Genocidal Acts on American Soil: The Gnadenhutten massacre

When America began its war for independence, the Native Americas were as divided as those Americans descended from Europeans. The peoples known as the Delaware tribes (the Munsee– and Unami-speaking Lenni Lenape) were spilt almost 50/50 between supporting the British and supporting the Colonists.

Lenape Native American

Some Lenape decided to take up arms against the American colonials and moved to the northwest, closer to Fort Detroit, where they settled on the Scioto and Sandusky rivers. Those Lenape sympathetic to the United States remained at Coshocton, and leaders, including White Eyes, signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778) with the Americans. Through this treaty, White Eyes intended to secure the Ohio Country as a state to be inhabited exclusively by Native Americans, as part of the new United States.

Another, smaller Lenape group was hoping to avoid conflict altogether. These members of the Lenape had converted to Christianity and now lived in a handful of mission villages in Eastern Ohio led by several Moravian Christian missionaries, the most noted of whom was  David Zeisberger.

Lenape village

One of these villages was named Gnadenhutten, which would become infamous as the site of a heinous massacre of peaceful Natives by irrational, vengeful, and monstrous Colonial militiamen.

During the first week of March in 1782, a group of slightly less than 100 Lenape were discovered by a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvania militiamen under the command of Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson. The Lenape explained that they were only in the area to retrieve the stores from their harvest, and had neither raided nor fought either the British or the Colonials. Inasmuch as the band was composed of twice as many women and children than men, it was obvious that these Lenape were not warriors enjoined in battle. Nevertheless, the bloodthirsty and greedy militia – with the exception of a few dissenters –decided to murder the Lenape and steal all the village goods as ‘spoils of war’. The militia’s one concession to the shared religion between themselves and their captives was to give the Lenape a night of prayer to prepare their souls.

On 8 March 1782:

The next morning on 8 March, the militia brought the Lenape to one of two “killing houses”, one for men and the other for women and children. The militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre. The bodies were piled in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages. The militia looted the villages prior to their burning. The plunder, which needed 80 horses to carry included everything which the people had held: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, and clothing.


There was some outcry at this vile act by a few bleeding heart liberal types, but the average colonist cared no more about a bunch of dead Native children than Nazis cared about dead Jewish children. The militia who committed the atrocity were never punished – they were never even so much as reprimanded with a slap on their blood-stained wrists. The Lenape who sided with the British did their level best to kill as many Colonial soldiers in retaliation as they could, however. No doubt innocent white children thus died by proxy because of the vicious deeds of David Williams militiamen, too.

There is a memorial at the site of the Gnadenhutten massacre, but I was certainly never told about it in history class.


American schools tend not to bring up the US genocidal policies toward the Native Americans. It is seldom mentioned that several Native groups were eradicated — wiped off the face of the earth — by European settlers. Ask to meet a member of the Natchez peoples, or the Mandan, or the Patuxet, and you will ask in vain – they are slaughtered and gone forever.


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