A Company of Heroes
by Dale Van Every

On the night of March 6th Williamson's men hid in the forest a mile from Gnadenhutten. Daylight revealed the unexpected number of Indians working in the fields around the town. There was no mistaking their identity since, as a feature of their religious training, the converts had abjured Indian paint and ornamentation and dressed and wore their hair according to white fashion. Nevertheless, the attackers made their approach to the town with as much military stealth and energy as if it were being defended by Shawnee or Wyandot warriors. Care was taken to surround the place so that there might be no escape. Six Indians, including one woman, who chanced at intervals to be encountered in the woods outside the town were killed.

When the assailants suddenly closed in, the Moravians made no effort to resist or escape and were at first not even frightened. They readily accepted the preliminary white assertion that all that was intended was to remove them to Pittsburgh where they would be fed and kept safe until the war was over. Most professed to prefer this prospect to a return to their harsh Sandusky exile. The Moravian contingent at Schonbrunn had meanwhile fled into the forest, having been warned in time by one of their number who had stumbled upon the body of one of the six Indians killed in the intervening woods during the white approach to Gnadenhutten. But those at the third town, Salem, having had no such timely warning, unhesitatingly accepted a white delegation's assurances of friendliness and joined their companions in Gnadenhutten.

A total of 90 Moravian men, women, and children had been assembled, disarmed, and confined in their chapel where they awaited, still trustingly, the indicated move to Pittsburgh. There had been ten years of intercourse between the mission and the frontier, frequent social and commercial contacts, most of the Indians knew many of their captors by sight, some even by name, and there was even yet no suspicion of white intentions. But what was now going on outside the chapel was the holding of a kind of kangaroo court as the undisciplined intruders debated with increasing heat what disposition actually to make of their prisoners. A minority, afterwards said to have numbered at most 18, favored taking them unharmed to Pittsburgh as had been promised. They argued that the Moravian Indians were Christians whose conduct had always been inoffensive and recalled how often their pastors, Heckewelder and Zeisberger, had furnished the frontier with information and warnings. But the much more vehement majority continued to insist that the prisoners still were Indians. Search of the three towns had disclosed many articles of white manufacture, branded horses, and similar indications which could be construed as evidence that some at least of the residents had been engaged in attacks upon the frontier. Later assertions were made that blood-stained clothing and even scalps had been found. Whatever view might be taken of these inferences, there could be little doubt that hostile war parties in their excursions to and from the frontier had habitually demanded and necessarily been granted shelter by the pacifist mission communities. The majority verdict, therefore, was death. The minority advocating clemency turned their backs and made no further protest.

When informed of their fate the Moravians begged for time to prepare themselves. They spent the night praying, singing hymns, and exchanging farewells. At dawn they were dragged with ropes, two or three at a time, to one or the other of two houses, thereafter referred to by the white participants as the "slaughter houses". Most were dispatched with a cooper's mallet, a tool belonging to one of the mission artisans. When one executioner's arm tired, the hammer was passed to another eager to take his turn. Of the 90 killed, 29 were men, 27 women, and 34 children. All were scalped and the trophies taken home by frontiersmen who by now had become accustomed to set as high a value on these tokens of personal prowess as did any warrior.


A Company of Heroes by Dale Van Every, pages 285-286
William Morrow & Company, New York, 1962