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This story first appeared in the Pioneer Times Multi Media Magazine in February of 2005

The Story of The Moravian Massacre

“A Day of Shame”
96 Christians bludgeoned to death in church while praying.

By Jim Cummings

OHIO – 96 American missionaries were accused of giving information to the enemy and the enemy accused them of giving information to their enemy. Confused? Well it gets worse.

Back in 1782 Christian Indians (mostly Delaware) converted by the Moravian Missionaries were a peace-loving group. There were 350 to 400 of these Moravians as they became known, living in the Ohio country along the Tuscarawas River. There were three villages – Schoenbrunn, Gnadenhutten and Lichtenau.

Lictenau was later abandoned altogether and a new town called Salem was established by the missionary John Heckewelder. It was also located on the Tuscarawas River between Gnadenhutten and Newcomerstown near present day Port Washington, Ohio.


The mostly Delaware Indians, under the banner of the Moravian Sect were lead by David Zeisberger and his colleague John Heckewelder.

The Moravians were one of the oldest Protestant sects, dating back to the early fifteenth century. They were founded by English Scholar John Wycliff and John Huss, a cleric in Prague.

John Huss was excommunicated from the Church and eventually tried as a heretic for protesting the then common practice of selling indulgences. Indulgences, a type of spiritual favor was given by the church for fulfilling special sacred prayers and rites. By the mid fifteenth century the practice had become corrupted and indulgences were being sold, not for spiritual growth but for monetary values.


John Huss was burned at the stake as a heretic because he had dared to question church hierarchy. His followers protested that he was burned but never convicted. Huss’s beliefs were carried on by his followers and started a split in the church known as “Huss’s Wars.” Violence and savagery broke out. Huss’s followers adopted a policy of non-violence. They took an oath not to engage in any act of violence even in defense of their own life or the lives of their loved ones. This became the basis for the Moravian Church.

The Moravian Church expanded over the centuries and that they should see a need in North America became apparent soon after settlement started. The “savage Indians” with their heathen worship were the perfect candidates for their mission. The Indians had been killing and warring among their own people for centuries and now were warring against the settlements.

One of the earliest settlements was in Eastern Pennsylvania and was named Bethlehem. It lies today in the present Allentown/Bethlehem region. The leader of this group was Count Von Zinzindorf.

Among the other Moravian villages and towns to spring up in Pennsylvania were Nazareth, Friedenstahl, Grandenthaland, Gnadenhutten. The translations for the last three German names are: Valley of Peace, Valley of Grace and Tents of Grace, respectively.

At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the town of Gnadenhutten had been in existence for ten years. It was a growing community and successful in all it’s phases. They were gaining converts among the Indians, the farms were bountiful and profitable and the people were learning new skills.

On November 24, 1755 the village of Gnadenhutten was destroyed – not by white men, but by a group of Muncee Indians. Among the dead were eleven missionary workers and family members – both men women and children.

This set the wheels in motion for the final downfall of the Moravian Missionaries and their followers. Among the dead was a young woman named Senseman. Her ten year old son was spared and later became Reverend Gottlob Senseman. Gottlob was one of the missionaries along with Zeisberger and Heckewelder to lead their followers into the Ohio Valley.

Zeisberger and followers lead a group of Moravian Indians down the Allegheny to Pittsburgh and then down the Ohio River to the Big Beaver River. At the Falls of the Beaver (Now Beaver Falls, PA) they started a new village, also called Friedenstadt. (The Village of Peace). Zeisberger thought that, here he would be far enough away from both the red men and the land hungry white men.

The Moravians became forced to move from place to place searching for a peaceful existence. They chose the remotest areas and then began to clear the forests and plant crops. Theirs was a totally self-sufficient existence. They were actually fulfilling what the whites wanted of the Indians – a more agricultural, less warring, settled society. In their quest for a non-violent existence they formed peaceful communities and prospered.

White men watched the progress of the Moravian Indians and missionaries. They began to covet their lands. They appealed to magistrates to take the land. If that didn’t work they lied, cheated and schemed to get it. The Indians too, watched the Moravians. They resented these Indians for giving up Indian ways and Indian Spiritualism.



