About 8 generations back on my mother’s side there was an ultra-runner. Tracing back through her father, Oscar Marshall, we can find Edward Marshall. He was recruited to go as far as possible on foot in 18 hours in order to set the boundary for a land purchase in what is now eastern Pennsylvania.
Really it seems to have been a land steal that was filled with scheming and deception. Although Edward Marshall was employed for this purpose, it is unclear whether he knew of the dishonesty involved. In fact he probably didn’t even receive what was promised for his efforts. And he paid dearly in the subsequent months or years. His family was attacked in the backlash to the land grab. Edward’s wife and son were killed and a daughter severely injured.
Being a runner myself, my interest is in his impressive physical accomplishment as an endurance athlete. It seems curious, even ironic to me that this run was part of a plan to get land from Indians for white settlers. I am descended from these white settlers, yet I have at least one Indian in my family tree. Nancy LeBree is in the line of my mother’s mother - fewer generations back than Edward Marshall. You might say one of my grandfathers was involved in stealing from one of my grandmothers.
The following excerpt is from http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/WalkingPurchase.html. A google search for ‘walking purchase’ or ‘Indian walking purchase’ should yield several other sources to read about this.
According to Steven Harper’s Promised Land, the 1686 treaty gave the settlers claim to land north of the previous treaty’s boundary line between the Neshaminy and Delaware rivers for “as far as a man could walk in a day and a half.” On September 19, 1737, three strong runners, James Yeates, Edward Marshall, and Solomon Jennings, began, in the words of Lenape interpreter Moses Tetemie, “what ye Indians call ye hurry walk.” The native spectators noted the quick pace and unexpectedly direct route the three were taking, and according to W.W.H. Davis, “showed their dissatisfaction at the manner in which the walk was conducted, and left the party before it had been concluded.” The approximately 65 mile “hurry walk” proved so grueling that only Edward Marshall managed to complete it, who Davis writes, “threw himself at length on the ground, and grasped a sapling which marked the end of the line.” Marshall’s athletic feat, combined with liberal interpretation of how the boundary line should be drawn to the Delaware River, took from the Lenape an area slightly smaller than Rhode Island.
The route was surveyed in advance and even cleared to allow maximum progress. The runners were accompanied by horseback riders who brought along food, drink, and other supplies. Yet there were rivers to cross, mountains to climb, and rough ground to cover.
I learned of this part of my family history only last summer. While reading about what Edward accomplished, I felt that I wanted to repeat his effort. Of course it will be impossible to retrace the exact route due to highways and other development since the 1700’s. I hope to follow the route as much as possible and meet the same time limit. I have been in contact with members of a hiking group that does a weekend hike to retrace this route. My intention is to join their hike and learn enough of the route to be able to do the run myself with a few friends along for support. Hopefully I can do this near the date of the original event.
My longest single day efforts have been 33 and 50 miles. I will need to step up the training to have a chance to measure up to my great-great’s example.
What a goal race this will be!