Friday, March 09, 2007

Gentle reader -- I've put this older column back up to the top, as a few websites have kindly pointed folk to this piece with the 225th anniversary of the Gnadenhutten Massacre last Thursday. At the end of the piece, which ran (with a different headline) in the Newark Advocate last weekend, i mention my plans to visit on the "day of." I did, and my account of that venture is just below the column. Scroll past all that to find the 3-10 Faith Works or the 3-11 Booster column, "Notes From My Knapsack."

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Faith Works 3-03-07
Jeff Gill

Crawford Died For Your Sins

A man once died a particularly cruel and painful death, to make up for the evil actions of others, of which he himself was entirely innocent. His death led to the birth of a religious community which counts many adherents all around us to this day. The place of his death is well known, but not a scrap of his body can be found to this day.

No, not Him.

It was in Ohio, beginning 225 years ago this week.

One phase of this tragic narrative began on the morning of March 8, in 1782, as almost 100 old men, women, and children of the Moravian Delaware Indian community were massacred, mostly by mallet and hand axe, about an hour east of us at Gnadenhutten. Two boys survived, one by playing dead after a blow to the head, lying still under a pile of his family and fellow worshipers; the other was small enough to sneak out between the logs of their church building, where the community was kept overnight in singing and prayer before their execution at dawn.

They, too, were innocent. The adult men of the community had been working to plant the next season’s corn, and a few other Indians from Fort Detroit may have sheltered with them overnight who had raided across the Ohio, but of those killed there was no blood on their hands. That didn’t keep their blood from watering the ground at the Moravian log church’s door.

The blood of those 96 or 98 victims actually fueled the flames of hostility on the frontier, the western theater of the American Revolution, where British officers taught the fine art of scalping to young rootless warriors and offered money for European scalps. Some Native leaders like Chief Cornstalk and Killbuck had argued for a neutral stance, but the temptations of cash for killing led enough across the Ohio that reprisal parties answered raiding parties, leading to the senseless slaughter of Gnadenhutten, or "Huts of Grace" in the German of the David Heckewelder’s missionary efforts.

Innocent blood called out to warriors and leaders who had stayed so far aloof from the irregular combat. A massing of Native people came together at Upper Sandusky, and a second expedition was planned near Washington, PA, to cross again at Fort Henry (Wheeling, today) and find a new, more fitting target for their vengance.

The two groups met at Tymochtee Creek, just south of Carey, OH, with the Pennsylvanians led by George Washington’s friend Col. William Crawford, sent somewhat against his will to keep tighter control on the angry and undisciplined frontier militia, most of whom had been at Gnadenhutten a few months before.

The Americans were attacked, broke, scattered, and Crawford was captured. It was explained to him that he must die to satisfy the debt incurred in his fellow soldier’s killings. By all accounts, his courage and relative calm was moving to all, but not enough to end the torture and death designed for him.

Could Indians and Americans share in building a culture and a home across the Ohio Territory? Logan and Cornstalk and Guyasuta and Killbuck and White-eyes all thought so, and the Moravian pastors John Heckewelder and David Zeisberger both believed it, and began to prove it at Schoenbrunn, at Lichtenau, and at Gnadenhutten.

After 1782, with Gnadenhutten a smoking, bloody ruin, and the other settlements abandoned, the likelihood of the two cultures sharing in the land dwindled to nothing. The rationale for the massacre, or the relative atrocity of Crawford’s death, were points of dispute well into the 1900’s, and only in recent years has a truly honest assessment been possible.

But buried in those recriminations of the early 1800’s and into the twentieth century are stories of those violent and angry young men, hearts set on useless vengeance, who grew to be husbands and community leaders and respected figures when territories became states.

The religious revivals of the Upper Ohio valley that led to the Restoration Movement, the teachings of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell against the harsh Calvinism of their day, found fertile soil in the hearts of men who believed that there was no forgiveness for those who had such evils in their past, and they knew what they had done was evil. Baptist and Presbyterian practice of their day was that you could not join or commune until you could honestly say that you knew your sins were forgiven.