False rumors began to be circulated among the white settlers. They claimed that the Moravian Indians were stealing stock and making raids against the settlements. The ever present fear of their women and children being captured, or worse scalped, fueled the rumors. Most settlers ascribed to the theory “that the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

So once again the Moravians were forced to leave their cultivated lands and homes and move further into the unsettled wilderness. Their cleared lands and cabins became the property of the whites.

With the Spirit of God and love in their hearts, David Zeisberger and 28 – 30 followers left Pennsylvania for the Ohio Country in 1772. They crossed the Ohio River and moved into Indian country, heading up the Tuscarawas River. They settled about two miles southeast of present day New Philadelphia, Ohio in Tuscarawas County.

On the 3rd of May 1772 the Moravian Missionaries and Indians gave Ohio its first Christian town and settlement. It was named Schoenbrunn – or beautiful spring.

David Zeisberger must have thought that he had finally found a land where they could settle, raise their crops and praise their God as they saw fit. Here too, he would convert more Indians to Christian ways.

After five or six months at Schoenbrunn, Joshua, A Mohican Elder joined the Moravians, leading a large group of Mohicans from Pennsylvania. On October 9th 1772 Joshua and his followers started to build Gnadenhutten (Tents of Grace) just south of Schoenbrunn.

By 1775 David Zeisberger reported to church leaders that both settlements were doing well. There were over 400 converts living between the two villages.

In April 1776, a third Ohio village was founded. This one had been requested by the Indians themselves. They named it Newcomerstown after a Delaware head chief Netawatees known among the whites as Newcomer.

Chief Netawatees estimated that the entire Delaware Nation would be converted in 5 or 6 years. This turned the other tribes in Ohio stark raving mad. They were fighting with their lives to retain their own way of life and their own spiritualism. They were not happy with the Delaware Nation and Netawatees.

Back east, the 13 colonies had declared their independence from Britain, and the founding fathers had signed the Declaration of Independence. At this time David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder thought that events in Philadelphia and Boston would have no effect on them because of the distance. But they were wrong. The British and the colonists would bring their fighting to Ohio. Soon the Moravians were seeing more and more Indian traffic pass their villages.

Another teaching of the Moravians was that they would not turn anyone away. They freely gave out food and lodging and sometimes traded for goods that they could not otherwise obtain. Traded goods often included clothing, knives and pots and kettles.

The war kept coming closer and closer to the Moravians. Other Ohio tribes began to distrust them. They accused the Moravians of spying for the colonies and passing information on about the size of the tribes and the British troops that accompanied them.

One of Zeisberger major mistakes was locating his towns in the Tuscarawas Valley. It was on a major Shawnee Indian War and hunting trail to the Ohio River. From there the Shawnee could cross into Kentucky or into Virginia or on to Ft. Pitt. The white militia also crossed these same paths. The peace loving missionaries did not have a military mind or think as a soldier would. They didn’t realize that they were soon to be caught in a deadly vice that they could not get out of.


As war drew closer and closer to the Moravians things started to get worse. More and more raiding Indians passed by on their way to Kentucky, Pennsylvania and the Virginia settlements with devastating results. They traveled through this area on the way to burn, scalp, raid and pillage among the whites – and it didn’t matter whether it was men, women or children.

On their return many still stopped as they always had and depended on the hospitality of the Moravians. It was almost a dare to the Moravians to not show their Christian charity. And while in the Moravian towns the hostile Indians traded with the Moravians from goods they had stolen from the settlements. Even with fresh scalps on the belts of their visitors the Moravians continued to treat the other Indians as they always had.

They were in a no win situation. The Indians were continually trying to sway the Moravian Indians back to their former way of life. When they wouldn’t renounce the white man’s God, they too were threatened.

The white men too, became angry with the Moravians for sheltering the warring Indians. Cries were heard to send out the militia to bring the Moravians to justice. The Moravians after all had been giving shelter to the Shawnees, the Wyandotte and the other Delaware.

During the spring of 1780, Heckewelder closed the abandoned Lictenau. He moved these Indians to the west bank of the Tuscarawas, where he established the town of Salem. (Which is now Salem Township – less than two miles from Port Washington, Ohio.)

