Ohio History Journal





Assistant Professor of History, Wayne University

New Salem, the original Moravian mission on the Pettquotting

(now the Huron) River in northern Ohio, was abandoned in 1791

after four troublous years. In 1804 another settlement of Christian

Indians was made close to the old site, but it too failed after a few

years and had to be given up. This second venture had its incep-

tion at a General Mission Conference held at Goshen on the

Muskingum in the fall of 1803 during an official visit of Bishop

Loskiel. Gottfried Sebastian Oppelt of Fairfield on the River

Thames in Canada was selected to lead part of the Fairfield con-

gregation to the Pettquotting the following spring. John Benjamin

Haven was ordained at this time and chosen to assist Oppelt at the

new mission.

John Schnall, who had been present from Fairfield, returned to

the Thames with the news. Most of the Indians there immediately

expressed a desire to go to the Pettquotting, but after the matter

had been discussed in council, several advised waiting for another

year. They believed the chief of the Tawas who had gone to the

Cuyahoga to hunt for the winter should first be notified. Oppelt

thought that the objections of these Indians had some justification,

but just before Christmas he visited the American Indian agent

Jouett at Detroit who gave the plan his hearty support. Oppelt felt

that this was more valuable than the consent of the chiefs, who had

little prestige with their own people because of their evil ways of


Preparations continued during the early months of 1804 for

the exodus of part of the Fairfield congregation. For a time it was


* This account of the founding of the second Pettquotting colony is based on

a manuscript in German, with a translation in English, in the Burton Historical

Collection in the Detroit Public Library. It is entitled Excerpts from a Report of

Br. Oppelt about the Start of an Indian Mission in Pettquotting to the end of the

Year 1804, and is part I of number II of the Congregation News, 1806. See also

John Heckewelder, Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the

Delaware and Mohegan Indians (Philadelphia, 1820), 417-418.





uncertain how many Indians would be willing to remove to Ohio.

At last six families comprising thirty-two persons made up their

minds to go, taking with them eight horses and fifteen cows and

calves which would be driven overland. An early prayer meeting

was held on April 28, preparatory to departure, but the Indians were

slow in getting ready and it was not until four o'clock in the after-

noon that the first four canoes started. The other four canoes

caught up with them the next morning. Oppelt and three boatmen

were in a large canoe which the Indians had built for the use of

his family who had to remain behind as Mrs. Oppelt was expecting

another child.

The trip down the Thames River was made very slowly, with

frequent stops along the way, so that it was May 5 when the party

reached Lake St. Clair. Here stormy weather further delayed

them, and while they waited the Indian men sang from their

hymn books to the amazement of the white settlers whose own

children were unable to read. Oppelt and part of the Indians ar-

rived at Detroit on the 8th and the rest came in later. While Oppelt

bought some necessities and dried his clothes, which had become

wet while crossing the lake, the men brought some seed corn to

Captain McKee at Amherstburg, receiving in return plentiful pro-

visions and much powder and lead from the government stores.

The group was here reenforced by another Indian family from


On May 14 the little flotilla continued its journey down the

Detroit River and around the western end of Lake Erie. Oppelt

and part of the Indians went far ahead of the others and had to

wait a day for them to catch up. A prayer meeting was held on the

20th, and during the following week stormy weather kept the expedi-

tion in camp. At this place Oppelt received a letter from Haven

who said that he had arrived on the Pettquotting River from Goshen

the middle of May. When the weather cleared on the 27th prayers

were said and the expedition continued. It arrived at the mouth

of the Pettquotting on June 4 and encamped about four miles up,

near a band of Chippewas who were having a drinking party.

The next day Oppelt proceeded up the river and met Haven,

who told him that he had stayed for several weeks with a French


PETTQUOTTING                    209


trader who was drunk most of the time, as were the neighboring

Chippewas and Monseys. When he could bear the drunkenness no

longer he had gone to live with a Moravian Indian from Goshen

named Nicodemus, who had built a bark hut twelve miles from the

mouth of the river. Oppelt stayed overnight in the hut with Haven

and then returned to his people. The Fairfield emigrants had

already met one of the chiefs of the Tawas whom they had presented

with a string of wampum and told that the land on which they were

about to settle belonged to them. They said that they had been

forced to leave in 1791, but now were returning with their teacher,

and they hoped their Indian neighbors would give them a friendly

reception. The chief was favorably inclined and promised to give

the wampum and the message to the first chief. The Monseys, who

lived in a town of about a hundred persons scattered for two miles

on both sides of the river, sent word that they would come to the

Moravians' camp the next day to hold a council with them. The

seven old men who appeared did not seem pleased at the Moravians'

coming, but when they were told that the land belonged to the

newcomers they said no more and departed.

