Gnadenhutten Memorial

The burial site of the Christian Indians massacred at Gnadenhutten may or may not be haunted.

David Zeisberger, a Moravian missionary, founded a settlement on the Tuscarawas River in present-day Ohio in 1772. His purpose was to convert the Indians to Christianity. He and Delaware Chief Newcomer governed the town together and were quite successful, even though Newcomer himself never converted. Nearly 400 Indians did.

When the Revolutionary War erupted, the Moravians tried to stay neutral, but tensions all around ran high, and the Christian Indians were in a bad position, trusted by neither the white people nor the other Indians.

It all came to a head when some local settlers were attacked and a woman was murdered. Her dress was found in the possession of the Indians, though now it's thought that it might have been planted, or maybe purchased from her previously. At any rate, the settlers called for the Christian Indians' blood. They waited in their church while the 100 or so whites voted on their fate. The results: fewer than 20 voted against execution. The Indians were given one night to prepare for death.

What happened the next day--March 9, 1782--is one of the more nightmarish events in the history of the "settlement" of the Ohio Territory. All of the nearly 100 converted Indians were led into two cabins converted into "Slaughter Houses": one for men, the other for women and children. There, one by one, they were killed with mallets. Only two boys escaped to tell the tale, and one of them was scalped and left for dead. The other hid in the basement of one of the death houses and watched the blood of women and children pour through the floorboards.

When they were done, 96 Christian Indians had been massacred--28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. The whites set fire to the entire town and left. The bodies laid out in the open until 1797, when a land agent and missionary found them and piled them into a mass grave. That grave is marked by a memorial today; the locations of the death houses are marked by replica buildings, one of which is a mission house, and the other a cooper shop.

The dark history of Gnadenhutten isn't in doubt. Whether or not the place is haunted, I can't say for sure. I added this haunting on the word of Chris Woodyard, who wrote the final chapter of Haunted Ohio V about it. I absolutely love Chris Woodyard's books, and I think she does a terrific job with research and interviews on Ohio hauntings. Most of the time, however, she includes testimony from some ordinary folks--usually employees at a haunted establishment or residents of a haunted house. And then she includes her own impressions of the place, which are--shall we say--a little over the top. She sees ghosts all the time; they talk to her, they relax and put their feet up on desks, they even jump on her back and beg her to take them away (seriously; see the chapter on the Mansfield Reformatory in Ghost Hunter's Guide to Haunted Ohio). I don't know whether she thinks this makes the stories more compelling or what, but it doesn't much appeal to me, because frankly, I don't buy it. The early Haunted Ohio books relied mostly on accounts culled from newspapers and folklore journals and history books, as well as conversations with regular folks who'd had experiences. But as new editions have come out one by one, her own experiences have been featured more and more prominently...and Chris sees ghosts everywhere, man. Now, in Haunted Ohio V, her daughter is seeing them too. And when it comes to Gnadenhutten, I've got nothing but her extremely sensitive ghost-seeing ability to go on.

So, if you've had an unexplainable or ghostly experience at Gnadenhutten, or you know someone who has, please drop me a line and tell me about it, and I'll include it here. It seems a likely candidate for some mournful spirits. And by the way, I mean NO OFFENSE to Chris Woodyard, who wrote me an extremely nice e-mail about my website and who has been nothing but kind and supportive. Her books are great stuff; you can buy them at her website, Invisible Ink.

Ohio History Central: Gnadenhutten



Woodyard, Chris. Haunted Ohio V. Dayton: Kestrel Publications, 2003.