In 1763 armed settlers in the Paxton Township laid waste to an isolated, unarmed Indian settlement, murdering all its inhabitants, attacked the Lancaster jailhouse where refugees had taken shelter, and vowed to march all the way to Philadelphia. After being stopped in Germantown by a delegation led by Benjamin Franklin, critics and apologists of the “Paxton Boys” –including some of Pennsylvania’s preeminent figures- spent the next year battling in print over the events, and ultimately, over the authority of the colonial government.
The Paxton pamphlet war comprised more than one-fifth of the Pennsylvania colony’s total printed material in 1764. In 1957, historian John Raine Dunbar was the first to create a critical edition of the pamphlet war, The Paxton Papers. But Dunbar’s Papers now suffer from three limitations, according to the creators of a new digital edition: it’s dated, limited in scope, and not easily accessible. The Digital Paxton Project (digitalpaxton.org), a digital archive and critical edition of the pamphlet war composed in Scalar by Library Company Fellow Will Fenton, Doctoral Candidate at Fordham University, and Co-sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, seeks to move past these limitations.
As a critical archive built in Scalar, Digital Paxton effectively pairs particular forms of scholarly contributions to particular affordances offered by the platform, including contextual entries (via tags), conceptual keyword essays (via paths), and transcriptions and translations of pamphlets (via image annotations). Digital Paxton makes available dozens of political cartoons, manuscripts, broadsides, pamphlets, and German-language translations of pamphlets related to the Paxton incident. Digital Paxton features more than 1600 free, open-source, print-quality (300 dpi) images courtesy of the American Philosophical Society, Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Moravian Archives of Bethlehem. It also makes available contributions from a number of specialists: Jack Brubaker, Nicole Eustace (NYU), Michael Goode (Utah Valley University), Scott Paul Gordon (Lehigh University), Kevin Kenny (Boston College), Darvin L. Martin, James P. Myers, Jr. (Gettysburg College), and Judith Ridner (Mississippi State University).
A portion of Digital Paxton’s online archive can also be explored in person. If you’re in the Philadelphia area you can stop by Will Fenton’s pop-up exhibition at the Library Company of Philadelphia running from April 5th to May 5th, 2017. The exhibition will showcase more than two-dozen exemplary manuscripts, broadsides, pamphlets, and political cartoons from the Library Company, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, American Philosophical Society, and Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections. You can also access the digital companion to the pop-up exhibition at digitalpaxton.org/exhibition.