Moravian Massacre at Gnadenbrutten

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In the early part of the year 1763 two Moravian missionaries, Post and Heckewelder, established a mission among the Tuscarawa Indians, and in a few years they had three nourishing missionary stations, viz: Shoenbrun, Gnadenbrutten and Salem, which were about five miles apart and fifty miles west of the present town of Steubenville, Ohio. During our Revolutionary War their position being midway between the hostile Indians (allies of the British) on the Sandusky River, and our frontier settlements, and therefore on the direct route of the war parties of both the British Indian allies and the frontier settlers, they were occasionally forced to give food and shelter to both, which aroused the jealousy of both the Indian allies of the English and the American frontiersmen, although they preserved the strictest neutrality.

In February 1772, the American settlers (nothing more could be expected) assumed to believe that the Moravian, or Christian Indians; as they were called, harbored the hostile Indians; therefore they pronounced them enemies, and at once doomed them to destruction. Accordingly on the following march, ninety volunteers, under the leadership of one David Williamson, started for Gnadenbrutten where they arrived on the morning of the 8th, and at once surrounded and entered the station; but found the most of the Indians in a field gathering corn. They told them they had come in peace and friendship, and with a proposition to move them from their unpleasant and dangerous position between the two hostile races to Fort Pitt for their better protection. The unsuspecting Indians, delighted at the suggestion of their removal to a safer place, gave up their few arms used for hunting alone, all the kind they had, and commenced preparing breakfast for their guests and also for themselves. The still unsuspecting Indians at once sent a runner to Salem to inform the brethren there of the new arrangement. After eating breakfast, both Indians and whites returned from the field to Gnadenbrutten; and, on reaching it, a number of the whites started on their horses for the Salem station, but met the Salem Indians already on their way, through the advice of the messenger, to join their brethren at Gnadenbrutten. In the meantime, the whites, who had remained at Gnadenbrutten, had secured the Indians whom they had already decoyed into their power, by binding them and confining them in two separate houses under a strong guard. As soon as the party from Salem came up (their arms having been previously secured without awakening any suspicion of hostile intention), they were also placed in fetters and confined in the two prison-houses with their brethren, the men in one, and the women and children in the other. The number thus seized and imprisoned, including men women and children, were ninety-six. What next?

A mock council was then convened to decide what disposition should be made of their victims. Upon this horrid tragedy the late Dr. Doddridge, in his published notes on Indian wars, says: Colonel Williamson put the question, Whether the Moravian Indians should be taken prisoners to Fort Pitt, or put to death? Requesting those who were in favor of saving their lives to step out and form a second rank. Only eighteen out of the whole number stepped forth as advocates of mercy. In these the feelings of humanity were not extinct. In a majority, which was large, no sympathy was manifested. They resolved to murder (for no other word can express the act) the whole of the Christian Indians in their custody. Among these were several who had contributed to aid the missionaries in the work of conversion and civilization, two of whom graduated from New Jersey after the death of their spiritual father, the Rev. David Brainard. One woman, who could speak good English, knelt before the commander and begged his protection. Her supplication was unavailing. They were ordered to prepare for death. But the warning had been anticipated. Their firm belief in their new creed was shown forth, in the sad hour of their tribulation, by religious exercises of preparation. The orisons of the devoted people were already ascending the throne of the most high! The sound of the Christian’s hymn and the Christian’s prayer found an echo in the surrounding woods, but no responsive feeling in the bosom of their executioners. With gun and spear, tomahawk and scalping knife the work of death progressed in these slaughter-houses until not a sigh or moan was heard to proclaim the existence of human life within. All, save two Indian boys escaped, as if by a miracle, to be witnesses in after times of the savage cruelty of the white man toward their unfortunate race.

“Of the number thus butchered by those backwoods men of Ohio between fifty and sixty were women and children some of them little babes. No resistance was made; one only attempted to escape. The Whites finished the tragedy by setting fire to the town, including the slaughter houses with the bodies in them, all of which were consumed. A detachment was also sent to the upper town, Shoenbrunn, but the people having received information of what was transpiring below, had deserted it.”

Reader, what think you now of the justice in still calling the Indian an irreclaimable savage, when our motto in dealing with the North American Indians from the alpha to the omega has been “Massacre and burn” until barbarity could go no further?

