Ohio History Journal




The First White Child Born in the Moravian Mission

at Gnadenhutten1




The Ohio Society, Daughters of the American Colonists, at

least must be given credit for arousing a group of Ohio's citizens

from   an unusual state of disinterestedness to one of profound

interest and concern as to who was the first white child born in

Ohio, and some of these seem to have gone out of their way to

misinterpret what it is all about. I hold in my hand a clipping

carrying a challenge which I am sure all of us already were

aware of--"Birthplace of first white child in Ohio still remains

unmarked."2 That is a challenge, but still it can cast no reflec-

tion on any sincere effort to perpetuate the memory of any child

born under unusual circumstances within the State.

Oh, that Ohio people would interest themselves in more

worthy fields of history than endeavoring to discount the efforts

of any really interested group who are willing to put forth a

constructive effort in investigating and preserving the State's


This organization is to be praised for its efforts and enthus-

iasm in perpetuating the history of the State.

The environment in which we now find ourselves is sug-

gestive of much of interest in connection with the beginnings

1 Address delivered at the unveiling of a bronze tablet marking the site on Friday,

September 28, 1934, by the Ohio Society, Daughters of the American Colonists, and

published at the request of the Society and the Roth descendants.

2 The first claim to the distinction of being the first white child born within the

limits of Ohio was made for Polly Heckewelder. We now have the authentic record

for the birth of John Lewis Roth as to time and place. The record of the birth of

James Conner in 1771 has been secured but the exact place has not yet been located.

There is also evidence of the birth of a white child, Henry Mallow, at an Indian village

at the mouth of the Scioto River on November 18, 1758: The mother, Mary Mallow,

had been captured by the Indians a few months before. Henry Mallow died September

12, 1854, and his grave is in the Mt. Hope Lutheran Church Cemetery at Kline, Pen-

dieton County, West Virginia.



JOHN LEWIS ROTH                   251


of our State. We stand on ground made sacred by the blood

of ninety-six Christian Indians deceived and massacred in cruel-

est manner. They were not heathen Indians. They were not

at war with the Americans. They did not wear Indian costumes,

their faces were not painted, their implements and utensils were

made by their own blacksmiths. They made their plea in a

Christ-like manner and in the clutches of their enemies they

showed no weakness. Nobler heroism never was displayed more

than in this awful crisis. Through the livelong night the victims

maintained devotional services, exhorting one another to hold

fast the beginning of their confidence in Jesus, steadfast to the

end, singing the hymns of their faith, preparing to die. One

could easily take the whole hour in eulogizing these Christian

martyrs. Their story was told in graphic style here two years

ago when the State of Ohio provided for a commemorative occa-

sion on the 150th anniversary of their death.

The hour might well be spent in telling the story of Gnaden-

hutten as one of Ohio's first settlements. The hour might well

be spent in reviewing the history of the Moravian activities in

the Tuscarawas Valley.

But this occasion is to honor the memory of the first white

child born in this mission station at Gnadenhutten--the second

son of a Moravian missionary, and one cannot well honor the

son without paying tribute to the father.

In the midst of the tumult going on in Central Europe at

the opening of the eighteenth century there was born a son to

King Frederick who was endeavoring to unite 314 small states

and 1475 small territories, each practically independent, into a

single state--Germany. This first born son became known to

history as Frederick the Great. Fourteen years later there was

born in Saarmund, Brandenburg, in 1726, John Roth, and the

course of his life journey was contemporaneous with that of

the stormy life-time of the greatest warrior and most successful

general of Europe in the eighteenth century. He grew up amid

the toils, privations and hardships entailed on all his countrymen




and after a period of education he began at fifteen the appren-

ticeship for the trade of a locksmith.

In 1756 Roth came to America on a Moravian ship, the

"Irene," and went at once to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He had

left alarm and distress in Europe to find alarm and distress in

America. The French and Indian War was coming on and the

wild Indians were destroying the white settlements. The Mo-

ravians were believers in peace and opposed to war and they

were thoroughly imbued with the missionary spirit.

