the extraordinary message of Penn’s treaty from long ago. {Read Details} * Also, read this article about Tercentenary committee member Elaine Pedan’s love for William Penn.

    Today, the Fairmount Park Commission maintains the grounds with oversight from the Friends of Penn Treaty Park.

    Would you like to share a story about the Penn Treaty event or Penn Treaty Park?

    Please send us your stories by click here

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