I agree that in every instance pointed out, that I have examined, the Indians imbibed their treachery from motives of self-preservation against their skilled teachers in the art of treachery and hypocrisy to many of whom such arts are intuitive. The Indian is a diplomatist as much so as the white man and his habits are formed from those of the Whites with whom he had to deal and from whom he had to defend himself. I have never known, in my personal experience of seventy-five years, a single instance where kindness failed to go straight home to the Indian s heart, or was not fully reciprocated.

George Rogers Clark
George Rogers Clark

In 1780 Colonel George Clark erected Fort Jefferson on the Mississippi River, in the territories of the Chickasaws, a few miles below the mouth of the Ohio, and on his return from Fort Jefferson he organized a company of one thousand men, in July, made a secret and rapid raid into the Miami country, plundered and burned the Pequa villages on Mud River and also the Chillicothe villages on the Little Miami, murdering all the unfortunate Indians that fell into their hands with fiendish delight and returned in triumph with out loss.

In the year following, 1781, the Chickasaws, justly indignant at the erection of Fort Jefferson upon their soil, be siege it under the command of the great Colbert. As usual everywhere for every act of injustice heaped upon the Indians, the Whites have been sustained; therefore, General Clark hastened from Kaskaskia with reinforcements, upon the arrival of which the Chickasaws drew off a little distance. Soon after, however, Clark dismantled the fort returned to his own, and the Chickasaws quietly returned to their homes.

In the year 1799, when the remnant of the Moravians were recalled by the United States, in the plenitude of their mercy which required just twenty-seven years to mature, an old Indian, in company with a young white man by the name of Carr, visited the desolate and melancholy scene, and an excavation was pointed out by the old man, which had formerly been a cellar, and in which were still some mouldering bones of the victims, though 27 years had passed since their tragic death, while the tears trickled down the wrinkled face of that aged child of the Tuscarawas.

At the time of the diabolical massacre, but little more, than one-third of the Moravian Indians were at their villages on the Tuscarawas, the others having been induced by the hostile Indians to move and settle at Sandusky in their vicinity. Soon after the return of Williamsons men what may be called a second Moravian campaign was projected, the object being first to complete the destruction of the Christian Indians, at their new establishment on the Sandusky River, murder the Wyandot Indians on the same river, then plunder and burn their villages. Having had a taste of blood warm from the veins of Christian Indians, men, women and children, like the tiger man-eater of the Bengal jungles, it proved more palatable to their taste since there was no impediment to obstruct a full display of their manhood and heroic bravery in butchering and drinking the blood of the Christian Indians, who stood as helpless before them as a little girl of ten years in the spring of the Bengal man-eater, they now determined not to spare the lives of any Indians who might fall into their clutches, whether friend or foe, old or young, male or female, all from the decrepit in years to the babe in its swaddling clothes. Such was the modus operandi adopted by the professed civilized and Christian race to gather the Native Americans into the folds of the religion of the worlds Great Redeemer, and practiced from that day to this plainly shown in the butchery of the western Indians by the two modern Caligulas, Sherman and Sheridan and their subordinates, by Mr. Manypenny in his “Our Indian Wards.”

On the 20th of May 1792, four hundred and eighty human monsters, impiously called men, collected from the country of the upper Ohio at a point, then known as the “Old Mingo Towns,” to carry out their diabolical schemes, and there raised one of their number, William Crawford, to the position of their commander.

Notwithstanding the secrecy of their murderous schemes, the Indian scouts the best the world ever produced learned the place of their rendezvous in the Mingo bottom, where they ascertained their number and destination. Every encampment after their departure was visited by those Indian vigilantes, whose skill in obtaining facts from signs alone seemed superhuman. Every scrap of paper and chip that was found in the place of encampment with marks made upon them were picked up and carried at once to the Moravian Indians, who had fled from Shoenbrunn at the time of the slaughter of their brethren and settled at Sandusky; who, having been taught to read and write by “their spiritual guides the white missionaries read the writings upon the scraps of paper and chips: “No quarter to any Indian man, woman or child.”

