Our name, Onas, is a Lenni Lenape word for a pen or writing quill.
It is also associated with William Penn, who led a settlement of displaced English Quakers who lived in a small portion of what is now Pennsylvania, on land purchased from the Lenni Lenape.
The legendary Treaty of Shackamaxon, made between Lenni Lenape leaders and representatives of the Quaker settlement, most notably Tamenend and William Penn, was an agreement for perpetual peace between the region’s Lenni Lenape and early Pennsylvania Quakers.
In writings from the time, Penn is referred to as both “Onas” and “Brother Onas,” and Penn’s own written account indicates that the terms of the Treaty were directed by Lenni Lenape leaders, which leads us to recognize “Onas” as a name given to Penn by his Lenni Lanape contemporaries.
It is our understanding that the Treaty and its commitment to peace aligned with not only Quaker testimony, but also the Lenni Lenape peoples’ practice of extending generosity toward people in need.
Voltaire famously referred to the treaty as “… the only treaty never sworn to and never broken,” alluding to the shared Lenni Lenape and Quaker practice of consistently speaking with honesty, rather than swearing or taking oaths to designate moments of heightend honesty.
Some argue that the Treaty and its agreements never existed while others speculate the document was destroyed by Penn’s sons to facilitate its dissolution. Given the immortal words of Voltaire, it is also possible that the accord was never a written and signed treaty, but an oral agreement which would have carried equal weight as a signed document to both the Lenni Lenape and the Quakers.
The legend of the Shackamaxon Treaty perseveres despite the absence of any physical record of the treaty. The story tells of an agreement made under a magnificent Elm tree in what is now the Fishtown area of Philadelphia and a wampum belt associated with the Treaty is in the collection of the Philadelphia Historical Society, donated by the descendants of William Penn.
History portends that the treaty stood for 50-70 years before its undoing began with the “Walking Purchase” land swindle, orchestrated by Penn’s son, Thomas, and Pennsylvania government officials. To arrange the land theft, Thomas Penn and the officials leaned on the Treaty of Shackamaxon, William Penn’s history with the Lenni Lenape, and a “found” (widely believed fabricated) agreement between “Brother Onas” and the Lenni Lenape.
While peace persisted in the region for another 20 years following the dishonest land deal, a French attack on several English Settlements in the Penn’s Creek Massacre (also called French Creek) took place with Lenni Lenape assistance. In response, Pennsylvania’s government established an armed military regiment and built several protective forts, led by then-assemblyman Benjamin Franklin, marking a shift from Pennsylvania’s early foundation in peace and nonviolence.
Most of the information for this article was compiled from sources listed in this google doc, though it may not be a comprehensive list of every article consulted: View Sources