bullet Moravian Indians A Brief Introduction

Moravian Indians in Pennsylvania 1745–1773

From the beginning, the Moravians’ attempts to proselytize to the Native American population were challenged by European expansion, frontier warfare, and native resistance. Their earliest mission efforts in North America began in Georgia in 1735 where the hopes of converting Creeks and Cherokees to Christianity were dashed when the Moravians encountered an uncooperative colonial government and a hostile Indian population. While the Moravian mission founded in 1740 at Shekomeko, in Dutchess County, New York, was more successful in gaining Mahican and Wampanoags as converts it too faced difficulties from the colonial authorities and was abandoned in 1746. Many of the Shekomeko Moravian Indians were temporarily housed just outside of Bethlehem at Friedenshütten. These refugees would make the journey to the Mahoning Valley to their new home at Gnadenhütten in present day Lehighton, Pennsylvania.(1) Their community would gain Delaware converts, thrive and prosper until 1755.

At the onset of the Seven Years’ War the British and French formed alliances with various Indian groups. Longstanding conflicts among the native population added to the volatility of the struggle and were further aggravated by European associations. The frontier conflicts that arose from these complicated alliances would not bode well for the peaceful Christian Indians residing in Gnadenhütten. French allied Indians attacked the mission in November of 1755.(2) Survivors of the massacre fled, settling outside of Bethlehem in Nain and further north in Wechquetank. A relatively peaceful coexistence with neighboring Euro-Americans and fellow Native Americans would allow for the growth of these and other Moravian Indian mission towns.(3) Maintaining this stable mission environment would yet again prove fragile at the outbreak of Pontiac’s War in 1763.

The Pennsylvania frontier recalled the violence visited upon it during the Seven Years’ War. The new bloodshed brought about by Pontiac’s War bore down on the western backcountry and bred a new contempt among frontiersmen toward Indians and the government to the east. These individuals saw no distinction between hostile, friendly and Christian Indians. In an attempt to protect the Moravian Indians, the government moved them from the villages of Nain and Wechquetank to Philadelphia in November of 1763. Angered by the government’s protection of the Moravian Indians, while it seemed to ignore the defense of the Pennsylvania frontier, an angry band of men called the Paxton Boys visited their rage upon a small group of Conestoga Indians near Lancaster. On December 14, 1763, fifty armed men murdered six Conestoga Indians at their settlement. The remaining fourteen Indians were taken into protective custody only to be brutally murdered by the Paxtonians on December 27.(4) Fortunately, through negotiations, attempts to make the Moravian Indians housed near Philadelphia their next target were thwarted.(5) The dispersing of the Paxton Boys did not, however, alleviate the threat to the Moravian Indians. The Pennsylvania government tried to transfer the refugees to New York or New Jersey, but the Moravian Indians were rejected by both governments and were returned to Philadelphia where they remained confined in barracks until 1765.(6)

After their release from the barracks in Philadelphia, the missionaries and their converts, in an effort to place themselves as far away as possible from any future threats posed by white settlements, moved to the Wyalusing valley. There the second Friedenshütten was founded and would flourish until 1771.

Although the Iroquois granted the land for Friedenshütten to the mission Indians in 1768, they sold the Wyalusing land to Pennsylvania in 1771. Land disputes were avoided when the Delawares of the Tuscarawas Valley offered the Christian Indians a home in Ohio.(7) By 1773, virtually all of the Moravian Indians had moved from their various settlements to Ohio bringing an end to Moravian missions in Pennsylvania.

The events of 1763 through 1765 drastically altered not only the Moravian Mission effort but also the face of Pennsylvania colonial politics. The challenges faced by the Moravian Indians during this period speak to these regional events. Like their unconverted counterparts, the Christianized Indians suffered attack, betrayal, persecution, and forced migration.

Julia Maynard Maserjian


1. J. Taylor Hamilton, History of the Missions of the Moravian Church During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Bethlehem, Pa: Times Publishing, 1901), 19-26. For a detailed account of the mission at Shekomeko, see Karl-Wilhelm Westmeier, The Evacuation of Shekomeko and the Early Moravian Missions to Native North Americans, vol. 12, Studies in the History of Missions (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994).

2. Daniel K. Richter, Facing East from Indian Country. A Native History of Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 155. Richter’s chapter, "Native People’s in an Imperial World," examines the motivations for Native American involvement in imperial conflicts from the late seventeenth century through the mid eighteenth century. Jane T. Merritt, At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on the Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 169-170, 176-177, 184-187. Joseph Mortimer Levering, History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1741-1892 (Bethlehem, Pa.: Times Publishing Company, 1903), 311-318. For a detailed account of events before and after the Gnadenhütten massacre see Levering’s chapter, "Bethlehem During the Indian Uprising 1755-1756," 297-343.

3. See map, Early Moravian Missions in Eastern Pennsylvania and Surrounding Areas 1740-1770.

4. Brook Hindle, "The March of the Paxton Boys," William and Mary Quarterly, VIII, 4 (1946), 461-486, gives a thorough account of the tense days leading up to the threat of a Paxton march on Philadelphia to attack the Moravian Indians through the diffusing of the immediate danger. John R. Dunbar, editor, The Paxton Papers, (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1957), 21-51. Dunbar provides colonial records regarding this conflict and an introduction to the reasons for the Paxton Boys’ discontent. See also Alden T. Vaughan. Roots of American Racism; Essays on the Colonial Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), chapter four, 82-102, Frontier Banditti and the Indians: The Paxton Boys' Legacy, 1763-75.

5. A delegation led by Benjamin Franklin was sent by Governor John Penn to negotiate with the frontiersmen. The group agreed to return home and the government promised to consider the grievances of the frontier. See Hindle, "The March of the Paxton Boys," 480. The "Declaration and Remonstrance of the distressed and bleeding Frontier Inhabitants" can be found on pages 101 through 110 of Dunbar’s The Paxton Papers. See also the Modern History Sourcebook: Remonstrance of the Pennsylvania Frontiersmen: On the Indians, 1764 for an abstract of the original document.

6. See Moravian Indian Diaries for details of the Christian Indian’s travel and confinement.

7. J. Taylor Hamilton, History of the Missions of the Moravian Church During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, 49-53. Between 1772 and 1776 he Moravian’s would establish three mission towns along the Tuscarawas/Muskingum River: Shönbrunn, Gnadenhütten and Lichtenau.


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Updated: 19 January 2006


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