A Curious “Trial” on the Frontier: Zeisberger, Heckewelder, et. al. vs. Great Britain


June 5, 2018
by Eric Sterner Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

For most of the American Revolution, a community of Lenape/Delaware, Munsey, Mahican, and Mingo Indians who had adopted the Christian faith lived along the Tuscarawas River in present-day Ohio with their missionaries from the Moravian Church.[1]  The most famous of these were David Zeisberger (1721-1808) and John Heckewelder (1743-1823), who documented their experiences and studies of the local Native Americans extensively over careers on the frontier that spanned some sixty years. In 1781, the British commander at Fort Detroit, Maj. Arent Schuyler De Peyster, summoned both men to Detroit where he conducted a quasi-trial to determine whether they were American agents. Their fates depended on his conclusion.

Missionaries on the Move
Zeisberger was born on April 11, 1721 in Moravia.  When he was five, his family fled religious persecution to join a small community of reform Catholics (Hussites) in Saxony.  Finding that unsafe as well, they left for the British colony of Georgia in 1735.  Young David remained behind to finish his education, joining a German sponsor in Holland, and then reunited with his parents in Georgia in 1738.[2]  There, he assisted a German minister, Peter Boehler, who sought to establish a church in South Carolina, from where he would preach to the local slave community. Zeisberger’s education benefitted from Boehler’s close tutelage.  But, when rumors of war between England and Spain reached the border between Spanish Florida and English Georgia in 1739, the Moravian community’s unwillingness to involve itself in the conflict forced it to move again in 1740, this time to Pennsylvania.  It eventually founded the town of Bethlehem.

Thus, by the age of nineteen, Zeisberger had experienced religious persecution on two continents, responding each time by relocating to remain true to his faith.  As a young man, he moved among several Native American tribes (particularly the Mohawk and Delaware) assisting an elder pastor’s missionary work, was imprisoned in New York under suspicion of being disloyal, and developed a special affinity for Indian languages.[3]  In 1749, Zeisberger became an ordained minister, just shy of his twenty-eighth birthday.  He spent the next two decades among Native Americans in present-day Pennsylvania and New York, seeking converts to the Christian faith.

John Heckewelder was born in Bedford, England on March 12, 1743.  His parents too were Moravians exiled from their homeland, although they settled in England before moving on to New York in 1754, eventually making their way to the growing Moravian community in Bethlehem.[4]  Heckewelder’s poor command of German, the primary spoken language in Bethlehem, retarded the young boy’s education and cast a melancholy shadow over his youth, which was dominated by work and absentee parents.  Heckewelder recalled, “almost the only enjoyment I experienced during this period, and which tended in some degree to comfort my troubled mind, was the sight of so many Indians, who were frequently encamped near Bethlehem, and who at such times came into town for the purpose of trading.”[5]

In 1762, Heckewelder crossed paths with Christian Frederick Post.  The latter was something of a free-agent Moravian missionary, but had spent more time working as a messenger for the Pennsylvania government and Indian tribes scattered along the Ohio River, particularly the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo.[6]  Having built a cabin on the Muskingum River, a tributary of the Ohio and the territory of the Ohio Lenape/Delaware tribe, Post asked the Moravian church for assistance with his mission, preferably, John Heckewelder.  Heckewelder apparently impressed the Delaware, who often asked him to join them and gave him the name “Piselatulpe,” or Turtle.[7]  Post was due to return to Pennsylvania but Heckewelder opted to stay among the Delaware.  Frequently ill and malnourished, Heckewelder eventually heeded warnings from friendly Indians in the area and departed the Muskingum.  (Missionaries were often suspected of being disguised surveyors after Indian lands).

Zeisberger and Heckewelder surely knew one another.  They had extensive missionary service and Heckewelder spent much of the 1760s working as a messenger for the church moving between Bethlehem and the various mission towns where Zeisberger spent much of his time.  In 1771, Zeisberger arrived in Bethlehem from his new station on Beaver Creek in western Pennsylvania and requested the Moravian Conference dispatch Heckewelder to the frontier as his assistant.[8]  When the conference agreed, it established one of the most successful partnerships on the frontier.  Together, they helped relocate Zeisberger’s Beaver Creek mission and several other Moravian missions to the Tuscarawas River, not far from the site of Christian Post’s first cabin.[9]

Initially, the Moravian mission on the Tuscarawas proved extraordinarily successful, growing into two distinct towns named New Schoenbrunn and Gnadenhutten, the former dominated by converts from the Lenape tribe and the latter by those of the Mahican with representatives from other tribes, including the Munsey and Mingo, sprinkled between both.[10]  The towns prospered, despite frontier tensions caused by Dunmore’s War (1774) between the Shawnee and Virginia and the eventual outbreak of war between the colonies and Great Britain (1775).

