The Delaware Nation during the late 18thCentury –
When the Moravian missions came to the Ohio Country, the Delaware Nation was comprised of three primary family groups or clans which traced their identity through their mother’s family line. The clans, guided by the clan mothers, had traditional responsibilities within the nation. Each clan was represented by a head chief; these chiefs, along with village chiefs and elders, formed the core of the Delaware Great Council.
The Turtle Clan was responsible for governing the nation in times of peace. Their head chief was considered the leader in the Great Council and served as Great Chief of the Delaware Nation.
The Wolf Clan oversaw defense of the Nation and led during times of conflict.
The Turkey Clan was concerned with diplomacy, their head chief oversaw negotiations, treaties and official communications with other nations or tribes. The chief of the Turkey Clan also served as Advisor to the other chiefs and the Great Council.
Goshen Mission, 1804 –
David Zeisberger finished his latest diary entry and set his pen aside. Gazing out the window of his cabin, he admired the brilliant reds and yellows of the autumn foliage. Across the river were the overgrown corn fields of old Schoenbrunn Mission. It had been 32 years since he first walked those fields with Anton, Esther and so many other Delaware brothers and sisters who had since “gone home”. The evening breeze carried a chill, a reminder of the coming winter. Closing the window, he thought of all that had happened during those years. There had been joys, but also many sorrows and sixteen years of wandering before he was finally able to return home to the Tuscarawas Valley.
The early years in the valley had been good for the missions. True to his promise, Netawatwees had welcomed them and provided a place of safety. The old chief had lived to see the missions grow; a third Christian Indian village named Lichtenau, or Meadow of Light, had been built just downstream from his capital at Coshocton. Those first years in the valley had been a time of great promise for both the missions and the Delaware Nation.
When the Moravian missions first moved to the Ohio Country, Netawatwees was Great Chief of the Delaware Nation. Hopican, also known as Captain Pipe, was head of the Wolf Clan and White Eyes, of the Turkey Clan, was Advisor to the Great Council. History does not always paint a complete picture of the past. Without support and protection from these three great Delaware leaders, the missions could not have survived the dangerous early years in the valley.
The year 1776 had marked the start of drastic changes for the Delaware Nation, the missions and the Ohio Country. Rebellion had been brewing in the east for some time and the Ohio Valley would soon become the front line for the western theater of that war. Chief Netwatwees and his advisor White Eyes had been a stabilizing influence as they worked to keep the Ohio tribes neutral in the conflict between the British and Americans. Still, there were factions calling for war, the Wyandot and Mingo were already supporting the British and the Shawnee were wavering. Even within the Delaware Nation, some left the council and openly supported the British.
The death of elderly Chief Netawatwees, late in 1776, dealt a severe blow to the Delaware. His designated successor was a promising leader named Gelelemund (Go-le-la-mond) or Killbuck. Because he was considered too young and inexperienced to lead the Great Council, White Eyes served as leader until a time when Killbuck could be confirmed and take his place of leadership.
Conditions in the Tuscarawas and Muskingum Valleys grew steadily worse as bands of British allied warriors marched through the valley to harass settlements along the frontier. The mission villages, with their livestock and vast fields, became a magnet to these war parties. The warriors would demand food for their trips and often returned through the missions with prisoners, scalps and other trophies of war.
Finally, in 1778, White Eyes and the Delaware Council decided that they could no longer remain neutral. A treaty was signed at Fort Pitt between the Delaware Nation and the fledgling country; this was the first treaty signed between the United States and another sovereign nation. The treaty allowed an American army to cross Delaware land for an attack on the British stronghold at Detroit. It also contained many other provisions, including the promise of the Ohio Country becoming a new state, an Indian state, under Delaware leadership. Traditionally, an Indian Agent was always present at treaty negotiations to confirm that all points of the agreement were understood. There was no agent was present at the 1778 Treaty of Fort Pitt; looking back, the Delaware may not have been fully aware of all they were signing.
Only a few weeks after signing the treaty, an American army led by General Lachlan McIntosh marched from Fort Pitt into the Ohio Country. Newly commissioned as a colonel in the Continental Army, White Eyes was serving as a guide for their expedition against Detroit. Poorly planned and supplied, the campaign began too late in the season. Unable to reach their goal, they halted for the winter and began construction of a fort on the west bank of the Tuscarawas River. This western-most outpost was called Fort Laurens, it was built just downstream from the old Delaware town of Tuscarawas where a young John Heckewelder traveled with Post 16 years earlier. Just as construction began, word of a tragedy arrived at the missions. Somewhere between Fort Pitt and the Tuscarawas Valley, the great Delaware leader White Eyes had died. The circumstances of his death were questionable. Regardless, the leadership of White Eyes would be sorely missed, the Delaware Nation and the Moravian missions would never fully recover from the loss.
-Written by Seth Angel of Frys Valley Moravian Church