Moravians attempted mission before Schoenbrunn

Moravians attempted mission before Schoenbrunn

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While many people who live in and visit the Tuscarawas Valley are familiar with the history of Schoenbrunn, the first successful Moravian mission in Ohio, they may not be as familiar with the very first attempt to establish a mission in the region.

It was in 1761 Christian Frederick Post first journeyed from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Tuscarawa, now known as Bolivar, as described by Julius Richardson in “A Brief History of Tuscarawas County, Ohio,” published in 1896 by Canal Dover, Ohio’s Bixler Printing Company.

Post’s task — to instruct the Delaware Indians on the doctrines of Christianity — first took him just north of Tuscarawa to build a cabin in what is now part of Bethlehem Township in Stark County.

When he proved he had a chance to make headway with the Indians in co-habitation, ministry and instruction, he returned to Tuscarawa with a young John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder, at the time a young man, just 19 years old in 1762.

Post’s cabin remained intact, and he joined Heckewelder in clearing an additional 3 acres of land, given to the pair by the Indians to create a sustainable homestead.

As described in Richardson’s narrative, the Indians became fearful of Post and Heckewelder’s axe skills and ability to clear trees from the area so quickly. As a result, the Indians summoned the men for a council meeting and explained their fear that others would come and destroy their habitat.

Post and Heckewelder explained they only wished to clear a small field to raise vegetables and not burden their new friends, the Indians.

The men replied, “If he was sent to them by the Great Father, as he said, that he should also secure his support from the same source. Only the French missionaries at Detroit, the only others who had established camps near Tuscarawa prior to that time, desired only a very small garden spot in which to cultivate flowers, which the white men love so well.”

The Indians appeared to accept Post and Heckewelder’s logic and granted them a larger garden spot than the Detroit Frenchmen had received, a plot “50 steps each way.”

However, it was during this time the French and Indian War still raged — with the Indians and French continuing fights with the British that threatened the Post and Heckewelder mission project.

Heckewelder was the first to leave Tuscarawa and return to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He would return in 1772 to work with David Zeisberger to establish Schoenbrunn.

Post would leave Ohio for good in 1762. His past marriages to Indian women — his first Indian wife, Rachel, died in 1847 and his second Indian wife, Agnes, died in 1751 — were not viewed favorably by Moravian Church leaders.

Post then proceeded to establish a mission among the Mosquito Indians on the Bay of Honduras in Central America. Post later officially broke with the Moravian Church and united with the Protestant Episcopal Church. Post later died in Germantown, Pennsylvania on April 29, 1785.

Heckewelder, a native of Bedford, England who was born March 12, 1743, remained at Schoenbrunn for nine years as a teacher. At the request of U.S. Secretary of War Henry Knox, he joined Brig. Gen. Rufus Putnam in 1892 to negotiate the Treaty of Vincennes, which was eventually ratified in 1803.

Heckewelder worked with the Plankeshaw, a Wea Indian tribe, to unite lands near the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, both north and south of the Buffalo Trace in Southwest Indiana. Heckewelder also helped to negotiate with the Mississaugas Tribe in Southern Ontario in 1793 as part of the U.S. and Canada’s Treaty of the Lakes.

Heckewelder also helped to organize Tuscarawas County in 1808 and was subsequently granted an associate judgeship, serving in that capacity until 1810.

He later returned to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and wrote two books — the “Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians” and the “History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States.”

Henry Howe, in his “Historical Collections of Ohio,” published in 1847, wrote, “It would indeed be difficult to over-estimate the importance of the value of the labors of Rev. Heckewelder in the various characters of philanthropist, philosopher, pioneer, teacher, ambassador, author and Christian missionary.”

Heckewelder died Jan. 21, 1823.