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Document Number: AJ-120
Author: Heckewelder, John Gottlieb Ernestus, 1743-1823
Title: A Narrative of the Missions of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians from Its Commencement in the Year 1740 to the Close of the Year 1808
Source: Heckewelder, John. A Narrative of the Missions of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians from Its Commencement in the Year 1740 to the Close of the Year 1808. Edited by William Elsey Connelly. (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1907).
Pages/Illustrations: 640 / 11 (2 of tables)
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-120/

Author Note

Though born in England, John Heckewelder (1743-1823) emigrated to America with his parents as a child. The family settled in the new Moravian religious community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he was apprenticed to a barrel maker. The studious and thoughtful Heckewelder, however, preferred religious work to making barrels, and at age nineteen began assisting missionary Christopher Post in his efforts among the Delaware Indians in western Pennsylvania. Heckewelder spent the better part of the next decade with Post and David Zeisberger (1721-1808), with whom in 1772 he founded a community for Christian Delaware Indians in eastern Ohio. Called Schoenbrunn, this was the first of several such villages intended as havens for Indian converts, the most famous being Gnadenhutten and Lichtenau, Ohio.

From 1762 until the early 1800s Heckewelder criss-crossed western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan on behalf of his Indian converts. In 1780 he and his wife became the first white couple to be married in Ohio. While he was away in Detroit in 1781, a renegade Pennsylvania militia unit massacred ninety-six Indian residents of Gnadenhutten. Heckewelder hoped to retire in 1786 but his extensive knowledge of Indian languages and the high regard in which he was held by Indian leaders gave him a unique position of authority. He was recruited by the new United States government to be a roving ambassador among the western tribes, negotiating treaties and settling disputes. Finally, in 1810, almost seventy years old, he was able to retire and begin his literary career. In addition to the memoirs given here, he wrote a two-volume Account of the History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations, Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania (1819) and compiled various works on Indian languages.

Document Note

Despite its rather pious title, this memoir is actually a detailed description of life on the Ohio frontier during its settlement by whites. Part missionary and part anthropologist, Heckewelder recorded some of the most accurate accounts of Indian life and Indian-white relations during the eighteenth century. The book first appeared in two volumes in Philadelphia in 1820. The annotated edition given here, printed from his original manuscript, consisted of only 160 copies; it contains his treatise on Delaware Indian place names as well as his memoirs.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The Ohio Historical Society provides a wealth of information about Heckewelder and his contemporaries, including maps, timelines, and images, at “Ohio History Central” (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/ohc/index.shtml).

The University of Virginia’s “New Religious Movements” Web site offers background on the Moravians at http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/Moravian.html. Moravian College maintains a portal with many links to primary documents at http://home.moravian.edu/public/reeves/moravian_links.htm. The “Bethlehem Digital History” project at http://bdhp.moravian.edu/home/home.html brings together archival material, music, images, visitors’ accounts, and much more.

Heckewelder’s Comparative Vocabulary of Algonquin Dialects is online at www.canadiana.org and his 1819 work on Indian history and customs has often been reprinted. For accounts from Moravian missionaries among the Iroquois in central New York during this time period, see AJ-091.

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