Johann Conrad Weiser

Johann Conrad Weiser

(1696-1760)

The most skillful interpreter on the New York and Pennsylvania frontiers, Johann Conrad Weiser was born near Wurttemberg, Germany. He came to America in 1710, arriving in New York with his father, siblings, and stepmother as part of a large immigration from Germany.

Resentful of his stepmother, Weiser drifted away from his family as a young man. He spent the winter of 1713 with the Iroquois chief Quagnant in the northern part of New York. Weiser then set up his own farm at an Indian village near Schoharie, New York, and found that his ability to speak the Native American language was a distinct advantage on the frontier.

Weiser began to interpret for councils between whites and natives. In 1720, he married a Mohawk woman; they eventually had 1 5 children.Weiser and his family moved to Tulpehocken, Pennsylvania, in 1729.There Weiser met and befriended James Logan, one of the colony’s top political leaders and administrators.

Weiser persuaded Logan that it was in the interest of the Pennsylvania colony to change its long-standing Indian policy.The Quaker colony had long favored the Delaware Indians, with whom William Penn (see no. 54) had made his first treaty. With Weiser serving as the go-between, Logan began to make alliances with the Six Nations of Iroquois.

Through his friendship with the Oneida chiefShikellamy, Weiser was able to bring about peace conferences in Philadelphia in 1731 and 1736. By the time the second conference ended, Weiser had created a strong pact between Pennsylvania’s Quakers, who were pacifists to the core, and the Six Nations of Iroquois, probably the most warlike of all the Indian tribes.

Weiser continued to play an important role on the frontier. He and the Onondaga Indian Canasatego arranged a treaty in 1742, and in 1743, Weiser managed to prevent a war from breaking out between the Iroquois and the Virginia colony. Weiser also promoted the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744, and during King George’s War (1744-1748), he and the Quaker government supported the Iroquois who remained neutral and joined neither the French nor the British.

In the late 1740s, Weiser underwent a religious conversion. Born to a Lutheran family, he had joined the Reformed Church at Tulpehocken, Pennsylvania; then in 1735 he was influential in forming a Baptist group in his community. For a time he joined the Solitary Brethren of the Community of Seventh Day Baptists, a radical spiritual community led by Johann Conrad Beissel.

After being dissuaded from this group by his family, Weiser returned to a more normal life. He became justice of the peace for Lancaster County, and was probably the only German-American to hold such a post in colonial America.