The Easton Treaty is an agreement between the British and Aboriginal peoples, established at the forks of the Delaware River in present-day Pennsylvania in 1758. The treaty was signed after a conference between British colonial officials and more than 500 chiefs, representing 15 Woodland Aboriginal peoples in October 1758. Through the Easton Treaty and several others, the British successfully neutralized the French and Aboriginal alliance in the Ohio Valley during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) by guaranteeing the protection of Indigenous lands from acquisitive Anglo-American colonists.
British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northern District Sir William Johnson was instrumental in the negotiation of the Easton Treaty. Johnson considered his allies, the Six Nations (also known as the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois), to have dominion over the Upper Ohio Valley and its inhabitants, such as the Delaware. The Treaty of Easton in this way drew on the principles of the Covenant Chain, the long-term alliance between the British Crown and the Iroquois League.
The Easton Treaty was also influenced by the “Friendly Association of Pennsylvania,” a group of Quaker pacifists. Represented by Israel Pemberton at the treaty negotiations, this organization drew on Quaker ideals about the colonization of North America that dated from the 17th century, when William Penn founded Pennsylvania and attempted to coexist peacefully with the Aboriginal inhabitants, purchasing their lands in advance of European settlement.
The Friendly Association of Pennsylvania pushed for the Easton Treaty to include a firm boundary between European settlement and Aboriginal lands. This line was set at the Allegheny Mountains, reserving the vast Ohio Valley as Indigenous territory.
With British assurances of title to their lands, the Aboriginal peoples in the Ohio Valley withdrew their support for French control of Fort Duquesne. The British took over this strategic post (at the site of modern-day Pittsburgh) that same year, calling it Fort Pitt.
The British campaign to defeat the French in North America spurred the Crown into recognizing Aboriginal rights in the Ohio Valley. However, the promises made at the Easton Treaty were soon forgotten, or simply ignored. Pennsylvanians continued to settle the Ohio Valley, and the British failed to stop them. As well, contrary to promises, the British at Fort Pitt became an imposing presence. The discontent over these issues led, in part, to Pontiac’s War and in turn to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 (sometimes called “the Indian Bill of Rights”). It would take force, in other words, for the British to follow through on the promises made in the Easton Treaty to affirm and protect Aboriginal interests in their ancestral lands.