The American Revolution put the Moravian missions in a difficult place between American power at Pittsburgh and British power at Detroit.  The British succeeded in enlisting the Iroquois Confederacy and the western nations around Detroit (most importantly the Wyandot, Huron, and Miami Tribes) in their cause.  However, the Delaware, who afforded the missions a degree of protection and provided many converts, remained neutral.  The situation could not last.  The British and western tribes rebuffed Delaware peace efforts, while Americans recommended that they, particularly the missionaries, come under the protection of the Continental Congress at Pittsburgh.  Of course, the Delaware were well aware of American mistreatment of Native Americans, the Delaware included, and opted to remain on the Muskingum.[11]  The missionaries too decided to remain with their flocks, rather than abandon them or the Delaware.  Nevertheless, the western tribes continued to pressure the Delaware to join their war effort against the Americans.

As the war on the frontier intensified, the pacifist Moravians were determined to remain neutral.  Whereas today one might expect a neutral party between two warring societies to rebuff both sides, the Moravians had little choice but to appease both sides through cooperation and accommodation.  They helped the Delaware correspond with a changing series of officials at Fort Pitt, sheltered American civilians passing through the area, supported Delaware efforts to remain neutral, and provided regular intelligence to military forces at Pittsburgh.[12]  For example, in March 1779, Heckewelder relayed information to Gen. Lachlan McIntosh at Pittsburgh concerning deliberations among the Shawnee, Wyandot, and Huron regarding an attack on Fort Laurens, an American post on the Tuscarawas.[13]  He similarly relayed information from the Shawnee about events between the Ohio River and Detroit that spring, going so far as to recommend sites for forts that would best advance the cause of Indian neutrality.[14]  As late as 1781, Zeisberger was forwarding information about pending Indian raids on Fort Henry at Wheeling, West Virginia, something the Indians suspected as some of their captives admitted it.[15]  The Wyandot, Huron, and British had sketchy information about Moravian relations with the Americans, but the tribes blamed persistent Delaware neutrality on the missionaries, which made them an object of enmity and frustration.

Moravian relations with the western tribes were equally frustrating to frontier settlers, although Continental officials and officers may have been more understanding.  When tribal raiding parties passed through Moravian territory, the Moravians would feed them rather than see their crops and livestock despoiled.[16]  Heckewelder was quite blunt:

Providing food for so many warriors at a time, was a very disagreeable business for the inhabitants … yet it could not be avoided, especially with the more northern Indians, who were both noisy and mischievous, if not served with food. Upon the whole, the quickest way to get rid of all warriors, is to give them a meals victuals, which is all they want, and to refuse them would be folly, as then they would shoot cattle, and destroy the corn in the fields.[17]

Of course, this did nothing to endear the Moravians to the frontier towns and cabins that would be raided by the aforementioned warriors.  Indeed, one party of “freebooter” Americans crossed the Ohio intent on destroying Delaware towns in October 1777 but were detected and destroyed by Wyandot warriors.[18]  About this time, internal tensions split the Delaware.  Those encamped on the Cuyahoga River, which empties into Lake Erie rather than the Ohio, and led by Hopocan, known as Captain Pipe among the Americans, resolved to join the Wyandot and Huron and wage war on the Americans.[19]  Over time, most Delaware joined him.  Those few who desired peace moved east and sought the limited and unreliable protection of Continental authorities at Fort Pitt.

Summoned to Detroit
The situation was untenable for both the British and western tribes, who saw an obstacle to their designs in the persistent presence of the missionaries. The British still sought to mobilize native power against the American frontier, while the Wyandot and their allies sought to build cohesion against the continued spread of American settlers. In the fall of 1781, the western tribes arrived on the Muskingum and forced the Moravian communities to relocate west and join them on the Sandusky River.  Conditions were deplorable.  Nothing had been prepared and most of the planted areas had already been harvested. The Indians quickly built primitive shelters and frantically searched for food to last the winter.