The Restoration Movement preachers like Walter Scott said "come, be baptized, and receive forgiveness; you don’t have to say you are forgiven to have the right to receive baptism, you enter the water to find it waiting for you there."

They taught Christ’s baptism, but the example of Crawford dying in their place surely lit the way for those now 50 & 60 year old men who came forward, and brought their families with them.

Today’s Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, independent Christian Churches, and United Church of Christ folk have a solemn anniversary of sorts this week, and I plan to make the brief pilgrimage myself to a silent mound, still marked with prayer and offerings, in Gnadenhutten.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; contact him at

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"You Don’t Look Much Like an Indian"

It is written that they sang all night.

To really honor and keep vigil, even at 225 years’ worth of distance, I should have been there before dawn, when they were brought out blinking, facing the sun rising in the east, bluffs to the south looking down on the small settlement of log buildings, hemmed in by the Tuscarawas River looping north and west.

Some of the Pennsylvania and Virginia militiamen, even a majority out of the 450 or so who came from Fort Henry, refused to join in the slaughter, but neither did they stop it. None forgot it, though. Their testimony, and the frightened recollections of two small boys who escaped the Gnadenhutten Massacre, all agree that the 90 and more were divided, women in the church, males, elderly and youth, to the cooper’s shop. Told of their fate as evening fell March 7, they sang and prayed until dawn.

These were the Moravian Delawares, the Lenape Indians who adopted the Christianity taught by David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder. Their German-rooted faith carried a scattering of words from their old country naming homes in the new, like Gnadenhutten, meaning huts, or tents (tabernacles, really) of Grace.

Taken from other Moravian villages like Schoenbrunn and Salem, and herded together into this settlement, they were thought to be the raiders or at least supporters of war parties who had recently attacked colonial settlements in the early spring of 1782, egged on by the cash-for-scalps strategy of the British in Fort Detroit. In these simple structures built in the wilderness, they had hoped to find a Promised Land of peace, or at least the road to Heaven.

They were violently flung down the latter road, without a chance to find the former.I was there at noon, on a Thursday, long marked in my calendar as a "keep this date open" square. I came out of long developing awareness that, in trying to understand the vexed relationships of Anglo and Indian across the Ohio Territory before 1803, the cruel road to "removal" in the 1830’s for even the most assimilated tribes, and for social and religious movements across the early American Midwest, this place and the events of March 8, 1782 are a long missing key.

Knowing that this year was the 225th anniversary, and even knowing that it is an oddly Anglo habit to make much of certain numerical occurrences, I wondered if I would see anyone else. At least the circumstances of the season, the angle of the sun, the feel of nature, would echo something of what went on those days, which was reason enough for me to want to be there.

Pulling into the "Historical Park" around the site of the former settlement, there was still a thin coating of snow, unmelted from even the current relative warmth, showing that no one else had walked these paths for the last couple days.At the center of the long rectangle along the Tuscarawas was the monument. About 40 feet high, the obelisk catches your eye as you wind through the modern Gnadenhutten village cemetery which surrounds the park. When you approach it, the plinth reads, in very stark and deep carving:

Triumphed In Death
Christian Indians
March 8, 1782

and one level below, a single word in larger, all capital letters:


…then on the opposite side, just as high but markedly less deep, as if unwilling to draw unnecessary attention to itself, the statement:

Erected June 5, 1872

For much of the year, when the sun rises, the shadow of the obelisk crosses the door of the mission house. It is a replica, with a small stone nearby quietly noting that the adjoining space is the actual site. Most of the time, and for all of my visits, you can’t get inside. There are windows, and an opposing window lets in a shaft of light that illuminates a slice of the large room, and illumination enough to see the split log benches, and the table to the front of the worship and gathering space.

