Johann Conrad Weiser (November 2, 1696 – July 13, 1760) was a German Pennsylvanian pioneer, farmer, monk, tanner, judge, and soldier. His most significant contributions, however, were as an interpreter and emissary in councils between Native Americans and the colonies, especially Pennsylvania.
His family moved to the frontier town of Schochary, New York, by 1710 at the expense of Queen Anne. There the German immigrants were placed into indentured servitude, as per a signed agreement, to burn tar to pay for the journey.
At age 16, his father agreed to a chief's proposal for him to live with the Mohawks in the upper Schoharie Valley. During his stay with them in the winter and spring of 1712-1713, Weiser learned a great deal about the Mohawk language and the customs of the Iroquois while enduring hardships of cold, hunger, and homesickness. Conrad Weiser returned to his own people towards the end of July 1713.
On November 22 1720, at the age of 24, he married a young German girl, Anna Eve Feck (Faeg). In 1723 the couple followed the Susquehanna River south and settled their young family on a farm in Tulpehocken near present-day Reading, Pennsylvania. The couple had fourteen children, but only seven reached adulthood.
Weiser's colonial service began in 1731. The Iroquois sent Chief Shikellamy, an Oneida chief, as an emissary to other tribes and the British. Shikellamy lived on the Susquehanna River at Shamokin village, near present-day Sunbury, Pennsylvania. An oral tradition holds that Weiser met Shikellamy while hunting. In any case, the two became friends. When Shikellamy traveled to Philadelphia for a council with the province of Pennsylvania, he brought Weiser with him. The Iroquois trusted him and considered him an adopted son of the Mohawks. Weiser impressed the Pennsylvania governor and council, which thereafter relied heavily on his services. Weiser also interpreted in a follow-up council in Philadelphia in August, 1732.
During the treaty in Philadelphia of 1736, Shikellamy, Weiser and the Pennsylvanians negotiated a deed whereby the Iroquois sold the land drained by the Delaware River and south of the Blue Mountains. Since the Iroquois had never until then laid claim to this land, this purchase represented a significant swing in Pennsylvanian policy toward the Native Americans. William Penn had never taken sides in disputes between tribes, but by this purchase, the Pennsylvanians were favoring the Iroquois over the Lenape/Delawares. Along with the Walking Purchase of the following year, his treaty exacerbated Pennsylvania-Lenape relations. The results of this policy shift would help induce the Lenapes to side with the French during the French and Indian Wars, which would result in many colonial deaths. It did, however, help induce the Iroquois to continue to side with the British over the French.
During the winter of 1737, Weiser attempted to broker a peace between southern tribes and the Iroquois. Having survived high snow, freezing temperatures and starvation rations during the six-week journey to the Iroquois capital of Onondago, he managed to convince the Iroquois not to send any war parties in the spring, but he failed to convince them to send emissaries to parlay with the southern tribes. Impressed with his fortitude in the pursuit of peace, the Iroquois named Weiser "Tarachiawagon", or "Holder of the Heavens." Spill-over violence from a war between the Iroquois and southern tribes such as the Catawba would have drawn first Virginia, and then Pennsylvania, into conflict with the Iroquois. Therefore this peace-brokering had a profound effect on Native American/colonial relations.
In 1742, he interpreted at a treaty with the Iroquois at Philadelphia, at which time they were paid for the land purchased in 1736. During this council, the Onondaga chief Canasatego castigated the Lenape/Delawares for engaging in land sales, and ordered them to remove their settlements to either Wyoming or Shamokin village. This accelerated the Lenape migration to the Ohio valley, which had begun as early as the 1720s. There, they would be positioned to trade with the French, and launch raids as far east as the Susquehanna River during the French and Indian Wars.
In 1744, Weiser acted as the interpreter for the Treaty of Lancaster, between representatives of the Iroquois and the colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. During the final day of the treaty, on 1744-07-04, Canasatego, the Onondaga chief, spoke of the Iroquois concepts of political unity:
"Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another."
Benjamin Franklin printed this speech, which influenced American concepts of political unity.
In 1748, Pennsylvania sent Conrad Weiser to Logstown, a council and trade village on the Ohio. Here he held council with chiefs representing 10 tribes, including Delawares and Shawnees, and the Iroquois. He arrived at a treaty of friendship between Pennsylvania and these tribes. Threatened by this development and the continued activity of British traders in the Ohio valley, the French redoubled their diplomatic efforts and began to build a string of forts, culminating in Fort Duquesne at present-day Pittsburgh, in 1754.
In 1750, he traveled again to Onondaga, he found the political dynamics in the Six Nations had shifted. Canasatego, always pro-British, had died. Several Iroquois tribes were leaning toward the French, although the Mohawks remained pro-British.