The people who fled from beyond the mountains came to the Mo-

ravians without arms or ammunition, empty-handed, hungry, half-naked--

men without coats or hats, women and children who had rushed from

their beds with only the clothing they had been sleeping in and perhaps

a blanket or quilt around them--some barefooted. Moreover, they knew

the Moravians were not a fighting people, that they deprecated war and

would not even join in military drill. The population of the town was not

more than five or six hundred persons, the men trained only to peaceful

avocations, many defenseless women and children to be protected and

troops of terror-stricken people rushing in from the back country to seek

refuge among them. Probably among the Moravians of Bethlehem and

Nazareth together not fifty guns could have been found. Occasionally

some of the farmers and woodmen went hunting to find provision to eke

out their scanty store in seasons of scarcity; guns were at times taken

along on journeys through the forest to secure needed food; beyond this

they had no use for fire-arms.

A peaceable and peace-loving community, they were unsupplied with

the means of defense, relying, by profession, on the protection of Him who

declared that "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that

fear Him, and delivereth them."' What should they do in this extremity?

It was a time of testing. Two courses lay open. One was to abandon the

principles they professed, call in the militia and fight the savages; the other,

to keep faith with God and hold fast the beginning of their confidence to

the end. The test was severe. They were no fanatics. They were men

of sound mind and fixed principles, prudent, practical men, who directed

the affairs of the community at this critical juncture with wisdom and dis-

cretion beyond all praise.

They put their trust in the Lord and set a watch to guard against

surprise. Skulking bands of "French Indians" at times were discovered

prowling about the outskirts of the town, seeking an opportunity to effect

a surprise. They were always foiled in their murderous designs by finding

the guards alert. No definite assault was made because the place never

was left unguarded. The savages murdered and scalped and burned where

they could do so with comparative safety to themselves. They kept the

whole frontier in terror while the war lasted, but with one exception the

Moravians never were attacked. God kept faith with his people in Bethle-

hem and Nazareth even as they kept faith with him.


'Psalms, 84:7.


JOHN LEWIS ROTH                          253


John Roth was set down in this turmoil of savage warfare, an in-

terested spectator, soon to become an active participant. Everything was

different from the life and surroundings to which he had been accustomed,

everything peculiar, strange, wonderful, in this new environment. The

vast forests in their untamed, sombre wildness could not fail to impress

his sensitive mind. The first Indians he met, the wild denizens of this

great wilderness, would not fail to give rise to much speculation and food

for thought for many a day. The wide contrast between the new order

of things in this New World as over against the orderly ongoing of affairs

in old Europe--even in the throes of war--would meet him and compel

attention at every turn. He was now a man of thirty years, not without

experience in life, not without education, not without a fair share of solid

common sense, doubtless much perplexed and somewhat mystified for a

time over many things encountered in this strange new land; nevertheless

always walking steadfastly in a clear path in the way of the duty he had

come to fulfill. Strange, indeed, to many a mind, it seems that any man

should hold it his sacred duty to spend his life in trying to Christianize

these murdering savages; yet it was for this that John Roth had left his

native land, crossed the wide ocean and was now in the way of preparing

himself to be a missionary among them.

The work before him was difficult not only by reason of the rude

and semi-civilized conditions physically, full of hardships and privations,

exposed to hunger, heat and cold, wearisome toil, danger to life and limb,

living with the Indians, cut-off from congenial society, and all the refine-

ments of civilized life; even more difficult because of the necessity for

learning the barbarous language, coming to an understanding of the Indian

nature and acquiring a sympathetic insight of their hearts in order to

bring the message of the Gospel to their understanding and win their souls

to Christ. All this was essential to gaining their confidence and gaining

their assent to the saving truths of the Holy Gospel. It was the love of

Christ which filled the soul of the man, fired his heart with holy zeal and

held him in willing servitude to his divine Lord. The difficulties in the

way looked insurmountable but with the faith of an Apostle he could say:

"I can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth me."4

And at his work he went. The first task before him was that of ac-

quiring the language of the Delaware tribe, on whose territory the Mo-

ravians were establishing themselves.5

All his years as a missionary were spent among people chiefly

of this tribe.

