Chapter XXIII
The Slaughter at Gnadenhuetten


In the fall of 1781, Pennsylvania frontiersmen decided that their safety would no longer permit the residence of the Moravians on the Tuscarawas. Even if it were not true that the mission Indians sometimes went on the war trail, it was certain that they gave food and shelter to war parties. Colonel David Williamson, one of the battalion 'commanders of Washington county, gathered a company of from 75 to ioo men and rode to the Tuscarawas in November, with the purpose of compelling the Moravians either to migrate into the hostile country or to move in a body to Ft Pitt. This company discovered what Captain Elliott and his Indians had accomplished two months earlier. They found the mission villages deserted save by a few Indian men and women who had wandered back from the Sandusky to gather corn. Williamson conducted these Indians safely to Ft. Pitt and placed them under the care of General Irvine. Food being scarce at the fort, Irvine did not keep the Indians long, but permitted them to go to their brethren on the Sandusky.(1)

Already a small settlement of Delawares had been established near Ft. Pitt. After Colonel Brodhead destroyed Coshocton in the spring of 1781, Killbuck, the chief sachem of the Delaware tribe, with his immediate kindred and the families of Big Cat, Nanowland and a few other chiefs who remained friendly to the American cause, took

possession of a small island at the mouth of the Allegheny river, opposite Ft. Pitt, built bark wigwams, grew corn and vegetables and otherwise supported themselves by the chase and the sale of furs. Members of this settlement on what was called Killbuck island-afterward Smoky island-accompanied military scouting parties and were of service in the defense of the frontier. Killbuck was a colonel in the United States army and some of his men received commissions as captains.

The spring of 1782 was unusually early. Mild weather began about the first of February and with it came the marauding Indians. The first blow in Southwestern Pennsylvania fell on February 8, when John Fink, a young man, was killed near Buchanan's fort, on the upper Monongahela.(2) On Sunday, February io, a large body of Indians visited the dwelling of Robert Wallace, on Raccoon creek. The head of the family was away from home. The savages killed his cattle and hogs, plundered the cabin of household utensils, bedding, clothing and trinkets, and carried away Mrs. Wallace and her three children, a boy of to years, another boy of 3 years, named Robert, and an infant.(3)

In the evening Robert Wallace returned to his desolated home. He ran and told his neighbors and in the morning an effort was made to follow the trail; but snow had fallen and obliterated the tracks. Enough was seen around the cabin to show that the Indians numbered about forty.

These raids, much earlier in the year than usual, greatly alarmed and perplexed the settlers. They could scarcely believe that the savages had come all the way from the Sandusky so quickly, and suspicion arose that hostile Indians had taken possession of the deserted cabins on the Tuscarawas.

About the 15th of February six Indians captured John Carpenter with two of his horses on the Dutch fork of Buffalo creek. They crossed the Ohio at Mingo Bottom and made off with him toward the Tuscarawas villages. Four of the captors were Wyandots but the other two spoke Dutch and told Carpenter they were Moravians. On' the morning of the second day after crossing the river, Carpenter was sent into the woods to get the horses. He found them at some distance from the campfire, mounted one of them, on a sudden impulse, and rode hard for liberty. He struck the Ohio near Ft. McIntosh, went thence up to Ft. Pitt, where he told his story to Colonel Gibson, and then returned to his home in the Buffalo creek settlement.(4)

Colonel Marshel, the county lieutenant, had already called out some of the militia for the frontier defense, but when Carpenter told what he had learned, that a large body of Indians was on the Tuscarawas and that Moravians were among the border raiders, it was determined to muster more men and destroy the Tuscarawas valley villages as harboring places for the "red vipers." The young men of Washington county turned out to the number of 16o, all well mounted, and Colonel Williamson was placed in command. With much difficulty the force crossed the swollen Ohio to the Mingo Bottom on the morning of Monday, March 4, and pursued the well-beaten trail leading toward Gnadenhuetten. In this expedition Robert Wallace was an eager volunteer.

Not far from the river the horsemen came upon a spectacle that aroused their fiercest indignation. Beside the trail, impaled upon the sharpened trunk of a sapling, was the naked and torn corpse of Mrs. Wallace. Nearby lay the mutilated, body of her hapless infant. Imagine, if possible, the grief and rage of the husband and father and the stern oaths with which his rough companions pledged themselves to execute his cries for vengeance. On the border of the forest the bodies of the poor victims were buried and the grim-visaged frontiersmen remounted their horses and hurried their course onward along the trail of the murderers. In the evening of March 6 the cavalcade was within striking distance of Gnadenhuetten and scouts brought back the news to the night camp that the once deserted town was again full of Indians. There could not be much doubt in the minds of Williamson's men that the red fiends whom they were seeking were in the village before them and that vengeance should be executed in the morning.

