Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  A Case of Civilized Barbarity

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Case of Civilized Barbarity

By William Leete Stone (1792–1844)

[Born in New Paltz, N. Y., 1793. Died at Saratoga, N. Y., 1844. From Life of Joseph Brant. 1838.]

BEING pressed by hunger at Sandusky, a considerable number of the Moravian Indians, with some of their families, had been allowed to return to their former habitations on the Muskingum, to secure their corn, and such other provisions as they could find, and forward the same from time to time to their suffering brethren. Unhappily, while this peaceable party were thus engaged at Salem and Gnadenhuetten, the weather being favorable for the operations of scalping-parties, a few hostile Indians of Sandusky had made a descent upon the Pennsylvania frontier, and murdered the family of Mr. William Wallace, consisting of his wife and five or six children. A man named John Carpenter was taken prisoner at the same time.

Enraged at these outrages, a band of between one and two hundred men, from the settlements of the Monongahela, turned out in quest of the marauders, thirsting for vengeance, under the command of Colonel David Williamson. Each man provided himself with arms, ammunition, and provisions, and the greater number were mounted. They bent their course directly for the settlements of Salem and Gnadenhuetten, arriving within a mile of the latter place at the close of the second day’s march. Colonel Gibson, commanding at Pittsburgh, having heard of Williamson’s expedition, despatched messengers to apprise the Indians of the circumstance, but they arrived too late.

It was on the morning of the 7th of March that Williamson and his gang reached the settlement of Gnadenhuetten, the very day on which the Indians, having accomplished their labors, were bundling up their luggage for retracing their steps to Sandusky. Some of their number, however, were yet in the fields gathering corn, as were many others in the town of Salem, at no great distance thence. The party of Williamson divided themselves into three detachments, so disposed as to approach the settlements from as many different points at once. The Indians had indeed been apprised of Williamson’s approach by four Delaware Indians on the day before; but, conscious of their own innocence, and least of all anticipating harm from the Americans, they continued in their pacific occupations without suspicion of danger.

When within a short distance of the settlement, though yet in the woods, the advance-guard of one of Williamson’s divisions met a young Indian half-blood, named Joseph Shabosh, whom they murdered in the most cruel and wanton manner. The youth was catching horses, when he was shot at and wounded so badly that he could not escape. He then informed them who he was; stated that his father was a white man and a Christian; and begged for his life. But they regarded not his entreaties. His arm had been broken by the first shot. He was killed by a second, tomahawked and scalped, and cut into pieces with the hatchets of his murderers. Another Indian youth, a brother-in-law of young Shabosh, who was engaged in binding corn, about one hundred and fifty yards from the town, saw the white men approaching. Knowing some of them, however, and supposing them to be friends, he addressed them as such. But he was soon undeceived. He saw them shoot one of his Indian brethren who was crossing the river in a canoe, and immediately ran away in affright. Unfortunately, in his panic he ran from the village instead of toward it, so that no alarm was given until the Americans had quite proceeded into the heart of the town.

Many of the Indians were scattered over the fields at work, and were hailed by Williamson’s men representing themselves as “friends and brothers, who had come purposely from Fort Pitt to relieve them from the distress brought upon them by the enemy, on account of their being friends to the American people.” The Indians, not doubting their sincerity, gave credence to their professions, and walking up to them, thanked them for their kindness. Their treacherous visitors next persuaded them to cease work and go into the village; as it was their purpose to take them to Fort Pitt, in order to their greater security from the Wyandots, where they would be abundantly supplied with all they might want. Delighted with such an unexpected friendly visitation, the Indians mingled with the strangers with the utmost cordiality, walking and conversing with them like old acquaintances. They delivered up their arms, and began with all alacrity to prepare food for their refreshment. Meantime a messenger was despatched to Salem, “to inform the brethren and sisters there of what had taken place at Gnadenhuetten; the messenger giving it as his opinion that perhaps God had ordained it so, that they should not perish upon the barrens of Sandusky, and that those people were sent to relieve them.”

Pleased with the communication, and yet unwilling to act precipitately, the party at Salem deputed two of their number to confer with the brethren and the white men at Gnadenhuetten. Communications were interchanged, which were mutually satisfactory. The dissembling of Williamson and his men was so complete as to win the entire confidence of the simple-minded people; and at the solicitation of the party at Gnadenhuetten, those at Salem came over and joined their insidious visitors, for the purpose of removing to the white settlements, where, as they were farther assured, all their wants would be supplied by the Moravian brethren at Bethlehem. A party of Williamson’s men were detached to Salem to assist in bringing all the Indians and their effects to Gnadenhuetten; and, still farther to win upon the easy confidence of their victims, this precious collection of assassins made zealous professions of piety, and discoursed to the Indians, and among each other, upon religious subjects. On leaving Salem, the white men applied the torch to the houses and church of the village, under the pretext of depriving the hostile Indians of their benefit.