The Moravians never employed violent measures for the

attainment of their ends. They relied upon the power of the

Gospel for the transformation of an uncivilized into a civilized

race. They endeavored to make the Indians Christians, but not


At Bethlehem Roth met a young woman devoted to the

Moravian religion--Maria Agnes Pfingstag. She was a favorite


4 Philippians, 4:13.

5 David Luther Roth, Johann Roth, Missionary (Greenville, Ohio, 1922), 23-25.




with all the "sisters"6 and at the time of their meeting she was

thirty-five years old. Roth, nine years her senior, proposed mar-

riage. After due consideration she gave her consent and they

were married, August 16, 1770. And now began the preparations

for removal to the frontier. In 1771, because of troubles in the

East, the Delawares were invited to locate on the Tuscarawas

River in Ohio.

What a march that was! From Friedenshuetten on the Shawnee trail,

practically across the State of Pennsylvania! The diaries of Roth and

[John] Ettwein gave us full details. The joy of the weary pilgrims when

it was ended in the Town of Peace was great and pure and more noble

than the rejoicing of any army that ever battered down the walls and

entered a conquered city. John Roth took up his work of winning souls

to Jesus but, as everywhere, Satan fought to hinder that holy work.

Drunken savages interfered to lead the converts into sin and turn them

away from their teachers. Opposition increased. His wife was in peril.

On one occasion, when he was lying sick in bed, an Indian frenzied with

rage and fire-water, with his war-paint on, brandishing his tomahawk,

burst into the room theatening to kill the white man. Mrs. Roth caught

up her child and ran screaming from the house. The missionary raised

himself on his elbow, looked steadfastly into the glaring eyeballs of the

savage and held him with his unfaltering gaze until Christian Indians

came in and seized the would-be murderer.

The determination was presently reached to accept the invitation of

the Grand Council of the Delawares and gather all the Indian converts in

a new settlement to be formed in the Tuscarawas Valley. Again the

pilgrim-staff was taken up. Across the country one division moved; down

the Beaver and Ohio and up the Muskingum the other went, to the junc-

tion of the Tuscarawas where [David] Zeisberger and [John] Heckewelder

had begun to clear land and plant and build in preparation for their coming.

In the course of a few years this beginning had grown into a cluster of

Christian  communities:  Gnadenhutten  (Tents  of  Grace), Lichtenau

(Meadow of Light), Schoen Brunn (Beautiful Spring), and Salem. Here

dwelling in peace and plenty were hundreds of Indian converts and their

families, and a corps of devoted missionaries: Zeisberger, Heckewelder

and wife, Gottlob Senseman and wife, John G. Jungmann and wife, John

Roth and wife, John J. Schmick and wife and others later.

So successful was their work that just before the Revolutionary

War broke out the Grand Council of the Delawares resolved and pub-

lished the edict that:

Liberty is given the Christian religion, which the Council advises

the other nations to adopt. The Christian Indians are on an entire

equality with the Delawares, all constituting one nation. Christian

Indians have like property rights in the nation's lands with the rest

of the nation. Only converts may settle near the towns of the Chris-

tian Indians.


6 A term used to denote the unmarried women who lived in the "Single Sisters'



JOHN LEWIS ROTH                          255


Zeisberger drew up the following statutes for the government of the

Indian communities and in accordance with them all their affairs were


We will know no other God but the one only true God, who

made us and all creatures, and came into the world in order to save

sinners to Him alone we pray. We will rest from work on the Lord's

day, and attend public service. We will honor father and mother,

and when they grow old and needy we will do for them what we can.

No one shall have leave to dwell among us until our Pastors

have given their consent, after due examination by the Helpers. We

will have nothing to do with thieves, murderers, whoremongers,

adulterers or drunkards. We will not take part in dances, sacrifices,

heathenish festivals or games. We will use no witchcraft in hunting.

We will obey our Pastors and the Helpers appointed to preserve

order in our public services, and in the towns and in the fields. We

will not be idle, nor scold, nor beat one another, nor tell lies. Who-

soever injures the property of his neighbor shall make restitution.

