Thursday, March 08, 2007

March 8

One of the most ferocious massacres in North American history occurred on this date in 1782, as scores of Pennsylvania militiamen systematically clubbed to death 96 Munsee Indians near Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Like many frontier Indians during the American Revolution, the Delaware confederacy was divided -- some factions allied themselves with the British, while others mistakenly counted on the benign intentions of the colonists, hoping their friendship would be rewarded with security and recognition at war’s end. One segment of the Delaware confederacy was made up of Christian converts living under the guidance of Moravian missionaries in several villages along the Muskingum River. These Munsees were culturally assimilated -- they spoke English, dressed English, used English household goods, and practiced Christianity.

In fall 1781, English soldiers forced the Munsee from their homes and herded them into a poorly-supplied camp. They accused the Moravian missionaries of supplying intelligence to the Americans to the east. By February, however, many of the captives were determined to return to their villages to harvest the corn they had planted the previous season. Upon their return they were confronted by a group of 160 Pennsylvania militiamen, who -- unbeknownst to the Munsee -- had already killed and dismembered one their fellow tribesman not far from Gnadenhutten. One Indian witness to the killing was himself murdered in his canoe as he tried to escape; another succumbed to shock and was unable to warn the other villages of the approaching danger.

On 7 March, the militia arrived in Gnadenhutten and persuaded the Munsee to relocate closer to Pittsburgh. After disarming them, the Americans accused the Munsee of raiding frontier villages, killing American settlers, and absconding with their property. The fact that the Munsee were culturally assimilated actually hurt their cause -- the militia refused to believe they had acquired their English goods lawfully. The next morning, 96 captives were executed with coopers’ mallets; all the bodies were scalped, including one of two young boys who managed somehow to survive the massacre. Of the 96 killed that day, 39 were children. The militia followed up the massacre by burning Gnadenhutten to the ground.

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