Gnadenhutten Massacre, Ohio

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Gnadenhutten Massacre, Ohio

GNADENHUTTEN MASSACRE, OHIO. 7-8 March 1782. In 1772 the Moravian Brethren established the settlements of Gnadenhutten (huts of mercy) and Schoenbrunn in what was later northeastern Ohio (Tuscarawas County) on a branch of the Muskingum River. The inhabitants were Christian converts from the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) and Mahican tribes. In 1781 the Lenapes broke their tradition of neutrality and sided with the British, placing the still-neutral converts in danger because their missionaries decided to support the Americans. At that point the converts resided at Gnadenuetten and nearby Salem, where the missionaries had hoped they would be out of the zone of conflict. Major Arent de Peyster, the British commandant in Detroit, sent an expedition in August 1781 to forcibly remove the villages so that they could not assist the Americans. The refugees reached the Upper Sandusky on 1 October and struggled to survive the winter. A party returned to the Muskingum to harvest crops and were briefly arrested by suspicious militia. The following February another group went back to work the fields and the Washington County, Pennsylvania, militia mobilized to clear the valley—making no effort to distinguish between the actively hostile bands of Lenapes and the converts.

On the evening of 5 March, militia scouts located Indians near Gnadenhutten; the next day the main body under Colonel David Williamson feigned friendship and entered the village (a detachment simultaneously secured Salem.) On the 7th, when the Salem villagers were brought to Gnadenhutten, the men were seized and tied up in one building, while the women and children were put in a second structure. After voting on the fate of the captives (only sixteen of the militiamen opposed the majority's decision) the prisoners were brought out on the morning of 8 March and brutally clubbed to death. The exact number of victims is not clear, but it was at least 90 and possibly as high as 140, including 35 children. Williamson's men then burned the two villages and went home. Two young boys survived and brought the news back to the Upper Sandusky. This inexcusable massacre touched off another bitter wave of border warfare.

SEE ALSO Western Operations.


Olmstead, Earl P. "A Day of Shame: The Gnadenhutten Story." Timeline 8 (August-September 1991): 20-33.

                              revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.