It was a massacre…

Depiction of the Gnadenhutten Massacre.

While we celebrate our thanksgiving and feel all proud and smug about being American’s, well maybe not so much these days, most folks try to forget that the country we live in today came at a very great cost to those who had settled here long before the first European arrived.

I can claim many ancestors on my mother’s side of the family, and a few on my father’s, who were what we considers ‘frontiers folk.’ They hacked, literally and figuratively, their way across this country building new lives for themselves many times over in the wilderness that once was. Along the way they also hacked down a few of the first settlers who were in their way.

One of those frontier families were the McQueens, who in the course of their years as settlers had developed a keen and decisive hatred for the indigenous people who were living on the land they wanted. This hatred no doubt was fueled by all the killing that occurred on both sides of the fence – as one wanted to keep the land that was theirs to begin with, and the other wanted to take it from them, rightly or wrongly, the large majority of frontier folk didn’t much care.

In March of 1782, a group of Pennsylvania militiamen under the command of Captain David Williamson attacked the Moravian Church mission at Gnadenhutten consisting of Christian Indians. Because of ‘evidence’ that was most likely planted by the Shawnee, they believed that they were  revenging for the deaths and kidnappings of several white settlers that had occurred in the area earlier. However, the Delaware had only recently arrived back at their village to forage for food and had had nothing whatsoever to do with the earlier killings and kidnappings.

Accusing the Delaware of the attack on the Pennsylvania settlements, the soldiers rounded them up and placed the men and women in separate buildings in the abandoned village overnight. There was a council of war held by the militiamen, with a few voicing their distress at the idea of murdering all the prisoners as punishment, but their voices were not heard as the majority vote was to execute their captives the following morning. One of the men who was not keen on the idea was my ancestor George Brown, a brother-in-law to Thomas McQueen (an ancestral uncle) who was all for the decision to put them to death. George, a minster at the time, had more compassion and did not feel that death to all the Delaware prisoners was a proper punishment for their supposed crime.

Informed of their impending deaths, the accused spent the night praying and singing hymns. The next morning the soldiers dragged the prisoners in pairs by the ropes around their necks to a slaughter house where they were knocked down with a cooper’s mallet and then scalped and murdered  all 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. There were only two survivors left to tell the story.

Folks who didn’t live in the frontier were appalled and horrified at the massacre, those living on the frontier mostly felt the Indians got what they deserved, and there was even talk of mounting another invasion against the Indians. The result of this massacre was more Indian reprisals and raids, fueling more hatred of the ‘red-skinned’ enemies. Eventually all this activity led to Crawford’s campaign. (Both George Brown and all the McQueen boys were involved in the Crawford campaign, in fact George had his own company. More on this in another installment.)

This is not the first occurrence of ancestors of mine murdering Indians, although it is probably close to the last. Of course the Indians got their licks in, as I have surprising number of ancestors who died under the blade, arrow or bullet of ‘the enemy’ too. I harbor no resentment. Even though it was never officially declared, the European invaders were always at war in one way or another with the people who were on this continent first, and sadly we won. Too bad we couldn’t have shown our better quality.


Metes and Bounds I: Dugal McQueen and Some Descendants, by Donna Hechler. Wyandotte, OK, The Gregath Publishing Company: 1999.

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