Early in the summer of 1754, on the eve of the French and Indian War, Weiser was a member of a Pennsylvania delegation to Albany. London had invoked the meeting, hoping to win assurances of Iroquois support in the looming war with the French. Present were representatives of the Iroquois and seven colonies. Because of divisions within both the British and Native American ranks, the council did not result in the treaty of support that the crown desired. Instead, each colony made the best deal it could with individual Iroquois leaders. Conrad Weiser was able to negotiate one of the more successful, in which some lower-level chiefs deeded to the colony most of the land remaining in present-day Pennsylvania, including the southerwestern part, still claimed by Virginia.
In 1756, Weiser was appointed along with Ben Franklin to construct a series of forts between the Delaware River and the Susquehana River.
In the fall of 1758, Weiser attended a council at Easton, Pennsylvania. Representation included leaders from Pennsylvania, the Iroquois and other Native American tribes. Weiser helped smooth over the tense meeting. With the Treaty of Easton, the tribes in the Ohio Valley agreed to abandon the French. This collapse of Native American support was a factor in the French decision to demolish Fort Duquesne and withdraw from the Forks of the Ohio.
Throughout this decades-long career, Weiser's knowledge of Native American languages and culture made him a key player in treaty negotiations, land purchases, and the formulation of Pennsylvania's policies towards Native Americans. Because of his early experiences with the Iroquois, Weiser was inclined to be sympathetic to their interpretation of events, as opposed to the Lenape, or Delaware or the Shawnees. This may have exacerbated Pennsylvanian-Lenape/Shawnee relations, with bloody consequences in the French and Indian Wars. Nevertheless, for many years, he helped to keep the powerful Iroquois, or Six Nations, allied with the British as opposed to the French. This important service contributed to the continued survival of the British colonies and the eventual victory of the British over the French in the French and Indian Wars.
In addition, he followed a mixed career as a farmer, land owner and speculator, tanner, and merchant. He created the plan for the town of Reading in 1748, was a key figure in the creation of Berks County in 1752 and served as its chief judge until 1760. Conrad was also teacher and a lay minister of the Lutheran Church, and founded Trinity Church in Reading.
In 1756, during the French and Indian War, the Lenape began with raids into central Pennsylvania. As Pennsylvania organized a militia, Conrad was made a Lt. Colonel. Working with Benjamin Franklin, he planned and established a series of forts between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers. When General Forbes evicted the French from Fort Duquesne in 1758, the threat subsided.
Weiser died on his farm on July 13, 1760. Upon his death, one Iroquois Indian noted to a group of colonists, "We are at a great loss and sit in darkness...as since his death we cannot so well understand one another." Indeed, shortly after Conrad Weiser's death, relations between the Colonists and the Native Americans began a rapid decline.
His will bequeathed about 4,000 acres (16 km²) and part of his farm to Berks County. The Olmsted Brothers landscaped this park in 1928; it remains a State Park today. The original Conrad Weiser Homestead in western Berks County is being restored with help from the state of Pennsylvania.
Conrad and Anna's daughter Maria married Henry Muhlenberg. Two of their grandsons had important roles in gaining independence for the United States. Peter Muhlenberg served as a Major General in the Continental Army and Frederick Muhlenberg was the first Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
Undoubtedly, however, Weiser's weightiest contribution to history was his service as an emissary between the British colonies and the Native Americans, especially the Iroquois. This service had direct and powerful influence over the histories of the French and British empires, the Native American peoples and the United States.
Conrad Weiser green roof a study of global concern: High school agriculture students get a lesson in environmentally friendly construction techniques.
Sep 15, 2007; Byline: Darrin Youker Sep. 15--To the casual observer, it looks as if something has gone wrong with the barn behind Conrad Weiser...
Ten county players make field hockey's first team: Among the 10 All-State performers are three from Conrad Weiser and five repeat selections. Nine more make the coaches association's second team.
Dec 23, 2006; Byline: Brian Rippey Dec. 23--Ten Berks County players, led by five repeat selections and three from Conrad Weiser, were selected...
'Coach K' remembered at service: The former Conrad Weiser baseball coach, who died of cancer in September, is praised for contributions to the school.(Obituary)
May 19, 2007; Byline: Ron Devlin May 19--When the late Jeffrey P. Kaisoglus was undergoing treatment for cancer, his mind was on his students...
Eight from Berks named first-team all-state: Conrad Weiser?s Jackie Kintzer, Brandywine?s Amy Hordendorf, Tulpehocken?s Katie Brautigan, Hamburg?s Rayell Heistand and Oley Valley?s Kim Angstadt, Teryn Brill and Lauren Chubb make the Class AA team. Exeter?s Jess Zatwarnicki makes the Class AAA team.
Dec 16, 2005; Byline: Brian Rippey, Reading Eagle, Pa. Dec. 16--Jackie Kintzer's combination of agility and knowledge helped Conrad Weiser win...