Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pennsylvanians murder 96 men, women, and children

 First there is this from the History Channel website:

On this day in 1782, 160 Pennsylvania militiamen murder 96 Christian Indians–39 children, 29 women and 28 men–by hammering their skulls with mallets from behind as they kneel unarmed, praying and singing, in their Moravian Mission at Gnadenhuetten in the Ohio Country. The Patriots then piled their victims’ bodies in mission buildings before burning the entire community to the ground. Two boys managed to survive, although one had lost his scalp to his attackers. Although the militiamen claimed they were seeking revenge for Indian raids on their frontier settlements, the Indians they murdered had played no role in any attack.  This infamous attack on non-combatants led to a loss of faith in the Patriots by their Indian allies and reprisals upon Patriot captives in Indian custody. The Indians resurrected the practice of ritualized torture, discontinued during the Seven Years’ War, on the men they were able to apprehend who had participated in the Gnadenhuetten atrocity.

Although the Moravians and their Indian converts were pacifists who refused to kill under any circumstances, they found other ways to assist the Patriot cause. Like other Indian allies who refused to kill fellow Indians, they aided the Patriots by working as guides and spies. The German Moravian missionaries were also supplying the Americans with critical information, for which they were later arrested and tried by the British.

None of this protected the Indians when 160 members of the Pennsylvania militia decided to act as judge, jury and executioner. The Delaware Indians they murdered were neutral pacifists. Their Christian missionaries were aiding the Patriot cause. Furthermore, they did not live in the manner described as savage by European settlers–they were instead engaged in European-style settled agriculture in their mission village. There was no political, religious or cultural justification for the militiamen’s indiscriminate brutality during the Gnadenhuetten massacre; the incident is sadly illustrative of the anti-Indian racism that sometimes trumped even political allegiances during the American Revolution.

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And there is this two-part personal postscript:

(1) Let us agree that the Pennsylvania militiamen had no legal or moral justification for the murderous incident; however, keeping our minds open to extenuating and mitigating defense factors, we need to remember that many people on the western frontier (west of the Allegheny Mountains) had bitter and recent memories of the many atrocities committed by native Americans upon colonial settlers, and -- unfortunately -- sometimes one group of native Americans suffered for the sins of other native Americans. Yes, it was probably too easy to see all native Americans as one and the same. Now, being provocative and making a huge leap in time to the present, perhaps contemporary non-Muslim populations, especially post-9/11 Americans, might learn some important lessons from the 1782 Gnadenhuetten incident.

(2) Because truth is stranger (and more interesting) than fiction, I will be reading more nonfiction in the coming days, weeks, and months; so, for better or worse, I will be posting more about nonfiction and less about fiction in the future.




14 comments:

  1. Things were brutal then. I am currently reading Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.

    The author describes the atrocities committed against Africans in the Middle Passage by brutal Slave Ship captains.

    But the worst part is the indifference by Europeans and Americans who would rather not think of such unpleasant things.

    Now how can we draw parallels with that and today?

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    1. Parallels are plentiful. Atrocities persist. Take your pick. Humans have a horrible capacity for evil. The education (brainwashing and radicalization) of young Muslim boys by ISIS is an alarming example.

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    2. Equally disturbing is the genocide people commit against themselves. The suicide rate in developed countries (Europe and North America) is on average higher than in third world countries. Why is the suicide rate so high among prosperous countries with laws that protect human rights?

      Could it also be indifference? The feeling that no one cares?

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    3. Dare I mention prenatal homicide (abortion)? No, that is too controversial, so I won't bring that into the discussions.

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    4. I'm glad you dared because I was hesitant to. That is one of the worst genocides that is happening across the planet.

      And if feminists want to call it a choice, then maybe they should be aware that in third world countries baby girls are aborted far more frequently than boys.

      I also find it interesting that the arguments defending abortion are the same arguments people used to defend atrocities against Native Americans and Africans. i.e. They aren't really a "person". They are the property of someone else etc..

      I'm sure the abortion issue make a lot of people uneasy because now we're not talking about the sins of others but the sins on our own doorstep.

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    5. Sharon, I guess I had a lot of nerve mentioning the issue on Women's Day!

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    6. OK Now you've got me started. What nerve for people to tell me when to celebrate being a woman. I completely ignored it. I love being a woman and I love my husband and my son and my father. They are the closest people in my life. It is NOT us vs. them.

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    7. Sharon, yesterday was much ado about nothing; full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. That is just my curmudgeonly male POV.

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    8. Well, Tim. That's also my curmudgeonly female POV, too.

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  2. This is a stark reminder, Tim, that brutality and bigotry are not confined to just one era. This is one reason for which it's so important, I think, to have a good knowledge of history. Without it, we can get no perspective.

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    1. Margot, Santayana warned us to keep an eye on history; otherwise we will repeat the mistakes and nightmares of the past.

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  3. Parkman covers this in detail in The Conspiracy of Pontiac. I haven't opened that book in thirty years, and may not have a copy now, but I recall it as well worth reading.

    From the history of the frontier wars I have taken away lessons that are less moral than practical. One exemplified by the Paxton massacre is that militia is seldom dependable: it tends to be under-disciplined, and under-trained, more apt to kill non-combatants than to show well against determined fighters. Some American units served well in that war, but really it took British regulars to win it.

    As for moral lessons, I see none but that humans are capable of appalling brutality. One need not look back 250 years--Yugoslavia disintegrated violently after forty years of quiet, with plenty of massacres along the way.

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    1. George, thanks for mentioning the Parkman book. I hope to find a copy.
      As for brutality, you are correct: the past and present are filled with horrible incidents. History, though, tends to spotlight terrors rather than ecstasies; in other words, there are still plenty of good human stories worth finding and celebrating.

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    2. Tim, you're welcome. FYI, the Library of Americas provides The Conspiracy of Pontiac in a volume with The Oregon Trail.

      There are plenty of stories worth celebrating, certainly.

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