Penn Treaty Elm
Not every tree leaves a legacy as massive as the Penn Treaty Elm, the Ulmus americana under which William Penn met with Lenape Chief Tamanend in 1682 and pledged a treaty of friendship. The tree became famous during its lifetime along the banks of the Delaware River in Shackamaxon, what is today the Kensington area of Philadelphia just north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. In 1771 Benjamin West painted a depiction of the meeting. Artist Edward Hicks made several renditions of the event. Voltaire spoke of it; poets praised it.
When the tree fell during a storm on March 5, 1810, its wood was treasured and made into furniture and small keepsakes. Chief Justice John Marshall and President Abraham Lincoln each received objects.
Famous Elm Lives On
Fortunately cuttings, or scions, had been taken from the tree over its lifetime. A General Paul Oliver had transplanted a shoot from the tree to his home. A scion from Oliver’s tree was presented to Haverford College about 1840 and planted on Founders Green. In 1942 the elm’s size was recorded as over 10 feet in circumference, a height of 90 feet and a branch spread of 120 feet.
In the early 1900s, slips were taken from this Penn Treaty Elm grandchild. In the fall of 1915, seven were given to the college by C. Cresson Wistar, Class of 1865, and planted above the Duck Pond on Barclay Beach. Six of the seven later succumbed to Dutch’s Elm Disease (five were removed in 1975 and the sixth in 1982.) The seventh tree, great-grandchild of the Penn Treaty Elm, still stands at the top of Barclay Beach.
The Founders Green Elm of 1840 also lost the battle with Dutch Elm Disease and was removed in 1977 from the path between Founders Hall and Sharpless Hall. But in May 1976, prior to its death, seeds from this elm were sown and the young trees were distributed to friends of the College.
Elm on Founders Green
Yet once again a Penn Treaty Elm descendant grows on Founders Green. Before the 1840 tree was removed in 1977, groundskeeper Carmen Ianieri noticed several seedlings in a crotch of the tree. He planted them in the college nursery. On Nov. 16, 2001, a few months prior to his retirement, Carmen, now grounds manager, took the backhoe and dug a hole on center campus close to the site of the original tree. A tree spade then arrived from the college nursery, carrying a now 49-foot tall American elm. This great-grandchild was planted along the center walk and will soon dominant Founders Green much as its parent did. The history of Haverford College’s elms continues as the Arboretum staff saves seedlings from the one remaining Penn Treaty Elm on Barclay Beech and shares them with others in the community to plant and enjoy for decades to come.
Penn Treaty Park
Today the site of Penn’s meeting with the Native Americans is a park, and the tree planted there was grown from Haverford’s elm. The park exists because of several dedicated community members who fought to commemorate the principles of fairness, peace and social justice symbolized by the original treaty tree. This elm is the subject of Ken Milano’s recent book, The History of Penn Treaty Park, and the focus of an on-line museum found at PennTreatyMuseum.org.