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The Rev. Johnny A. Phillips is a retired minister and resides in Burke County.

On Sept. 20,1773, one of the most most peculiar and downright suspicious property acquisitions ever made occurred. More than 1 million acres of land located between what was known then as the Provinces of Pennsylvania and that of New Jersey was transferred from the Lenape Indians (also known of as the Delaware Tribe) to the sons of no one less than William Penn.

It was questionable, as it was based upon a supposed 1686 agreement between the Lenape chief and Penn, who were friends. Fortuitously for John and Thomas, William Penn’s sons, it suspiciously came to light half a century after its signing, though no one else had any familiarity with it, and of course, the two signatories were long deceased.

It was curious because the amount of land was not determined in measurable units of area, such as acres, but in the inexact distance a man could walk in a day and a half.

Furthermore, on the day set to determine this tract of land, the Penn brothers showed up with two professional “walkers” who instead ran. Adding another dubious note to the arrangement, they employed a map for this conveyance displaying an area measuring just more than 300 acres, but in reality was 1.2 million.

This became known as the Walking Treaty of 1737 (But the Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to it more correctly as the “land swindle”).

While the Penns likely reveled at their entrepreneurial skills selling off the land and making quite a profit, their financial gain was hardly the end of the story. The trust and friendship for which their father had labored through many years of honest dialogue with the Native Americans was lost forever, and horrible consequences ensued.

When the French and Indian War began in 1756, the Lenape sided against the British, attacking and killing all the settlers they could. Among those slain were the wife, son and daughter of Edward Marshall, the only runner to complete the “walking purchase.” (Note that he never received the land the Penns promised him for his feat.) Marshall spent the rest of his life murdering natives when any opportunity was afforded him, and, as might be expected, they also sought to kill him.

Relationships are built upon trust whether they are friendships, marriages are business. They do not just happen, but are the result of time spent together engaging in open, honest communication and mutually giving to one another. In short, the elusive quality of a trusting relationship is that each partner feels safe and bonded with the other.

But it is so fragile that it can be lost in a heartbeat.

Dr. Robert Innes of the University of California describes mistrust to be like unto a virus; it is contagious and contact with a dishonest person increases one’s own risk of being infected.

In a world such as the Penn brothers desired and one that spiritually minded people must live, work and transact in each day, the machinations of distrustful behavior can lead to wealth, but also will result in much harm to many innocent people. However, Jesus always seemed to have the simple solution: “Let your ‘no’ be no and your ‘yes’ be yes.”

Honesty and trustworthiness is not any more complex than that.

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Johnny A. Phillips is a retired minister and resides in BurkeCounty. Contact him at

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