Having, like their brethren at Gnadenhuetten, delivered up all their arms, their axes, hatchets, and working tools, under the stipulation that they were all to be returned to them at Pittsburgh, the party from Salem set out with light hearts to enjoy the white man’s kind protection. But on approaching the other village, their apprehensions were awakened, by marks in the sand, as though an Indian had recently been weltering there in his blood. They, nevertheless, proceeded to the village to join their brethren; but on their arrival thither a sad change came over their waking dream of happiness. Instead of being treated as Christian friends and brothers, they were at once roughly designated as warriors and prisoners; and already, previous to their arrival, had their brethren, sisters, and children at Gnadenhuetten, been seized and confined for the purpose of being put to death. The party from Salem were now completely within the toils of their enemies. They could neither fight nor fly. Besides that their religious creed forbade them to do the one, they had no weapons of defence, and they were surrounded by armed men, who would not suffer them to escape.

As a pretext for this usage, Williamson and his men now charged them with having stolen their horses, and all their working tools and furniture—charges not only untrue, but known to be so by their accusers. A more humble, devout, and exemplary community of Christians, probably, was not at that day to be found in the new world. Under the untiring instructions of their missionaries, they had been taught the dress and practices of civilized life. They were tillers of the soil, and had become so well acquainted with the usages of society, and were so well furnished with the necessaries and some of the luxuries of life, that they could set a comfortable table and a cup of coffee before a stranger. All the animals and articles charged upon them as having been stolen, were their own private property, honestly acquired. But their protestations of innocence, and their entreaties, alike were vain. Their betrayers were bent upon shedding their blood.

Still, the officers were unwilling to take upon themselves the exclusive responsibility of putting them to death, and the solemn farce of a council was held upon the subject. By this tribunal it was determined that the question of life or death should be decided by a vote of the whole detachment. The men were thereupon paraded, and Williamson put the question, “whether the Moravian Indians should be taken prisoners to Pittsburgh, or put to death?” requesting all in favor of saving their lives to advance in front of the line. Only sixteen or eighteen of the whole number were by this process found to be inclined to mercy, and the poor trembling prisoners were immediately admonished that they must prepare to die.

Some, indeed, there were among the blood-thirsty gang eager to commence the work of death instanter; but as the victims united in begging a short delay for their devotions, the request was granted. “Then, asking pardon for whatever offence they had given or grief they had occasioned to each other, the Indians kneeled down, offering prayers to God their Saviour—and kissing one another under a flood of tears, fully resigned to his will, they sang praises unto Him, in the joyful hope that they would soon be relieved from all pains, and join their Redeemer in everlasting bliss. During the time of their devotions, the murderers were consulting on the manner in which they would put them to death.” Some were for setting fire to the houses, and despatching them as by an auto-da-fé; others were for killing them outright, and bearing their scalps as trophies back to their homes; while those who had opposed the execution yet protested against “the deep damnation of their taking off,” and withdrew. Impatient of delay, the blood-thirsty wretches interrupted the last hymn they could sing in this world, and demanded if they were not ready for death. They were answered in the affirmative—the victims adding: “That they had commended their immortal souls to God, who had given them the assurance in their hearts that he would receive their souls.” Then seizing a mallet from a cooper’s shop, one of the ruffians commenced the work of murder by knocking the Indians on the head. Having killed fourteen successively in this manner, he desisted, and handing the weapon over to another, remarked—“Go on in the same way: I think I have done pretty well!” Those who had opposed the murder stood at a distance, wringing their hands, and calling God to witness “that they were innocent of the lives of these harmless Christian Indians.”

The first victim in the other slaughter-house—for such both in which the Indians were confined became—was an aged Indian woman named Judith, a widow, of great piety. In a few minutes the work of death was completed. Ninety Indians, Christians and unarmed—unoffending in every respect—were murdered in cold blood. Among them were old men and matrons, young men and maidens, and infants at their mothers’ breasts. Sixty-two of the number were grown persons, one-third of whom were women, and the remaining thirty-four were children. Five of the slain were assistant teachers, two of whom had been exemplary members of the pious Brainard’s congregation in New Jersey. The convert chief, Isaac Glickhickan, was also among the slain. Only two of the captives escaped this shocking massacre. They were both young. One of them eluded the murderers by creeping unobserved into a cellar, from whence he stole into the woods; and the other, having been knocked down and scalped, feigned death, and escaped after the murderers left the place. This they did not do, however, until they supposed all were dead. On completing the work, they retired for a short distance to recruit their strength; but, as though resolved that not a living soul should have the remotest chance of escape, they returned to take another look at the dead; and observing a youth, scalped and bloody, supporting himself with his hands upon the floor in order to rise, the monsters despatched him with their hatchets! As night drew on, they set fire to the buildings, and thereupon departed for their own homes, singing and yelling with demoniac joy at the victory they had achieved. According to the accounts of the American newspapers of that day, this massacre was a very commendable transaction; it was represented that the attack of Williamson was made upon a body of warriors, who had been collecting a large quantity of provisions on the Muskingum, for supplying their own warriors and other hostile savages. It was stated, as the cause of their destruction having been so complete, that they were surprised and attacked in their cabins at night; and it was exultingly added, that “about eighty horses fell into the hands of the victors, which they loaded with the plunder, the greatest part furs and skins—and returned to the Ohio without the loss of a man!”