Missionary Gottlob Senseman was in charge of Schoenbrunn, while William Edwards was in charge of Gnadenhutten with John Heckewelder at Salem and David Zeisberger overseeing all three towns and traveling among them.

At the time of the Moravian Massacre all of these villages were located in Ohio’s Tuscarawas Valley. All through 1780 and 1781 the Moravian Indians could not say no to the warring Indians who traveled through their village. Even though these other Indians were either going to, or coming back from raids into Kentucky, Virginia or Pennsylvania. The Moravians gave them food and sheltered them in bad weather.

Moravian Indians did not take part in these bloody raids nor did they condone the actions taken against the white settlements. The Christian Indians were though, aware of where many of their trade items came from. And they continued to trade with the war parties that passed through their villages. They both needed the goods and were also afraid to say no.

The white settlers accused the Moravians of trading and giving aid to their red brethren. It was “guilt by association.” The outcry for revenge was getting louder and louder from the white settlers. In their demand for justice they saw the Moravian Indians just as guilty as the raiding Indians.

The call was answered on April 7, 1781 when 150 regular continental troops headed for Ft. Henry, Virginia. (Present day Wheeling, West Virginia.) Col. Daniel Brodhead was in command of the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment that met up with Lieutenant David Shepherd of the Ohio County Virginia Regiment with 134 militiamen. Included on the march were five friendly Indian Scouts. The men of this group were eager for Indian scalps and did not care whether they were Moravian Indians or not.

The two groups marched toward the Muskingum and Tuscarawas valley to the Moravian villages located there. Col. Brodhead sent runners ahead to the Missionary John Heckewelder in Salem, acquainting Heckewelder with the reasons for their expedition and requesting a resupply of his troops before they advanced on to Coshocton.

The Delaware too, had spies in the Moravian villages observing all that was happening in these villages. But again it was a case of the Moravian Indians being caught in the middle. They would not say no to Col. Brodhead.

When Col. Brodhead reached the village of Salem he and his officers had to struggle with the militia troops from Virginia and Pennsylvania to keep them from attacking the Christian Indians. Their only thought was for retribution for their families and loved ones. Some of the militia could identify items of personal property that had come from their homes or neighbors. Kettles, pots, knives, books and even Bibles that had belonged to frontier families had come to the villages thru trade.

Col. Brodhead knew he could not stay long in Salem. After getting the supplies they needed Brodhead hurried his troops off to a raid at Coshocton..

But on the way to Coshocton, Brodhead’s troops encountered heavy rain. It slowed their progress. And the slower they went, the greater the chances that their whereabouts would become known to the Indians with less chance of a surprise attack. When they finally arrived at the village most of the Indians had fled.

Once at Coshocton it was clear that the troops were out to punish the Indians that had for so long plagued Pennsylvania and Virginia settlers

Of those that remained sixteen were pointed out to Brodhead by a friendly Indian named, Pekillion as being part of the raiding parties.

A council of war was held by Brodhead’s men to decide their fate. The vote of the council was death.

The sixteen captive warriors were taken some distance from the town and dispatched with tomahawks, gun butts and spears. They were then scalped. The remaining captives were elders, women and children. They were committed to serve the militia and return with them to Ft. Pitt. Before Brodhead left Coshocton he ordered his troops to burn the town and destroy the crops. On the morning after taking Coshocton, an Indian Chief appeared on the opposite side of the river.

The Indian called out to the “Big Captain.” “What do you want?” replied Brodhead. “I want peace,” replied the Indian. Brodhead instructed him to send some of his chiefs. The Indian said “Maybe you kill us, like you did our brethren?”

But Brodhead gave him his word that there would be no killing. And a young chief was sent over to negotiate with Brodhead. But while they were in discussions a militiaman came up behind them. With a tomahawk he had concealed in his hunting shirt, he struck the Indian and sank his tomahawk deep into his skull, killing him instantly. Brodhead had promised his protection and now the Chief had been murdered in cold blood.