A man shall have but one wife, shall love her and shall provide

for her and his children. A woman shall have but one husband, shall

obey him, care for her children, and be cleanly in all things. Young

persons shall not marry without the consent of their parents and their


We will not admit rum or any other intoxicating liquor in our

towns. If strangers or traders shall bring intoxicating liquors, our

Helpers shall take it from them and not restore it until the owners

are ready to leave the place.

No one shall contract debts with traders or receive goods to

sell for traders, without the consent of the Helpers. Whoever goes on a

hunt or journey must give due notice to the Pastors or Stewards.

Whenever the Stewards or Helpers appoint a time to make fences or

to do other work for the common good, we will assist and do our part.

Whenever corn is needed to entertain strangers, or sugar for love-

feasts, we will freely contribute from our supply. We will not go

to war and will not buy booty taken in war.7

The government of these Moravian towns on the Tusca-

rawas was administered by the missionaries and their Indian

Helpers, who constituted a Municipal Council. When the sub-

ject of removal came up, the decision was always left to the vote of

the people. Agriculture and stock-raising were what mainly oc-

cupied these Indian converts, although hunting, as we have seen,

was not given up entirely.

The prosperity of this remarkable cluster of Indian towns

excited the wonder and admiration of the white men and the red

men. Many persons came long distances to see for themselves

these habitants of peace, the fame of which spread afar.


7 Roth, Johann Roth, Missionary, 153-55.




Inasmuch as our object is primarily to follow the fortunes

of Roth and his family we shall present one transcript from his

official diary now in the archives of the church at Bethlehem and

then leave the general development of the history of the mission

for the present. Here is the copy:

July 4th, 1773. Today God gave Brother and Sister Roth a young

son. He was baptized unto the death of Jesus and named John Lewis, on

the 5th inst., by Brother David Zeisberger, who, together with Brother

Jungmann and his wife, came here this morning. The sponsors for the

young child were two Indian Christians: Anton, a Delaware, and Chris-

tina, a Mohican.

Christina was among the number slain in the massacre at

Gnadenhutten in 1782.

Because of the danger to the missionaries, growing out of

the wars in which the whites and Indians were engaged, which

afterward developed into the Revolutionary War, Zeisberger, who

was best qualified to read the signs of the times, advised that

the missionaries who had families should return with them to

Bethlehem for greater safety. Roth and his family accordingly

departed from Schoenbrunn in the spring of 1774, traveling

by way of Pittsburgh, back to Bethlehem. He served the Mo-

ravian Church in Pennsylvania until his death in 1791.

I know of no better way of concluding this tribute to John

Lewis Roth and to his father, Johann Roth, than to quote the

closing meditation of David Luther Roth, the author of the

book, which has served as the basis for my remarks, written

when he was seventy-five years old.


I am one of the great-grandsons of the noble man and wife who gave

their lives to win the souls of their fellowmen, savage and civilized, to

God, the Father of us all. I am proud of it. I hold it as my title of

nobility. Others have their ancestors of whom they speak with pride.

Theirs may be "the pomp of heraldry, the pride of power," of lofty station

or mere wealth. Our ancestors have bequeathed us virtues; a nobler

heritage. Their souls were nourished by the Divine Spirit. They found

their joy in service and self-sacrifice.

They sleep the sleep of the just. Let their memory be ever cherished.

We, their children, living in this later age, who may not always have

followed in their track, should go, when we would raise our thoughts and

strengthen our faith, to their lowly resting places, and there seek strength

and consolation. From such communion with sacred memories, we shall


JOHN LEWIS ROTH                          257


come forth with fresh courage for our duty and renewed faith in the

everlasting love of God. After all that our fathers have done and suffered

it would ill become us to forget them and stop to complain of difficulties

in our way while we were enjoying the fruits of their labors. Our defeats

would have seemed to them victories. If we had their greatness of soul and

their high trust in God--if all Christians had it--the world would be at

the foot of the Cross today.