As a matter of fact, nearly all the temporary occupants of Gnadenhuetten and the two other Moravian villages were mission Indians from the Sandusky, who had come back to their old homes to gather their corn. Some of them had left the Sandusky as early as the middle of January, and others had followed in small parties, until about 150 men, women and children were in the Tuscarawas valley by the beginning of March.(5) Not all the men who made this journey were mission Delawares. At least ten of them were Wyandot warriors,(6) who halted but a short time at Gnadenhuetten and then proceeded on their way to pillage the settlements east of the Ohio. All the circumstances of the time, the many tracks seen in the Raccoon valley, the narrative of John Carpenter and the subsequent discoveries in the Tuscarawas villages, show that these Wyandot warriors were accompanied in their raiding by a considerable number of the Moravian Indian men, whose savage instincts were not entirely destroyed by the teachings of the missionaries. The women and the children had been left to do the corn gathering, with some of the men too old to go upon the war trail .

Colonel Williamson's cautious plan for the capture of Gnadenhuetten indicates that he believed the town to be occupied by hostile warriors. He divided his force into three parties, sending one company to strike the river below the town, a second to cross the stream above and cut off retreat in that direction, while the third company, forming the center, should advance upon the place directly. The attack was made in the morning of March 7 and not a shot was fired by the center or the left. The presence of women and children warned the frontiersmen, when they came within view of the village, that it was not occupied simply by a war party, and Colonel Williamson quickly learned that the Indians were Moravians. No resistance was made, there was no show of hostile action and white men and red were soon mingling freely. A few of the Indian men spoke English. With these Colonel Williamson held council and told them that they must go to Ft. Pitt instead of returning to Sandusky. The Indians appeared to be willing to accept this new destination, and, at the colonel's suggestion, they sent messengers down the river to Salem, to tell the people there to come to Gnadenhuetten.

The men composing the right wing of Williamson's command had a more stirring experience. They found the Tuscarawas in flood and with so swift a current that they could not trust their horses to it. A young man of the name of Sloughter swam the stream to get what he took to be a canoe, but which turned out to be a "sugar trough," a half log hollowed out as a receptacle for maple water. He pushed it back to the eastern shore, and with the help of this trough nearly a score of the borderers crossed the river. Each man stripped, placed his clothing and rifle in the trough and pushed it before him as he swam. Advancing afoot down the western shore, toward corn fields where Indians had been seen at work, a solitary Indian was encountered and was instantly fired at. He was wounded in the arm, and as the white men rushed upon him he called out that he was a friend and the son of Shebosh (a Moravian preacher). Charles Bilderback slew the half-breed with a tomahawk and tore off the scalp. This act was seen by another Indian called Jacob, who sought to slip away unseen to a canoe he had hidden by the river bank. He was espied by some of the raiders and shot dead on the shore. His body was pushed into the river and floated away with the flood.(7)

The company advanced upon the Indians in the corn field, discovered in some way that they were Moravians, made friends with them and conducted them to Gnadenhuetten. Soon afterward the party from Salem arrived, so that the whole number of Indians assembled was not less than 96. They were confined in the log church, after the Indian men had all been disarmed, even to their pocketknives.

While the Indians were being assembled and conducted to the church, certain discoveries were made which confirmed the first suspicions of the borderers and again excited their anger and passion for revenge. One of the Indian women was found to be wearing the dress of Mrs. Wallace. The garment was identified by the bereaved husband. A search of the cabins resulted in the finding of household utensils apparently stolen from the settlements. Some of them were recognized by Robert Wallace as his own property.(8) The volunteers immediately began to clamcr for the death of the prisoners. Williamson withstood their demand and consulted his captains. Some of them favored the execution of the whole band. It appears that a long council was held and that many of the Indian men were brought before it, one at a time, and closely examined. Not one of them acknowledged his own guilt but confessions were made that some of the prisoners had been upon the war path. In a few cases the trimming of the hair and paint upon the face indicated that the men were warriors.(9) These revelations produced such an effect upon the frontiersmen that the colonel was no longer able to resist the outcry for vengeance. He put the question to vote whether the prisoners should be taken to Ft. Pitt or put to death on the spot, and it is recorded that only 18 of the whole body of volunteers stood up for mercy. It was decided to slay all the Indians in the morning.

Bishop Loskiel in his History of the Mission of the United Brethren,(10) says that the prisoners were informed in the evening of their condemnation and that they spent the night in praying, singing hymns and exhorting one another to die with the fortitude of Christians. His precise narrative of the things said and done by the captives in the little church during that night of agony must be largely the product of imagination.

