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On March 6th, 1782 a total of ninety-six Christian Native Americans were executed by a troop of western Pennsylvania militia in the Moravian missionary town of Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Led by David Williamson, the soldiers had set out to investigate claims of Native Americans gathering at the Muskingum missions following a series of raids which led to the death and capture of several American colonial settlers. The Moravian Indians had previously been forced to relocate out of Gnadenhutten but facing no secure prospects of food or shelter, a group returned to harvest crops left behind. When the militia reached Gnadenhutten, they accused the group of Moravian Indians of helping enemy war parties, held them hostage, and eventually decided to execute them. The majority of Moravian Indians executed were women and children. This project sets out to explore how the events of the Gnadenhutten massacre have been documented in early sources and what information can be extracted from a diverse corpora to gain insight about the relationships that might have directly or indirectly contributed to these events. The corpora analyzed for this project is composed of entirely primary sources including a selection of newspaper articles on the massacre, correspondence from congress members, along with legislative and executive documents pertaining to indian affairs.


Image sources

Left: Massachusetts Militia 1775 (

Right: Delaware Indian (


Literature Review

Several different historians have explored the implications of the Gnadenhutten massacre, ranging from the specific impact on Christian Native Americans and within the larger context of Native-settler relations moving forward in the late 18th century. Specific discussions that focus on the massacre address various different topics such as relationships to personal faith, geographical migration, and cohabitation with British colonists, American colonists, and other Native American communities were all affected by the events of the massacre (Bowes, 2008). All of these different discourses explore varying aspects of the significance of the massacre showcased by the events that followed. This approach positions the Gnadenhutten massacre as the catalyst for an onslaught of issues the prevented the cultural exchange and relationship necessary between Native Americans and settlers to develop a harmonious life and society along the western frontier. However, Rob Harper appears to be the most prolific historian focusing on the specific events of the Gnadenhutten massacre by specifically highlighting the events of the massacre to further contextualizing the violence that took place (Harper, 2018; Harper, 2007). A broader historical approach to early American history discuss the relationship dynamics between colonial settlers and Native American communities as an ongoing state of imbalance, tension, and miscommunication noted as early as 1768 with the signing of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (McDonnell, 2015; Saler, 2015). Revisionist historiographies, such as those by Harper and Patrick Griffin, assert that historical discourse thus far has not properly credited the role of the federal government in promoting the use of extreme violence along western territories.

In contrast to early contemporary scholarship on the topic earlier secondary historical sources focus primarily on accounting for the events of the Gnadenhutten massacre through the use of personal accounts (“Massacre of Ninety-six Christian Indians,” 1870; Shweinitz, 1871). Although, some of these This model of early secondary sources often emphasize the pious qualities of Moravian missionaries and Indians indicating moral virtue as a unique identifier and level of vulnerability of this community. These early secondary sources provide insight into how the massacre would have been accounted and offers insight into the sources contemporary scholars would be working with. Ultimately, the larger scholarly discourse on the Gnadenhutten massacre graviates between arguing that this was a fundamental tipping point that shattered Native American-settler relationships or was a significant but normalized occurrence that fit within the larger scheme of violence on the 18th century frontier.


The primary sources analyzed for this project consist of three different corpora. Each corpus offers a distinct perspective on the state of Native American-settler relationships and address varying aspects of 18th century early American history. The central corpus that composed the focus of this research project is a selection of digitized 19th century newspaper articles that recount the events of Gnadenhutten massacre. After searching for historical digitized primary sources that discussed the massacre, the majority of the sources that were found and transcribed were written to recount the massacre in commemoration of the one-hundred year mark since it occured. This corpus offers a concentrated view on how the massacre was addressed and historically represented. The second corpus, the American State Papers on Indian Affairs consists of two distinct volumes covering the time period of 1774 to 1784, which contain legislative and executive documents from Congress. This corpus offers a contrasting, formal perspective of the relationship between Native American communities and the federal government, which is a vital to contextualizing the violence of the Gnadenhutten massacre. To properly analyze the Indian Affair papers, this body of works was split into separate documents using Regex. The third corpus, the Correspondence of Continental Congress Members corpus consists of a series of journal entries and letters from members of congress that directly related to their work during the time period of 1774 to 1789. This corpus offers an alternative perspective mitigating between the official information on government actions seen in the American State Papers corpus and the first hand, personal accounts of congress members. The American State Papers and Correspondence of Continental Congress Members both serve to broaden our perspective of the period following the Gnadenhutten massacre and contrast the curated corpus on the Gnadenhutten massacre.

Analytical Techniques

We used quantitative text mining techniques on newspaper articles reflecting the Gnadenhutten Massacre from sources as diverse as The Weekly Ohio State Journal to the Cincinnati Gazette. This select corpus was investigated through various means such as collocates, bigram analysis, topic modeling, word embedding, skip gram methods, and mapping tools. All of these techniques were utilized to help contextualize the key figures, words, and locations of the newspaper corpus to provide insight into the Gnadenhutten massacre. These analytical techniques were used to compare the newspaper corpus to another corpus, to situate how different entities were represented, and to geographically situate acts of violence along western territories. These analytical techniques directly dealt with the corpus specifically curated to focus on the Gnadenhutten massacre offering new quantifiable information about how the events were contextualized. Additionally, we used volumes of correspondence by Continental congressmen that were compiled chronologically from 1774 to 1784. This corpus was analyzed using collocates and measuring the relative frequency of distinct words via the collocates, links and trends tools in Voyant Tools. These analytical techniques were used to situate the main topics discussed in the corpus and view how broader topics of American history might inform our understanding of violence along the frontier. Furthermore, we supplemented these two corpora with official documents from the American State Papers on Indian Affairs, which were split up using Regex. The third corpus was analyzed through collocations and relative word frequency to explore notions of violence and Native American-federal government relations modeled through select words. All of these analytical techniques have served to examine Native American relations, whether they be prolific or absent, across several different primary sources bridging together different perspectives and representations of early American history.

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