You can’t get inside, I think; I cannot imagine that night, those hours, the actual experience of those hearts. They have literally seen the face of their implacable doom, set harshly on vengeance, standing at the one door to say that there is only a brief trip they will take out that door in the morning, they and their children. I do imagine that it was the women who began the singing, for women usually do, drawing the men across the way into their worship in the only way they could touch.

I cannot get inside the minds of the men outside, either. The accounts are clear about the killing and scalping and captive taking they had seen all around them, back across the Ohio River, and of their fury when a family that had settled across the river into Ohio was found murdered on the first day of their expedition to Upper Sandusky.

I can even sense some of the horror and mistrust that was sparked by the discovery of bloody rags in Gnadenhutten, cloth that one man among the now nameless militiamen (they never left a muster roll, or applied for compensation from their government, for obvious reasons) said that he was certain belonged to the dead woman of a few days before.

But as the night wore on, and the singing continued, how did they keep their hearts hardened? I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I need to know, I can’t ever know. David Williamson, a man so respected among his fellows that he was elected sheriff in later years for Washington County, Pennsylvania, was only in name the leader of this expedition."Colonel" Williamson is almost the only name known for certain with this venture, for he did gather them up and lead them with one purpose in mind. Stories agree that he was not in complete assent with the plans to slaughter the Moravian Indians, but also agree that he took a vote, and let the faction for murder have their way.

Did those two groups separate through the night? Did any of them sleep? No one knows. Rightly, all accounts focus on the singing, and the prayers, and the coming dawn.

Past the monument, the only other reconstructed building simply has another low stone carved with "The Cooper Shop – March 8, 1782." If you don’t know how that identifies this building, it seems to say, there’s no amount of text that will do it. It was a cooper’s large, heavy, wooden mallet that was taken up when the captives began to step out into the dawn’s early, brief light.

"Someone else take over, my arm’s getting tired," is the one quote preserved from the murderers, when the job was not even half done. So many stood by, but at least they remembered, and recorded.

The final home for those killed outside the doors of the church and cooperage was a few dozen yards to the south. The bodies were piled and burned, and a mound was raised over their remains later by the men of the settlement, who returned, from their attempt to begin planting the next year’s crop, to a scene of unutterable horror.

This low mound, no more than three feet high and about ten feet across, is now ringed with cypress shrubs gone woody, blocked from a gravel parking area by a few feet, and a row of old canal lock stones. They lay there between the pop machine at the museum’s back door, and a shuttered concession stand fenced about with piled picnic tables. When the Moravian missionaries returned with the adult men, they withdrew for some years from the Tuscarawas valley, but returned with now German Moravians and re-established the settlement. Their descendants are buried in the large cemetery all around, and now the folk of the village keep up the replica buildings and museum to tell the story of their faith’s heritage, largely for schoolchildren. There are some odd cutout figures attached to trees as silhouettes, and brightly painted panels for kids to push their faces through, giving them fake bodies to photograph, that gives the place a carnival atmosphere in certain angles. The main story seems to focus on the missionaries and the later, whiter settlement; but the fact that only the mission house and cooper shop are rebuilt says something about which story someone knew leaves the deeper mark.

I’ve pushed through the sentinel shrubbery just far enough to reach some windblown scraps of candy wrapper and newspaper, which I take to a nearby trashcan. However I feel about the d├ęcor, Gnadenhutten has always been neat and well tended whenever I’ve been by. Another walk past the mission house, looking through the window, and I come back to lean on my car, taking some notes, almost right next to the mound where this story didn’t, doesn’t end.

Another car drives around the museum, and pauses in the drive behind mine, not parking, but stopping. I see across the cemetery a fellow watching, by the maintenance shed, and just have a hunch that he may have called someone. Walking around the still running vehicle, I see the driver stab out a cigarette and roll down the window. She looks businesslike and a businesswoman, sharp featured and with knotted brow.

"You don’t look much like an Indian."

