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.