And then on the march back to Ft. Pitt and barely a mile from Coshocton the militia guarding the Indian prisoners commenced to murdering them. Some of the women and children were spared, but only if they were fit enough to serve the militia on the long march. When they returned to Ft. Pitt the prisoners were immediately exchanged for white captives being held by Indians.

This was the precursor of equally atrocious acts of barbarism on both sides. What one side did, the other retaliated in kind.

The murder of the sixteen Indians by Col. Brodhead’s men, the murder of the young chief on a mission of peace, and the massacre of the prisoners on the return from Coshocton were three incidents on the frontier that were keys to unlocking the gates of hell – the Pandora’s box.

Many innocent men, women and children on both sides would face horrible atrocities and suffering because of these incidents. Blood would be on the hands of both the white and the red men. If the Indian tribes in Ohio weren’t convinced that the Moravians were siding with the white settlers – they were now.

Zeisberger and Heckewelder always contended that they never took sides. But in the book Chronicles of Borderwarfare Historian Rueben Golde Thwaites saw it differently. Thwaites was Secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society and editor of the Wisconsin Historical Collection and took his information from the Lyman C. Draper Collection and other historical papers. Thwaites says Zeisberger and Heckewelder “kept Col. Brodhead continually informed by letters of the movements and councils of the Hostiles”. The position of the missionaries was one of exceeding delicacy, but the voluminous correspondence between them and Brodhead proves that the former were steadfast friends of the Americans and did service throughout the several years of disturbance on the frontier.


If this is true, and facts speak for themselves, the native Americans in Ohio, may have been right in assuming that the Moravian Missionaries were keeping the Pennsylvania military informed of their activities and whereabouts.

The big question is did the peace loving Christian Moravians Indians know of the actions of their Moravian leaders Heckewelder and Zeisberger. Or did the missionaries keep it from them.

If so, were they one of the major factors in the Moravian Massacre? For the Moravian Massacre was one of the largest massacres on American soil, up to that time.

Why did Zeisberger and Heckewelder do it? It really went against the principles of their own sect. For the Moravian Indians were truly a peace loving simple people.

In the summer of 1781 the warring tribes in Ohio started persecuting the Moravian Indians and treating them badly.

The Iroquois had been urged to take part in the removal of the Moravian Indians. But the Iroquois declined. The Iroquois sent word to the other Ohio Tribes, the Ojibwas, Ottawa, Wyandotte and this was their message, “We herewith make you a present of the Christian Indians of the Muskingum to make broth of.”

The Wyandotte accepted on the 10th of August 1781. Over 100 Wyandotte’s dressing in war paint entered the village of Salem. They demanded an interview with the leaders. Runners were sent out to both Shoenbrunn and Gnadenhutten.

When Zeisberger and Heckewelder appeared the Wyandotte leaders wanted them to leave and come with them to the upper Sandusky River valley where they could keep an eye on them. The Wyandotte said if they did not do what they wanted that they would be disposed of.

The missionaries gave orders to take what they could carry and leave the rest. So the Moravians took what they could and the long march was on, to the Upper Sandusky River valley. They walked part way and then were put in canoes for part of the distance.

Zeisberger, Heckewelder and Senseman found themselves prisoners. They were bound and taken to Detroit to face charges of treason. In Detroit they were found not guilty by the British Court and released. They were given food and other supplies to take back to the Upper Sandusky Valley to feed the starving Christian Indians.

But things got worse for the Moravians. Winter set in and they still did not have enough food or supplies to build shelters so they were facing both starvation and the possibility of freezing to death.

They banded together and held a meeting with the Missionaries. They wanted to take 150 men, women and older children to return to Salem, Shoenbrunn and Gnadenhutten to see if they could salvage some of the corn from the fields they had left and anything else they could salvage. They wasted no time when permission was granted for them to leave.

But back in Pennsylvania the situation had again started to heat up to a boil. The Ohio Indians were raiding settlements all along the borders. A then Captain, named David Williamson who had fought in Lord Dunmore’s War, the Battle of Point Pleasant, and in the east during the early days of the Revolutionary War was currently leading the action in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Continual raiding on the frontier had not deterred settlement. The more white settlers came in, the more were killed in Indian raids.

