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The three photos in this post are from a September bicycle ride. Each shows a visible trace of the old boundary of one of the three Moravian Tracts in Tuscarawas County, Ohio: the Schoenbrunn Tract, the Gnadenhutten Tract, and the Salem Tract.
These tracts, of 4,000 acres each, were granted by Congress as “indemnities” to the Christian Delaware (Lenape) Indians in Ohio, and put under the trusteeship of the Moravian Brethren, the pacifist missionary group under whose guidance these Indians had been Christianized. (That’s not a good theological term, but it’s one I’ll use here.)
Ninety-some of these Indians had been massacred at Gnadenhutten in 1782. This massacre wasn’t a one-sided fight labeled “massacre”; it was a cold-blooded, systematic killing by a Pennsylvania militia company that appointed itself to retaliate against a wartime raid by other Indians. The pacifist Indians were easy picking and did not expect harm from the Americans. They were lured from their fields into the town by promises that nothing bad would happen. They were then disarmed, locked up in cabins overnight, then brought out in the morning in small groups and killed with blows to the skull by a cooper’s hammer. The site of their mass grave is at the edge of the town cemetery/historical park in Gnadenhutten.
You could say it was an act of elimination. However, two badly wounded boys did escape to tell the others.
The whole story leading up to this event is complicated, as is the aftermath, and I’m not going to attempt to retell it here. One summary of this theater of the Revolutionary War has it as a place where “whites killed Indians, Indians killed whites, Indians killed Indians, and whites killed whites in guerrilla warfare that was localized, vicious, and tolerated no neutrals.”
This incident complicated the relationship between the remaining Christian Delawares and the Moravian Brethren but did not eliminate it. Most of the Christian Delaware Indians spent the next years elsewhere in Ohio, Michigan, and Canada, some with the Moravian missionaries and some elsewhere. Some Native people have ever afterward blamed the Moravian missionaries for what happened, saying their plan had been to first tame the Indians and then kill them.
The tracts were finally surveyed in 1797, after a third act of Congress was passed, each act stating the grant in more specific terms. But they were never much used for the purpose intended by Congress. Not many Lenape people came back to them to stay. In the 1820s the tracts were sold to European-American settlers.
The effect of the event on our history has not been eliminated, nor have all traces of physical boundaries of the tracts been eliminated. Property boundaries formed by the tract boundaries still serve as field and property boundaries, as shown in the photos.
Associated with this story is a more recent act of elimination that I found bothersome. It’s one I found while writing this article, at the website known as Ohio History Central. I have often found this site to be a useful resource, but its explanation of the Moravian missionary effort at Schoenbrunn (up the river from Gnadenhutten and established earlier) can be misleading to those who don’t know more of the story.
In the first paragraph, there is this sentence: ” The purpose of this community was to provide Moravian missionaries a place to enforce the assimilation to Christianity of the Lenape (Delaware) residing in Ohio.”
I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what the Moravians thought their main purpose was.
And there is more in the same vein, such as: “Moreover, Lenape children were forced to attend schools designed to provide them with instruction in both English and the missionaries’ religious beliefs. By requiring these rules of the Christian Lenapes, the Moravians drove a wedge between those Lenape who converted and those who did not.”
It is true that the Moravians tried to foster a sense of community among the believers here in America. They had also done that back in central Europe, where they had often lived as a community somewhat separate from the rest of the world, and where community sometimes took priority over family. And there may well have been a bit of “Our way or the highway,” to their dealings with the Delaware.
But the highway was wide open to any of the Delaware people who didn’t care for the Moravian Christian life. It wasn’t even a Hobson’s choice. Many of their relatives resisted the Moravian missionaries, and nothing I have read has indicated they would not have welcomed the Christian Indians back into their communities at any time. It doesn’t seem right to use the word “enforce” quite the way it’s used.
Some Christian missionaries among the North American Indians did engage in cringeworthy activities at this time and later, and their involvement with the government in removal of Indians from their lands and destruction of their culture was too often dishonorable. And it wouldn’t be surprising if the Moravians sometimes had mixed motives, too. The Apostle Paul noted that even our most righteous acts come from motivations that are not always so righteous. But this web page makes no acknowledgment of the complicated motives and situation of the Moravians, nor of the complicated situation of the Delaware. There was something that drew some of the Delaware to these communities, and nobody (to my knowledge) has explained that in this case it was access to European goods or help in getting an advantage over their enemies, as was often the case in associations between Native Americans and Europeans.
People trying to do good for others often find themselves engaging in coercion of others for their own good. But would I say (for example) that those who are trying to provide a system of universal health care for the people of this country are really doing it in order to control the people?
Well, come to think of it, I would say that and have said it. And historians have said that of Bismarck’s introduction of nationalized health care in Germany. But should we project that sort of understanding onto the Moravians and their dealings with the Delaware? I say that to do so risks elimination of the possibility of understanding people and their choices.Published in