Open paths

Daily Reading for July 13 • Conrad Weiser, Witness to Peace and Reconciliation, 1760

Keeping a “true Corrispondence” between Indians and colonists in colonial Pennsylvania required skilled negotiators, and on the colonial side of the fence, there was no one better than Conrad Weiser. For thirty years, Weiser served as Pennsylvania’s Indian agent and interpreter, traversing the province (and in some cases going far beyond it) to deliver wampum, speeches, and presents. In the diplomatic idiom of the day, “paths” were lines of communication between towns and villages that needed to be kept open, so that a “true Corrispondence” could prevent misunderstandings and disputes from leading to war. Weiser’s job was to keep those paths open and clear.

Intercultural negotiators such as Weiser had to be able to do much more than simply speak the other side’s language. They had to be physically fit enough to endure long journeys under trying circumstances, brave enough to venture among strangers who might be hostile, and adept enough at native customs so as to speak with comfort and authority before their audiences. . . .

In 1731, he began a personal quest for spiritual fulfillment. Although raised a Lutheran, he visited German mystic religious leader Conrad Beissel at Ephrata. Moved by his preaching, Weiser was baptized in 1735 and then joined the celibate order. Soon, his wife also joined the cloister, but their stay at Ephrata was short. Weiser left the order in 1737, but continued his personal religious mission for the next twenty-five years. . . .

In his capacity as diplomat for Pennsylvania, Weiser undertook numerous diplomatic missions to the most powerful Indian confederation in the colonies. As an adopted Mohawk, he fully understood Iroquoian customs. In his first journey to Onondaga in 1737 his participation in traditional rituals laid the groundwork for further negotiations, peaceful coexistence and a solid working relationship that endured for decades. Like his Indian counterparts Shickellamy and Moses Tunda Tatamy, Weiser had a reputation for honesty that greatly aided his work, and Indians respected his participation in their councils. When tempers flared between Indians and colonists in Pennsylvania because of trade disputes, land frauds, or violence, Weiser’s timely intervention helped smooth the waters and restore a “true Corrispondence” between the aggrieved parties. . . . He died on July 13, 1760, and with him passed an age of intercultural negotiation for one of violence and dispossession.

From the history behind the Conrad Weiser marker at the Weiser Homestead, at

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