Captain Williamson led two companies of Pennsylvania militia into the eastern part of Ohio. Williamson captured several of the Moravian Indians and with great restraint took these Christian Indians to Fort Pitt. Many of his militiamen wanted to kill them on the spot. Much to his surprise authorities at Fort Pitt immediately ordered their release. Williamson could not believe what he heard. He was given no explanation for these actions

On the same night as these Christian Indians left Fort Pitt there were raids, with settlers murdered and scalped and women and children taken prisoner. Of course the released Moravian Indians were accused of these crimes.

Captain David Williamson’s hatred of the American Indian continued to fester, as more and more attacks took place against the white settlers. It came to a breaking point in February 1782. There were some Indian raids in the area around Fort Pitt with settlers murdered and women and children again captured.

Captain Williamson and a detachment of Pennsylvania militia were right on their heels of the marauding Indians. As they came to a bend in the trail they came upon a most gruesome sight. One of the militiamen, whose family had been captured, found the bodies of his wife and baby. He fell to his knees weeping uncontrollably.

Even Captain Williamson had never seen such a gruesome sight. The woman had been stripped of her clothes, murdered, scalped and her body stuck on a stake. The baby girl suffered the same fate as her mother except that the baby’s head had been turned around on her body to face the militia as they approached.

The Indians new this sight would slow down the quick moving Williamson and his men. It worked. The men were sick with anger and filled with a black rage. They promised the husband they would seek revenge. They stopped to bury the bodies before pursuing the Indian’s trail. The trail was leading to the Moravian village of Gnadenhutten. When Williamson and his men entered Gnadenhutten the grieving husband saw a woman coming around a building wearing the blood stained dress that is wife had been wearing when she was captured.

He rushed over to the Indian woman and struck her down. The others restrained him before he could kill her. And on closer look they again continued to find goods that had been taken from the settlement. Clothing, lanterns, pots and jewelry were found. The raiding Indians had stopped in Gnadenhutten. But even when the Moravian Indians present told them they had nothing left to trade the warriors, knowing how close Williamson was behind them they demanded to trade. In the end many of the goods were not traded for but simply left behind as a way to implicate the Moravians and slow down the militia.

What happened next was one of the blackest days in Ohio’s history. The cruelties that lead up to and on the final day of the Moravian Massacre could barely be considered to be done by humans just as leaving the dead woman and child on the trail bespoke of a cruelty beyond human understanding.

For the final chapter of the Gnadenhutten Massacre I am going to quote verbatim from an account by the Ohio Historical Society.

“On March 8 and 9, 1782, a group of Pennsylvania militiamen under the command of Captain David Williamson attacked the Moravian Church Mission founded by David Zeisberger at Gnadenhutten. The Americans struck the natives in retaliation for the deaths and kidnapping of several Pennsylvanians. Although the militiamen attacked the Christian Indians, these natives were not involved in the previous incident. The Christian Delaware had abandoned Gnadenhutten the year before, but had returned to harvest crops that were still in the fields.


On March 8, the militiamen arrived at Gnadenhutten. Accusing the natives of the attack on the Pennsylvania settlement, the soldiers rounded them up and placed the men and women in separate buildings in the abandoned village overnight. The militiamen then voted to execute the captives the following morning. Informed of their impending deaths, the Christian Delaware spent the night praying and singing hymns. The next morning the soldiers took the natives in pairs to a cabin, forced the natives to kneel, and proceeded to crush their skulls with a heavy mallet. In all Williamson’s men murdered 28 men, 29 women and 39 children. There were only two survivors, who alerted the missionaries and Christian Indians of what had occurred.”

Today at Gnadenhutten there is a memorial shrine to the Christian Moravian Indians. For other information about the Gnadenhutten massacre see the sources below.

The photos included in this article were taken at the Gnadenhutten Shrine in Ohio.

For other information about Ohio Historical Sights go to


Wither Chronicles of Border Warfare 1960 edition and 2001 edition. Edited by Rueben Golde Thwaites/Lyman C. Draper

Valley of the Ohio by Mann Butler 1853
Published by the Kentucky Historical Society 1871

The Winning of the West by Teddy Roosevelt Edited by Harvey Wish 1976 Peter Smith Publishing Co. Inc.

