Moravian Mission to Native Americans: A Troubled Beginning

It was in the year 1740 that Moravian missionary Christian Henry Rauch, in obedience with instructions from Bishop Spangenberg in Hernhut, Saxony, left New York to begin the work of preaching and converting  the “heathen” natives of North America to Christianity.   Christian Henry drew strength and purpose from his Savior who he knew would give the heathen savage the ears to hear and the hearts to receive the word of God.  But for this stalwart missionary and the Moravian missionaries who soon joined him, the seeds of mistrust and hatred were quickly sewn.


Christian Henry was invited by chiefs of the Mahican tribe to preach among the inhabitants of the village of Shekomeko in eastern New York Province.  (In his narrative, Reverend Heckewelder talks about a mission to the Mohegan tribe, which is what I used in my book.  The Mahican and Mohegan were not the same, but ethnically and  closely related.  There may have been families from both tribes at the missions.) Within two years Martin Mack established a mission nearby in Pachgotgoch across the border in Connecticut.  As they began to have success in converting some of the natives, and with the natives adopting some ways of the Europeans and settling down to farming, the local whites became furious. They accused the missionaries of being in league with the French Jesuits and being Papists, which was outlawed in these provinces. They were accused of all sorts of debauchery, theft, and plotting against the white population.  They were harassed, threatened, and often arrested.  A petition to the Provincial Governor sought permission to exterminate the native converts, but was refused. The mistrust and hatred was of such proportion that the missionaries and their converts, who were peaceable and harmed no one, were driven out in fear for their lives.


Driven from their missions in New York and Connecticut, the Christian native converts and their missionaries came to Bethlehem, Pa. and established a nearby mission town called Gnadenhutten on the north side of the Lehigh River.  He remnants of the Mahican converts were joined by some Delaware (Lenapi) converts.  In their town the Mahicans were on one side of the street, while the Delaware were on the other.  On the evening of November 24, 1755, a war party of Delaware in the interest of the French attacked the mission house, burning it to the ground and killing eleven of it’s Moravian inhabitants, including seven men, three women, and an infant.  The attack was lead by Captian Jacobus.


In 1763, during Pontiac’s rebellion, some of the Moravian native converts living in Nain were hiding from hateful whites when a party of Rangers fell upon them and murdered them.  These poor people, having only a desire to live in peace, were then accused of being supplied with arms by the Moravian missionaries and participating in the uprising of the hostile Delaware.  On October 12 an arm of armed men marched on the Moravian settlement at Wechquetank near Lehighton with the intention of slaughtering the native Christian converts.  Had it not been for a dreadful storm, their designs would have been carried out.  Sheriff Jennings of Northampton came with wagons and took the threatened peaceable converts to a barracks at Province Island in Philadelphia for their own safety.  They remained for two years.


After their release from Province Island, the Moravians established a mission on the Susquehanna at Wyalusing called Freidenschuetten, and another near Tioga point call Sheshequan. After a few years they were driven out by the Cayuga Tribe of the Six Nations, who claimed these lands.  They eventually moved to the Allegheny River and then the Beaver River near the major Lenape village of Kuskuskee.  They built a chapel and began converting the local Munsee Delaware. Others arrived from the Susquehanna to join the congregation.  The Delaware shaman Wingemund told the sachems and war captains in the area that he had a vision and that the Great Spirit had told him the worms had eaten the corn and billberrys didn’t ripen because the Great Spirit was angry at the Delaware allowing the Morvians to live there. Attempts were made to get the Iroquois and Chippewa to “make a broth” of the missionaries.  Again, threatened with murder and harassment, the missionaries and their converts had to move.

It was from the Beaver River they moved, at the invitation of the Delaware council at Coshocton, to establish their three towns on the Tuscarawas Branch of the Muskingum River.  Sadly, mistrust and hatred followed them again, and on March 8, 1782, ninety-six men, women, and children of the Christian Morvian Indians were massacred by Washington County Militia from Pennsylvania.


2019-01-07T23:13:19+00:00January 1st, 2019|Eighteen For Mercy|