In the morning of Friday, March 8, the decree of condemnation was executed. The Indian men were led, two by two, to the cooper shop and there beaten to death with mallets and hatchets. Some of them died praying; others strode to their doom chanting the savage war song. Two broke away and ran for the river, but were shot dead. The women and children were led into another building and slain like the men. Not more than 40 of the raiders took part in these murders., There were slaughtered, on that day, two score of men, a score of women and 34 children. It is probable that even the frontiersmen who stood aside and looked on did not consider this deed a crime. It was, in their view, justifiable retaliation for the almost numberless acts of outrage and murder perpetrated in the settlements by savage marauders through a series of bloody years. It was considered no worse to slay an Indian than to shoot a wolf, and the children of the red men were but wolf cubs, whose appetites and fangs were not yet developed.

From this massacre two Indian boys escaped. One hid himself in the cellar under the house where the women and children were butchered and crept forth after nightfall. The other was scalped among the men, but revived and crawled out to the woods under cover of darkness. They found each other in the forest and carried the horrid tale to the villages on the Sandusky.

During the day the militiamen gathered the plunder from the Indian cabins and found a goodly quantity of it, including pelts, blankets and a great store of corn in bags. A large party ascended the river to take and kill the Moravians in the village of Schoenbrun, but found not a soul there. Some Indians traveling from Schoenbrun toward Gnadenhuetten had come upon the scalped body of young

Shebosh, and, spying about Gnadenhuetten, had learned what was doing there. They had returned and warned their companions in Schoenbrun, and all who were there had escaped to the northward.

The cabins at Schoenbrun were burned, and during the ensuing night every building in Gnadenhuetten was consumed by fire, including the two slaughter houses with their heaped-up corpses. Salem was also destroyed and in the morning the frontiersmen departed on their march to the Ohio, with their booty loaded upon 80 horses taken from their Indian victims. At Mingo Bottom the spoil was divided among the raiders, who then scattered to their several settlements, big with stories of their famous victory.(11)

After they had been at home nearly two weeks, the militiamen who belonged in the Chartiers settlement assembled again and marched toward Pittsburg, to kill the Delawares who were living on Killbuck island. The attack was made on Sunday morning, March 24. On the island was an officer with a small guard of regular soldiers. These were surprised by the Chartiers men and made prisoners, and the Indians were then assailed. Several were killed, including Nanowland, the friend of Brady, and one other who held a captain's commission. Chief Killbuck and most of his band escaped in canoes to Ft. Pitt, where Colonel Gibson was in temporary command. Two of the warriors fled into the woods on the northern side of the river and made their way to Sandusky. One of these was the chief Big Cat, who was afterward a bitter and effective foe of the Americans. Before the Chartiers men returned home they sent word into Ft. Pitt that they would kill and scalp Colonel Gibson at the first opportunity, simply because he had been the protector of friendly Indians.(12)

General Irvine, who had been at Philadelphia and Carlisle, returned to Ft. Pitt on the day following the attack on the island and immediately took measures, by confer

ences with the militia officers of the neighboring counties, to put a stop to the criminal and reckless raids. A few weeks afterward he received an order from the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania to investigate and report on the affair at Gnadenhuetten. He made diligent inquiry of the chief men of the frontier, including Colonel Williamson and some of his captains, but was unable to uncover all the details and responsibilities of the transaction. He soon learned that the sentiment of the border sustained the acts of Williamson's men and that any formal inquiry or attempt at punishment would be violently resisted. He was persuaded at length to report to Philadelphia that the precise facts could not be ascertained and that it would be wise to let the affair drop. That was the end of the matter.(13)

1 Orumrine's History of Washington County, p. 102.

2 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. ix., p. 406; Crumrine, p. 103; Withers's Chronicles of Border Warfare, pp. 232, 233.

3 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 511; The Glrtys, p. 154; Crumrine, pp. 103, 104; Waehington-Irvine Correspondence, p. 101.

4 The Girtys, p. 155; Crumrine, p. 103; Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 101, 102.

5 The Girtys, p. 154.

6 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ix., p. 540.

7 Heckewelder's Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, pp. 820, 321; Crumrine, p. 105; Historical Collections of Ohio, vol. n., p. 684.

8 Orumrine, p. 106.

9 The Girtys. p. 157.

10 Loskiel's History, vol. iii., pp. 177 to 182.

11 Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 101, 102; Pennsylvania Archives, vol. la., pp. 523 to 525.

12 Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 100 to 103, 108; Ft. Pitt, p. 239.

13 Pennsylvania Archives, vol. Ix., pp. 525, 540, 541, 562; Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 236-242, 245, 246. See Three Villages (Gnadenhuetten), by W. D. Howells, Boston, 1884; this publication to entertaining literature but not history.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 153-161: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

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