The Dark and Bloody River Allan W. Eckert Bantam Books 1995 in its 12th printing

The Border Wars of the Upper Ohio Valley
by William Hintzen Published by Precision Shooting, Inc. Manchester, CT

Floor Cloth Class by Virginia Tucker

By Kathy Cummings

One of the side benefits of studying history is the knowledge of other subjects that you learn along the way. Like floor cloths. Twelve years ago I never heard of a floor cloth. But re-enactor Virginia Tucker introduced me to the subject. And like all subjects that one is curious about, I bought a book, researched them on the internet and began to take notice of the beautiful designs that Virginia and others were producing.

On Thanksgiving weekend I stopped in at Historic Locust Grove, where Virginia was giving a class. Although floor cloths made their debut in 18th century England, they later spread to the colonies and are still used in homes today. The floor cloths made by the Virginia Floor Cloth Company mix traditional methods with some modern materials.

Class size is limited, and on this holiday weekend there were only a handful of students. The price of the class includes all of the materials so that students leave with a floor cloth of their own creation. One woman in this class had received the class as a present from her grandmother. Her grandmother has long been a collector of blue and white china and porcelain patterns. So the pattern on the floor cloth she created, reflected that interest.

Virginia Tucker herself has created dozens of patterns in all sizes. She sells her wares at 18th century trade events and also takes custom orders. She recently created a very large piece for Historic Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky. The site uses the floor cloth when children come to the site. The floor cloth depicts the grounds at Locust Grove, with drawings of each of the buildings. The border was made to look like flagstones. The children can each stand on one of the stones and learn about what their tour will consist of. A legend on the cloth shows the main house, the kitchen, the gardens, and other out buildings. What a great way to get the youngsters to stand in one place.


Stretching the canvas to a frame and preparing it - is the first step.


Stenciled after a china pattern.


So if you are looking for a way to expand your horizons in living history why not make something with your own hands. Virginia’s next class is January 14 & 15th at Fort Harrod State Park. For more information go to

Elaine Walker Named Commissioner
 of Kentucky State Parks

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Elaine Walker will be the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Parks, Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Marcheta Sparrow announced on December 6, 2011.

Walker, who has served as the secretary of state since she was appointed in January of this year by Gov. Steve Beshear, will begin her duties with state parks on Jan. 2, 2012. She previously served as mayor of Bowling Green for six years.


She replaces Gerry van der Meer, who resigned after nearly four years as commissioner.

“Elaine Walker’s experience as a manager will be a good fit for Kentucky State Parks,” Sparrow said. “Elaine has demonstrated her skills as a mayor and as secretary of state and we look forward to having her oversee our park system.”

“I want to thank Gerry van der Meer for his service to the Kentucky State Parks,” Sparrow added. “We appreciate his hard work and dedication.”

The Kentucky State Parks are made up of 51 parks throughout the state and include resorts, recreation parks and historic sites. The department has approximately 900 full time employees. The parks cover some 45,900 acres of land and include attractions such as Cumberland Falls, Natural Bridge, My Old Kentucky Home and three resorts in the Land Between the Lakes region. The park system has 18 golf courses, more than 250 miles of hiking trails, restaurants, campgrounds, marinas and a variety of recreational programs.

“Our Kentucky State Parks are beautiful jewels that help support our communities and attract tourists,” Walker said. “I look forward to working with the staff as we improve and protect our state parks.”

During her six years as mayor of Bowling Green, the city created a number of new park facilities that include Circus Square Park, an anchor in downtown Bowling Green; the highly successful Skate Park; Kummer/Little Recreation Center and a small neighborhood park at Lee Square. The city also operates the Crosswinds, Riverview and Paul Walker golf courses. “That involvement taught me that having a healthy park system is paramount to encouraging a healthy, active community,” Walker said.

Walker has also served in various leadership positions while she was mayor of Bowling Green and has been active in historic preservation. While mayor, Walker spearheaded programs to increase the rate of home ownership, streamlined the building permit process, worked to support the creation of small businesses and was a strong advocate for tourism and economic development.

Walker and her husband C. Dorian Walker have two grown children.



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