The British officer in command at Fort Detroit, the New York-born Maj. Arent Schuyler De Peyster, was part of the reason for their exodus.  De Peyster was born in New York in 1736 and entered the British 8th Regiment of Foot in 1755, serving in the French and Indian War under his uncle Peter Schuyler.[20]  He was sent to command the British post at Mackinaw in 1774, remained loyal during the Revolution, was promoted to major in 1777 and assumed command at Detroit in 1779 after the capture of British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton.[21] He eventually became the regiment’s colonel and after the war retired to Dumfries, Scotland.  All throughout 1780, he was beset with Indian war parties seeking supplies and support for their raids on the American frontier, writing a colleague, “I am so hurried with war parties coming in from all quarters that I do not know which way to turn myself,” and complaining to the lieutenantgGovernor that “Every thing is quiet here except the constant noise of the wardrum.”[22]

That noise reflected British “success” in mobilizing the western tribes to wage war on the American frontier.  With the Delaware split and larger numbers joining Captain Pipe in his war on the Americans, however, the Moravian outposts remained a thorn in the British side.  De Peyster was likely aware that the missionaries had provided intelligence to the Americans.  Simon Girty had been a messenger for the Americans in the early years, even participating in an inept campaign led by Brig. Gen. Edward Hand in 1778.  Shortly after, Girty and several other Pittsburgh frontiersmen, including Matthew Elliott and Alexander McKee, fled the town, made their way through Ohio, and joined the British cause at Detroit. Their first stop in flight was Coshocton, where they joined Captain Pipe in arguing that the Americans simply wanted to seize Indian lands in Ohio.[23]  Elliott would later turn up with a British officer’s commission; McKee became an Indian agent; and, Girty led raids against the frontier settlements south and east of the Ohio River.  All were well known among the Ohio tribes and had acted as go-betweens and messengers for decades.  Girty’s role as a scout and messenger for the Americans at Fort Pitt likely made him privy to some of the intelligence the missionaries had passed on.  De Peyster needed to find out for himself what role the missionaries were playing on the frontier.

The Moravians had only arrived at abandoned villages on the Sandusky River a few days earlier when they received word on October 25, 1781 that De Peyster had ordered the missionaries to Detroit.  Captain Pipe himself delivered the news.  Exactly what that message said is open to interpretation.  Zeisberger offered few specifics about the content, other than to say that the British commandant, De Peyster, wanted to see them in person.  Furthermore, he indicated that the missionaries succeeded in entreating Indian leaders to leave two brothers behind with the women in their party.[24]  Heckewelder’s memoir, however, indicates that the message was delivered as a speech, quite possibly by Captain Pipe.  In Heckewelder’s version, the message was clearly addressed to the Indians along the Sandusky and indicated that De Peyster was concerned with two things when it came to the missionaries: 1) the “little birds,” i.e., missionaries, “cannot sing so many lies in your ears,” and 2) the “Virginians will sit in the dark, and hear nothing more about us, from which we expect to derive great advantages.”[25]  Clearly, De Peyster was concerned about both the missionaries arguments against war and their passing of intelligence to the Americans.  The major further left it to the tribes along the Sandusky to decide how to care for the displaced Moravians.  Zeisberger and Heckewelder’s accounts disagree slightly over the attitude of the missionaries in receiving De Peyster’s command.  Zeisberger described a compliant group of missionaries that requested to leave two brothers behind; Heckewelder portrayed a more defiant group of missionaries who refused to go to Detroit unless they could leave two brothers behind.

In any case, Captain Pipe and a fellow chief, Wenginund, conveyed Zeisberger, Heckewelder, and their colleagues Senseman and Edwards by a roundabout way to Detroit, where they arrived on Saturday, November 3.[26]  Heckewelder described their entry:

curiosity drew the inhabitants of the place into the street, to see what kind of people we were.  The few clothes we had on our backs, and these tattered and torn, might have induced them to cast looks of contempt upon us, but we did not find this to be the case. We observed, that we were viewed with commiseration.[27]

Cold, hungry, and tired they were promptly brought before De Peyster and the first phase of their trial in Detroit commenced.

