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By the Way: A shameful journey remembered

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Two hundred and eighty-two years ago, on Sept. 19, 1737, the infamous land grab called the Walking Purchase, began. The shameful journey began in Bucks County and ended in what is now Carbon County.

Thomas Penn, the unprincipled and greedy son of William Penn, betrayed his father’s trust and promise to the local Lenni Lenapes, stealing a chunk of land roughly the size of Rhode Island from the native Americans. On Saturday, costumed actors traced that ‘walk,” a close-to-70-mile hike.

William Penn had promised the Lenapes “all the land a man could walk in a day and a half,” but Thomas recruited runners, who departed from the original riverside route and turned inland at what is now Harrow in Nockamixon Township.

This time, members of the Bachmann Players of Easton, under the direction of artistic director Christopher Black, and the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, drove the roughly 70 miles in segments.

This year’s participants started, as the original men did. at Wrightstown Friends Meeting, and stopped, a bit off the original trail, at the annual Buckingham Friends School Peace Fair, to mingle and perform a healing ceremony and a circle dance.

I caught up with the travelers at their next stop on Route 412 at Moyer Road, just north of the Bucks-Northampton line and next to the Bees Knees Bakery. There, a brass plaque on a giant stone marks the spot the original “walkers” paused for lunch.

And there on Saturday, a colorful troupe of costumed people, settlers and natives, gathered. They were wearing – and bearing, with smiles--their heavy Colonial clothes in the burning noontime sun. A Lenni Lenape chief wore a brightly colored ribbon shirt and black top hat. One native American woman wore deerskins and another a skirt that jingled as she walked.

An actor read a moving letter written by William Penn declaring his friendship for the native Americans. The Lenape Chief Gentlemoon said a prayer in his native tongue to soothe “the aching land,” then translated it to English, while another native burned “smudge,” a combination of cedar and sage, its sharp scent drifting over the little group.

Descendants of the original people still resent the Walking Purchase, and the healing ceremony was meant to alleviate some of that destructive emotion.. The ceremony was extremely touching, both in its informality and in its philosophical message.

Even more touching was an unplanned gesture. Dennis O’Connell, who with his wife, Nicole Zane, owns the bakery, explained a pre-dawn gunman had shot out the glass, stolen the cash register and caused about $6,000 worth of damage to the equipment. Spontaneously and quite charmingly, I thought, the Lenape chieftain performed a second healing ceremony in the bakery to help wipe out the bad spirits of the evil deed.

The travelers then moved on to the Governor Wolf Historical Society in Bath, Northampton County, for more smudging and a round dance. (That’s the first Gov. Wolf, George, who served from 1829 to 1835.)

Final stop was at the Bond Farm in Jim Thorpe.

The healing journey was the brainchild of my friend and actor Christopher Black, who with his Bachmann Players, a group of Easton-based amateur historians and actors, mines the region’s rich Colonial history using letters, diaries and other sources to recreate people and events of the 1700s for a contemporary audience. (Don’t forget Easton was once part of Bucks County.)

Christopher is a veteran stage actor who spent more than a decade as a member of the former Jean Cocteau Classical Repertory in New York. He has written and acted in dinner- theater productions at the historic Bachmann Publick House in downtown Easton.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net


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