The march of the whites was directly through the Moravian villages, the scenes of their former butchery. On the 6th of June they reached the Moravian villages, on a branch of the Sandusky River; but, instead of finding innocent and helpless Indians to murder and plunder, they found only vestiges of desolation. A few huts scattered here and there, alone remained to tell of their blighted hopes and bitter chagrin, in being thwarted in their grand designs of besieging, taking and destroying an imagined North American Nineveh, Babylon and Jerusalem, and thus have their names and heroic achievements engraved upon the rolls of fame with a Cyaxares, a Cyrus and a Titus. Alas! For human hopes! The scraps of paper and the chips injudiciously left at their encampments had warned their intended victims, who had fled; and with them set the sun, whose rays were to light up the pages of their imagined glory through all future generations with such brilliancy that one, though a fool, might run and read, nor err therein. Could American ambition aspire to anything greater! It seems not from the history of the past. For our foolish boasting over the sacking of a few Indian villages and butchering the sleeping inhabitants, the accomplishment of which always eliciting the soul animating and flattering ejaculation: “Too much praise cannot be awarded the officers and soldiers for their bravery and heroism displayed in the fearful conflict.” While our great generals enjoy in dreamy frenzy their fancied flight to their roost upon the pinnacle of earthly fame, there to revel in imagined glory, and feel themselves as Cyrus, encompassing the walls of Ancient Babylon and gazing with admiring and contemplative mind upon its lofty battlements, as they listen to the noisy shouts of the rabble below, and the call of the sensational newspapers, “Sheridan to the front! To arms! To arms! The Greek! The Greek! ” When rumor whispers on a cloudy day, “An Indian failed to answer at roll call on such a reservation.”

But what of Crawford and his band of murderers? Maddened at their disappointment in not obtaining a few gallons of Indian blood to cool their raging thirst, they resolved to precede one day longer on their hunt; and then if no Indian villages with their unsuspecting inhabitants were found, to retreat. But on the next day, about 2 o’clock, they found the object of their search, but not a helpless village of Christian Indians in thoughtless security, but a well organized body of fearless Indian warriors ready to face their ruffian invaders in open battle. At once the conflict was opened and continued with unabated vigor until dark, each party lying upon their arms during the night to prevent surprise. The next morning at a deliberation of officers, Williamson, the leader at the massacre of the Gnadenbrutton and Salem Indians, proposed to go with one hundred and fifty volunteers to upper Sandusky, which proposition was promptly rejected upon the grounds that their divided forces would be attacked in detail and destroyed. The day, therefore, was spent in burying the dead and making preparations for a night retreat; since, to fight wide-awake Indians was not in their vocabulary of warfare in seeking military fame. But the Indians, suspecting their intentions, and desiring to give them a full and quenching draught of Indian blood, renewed the attack about sunset with renewed vigor and fearless resolutions from all sides except that toward Sandusky. The white marauders unable to withstand the urgent desires “to live, that they might fight on some other day,” which then seemed to overbalance the desires to fight at, night live and wide awake Indians, began a retreat with their thirst for Indian blood somewhat abated, since the price of it had gone up to such an unexpected and extravagant degree that prudence forbade further indulgence until they should return home and recuperate their now weakened desires. But many, with the heroism displayed at Gnadenbrutton, believing the wide awake Indians would follow the main body, broke off into small detached parties and hurried in different directions toward their then much desired: homes”. All these the wide awake Indians pursued in equal detachments, overtook and. sent them to their long homes, where they might quench their thirst with something stronger and more enduring than the blood of Christian Indians.