De Peyster confirmed they were the Moravian missionaries he had summoned and was perplexed by the fact that the missionaries had not brought their entire families with them, as he had ordered.  The missionaries said they had expressly asked the chiefs along the Sandusky, again likely Captain Pipe, whether their wives had also been summoned and received a simple “no” in response.[28]  Zeisberger did not discuss De Peyster’s response, but the question suggests the major’s real intent was to separate the missionaries from their flocks by giving them no excuse or reason to return to those Moravian Indians camped along the Sandusky.  Of course, De Peyster could not admit that so bluntly, lest he be perceived as opposing the spread of Christianity.  However, Captain Pipe’s speech back on the Sandusky, allegedly composed by De Peyster, hinted at the purpose as it spoke of removing the missionaries so that the “little birds” could not “sing so many lies in your [the British allied tribes] ears.”

De Peyster informed the missionaries that he had summoned them from the Sandusky River because he had heard they corresponded with the rebel government to the detriment of British authorities and interests at Detroit.  He stated plainly that he had heard complaints to that effect, although he did not identify the source.  Zeisberger evaded answering the specific question, telling De Peyster, “We did not doubt at all that much must have come to his ears about us, for this we could infer from the treatment we had to endure, but that he must have been wrongly ill informed about us, and we [were] accused of things of which, were they investigated, we should be found innocent.”[29]  Zeisberger, of course, had to evade a straightforward answer to such a direct question, since the Moravian policy of appeasing both sides included providing intelligence to the Americans.

De Peyster next turned his attention to the Moravians’ flock.  How many had travelled with them to Detroit; how many remained on the Sandusky; had they ever gone to the war; were they harmful to the British government?  Zeisberger responded to these questions more directly.  Four had come with the missionaries to Detroit; three to four hundred remained on the Sandusky—the missionaries intended and needed to return to them as quickly as possible lest their life’s purpose go to waste; and, the Moravian Indians would not be harmful as they were industrious and focused on peaceful pursuits.[30]  Zeisberger did not record De Peyster’s reaction in his diary, other than to note that the major listened carefully.  His questions answered for the moment, De Peyster told the Moravians he did not have time to complete their discussion, dismissed them, and handed them over to a British Indian commissioner, who settled them at the home of a Frenchman, Mr. Tybout, and his family.[31]

Tybout took good care of his guests, providing them with ample shelter, food, and refreshment.  Heckewelder recalled, “In other circumstances than we at the time were, we might have felt ourselves contented and happy; but, knowing that our families, were not only suffering from hunger and cold, but were also kept continually, (on our account) between hope and fear, and being so repeatedly told by the savages, that we never would be permitted to return to them again, added to which [the continuing arrival of more mouths to feed], produced great mental anxiety to us.”[32]  In such a state, Heckewelder and his colleagues, convinced they had done nothing inimical to British interests, were eager to complete their discussions with De Peyster and return to their flock on the Sandusky.

The missionaries passed Sunday the 4th quietly in Tybout’s home, but received a number of visitors likely curious about their guests, or prisoners, depending on one’s point of view.  It became clear on Monday that De Peyster was not so eager to resume his interview with the missionaries as they were to see him.  So, Zeisberger asked the commissary for pen and ink in order to write De Peyster a letter explaining themselves.  Not surprisingly, the commissary immediately asked whether the missionaries intended to write notes to send far and wide, essentially implying that they were spies eager to communicate what they had learned.[33]  The missionaries, of course, denied it and announced their desire to write De Peyster, but were denied paper and ink and then informed that De Peyster was waiting for the arrival of Captain Pipe, at which point he would agree to see the missionaries again.[34]  On Tuesday, the Indians who had accompanied the missionaries also asked to see De Peyster and were similarly refused.

The Missionaries on Trial
Finally, after repeated delays, Zeisberger, Heckewelder, and the other missionaries were conducted to a council house to face Captain Pipe as their chief accuser in front of De Peyster.  They assumed seats on a bench off to the side.  Not surprisingly, Captain Pipe was surrounded by other Indians allied with the British.[35]  De Peyster sat in front of the Indians, accompanied by a few of his officers, and turned to Captain Pipe to start his speech.

