Monday, October 6, 2014

Massacre at Gnadenhutten

Alas! alas! for treachery! the boasting white man came
With weapons of destruction - the sword of lurid flame;
And while the poor defenseless ones together bowed in prayer.
Unpitying they smote them all while kneeling meekly there.
The cry of slaughtered innocence went loudly up to heaven;
And can ye hope, ye murdering bands, ever to be forgiven?
We know not - yet we ween for you the latest lingering prayer
That trembled on your victims lips was, 'God, forgive and spare!'

Taken from a collected history of the Gnadenhutten Massacre, compiled by the Gnadenhutten Monument and Cemetery Association, founded on October 7th, 1843


Obelisk memorial erected on the 100th anniversary of the massacre 

The Gnadenhutten Massacre was one of the darkest days in Ohio's history. On March 8th, 1782, nearly 100 Delaware natives, who were Christian converts, were massacred by Pennsylvania militiamen. These men, women, and children had committed no crime; their only fault was to belong to the same tribe as other natives who had committed raids and murders against white settlers in Pennsylvania. 

The natives who were massacred had returned to their former village at Gnadenhutten (Meaning "Huts of Grace" in German) for food supplies. The Continental Army had forced the natives living at Gnadenhutten to relocate to the banks of the Sandusky River, for fear that they may conspire with the British. After the natives began to starve at their new settlement, they begged the Continental Army to allow them to return to Gnadenhutten to retrieve the corn crops they had been forced to leave in the fields months earlier when they were relocated. Natives were permitted to return to former settlements in Gnadenhutten, Salem, and Schoenbrunn, to collect food only. 

Raids had been perpetrated by other bands of Delaware natives in Pennsylvania during this time. These natives were aligned with the British, and committed horrible crimes towards innocent civilians. The Christian Delaware natives aligned themselves with peace, but supported the Continental Army. However, Pennsylvania militiamen who saw the deaths of their friends and family members were hungry for revenge, and their judgement was severely impacted by their grief (Afterwards, some of the militiamen regretted their involvement, as the slaying did nothing to ease the loss of their loved ones). 

The militiamen first came upon Gnadenhutten under the guise of peace. They pretended to offer the struggling natives protection, so as long as they surrendered their weapons and allowed the militiamen to take them to safety in Pennsylvania. The natives did not hesitate to give up their weapons and accept the protection of the militia, under Col. Williamson. What the natives did not know was that other lone natives in the town and surrounding area had already been murdered on sight, so they would not warn others of the militia's coming. As the natives left the fields they had been harvesting to re-enter the town, believing themselves to be rescued of the hunger and upheaval they had been through recently, they did not notice the disorder and blood spatter until it was too late. All of the natives were seized by the relatively few militiamen, who now had an advantage, having taken all of the weapons from the natives earlier. 

A reconstruction of the cooper's cabin, one of the "Slaughter Houses", on its original site

Cooper cabin marker

The militiamen voted in the night to kill all of the natives, rather than take them prisoner. The natives had been confined to separate cabins, one for men, the other for women and children. During the last night of their lives, the Christian natives prayed and sang, preparing themselves for death. 

On the morning of March 8th, 1782, their prayers were interrupted by militiamen asking them if they were ready to die. This was how the brutal events commenced. The natives were led in pairs to "Slaughter Houses", where they were bludgeoned and scalped in rapid succession. Two teenage boys were able to escape and hide under one of the killing cabins. It was through their survival that the events of this terrible day were made known to others. 

Rear view of memorial obelisk and reconstruction of the mission house, where it is believed that the bodies of the natives were burned

View of the obelisk memorial from the corner of the mission house

After the natives had all been killed, their bodies were thrown into the mission house, and the entire town was set ablaze. The bodies of the slain were left in the ruins of their village for nearly 20 years until friendly, loving souls laid them to rest in a burial mound in the village. 

Burial site of the slain Delaware natives 

Burial mound marker

Historical marker

A visit to Gnadenhutten is a humbling experience. I visited on a rainy day, with little sun and lots of chill in the air. Maybe the weather added to my mood, but the entire area filled me with a great deal of melancholy. Explaining the feeling is difficult, but walking around the cabins and burial area filled me with this unusual heavy feeling, and I was very aware of my surroundings and the state of mind of all of the parties involved, however odd that may sound. As I moved on to the adjoining cemetery, the feeling lifted. When I came back to the murder site, the feeling returned. It was not an overbearing or unpleasant feeling, but it made me appreciate the gravity of this event and the impact it had on history. 

Natives who lived in Ohio tortured white captives extensively after Gnadenhutten. Many years later, the great Tecumseh would even remember this event as a day when innocent natives begged for mercy and found none. Natives were wronged and pushed farther and farther from the life they knew, until they lost almost everything that had once been theirs; villages, farmland, hunting ground, culture, etc. 

If you get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it. There is a small museum, but it was not open when I visited. 

3 comments:

  1. What a sad tale. It appears you picked up on what must be perpetually heavy energy surrounding the site - and little wonder that it's there. What a terrible betrayal of people who were doing everything in their power to help establish a peaceful environment. I don't know why, but it especially disturbs me that they were bludgeoned to death. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Beautiful photos of a beautiful place! I have visited many times. If you are interested in this story, please visit Paul Green's Trumpet in the Land. It is Ohio,s longest running outdoor drama. It has been running 47 years and tells this story. Come see this historical drama then visit the historical sites. All within 15 min. Of the theatre. trumpetintheland.com is the web site.

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  3. Thank you for posting this article about the Moravian Delaware Indian Massacre at Gnadenhutten. I am descended from and a current member of the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown. My great great grandfather Christian Moses Stonefish came back to Gnadenhutten 90 years after the massacre to dedicate that stone obelisk commemorating the event. I agree with you about the heaviness in the air, it is palpable.

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