Now, in all fairness, I’m a tall, sandy haired, north of England looking fellow, who has been accused in heated arguments years ago of looking like a Hitler Youth poster. For the record, my eyes are brown, not blue, so Adolf might not have taken me. Anyhow.

"Ma’am?" I reply respectfully, thinking again that the park gate was open and that I’d seen no sign of closure, but also no sign of anyone else."You here about the anniversary?" she asked, glaring up at me, though in fairness the sun was bright, and behind my shoulder. So she knew.

"Sure. Wanted to see what observances or anything were going on today," I answered."

Nothing that I’ve heard, but we were watching to see if anyone came around to cause…" I realized that what had her attention was the fact that, from her point of view, I was an armed man. She had caught me starting to write down some of my reflections on this visit, for this day, and I still had an uncapped pen and some paper in my hand. It made her nervous. I have an unwarranted suspicion that a holstered .357 on my hip wouldn’t have made her nervous, but my taking notes did.

Having some small faith in memory, I shoved the notes and pen in my pocket. Sure enough, she lightened up considerably. She was with the local historical society, which owned the property and ran the museum ("we need more funding" ran the old, old song, which I briefly sang in duet with her). They tried to keep the mound tidy and the grounds attractive. She knew that the tobacco offerings that occasionally showed up on the burial mound were to be left alone, and told me the fellow across the way "wasn’t sure what you were up to," leaving the call inferred. "I appreciate the care you give to the area," I said.

She gestured to the sign in front of my car, a state historic marker that the Ohio Historical Society had put up just a few years ago. Under "The Gnadenhutten Massacre" was the phrase "A Day of Shame," and she said, looking sideways at it, "there were some bad things done back then. Town’s come a long way." Assuming she meant something more than that there had been no additional massacres since 1782, I asked what else the area did to keep the story of Gnadenhutten alive.

"School’s mascot is an Indian," and she saw me wince. "Oh, you’re one of them," she sighed resignedly, her entire tone shifting to the hard suspicion we’d begun on. "I just wondered if there were any Indian groups who came around to. . .""They all went west long ago," she snapped. "Went" is one word you could use, I thought, but kept my silence as she went on. "Glad to have their people visit, but they better not get any ideas about coming back and claiming this for a casino or anything. This is sacred ground."So it turns out we agreed on something, though we had no chance to explore this common belief together. The gravel was too damp from the melting snow to spray satisfactorily as she drove off, which I suspect was a disappointment to her. I could be wrong about that. I waved to her rearview mirror, and with malicious intent, made sure to pull out my notecards and pen while she could still see me, before she got onto the road and sped off.

I still couldn’t get inside. Not the mission house, the cooper shop, the minds of those who camped outside their doors 225 years and a night ago, nor this silent snowy mound. The museum was closed to me as well, and I fear also the mind of my colleague in museumkeeping.

I still didn’t know what urge, which motives caused the obelisk to be raised in 1872, not yet the national centennial nor the 100th commemoration of the event itself. In the 1890’s Ohio historians had tried to acknowledge the significance of this slaughter of the innocents, and how the new surge of anger among previously neutral Indians, and the guilty consciences of many frontier men, triggered consequences and responses far into the future. Even then, reactions to painting any of the first families of the Northwest Territory as anything other than saintly, came fast and furious. Simon Girty and Lewis Wetzel were the designated scapegoats for us all, a twisted (not quite right, you know) white man for each side, American and English. The "Williamson Expedition" that sputtered to a bloody end at Gnadenhutten fit no useful template, and was cast aside.

But the obelisk still stands, and the records, and even the guilt made some helpful memories last. "They sang through the night," knowing their doom was inescapable, and the sound of their singing was unforgettable, even if it was not enough to strengthen any of them to make common cause in their defense with fellow humans, let alone for fellow Christians.

Though I came at noon, as fit my schedule, I remembered that they sang through the night. This is what I remember of 225 years ago, and the days that are passing. They sang through the night, and that is what I hope the lady in the car remembers, too.