The Indian began with a ceremonial function, rising from his seat and passing scalps that he and his fellow Indian leaders had amassed on their most recent raids on the Americans directly to De Peyster. Each chief made a brief speech affirming his recent involvement in the war.  According to Zeisberger, Captain Pipe expressed some sense of uncertainty about his role.  In all likelihood, Captain Pipe’s expressions of doubt were insincere, intended more to remind De Peyster that Indian participation in the war was conditional and to lay the groundwork for getting greater support from the British in the future. Although the missionary let the speech pass without comment in his diary, he and his fellows silently questioned the appropriateness of having to make their case in a war council.[36]

When all the chiefs had presented scalps to De Peyster, Captain Pipe again took to his feet and addressed the major.  He stated plainly that they had brought the “believing” Indians from the Muskingum River and the missionaries and a few leading Moravian Indians to Detroit, as ordered by De Peyster.  The chief reminded De Peyster that the major had told him he would find it easier to speak with the missionaries than would Captain Pipe.  According to Zeisberger, Captain Pipe then cautioned the British officer to “speak kindly” to the missionaries, as the Moravians were friends to the pro-British Indians.  More personally, Captain Pipe claimed “I hold them dear and should not like to see harm befall them.”[37]  He repeated this last assertion at least once.  Heckewelder, however, did not mention such favorable comments from Captain Pipe – understandable, perhaps, since Heckewelder blamed many of the miseries inflicted on the Moravian community on that Indian.  In truth, Captain Pipe was clearly attempting to shift responsibility for the situation onto De Peyster and the British.

For his part, the major was having none of it.  Rather than taking the lead in accusing the missionaries of being spies, De Peyster turned the matter right back on Captain Pipe, reminding the Delaware chief that he himself had leveled the accusations of passing information to the Americans.  According to Heckewelder, De Peyster said to Captain Pipe,

You have for a long time lodged complaints with me, against certain white people among your nation, and whom you call teachers to the believing Indians, who, as you say are friends to the Americans, and keep up a continual correspondence with them, to the prejudice of your father’s interest!  You having so repeatedly accused these teachers, and desiring that I might remove them from among you; I at length commanded you to take them, together with the believing Indians, away from the Muskingum, and bring them into your country.[38]

He then put it to Captain Pipe to prove that his accusations were true since everyone was present to answer for himself.

Now it was Captain Pipe’s turn to hedge with the major, just as Zeisberger had a few days earlier.  The Indian conceded that some of what De Peyster said might be true, for Captain Pipe himself could not declare everything that had been said about the missionaries was a lie.  He turned to the gathered chiefs looking for support, but finding none, moved on.  In any event, the Indian argued that the truth of the matter was beside the point now that missionaries had been removed to Detroit.[39]

Naturally, De Peyster was not satisfied with this answer either.  He repeated his demand that Captain Pipe demonstrate the truth of his accusations that the missionaries were passing information to the Americans to the detriment of British interests.  Again, finding no support from the Indians gathered around, Captain Pipe conceded that the accusations might be true and then declared that the missionaries were innocent!  “They have done nothing of themselves, what they have done, they were compelled to do!”[40]  Indeed, Captain Pipe admitted that the missionaries had done things that the war parties passing through their country had forced them to do, likely meaning feeding those very parties raiding the Americans.  Thus, he held them blameless for anything they might have done for the Americans, which the Americans similarly would have compelled them to do. Things could not be going better for the missionaries, who had yet to open their mouths in their own self-defense. The irony was that the missionaries were indeed guilty of the principal accusation that De Peyster attributed to Captain Pipe, namely, passing information to the Americans!

De Peyster, likely knowing this from Girty, Elliott, and McKee, could only have been frustrated.  He announced to Captain Pipe that the Indian’s temporizing could lead him to conclude that the missionaries were indeed guilty of the principal charge, passing information to the Americans.  He then asked Captain Pipe what the western tribes wanted the British to do with the missionaries: send them home to their Indians, presumably meaning return them to their flock on the Sandusky, or keep them at Detroit.  According to Zeisberger, the interpreter mistranslated this, but the missionaries remained silent about it rather than interject themselves into a trial that seemed to be going their way.[41]  Captain Pipe eventually responded that the Delaware and Wyandot had promised the Moravian Indians that their pastors would be returned to them, so he preferred to see the missionaries returned to their congregants on the Sandusky.  He had long hoped to separate the brethren from their congregations, which might then be more easily swayed to join the war, but he wanted the blame to fall on British shoulders.  When De Peyster did not take the bait, Captain Pipe must have been crestfallen.

With that, De Peyster ended his interrogation of Captain Pipe and turned to the missionaries themselves.  He first questioned whether they were ordained ministers and not simple free agents using proselytization as a cover for espionage work.  The answer was of course that they were.  The major determined who was in charge, confirming Zeisberger was the senior missionary.  Then, he got to the heart of the matter, asking how long they had been “with the Indians.”  Zeisberger indicated that he had been with the Indians more than thirteen years.  This was more or less true.  Heckewelder had indeed first stayed on the Muskingum with Christian Post in 1762, but did not stay.  The missions were not formally established on the Tuscarawas until 1772, although Zeisberger had been their pastor before they relocated to the Tuscarawas. Zeisberger’s diary suggests De Peyster was satisfied with the answer.  In any event, it predated the war.

