On this day, September 20, 1737, the Walking Purchase was completed which forced the cession of 1.2 million acres of Lenape-Delaware tribal land to the Pennsylvania Colony.
While William Penn enjoyed a reputation for fair-dealing with the Lenape, his heirs John Penn and Thomas Penn, abandoned many of the elder Penn's practices. In 1737, they claimed a deed from 1686 by which the Lenape promised to sell a tract beginning at the junction of the Delaware River and Lehigh River (modern Easton, Pennsylvania) and extending as far west as a man could walk in a day and a half. This document may have been an unsigned, unratified treaty, or even an outright forgery. The Penns' agents began selling land in the Lehigh Valley to colonists while the Lenape still inhabited the area.
In Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania (2004), the Delaware nation (one of three federally recognized Lenape tribes) claimed 314 acres (1.27 km2) of land included in the original purchase, but the US District Court granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss. It ruled that the case was nonjusticiable, although it acknowledged that Indian title appeared to have been extinguished by fraud. This ruling held through the United States courts of appeals. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Thomas E. Keefe
Assistant Professor of Humanities,