||Heckewelder, John Gottlieb Ernestus, 1743-1823
||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
||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).
||640 / 11 (2 of tables)
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.
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
Moravian College maintains a portal with many links to primary
The “Bethlehem Digital History” project at
http://bdhp.moravian.edu/home/home.html brings together
archival material, music, images, visitors’ accounts, and much
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.