De Peyster then started his most critical line of questioning: why were they there?  He started asking whether they had “gone among the Indians of [their] own accord, to teach them, or whether [they] had been sent.”  His main concern was determining how much control over their actions others had.  In other words, were they spies working on behalf of a superior authority? Zeisberger admitted that the missionaries had been sent by their church to preach the gospel, that the church bishops resided in both Europe and America, that they were in fact ordained (which he had already indicated); and that their purpose was to preach the gospel. Then came the all-important question from De Peyster: “Did Congress know about this, or did you have permission from the same to go?”

Zeisberger was blunt: “We have not been with our Indians, without the knowledge and permission of Congress; it has put nothing in the way of our labor among the Indians, but also it has prescribed us no rules and given us no instructions in what way we should conduct ourselves.”[42]  This gave De Peyster nowhere to go.  The missionaries were known to Congress, which would explain communications, but were not agents of Congress any more than they were agents of the British, even though they had supplied raiding parties headed to the frontier.

Rather than asking directly whether the Moravians had communicated intelligence of raids to the Americans, the major changed gears, expressing his own support for their spiritual work.  What else could he do?  If he had asked and the missionaries had confirmed that they were passing militarily-useful intelligence, De Peyster could only hang them as spies or keep them in Detroit, knowing full well that it would embarrass Captain Pipe, one of his biggest advocates for war who had already pledged to return the missionaries to their flocks.  In other words, De Peyster chose not to ask a question he already knew the answer to, but did not want voiced publicly for fear it would force his hand.  Instead, he announced he would leave them alone with regard to their spiritual work, but warned them they “should be on [their] guard, and not interfere in war-matters; for, if [they] did so, he would be forced to interfere in [their] affairs and make [them] halt, for he was a soldier.” More importantly, he declared that they had been wrongly accused and “things were not as they had been represented to him.”[43]

Just as New York officials had asked Zeisberger to take a loyalty oath over three decades earlier, De Peyster then asked if they would take “the” oath now, presumably to Great Britain.  The missionaries declined and De Peyster let the matter drop.  With that, De Peyster turned to the assembled Indians, reminded them that he would like to see the missionaries remain safe, and ended the council.  The “trial” was over and could not have gone better for Zeisberger, Heckewelder, and their colleagues.  Not only had the reigning British authority thrown a blanket of protection over them, he had discredited Captain Pipe’s whispering campaign against them, announced them innocent of wrongs they had actually committed in British eyes, and would permit them to return to their flocks!  The ersatz trial was over, the missionaries essentially found innocent.

In coming days, De Peyster and the missionaries at Detroit had a considerably warmer relationship.  He treated them as true guests, recovered goods that had been stolen from them during their long and arduous trip from the Muskingum, provided supplies from the king’s stores at the king’s expense, and sent them on their way back to the Sandusky.[44]  They arrived in a deep snow on November 22.  More privations lay ahead.  A rough winter, near starvation, and growing tensions with the local Wyandot eventually led De Peyster to summon the missionaries back to Detroit, not for trial, but for protection from western tribes mobilizing against the influence of Christianity.  The major eventually found a relatively safe place for them to reassemble their communities north of Detroit among the Chippewa Indians, where by 1783 they had built yet another town and sought to live peacefully.[45]  Their fate would be decided elsewhere.


[1]The Munsey were the Wolf division within the Lenape fold, but often referred to separately as their dialect differed from the Turtle and Turkey divisions.

[2]Edmund De Schweinitz, The Life and Times of David Zeisberger: The Western Pioneer and Apostle of the Indians(Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1871), 13-21.

[3]Ibid., 121-130.

[4]Rev. Edward Rondthaler, B.H. Coates, MD, ed., Life of John Heckewelder(Philadelphia: Crissy & Markley, Printers, 1847), 29-33.

[5]Ibid., 33.

[6]Ibid., 35-36.  Post kept a journal and his account of his work as an agent for the government of Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War makes interesting reading. See Christian Frederick Post, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest, and into the Measures taken for Recovering their Friendship(London: J. Wilkie, 1759). Post’s journals went through several iterations and printings.

