New Historian

Biggest Atrocity of The Revolutionary War At Gnadenhutten

Gnadenhutten Massacre site mass grave

<![CDATA[A group of Christian Native Americans were the victims of a brutal, senseless massacre on 8th March, 1782, as they knelt and sang in their mission. Their killers, who'd arrived at the mission the day before, initially behaved as friends, disarming the tribe and luring them into a false sense of security. 96 residents of the Moravian Mission at Gnadenhutten in Ohio, including 39 children, 29 women and 28 men, were struck from behind by hammers and mallets, brutally beaten to death as they prayed. The victims' bodies were then piled up in mission buildings, before the assailants burnt the entire community to the ground. The victims of the attacks were all non-combatants, members of a pacifist tribe of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity and taken on a host of European practices within their community. The killers were Patriots, Pennsylvania militiamen under the command of Captain David Williamson. The massacre was an event which revealed a horrendous side to the American Revolutionary War, and the conflict's ability to spill over into peaceful communities. Since 1772 Ohio had been settled by Moravian missionaries who worked to convert members of the indigenous population to Christianity, particularly the local Delaware and Mohican tribes. The neutrality of the Moravian missionaries and their converts soon drew unwanted attention from both sides in the Revolutionary War. Both the British and the Patriots felt the group couldn't be trusted, paranoid that in reality the Moravians were secretly aiding the other side in the conflict. A mark of that paranoia came in 1781, when the British forced the Moravians and their converts to move from Gnadenhutten to the Upper Sandusky area of Ohio. By 1782 some of the Christian Native Americans started to move back to Gnadenhutten in search of food. It was a move which quickly grabbed the attention of the Patriot communities stationed nearby. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, some Native American tribes had elected to take a side in the hope of protecting themselves from the wrath of the armies fighting over control of North America. The Moravians and their converts, although pacifist and thus unwilling to fight, had found ways to lend support to the Patriot cause, something which makes the terrible slaughter they suffered at the hands of the Pennsylvanian militia seem even more senseless. Although not willing to fight, they had supplied the Americans with vital information and intelligence, to the extent that many had been arrested by the British. Ultimately, the massacre was the result of paranoia, mistaken identity and the horrendous disrespect for Native American life that had been practiced by many white settlers since the European colonisation of the Americas. Although some Native American tribes had launched attacks on frontier settlements, the community at Gnadenhutten was wrongly blamed for an attack on a nearby American settlement which had seen several white settlers killed. Captain Williamson and his men went to Gnadenhutten to seek revenge, launching a vicious massacre driven by a paranoia fueled rage against those who had until then practiced no hostility against the Patriot cause. Two Native American children escaped the slaughter, ensuring the story of the attack was spread, and stoking tensions between Native Americans and the Patriots. A nine acre memorial at the site of the Gnadenhutten massacre marks the tragic events, which are often referred to as the greatest atrocity of the Revolutionary War. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Bwsmith84]]>

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