Newcomerstown and The Gnadenhutten Massacre of 1782
Newcomerstown is a village in Tuscarawas County, Ohio about 85 miles east-northeast of Columbus. The village was named after Chief Newcomer (Netawatwes) by early European-American traders and settlers and was once the largest Lenape village on the Tuscarawas River. Home to over 700 Lenape Indians, Newcomerstown was originally called Gekelmukpechunk.
In the late 1700s, the Lenape moved to Coshocton, founded by Chief Newcomer. Cochocton was across the Tuscarawas River from Conchake, the former site of a Wyandot village. During this time, the Western Lenape split their allegiances. Some allied with the British and moved further west while others allied with the Americans and stayed near Coschocton.
In 1778, Chief Newcomer signed the Treaty of Fort Pitt as an effort to ensure the safety o f his people. By signing this treaty, he pledged that the Lenape would serve as scouts and support the American colonists throughout the Revolutionary War. General Brodhead, McIntosh’s successor, received intelligence from the Moravian missionaries on the Tuscarawas that the Ohio Delaware Indians were planning a surprise attack on Fort Pitt and the town of Pittsburgh. In a violent raid by the British and Lenape British Allies, Brodhead destroyed the Lenape at Coshocton in April 1781. The village was burned to the ground as well as other local Lenape villages.
The survivors from the attack fled north. Colonel Brodhead convinced the militia to leave the converted Christian Lenape at the Moravian mission villages, such as the one in Gnadenhutten, for they were unarmed non-combatants.
The reprieve was short lived. In September 1781, British-allied Lenape forced the Christian Lenape and Moravian missionaries from the Moravian villages and took them towards a village near Lake Erie. Among these missionaries were David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, who were forced back to Detroit and charged with treason. They were accused of supplying intelligence to the American commanders at Fort Pitt.
After being forced into a village known as “Captive Town,” the Christian Lenape suffered from a lack of food and other provisions. Despite the war raging on, they decided to venture back to their Moravian village in Gnadenhutten to harvest the crops and gather more provisions.
During this time, they were surprised by a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvanian militiamen led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson. The American militia accused the Christian Lenape of participating in raids and attacks which occurred in Pennsylvania. Thirsty for blood the Americans rounded up the Indians and voted to kill them.
The day before the planned executions, it is said the Lenape could be heard singing hymns, praying and pleading for mercy throughout the night. On March 8, 1782, the militia tied the Lenape Indians up, stunned them with mallet blows to the head and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. 28 men, 29 women and 39 children were brutally murdered. The militia burned the Moravian villages. The Lenape allies of the British were outraged by the slaughtering of their own people and sought revenge against American soldiers.
The militia raid against the Christian Lenape is known as the Gnadenutten massacre. A monument was erected in honor of those killed on that fateful day in March. The village has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.