[7]Rondthaler, Life of John Heckewelder, 48-50.

[8]Ibid., 66.

[9]George Henry Loskiel, Christian Ignatius La Trobe, trans., History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America(London: Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel, 1794), Part III, Chapter IV.  Loskiel’s volume was written in three parts.  John Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians, from its Commencement in the Year 1740 to the Close of the Year 1808(Philadelphia: McCarty and Davis, 1820), 112.  Heckewelder is fond of run-on sentences and commas, which is reflected in the quoted text.  Tuscarawas is the current name of a tributary of the Muskingum along which the Moravian towns were located. Eighteenth century writers often referred to it as the Muskingum itself.

[10]Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter V, 89-90.

[11]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 147.

[12]Ibid., 155-160, 166.

[13]Daniel Brodhead to George Washington, March 21, 1779, Founders Online, note 1, founders.archives.gov/?q=John%20Gibson%20Author%3A%22Brodhead%2C%20Daniel%22&s=1111311111&sa=&r=1&sr=, accessed May 2, 2018.

[14]Brodhead to Washington, April 3, 1779,Founders Online, note 8, founders.archives.gov/?q=John%20Gibson%20Author%3A%22Brodhead%2C%20Daniel%22&s=1111311111&sa=&r=2&sr=, accessed May 2, 2018.  Heckewelder’s chief concern appears to have been defending the behavior of the Delaware tribe to the Americans.

[15]C.W. Butterfield, ed., “Introduction,” in Washington-Irvine Correspondence: The Official Letters Passed Between Washington and Brig.-Gen. William Irvine and Between Irvine and Others Concerning Military Affairs in the West from 1781 to 1783(Madison, WI: David Atwood, 1882), 58-60.

[16]Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter VII, 126-127.

[17]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 162.

[18]Ibid., 165; Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter, VII, 129.  Loskiel reports that the Indians were Huron.

[19]Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter VII, 129.

[20]Mark Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, 3rded. (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994), 328.

[21]Silas Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan or The Metropolis Illustrated: A Chronological Cyclopedia of the Past and Present(Detroit: Silas Farmer & Co, 1884), 260; C.W. Butterfield, ed., Washington-Irvine Correspondence: The Official Letters which Passed Between Washington and Brig.-Gn. William Irvine and Between Irvine and Others Concerning Military Affairs in the West 1781-1783(Madison, WI: David Atwood, 1882), 416-417, note 2; Arent Schuyler De Peyster, J. Watts De Peyster, ed., Miscellanies by an Officer(Dumfries, Scotland: C. Munro, Printer, 1888) The edited version is based on an earlier version printed in 1813.  Most of the book consists of various poems and stories written in verse for De Peyster’s friends.

[22]Quoted in Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan, 260.

[23]Edward Butts, Simon Girty: Wilderness Warrior(Toronto: Dundurn, 2011), 79.

[24]Eugene Bliss, translator and editor, Diary of David Zeisberger: A Moravian Missionary among the Indians of Ohio, Volume I(Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co, 1885), 29.

[25]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 284-285.

[26]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 33; Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 289.

[27]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 289.

[28]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 33.

[29]Ibid., 33-34; Loskiel,History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter IX, 165.

[30]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 34.

[31]Ibid., 34; Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 290.

[32]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 290.

[33]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 35.

[34]Ibid., 35.

[35]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 290-291.

[36]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 37.

[37]Ibid., 37-38; Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter IX, 167.

[38]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 292.

[39]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 38; Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 292-293.

[40]Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter IX, 167; Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 38; Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 293.

[41]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 39.

[42]Ibid., 40.

[43]Ibid., 40; Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 294-295.

[44]Bliss, Diary of David Zeisberger, 41-42; Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 296-297; Loskiel, History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians in North America, Part III, Chapter IX, 168.

[45]Heckewelder, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren, 348.


  • Zeisberger is buried next to one of his Native American converts, Gelelemend (a.k.a. Killbuck), in an attractive grave site, which is open to the public, in Goshen, Ohio.

    1. I had a chance to visit it earlier this month on my way from Gnadenhutten to New Schoenbrunn. There is a nice, “newish,” stone on top of the original marker. Gelelemund and several others I’ve been studying for a while are there as well. It was a nice discovery, all the more pleasant for being slightly accidental!

  • Eric, thank you for a very well-researched and documented story about one part of the American Revolution west of the Appalachians. It’s an important time in the course of human events during the war.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *