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Know Your History! The Riverwards and King George’s War

The local neighborhoods of Philadelphia are often forgotten in American history, along with the leaders of the area. However, this region played a substantial role in many national and international events, like William Cramp’s shipbuilding for the military or William Ball housing George Washington during the Revolution. Before the United States was an official nation, Kensington would be involved in an international conflict taking place on colonial American soil.

In 1704, Anthony Palmer spent 500 Barbados pounds for 582 acres of land in Pennsylvania. In addition to being a landowner, merchant, and trader, Palmer was also the founder of Kensington, which appeared to be his biggest passion. Even though Palmer was involved in local politics, he did not choose to spend much of his time in that realm. Ironically, Palmer displayed incredible leadership and diplomacy in Pennsylvania politics, despite being disinterested in law and government, all at a very significant time in the history of our country.

King George's War

View of the English landing on the island of Cape Breton to attack the fortress of Louisbourg during King George’s War. 1745. (By F Stephen via Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

Anthony Palmer served on the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania for several decades, but he did not have a good track record of attending meetings. About a year after Palmer sold his Hope Farm (later became Port Richmond) to William Ball in 1729, Palmer received a summons from the Council due to his lack of presence in the group; it had been almost three years since Palmer showed up to a Council meeting.

Palmer became the President of the Provincial Council in 1747 after the former president retired. Because Palmer had been the longest serving member of the Council, he was selected as the new president, despite his inactivity. In June of the same year, Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor George Thomas traveled home to England to care for his personal health. Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor was also replaced by Palmer.

A man who cared very little about politics had become President of the Provincial Council and the acting Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania in the first half of 1747. At the same time that Palmer took on these responsibilities, England and France were in the height of a war, much of which took place in North America.

Europe was ruled by a group of powerful leaders for hundreds of years that would only marry other powerful leaders in order to maintain control. This group was called the House of Habsburgs, and in 1740, the last male in the Austrian branch of Habsburgs died. Charles VI was the Holy Roman Emperor, archduke of Austria, and the King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. Wars all across Europe broke out, and conflicts in colonies of these European powers arose as well. These conflicts include the War of Jenkins’s Ear, two Silesian Wars, and King George’s War (in the North American continent).

During the duration of King George’s War (1744-1748), colonists in North America were fighting against each other, and sometimes they were aided by their mother countries. However, most support came from Native Americans who were aligned either with the British colonists or the French colonists. Native Americans played a far more substantial role in colonial affairs than people today might consider. However, people of the time period, such as Anthony Palmer, believed that Native Americans were “capable of doing or preventing the greatest of mischief.”

The chaos of constant feuds in the colonies, such as King Philip’s War, Queen Anne’s War, and recurring violence among Natives made the matter of defense quite difficult. There were no large-scale defense systems for the colonies, just small local militias for local areas. With the pressing dangers from King George’s War, the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor and Provincial Council President Anthony Palmer had three matters to attend to: ending the piracy taking place in the Delaware Valley, fortifying the city, and convincing the Indians of the Six Nations to stay out of the war (or aide the English instead of the French).

Being a pirate in North America did not come with as much danger as it would if you were a pirate in Europe. Since there was a lack of organized military, police, and defense in general, pirates bombarded the Mississippi, islands off the coast of the mainland, and the Delaware Valley. In addition to stealing ships and loot, pirates often destroyed property that they came across, such as the small villages in the Delaware Valley inhabited by Quakers. Opposing violence at all costs, the Quakers decided to remain in vulnerable situations rather than spend money organizing a defense system.

Anthony Palmer, acting on behalf of Pennsylvania, “wrote to the administrators of Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, and New York about the visiting Ohio Indians.” It was the first time that the Ohio Indians visited Philadelphia. Anthony Palmer was integral in pacifying the Native Americans in the region, as well as calming tensions in western Pennsylvania, by sending Indian negotiator Conrad Weiser there to secure the situation. Palmer, Weiser, and Massachusetts governor Shirley were “successful in raising 400 pounds and eventually a larger gift to keep the Indians out of the war.”

Luckily for Anthony Palmer, Benjamin Franklin agreed with his ideas about defending the city of Philadelphia. Franklin published a pamphlet called “Plain Truth or Serious Considerations on the Present State of the City of Philadelphia and Province of Pennsylvania.” The well-respected Ben Franklin gained support for the cause and citizens approved of fortifying the city.

Philadelphia lacked artillery necessary for keeping pirates away or battling against foreign armies. Palmer and Franklin both knew that Philadelphia needed a cannon. In order to illustrate the seriousness of his intentions, “Palmer sent two councilors to New York,” which was unheard of for the time period when most leaders would simply send letters. Palmer did, in fact, send letters to the governors of Massachusetts and Virginia in hopes that he could secure some artillery. Since Palmer was a trader in the islands, he also sent a letter to the governor of Jamaica for assistance.

Ben Franklin gave speeches and “organized a lottery to raise 3,000 pounds [to] buy [artillery] from Governor Clinton of New York, but he declined,” most likely because he was victim to “gruesome raids along the New England-New York borders by both conflicting parties [England and France] and their Indian allies.” Since money did not convince the governor, Franklin’s next plan was to get him drunk and “convivial” to sway his opinion. After several unsuccessful attempts at convincing a drunken governor, Franklin raised even more money to buy a New York cannon for Philadelphia.

So Anthony Palmer, the founder of Kensington, had a brief stint at the head of politics and it came at a pivotal time in the history of the English-French rivalry. Pirates were absent from the Delaware Valley, Philadelphia was ready for an invasion that would never come, and the Indians of the Six Nations stayed peaceful to the Philadelphians.

Beyond this point in time, we know that European wars taking place in North America would continue. France and England had many differences in boundaries of Nova Scotia, northern New England, and control of the Ohio Valley. Conflicts in North America will arise again around 1754 with The French and Indian War and again around 1759 with the Cherokee War. The next battles colonists will fight are against Great Britain beginning in the 1760s.

Information from the article comes from Kenneth Milano’s biography of Anthony Palmer and history of Kensington that can be found on Kennethwmilano.com. Additional information comes from Americanhistory.about.com, Britannica.com, Encyclopedia.com, Ohiohistorycentral.org, Palmettohistory.org, Philadelphia-reflections.com, and Publicbookshelf.com. 

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