You can hear them still, if you listen. Just when you think the singing has stopped, it picks up again, waiting for the dawn. We should keep vigil with them, across the lawn between the buildings, across the centuries. They sang through the night, and we are not asked to do anything half as hard. Keep on singing their song, waiting to see who will join along, and do not let the singing end if you can help it. Some won’t join in, and others will frown, waiting for the song to stop.

They sang through the night.

What is given to us to do, to keep the story alive?
Faith Works 3-10-07
Jeff Gill

Tartar Sauce With Your Faith?

Driving down 21 st St. in Newark recently, four signs in quick succession indicated some kind of "fish sandwich special."

A chain that I won’t specify, but has a polite, bearded Colonel whose stock in trade is fowl, did an unusual thing last month, asking the Vatican in Rome to "bless" their new fish snacker. Something about how these restaurateurs just want to help us in our "busy modern lives."

The Pope’s answer has not, to my knowledge, been shared publicly, but the blessing seems to be on hold.

What’s the deal with fish? On those sign boards, there’s often a very precise "Friday" offer involved.

There is a long tradition in Christianity of "fish on Friday." Usually associated with Roman Catholicism, it actually isn’t just a Catholic Christian thing. Orthodox Christians of the Eastern rites (Greek, Russian, et alia) observe a rigorous fast throughout Lent, the period of preparation before Easter, where they abstain from meat and dairy entirely.

The point of "fish on Friday" isn’t so much fish, as it is the giving up of meat on the day Jesus was crucified and died. Christians of a variety of traditions have long had some form of fasting on Friday, whether from meat or other dietary niceties, throughout the year. The Catholic Church used to recommend this practice very strongly, and the observance is reinforced during Lent with the ubiquitous "Friday Fish Fry," at a parish near you.

Even if you aren’t helping the outreach budget of a Knights of Columbus chapter, there are plenty of you who stick to fish on Lenten Fridays, or so many fast food joints wouldn’t make it a selling point.

Going back into the Middle Ages of Europe, the ideal of fasting from rich, red meat was balanced by the availability of seafood, particularly in places like the British Isles and the Spanish and Italian peninsulas, where so many of our ancestors lived.

A preaching point helped to cement the message of "fish on Friday." Many know the two-curve glyph of a simple fish outline, signifying Christian belief. One of the roots of this icon is in an acronym for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" in Greek, which from those Greek letters is "Ichthus," or "fish."

A fish was an object of marvel in the ancient world, being an animal that lived in the sea, a sea creature with eyes and mouth and group behavior. "Neither fish nor fowl," speaking of the two forms of life that lived in the margins of what human understand.

Jesus as man, Christ as God, the "God-Man" as ancient creed literally said, was in two worlds at once, in a way human understanding could not quite comprehend. So a fish, an image so common in the Gospels to start with, was a sensible symbol of Christianity.

Eating fish, then, became both a renunciation of usual habits with fasting from steak and mutton, and an opportunity to meditate on God’s purposes worked out on the margins of our experience, eating an animal that lived in the water and breathed not air. If God can create a fish, why not become man?

Fasting is suitable for most of us, whatever our religious tradition. There are indications that many faith groups are recovering a sense of discipline and devotion through practices like fasting, but little indication in the culture that an epidemic of fasting is threatening to close DonutDome or BurgerWorld.
Drastic fasts, reducing down to fluids only, or just juices, should get some medical counsel as well as spiritual guidance. But anyone could simply give up a little extra, set aside some savings for good works of your choice, and even have some fish and reflect on the marvels of the created world around us as Spring approaches.

Too much tartar sauce, though, would defeat the whole purpose.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he could do with giving up the fries with his fish fillets. Tell him about a culinary devotion of your own at
Notes From My Knapsack 3-11-07
Jeff Gill
Are We Running Out of Oil?

Are we running out of oil?

Of course we are.