Soon after the retreat had gotten under full headway, Crawford, having missed his son and several other relatives, halted and vainly searched the line as it passed along for the objects of his solicitation, and waited too long in anxious expectation of learning something concerning them, for in attempting to overtake his retreating army, he with one Dr. Knight and a few others, after the third days ride was captured by the victorious Indians. They were all taken to an encampment in the vicinity, and next morning their captors, under the command of the Delaware chief, Pipe, started with them for a Wyandott village, but slew all except Crawford and Knight before reaching it. When at the village, Crawford recognized among; the Indians the renowned Shawnee chief, Wingenund, with whom he had long been acquainted and between whom a mutual friendship existed. Crawford at once made an appeal to Wingenund to intercede in his behalf. But to his solicitations Wingenund calmly replied: “I am not unmindful of our former friend ship; and cheerfully would I now assist you in your misfortune, were you in any other place but this, and were you still what I once thought you to be.” To which the despairing Crawford replied: “I have been engaged only in honorable warfare.” Then what must be dishonorable warfare? But to which reply, Wingenund, with a significant look, responded: “I might possibly have been able to save you had you not joined Williamson in murdering the Moravian Indians without discrimination of age or sex knowing they were innocent of all wrong.” “Had I been with him I would not have permitted the cruel act,” replied the wretched Crawford. “That may be all true,” replied the chief; but Williamson went a second time and killed more of the Christian Indians? “But I went out and did all I could to stop him,” said Crawford. “That may also be true, but you cannot make the Indians believe it; for, when you were marching here, you turned aside with your soldiers and went to the Moravian villages, but found them deserted. Our scouts were watching you and saw you do this. Had you been looking for warriors, you would not have gone there, for you knew the Christian Indians are foolish and will not fight. I shall take no pleasure in your death though you have forfeited your life. Had we also captured Williamson, we might spare your life; but as we have failed in that, you must take his place. I am unable to save you.”

Crawford still implored him to interfere in his behalf, but the chief assured him that it would be of no avail, and at once turned away and left the hapless and now hopeless captive to his fearful fate, which was witnessed by Knight, who had also been condemned to a similar fate, but fortunately made his escape shortly after the execution of Crawford. All the prisoners captured in this marauding campaign were slain, in retaliation for the butchery of the Delaware, then known as the Moravian Christians. Crawford’s son was executed at a Shawnee town.

The account given by Knight of the execution of Crawford need not be repeated here. All should denounce, with a united voice, executions by fire, no matter how great the crime of the culprit. But let God, and not guilty man, be the judge between the white executioners of the ninety-six Christian Indians, guilty of no offense; therefore, the dupes of the vilest treachery, and the Indian executioners of their white prisoners of war, invaders of their country bearing the banner with the inscription: “No quarter to any Indian of any age or sex,” and carrying death, destruction and devastation every where in their route. Though a howl of indignation rent the air at the announcement of Crawford’s fearful death by Knight, but not a whimper at the brutal execution of the ninety-six Moravian Indians. Such is the justice the White Race has awarded the Red from the alpha to the omega of their dealings with that unfortunate people.

But two years previous to the invasion of Crawford and his four hundred and eighty merciless vandals, thirteen hundred men if men they may be called made a raid from Cincinnati, under the command of General Harmer, against the Indian villages on the Maumee River. When within a short distance, Colonel Hardin was sent forward with six hundred and fifty men to reconnoiter, who found the villages deserted. On the next day when the main body came up the work of pillage, destruction and desolation was commenced. The villages, some containing upwards of three hundred houses, were plundered and burned, their fruit trees cut down, and over twenty thousand bushels of corn destroyed. Such was the work of those who really believed themselves to be civilized, and the accepted followers of Jesus Christ. Should the devil be discouraged!

But while this vandalism was going on, Hardin was again sent forward, but with only one hundred and fifty men, to follow up a little trail, hoping it would lead to other villages which might also add to their beastly propensities a little more joy. But they had not proceeded many miles, cogitating the emotions of heroic pride that must swell their breasts to a danger of bursting, when, returned to their homes, they should be encircled with wife and children, each asking innumerable questions Papa, did you kill an Indian? Papa, why didn’t you bring me a little pap-poo-sy to play with? Papa, wasn’t you fraid?” This was a poser. But the wife came to the rescue “No, my son. Papa wasn’t fraid”; and the momentary cloud passed off, and papa s features assumed again their wonted appearance of heroism. But the pleasant reverie of future narrations o bloody strife mid scenes of carnage in burning, deserted villages, cutting down fruit trees and destroying corn, was cut short by the reality in the shrill and defiant war-whoop seconded by the united report of a volley of rifles in the hands of a band of outraged, insulted and maddened Indian warriors under the noted chief, Little Turtle, and twenty-six of the white marauders kissed their mother earth, while the remaining one hundred and fifty-four bade Little Turtle and his band of patriots a hasty adieu without even returning their morning salutation by the discharging of a single gun.

As soon as the fugitives returned to the main body and gave the information that live and wide-awake Indians were at hand, it was suddenly ascertained that pressing business at home required their attention, and a retreat at once began. On the next morning, however, Colonel Hardin and Major Willis returned, with a force of 340 militia and 60 regulars, to the burnt villages, hoping to find that the old men, women and children had returned to view the scene which portrayed the destruction of their homes and their earthly all, and thus would be afforded an opportunity of adding to the glory of their precious barbarism, the butchery of their contemplated victims without danger to themselves, and thus add another wreath of unfading glory to the chapter of their already attained heroism, and also one to be placed upon the angelic brow of their Government, as an imperishable trophy of its success in disseminating her so-called glorious principles “Liberty and equal rights to all mankind” and humane efforts to civilize and Christianize the native Americans. As they approached the melancholy scene of smoking ruins, a few forlorn hopes were seen running from the opposite end of that place of desolation, and who were at once pursued, as the Indians desired, by the 340 militia. When the chase had drawn them to a proper distance, the live Little Turtle and his wide awake band of warriors charged the regulars and, ere the militia could return, sent the last one of them, with Major Willis, to where Indian lands excite covetousness no more. The heroic militia returned near the close of the fight, fired a few random shots as they hurriedly passed, and then, with renewed activity and increased animation, sought the main body, leaving” the dead and wounded regulars in the hands of the victorious chief and his warriors.

The ferocious vandalism displayed by the white intruders and devastators of their homes and country, aroused the Indians to that degree of manly and vigorous efforts of self-protection that they would have broken up the settlements of the white intruders had it not been for the total destruction of their provisions and homes just at the opening of winter.

In May, 1791 a force of 750 men from Kentucky, under Charles Scott, crossed the Ohio river and plundered and burned several Indian villages on the Wabash river, murdering thirty of the inhabitants, capturing fifty-eight, and returned home in three weeks without loss, all of which was regarded only as a little freak of fun a little pleasant recreation for the jolly boys.

The following August, a company of 550 similar “jolly boys,” under one James Wilkerson, left Fort Washington to complete the work of destruction upon the Indians on the Wabash river, which Scott and his gang had so successfully begun. Wilkerson also was successful in burning many towns, cutting down all their fields of corn, killing several, and capturing thirty-four.

But while these plunderers were committing their depredations upon the Wabash and its tributaries, the war department of the United States was engaged in organizing an army of three thousand men, by directions of congress, to invade the territories of the northwestern Indians, to be placed under the command of Governor St. Clair. This force encamped on the night of the 3rd of November 1791, on a tributary of the Wabash River. On the following morning, a little before sunrise, the bold and patriotic Indians made a vigorous attack upon the advanced guard, who were encamped about a quarter of a mile in front of the main body, which was encamped in two lines, with a space of a hundred yards or more between. The guard at once gave way, and in a wild frenzy of fright rushed headlong over the campfires and, camps of the first line, closely pursued by the outraged Indians, who, however, were momentarily checked by the fire of the first line. At once they made a terrific charge upon that line, and almost simultaneously upon the second line also, and the battle became general at once. In a short time the heroic Indians had penetrated into the camps, and though charge after charge was made upon them, yet each was met with the bravest resistance.

Finally a desperate charge was made by the whites to regain the road from which they had been cut off. This was successful, and then began the retreat, which soon terminated in a reckless flight, which began about 9 in the morning and continued to Fort Jefferson, twenty-nine miles from the field of battle, reaching the Fort about sunset.

The Indian warriors heroes every one of them were commanded by those consummate chiefs and warriors, Red Jacket, Little Turtle and Bukongahelas, and numbered about two; thousand. The government lost 900 killed and wounded, among whom were forty-nine commissioned officers. Red JacketLittle Turtle and Bukongahelas had only about 60 killed; wounded unknown.

“Thus the Indians were depredated upon by the various campaigns of marauding parties from every where,” killing, destroying and laying waste their homes and country, which aroused their patriotism to that pitch of enthusiasm that caused them to fight with a desperation unsurpassed in the annals of man.



MLA Source Citation:

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 7 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/moravian-massacre-at-gnadenbrutten.htm - Last updated on Mar 12th, 2014

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