Pretty much every serious scientist who has looked at the question agrees that
there is a finite amount of petrochemicals that exists in pockets and strata
below the surface of the earth. It was made through long, deep processes of
geology and chemistry that cannot be reproduced through mechanical means, so
when we use it up, that’s it.

A non-renewable resource, they call it, with reason.

Footnote: I say "pretty much" because there is an intriguing, if highly
unlikely loophole. Go Google "abiogenic, petroleum, origin" and enjoy if you
want. I don’t buy it.

The point remains, though, that we don’t even really understand how clubmoss
and fern pollen becomes black gold. (Hint: bacteria)

More optomistically, the real energy locked up in traditional oil and coal is
actually (wait for it) solar power. Yep, the energy of a sunny day long ago is
literally "fossilized" into carbon deposits, hence fossil fuels. Our best plan
for the future is to use this odd interlude in human history, which we get to
burn through but once, to figure out how to tap the original source, which is
our nearest star, the Sun.

(Um, but you said we’re running out. Could you go back to that?)

Sure. We are, indisputably, using up our fossil fuels. They’ve powered the
world’s economies, from Britain’s Industrial Revolution out of the northern
English coal fields, to today’s Middle Eastern to Microchip global tangle.

We’ve expanded wealth, generally and as available to a percentage of the world’
s population, beyond any point in recorded history. More people are fabulously
wealthy in the world (that’s you, happy Booster reader, relatively speaking)
than ever before, and even the poor have longer lifespans and better prospects
for health and understanding than their ancestors did a hundred years ago.

The problem, of course, is that it isn’t sustainable.

I am, however, irritatingly optomistic on this front (my friends and family
assure me of the irritating part, anyhow). Just as photos of Licking County
from 1907 show a barren and denuded landscape from deforestation (I’m talking
anywhere in the county, folks; stripped), largely for firewood, and street
scenes virtually reek of the horsemuck, many feet deep, helping folks rich and
poor die of cholera . . .

The year 2107 isn’t going to show a gasoline and Conesville electric plant
world. How will we get our power from the sun, the seas, or the deep core?


What I’m sure of, though, is that we’ll develop new technologies and industries
around the end of fossil fuel and the "Carbon" Economy the start of the "Blank"

What I’m less sure of is what all this will do in the Middle East. Tom Friedman
has pegged this one, as he does so often, with his passionate arguments for a
"Geo-Green" strategy for the United States.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been ruled since the 1920’s by one man, with 50
to 1000 children from more than 17 "official" wives, whose successors to date
have all been sons. (King Ibn Saud died in 1953, but their official legal code
says the ruler must be a son or grandson of the founder, and they’re still well
stocked). The country is literally staffed by foreigners, since Saudis
themselves are largely out of the labor market.

Recently, it was shown that Saudi Arabia is working harder to produce the same
amount of oil. Put starkly, they’re running out of oil they can afford to sell
for what it costs to get.

When a quarter of your population are aliens who can’t vote and aren’t allowed
to worship or gather, and you can’t pay them anymore, what happens? When you
have to get them out of your country before your own dissidents start fomenting
rebellion among them, who drives the garbage trucks and runs the water plant,
or brings the mango chutney to your table? Oil is 90% of their economy.

We (that’s you and me, kids) helped make this feudal nightmare work for almost
a century. Like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Iraq, the nations we built in
1920 after World War I are hitting their balloon payment dates, and the bill
has come in innocent blood. The first two are almost fully reconstituted along
reasonable lines, and we’re working on what Iraq will become. That land’s been
a piece of cake compared to what the endgame will be for Saudi Arabia.

We need sustainable energy, domestically produced, and soon, but not for the
reasons the doomsayers offer. This country is the chief support of a non-
sustainable government in the Middle East, and we’re going to have to be part
of finding a soft landing for them. The sticky mess was partly our fault back
when it was just sand, and oil has only made it messier.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio;
argue with him at