Oppelt now led his band up the river until the water became

so shallow the men had to wade for long stretches pushing the

canoes before them. At last, when they could go no farther, they

chose a place for settlement two miles above the Monsey town. At

this place the water was clear and fresh, running over slate con-

taining "earth tar," which burned in a fire like coal. The site

selected for the village was on the south side on a rather high bank

covered with a thick growth of timber. Beyond and below lay

low fertile lands for planting. The people came together under a

large hickory tree where Oppelt held a church service and talked of

their purpose in coming, until a violent rain storm forced them to

disperse. The next day they surveyed the site, laying out a street par-

allel to the river. Most of the people chose their lots on the side next

to the stream. It was planned to build the church on the opposite

side near the center of the village, with the schoolhouse and Haven's

house to the right of it and the Oppelts' house on the left. Tempo-

rary huts of bark were built immediately for protection against the

frequent rains and thunderstorms.




Several of the Indian brethren went down to the Monsey town to

plant in some empty fields there, and although the missionaries did

not like to have them exposed to the evil influence of the heathen,

they could not protest as it was already very late to begin planting.

Oppelt and Haven cleared a piece of land for themselves and put

in potatoes and vegetable seeds, and they sowed corn on another

piece which the Indians cleared for them. The meat supply was

exhausted soon after their arrival, and they had to live on bread

baked in ashes, and on the huckleberries which grew in pro-

fusion about them. In July the missionaries were able to move

into the Oppelts' house, glad to have a roof over their heads al-

though the doors and windows had not yet been put in. The next

day was Sunday and the hearts of the missionaries were gladdened

by the appearance of ten strangers at the service held in the house.

Oppelt had received a letter from Fairfield telling him of the

birth of his son Conrad Benjamin. Since he had fallen ill with

fever it was August 6 before he was able to set out to get his

family. Haven was left in charge of the congregation at Pett-

quotting and busied himself with putting doors and shutters on the

Oppelts' house, which were badly needed for protection against the

wild dogs which infested the region. Despite the extreme heat he

then cut down trees for his own house and split the shingles for it.

Some of the young men went down to the Monsey town and got

drunk, and one was saved from being killed by the savages only

when the squaws covered him with blankets. On September 7 the

cemetery lot was consecrated at the funeral of a little girl. Many

strangers came regularly to the Sunday services, but on the 9th

there were none due to the fever which struck many in the Monsey

town as well as in the Moravian settlement.

After a difficult trip from Fairfield, Oppelt and his family

approached the mouth of the Pettquotting on the evening of Sep-

tember 10. Almost swamped in the breakers when the boat came

too near the shore, the French boatmen were with great effort able

to get into deep water again. Then they found that the mouth of

the river was blocked. They attempted to get across the bar on a

large wave but missed the entrance and were driven ashore. The

boatmen jumped out and carried Oppelt's family to land, and Oppelt


PETTQUOTTING                    211


waded to safety. It was only with difficulty that the boat was

brought into the river, and in the evening all reached the house of

a trader named Borrell. He received them kindly and supplied

woolen blankets for the night since their own belongings were

drenched with water.

On September 16, although late, the mission celebrated the

Marriage Festival in the new church which was still covered with a

tent cloth in place of a roof. Three days later Haven and the

Oppelts were all ill with fever, but despite their weakness the mis-

sionaries were able to put up a stove which had been brought from

Fairfield. This brought relief from the dampness of the house

which still lacked a chimney for the fireplace. The people generally

were weakened by sickness and a spell of unseasonable hot weather.

Their only food consisted of flour and some smoked pork which had

been cured the year before.

The missionaries celebrated the first Lord's Supper at Pett-

quotting on October 13. On the 24th a sick Indian woman was

brought in who asked to be baptized and allowed to remain. Oppelt

talked with her, then baptized her with the name of Sophia, and

she died a few days later. In November a young Indian brought

word that the sick Amalia, daughter of old Samuel, was about to

die. She had said several times that she wanted to live with the

Moravians but had been prevented from doing so by her father.

The missionaries sent her words of comfort and when she died

buried her in their cemetery.

By the end of November the village consisted of eleven houses,

all sufficiently completed for their owners to move into them.

Oppelt and Haven built a chimney for the Oppelts' house and a

large baking oven. Until then they had been forced to bake their

bread daily in a Dutch oven. They harvested their potatoes, but

most of them had to be saved for the spring planting. Many of

their vegetables had been ruined by wild animals although they

obtained a plentiful supply of turnips, beets, and carrots. Sorely

needed provisions arrived from Fairfield at the end of November.

A storage house was completed before the end of the year despite

the illness of most of the company and the interruptions while work

was done on the houses and wood cut for heating. On Christmas




Eve the congregation celebrated with a love feast at which lighted

candles were distributed to all, including several strangers. The

mission now consisted of forty-six people, of whom thirty-eight

were baptized.

Thus the Pettquotting mission was founded, but although it

seemed to have a promising beginning, with many of the heathen

Indians taking an interest in religion, it proved a failure. It was

too close to the evil influences of the Monsey town, and the young

people were corrupted by the rum trade. The final blow came

when it was learned that the government had sold the land to white

settlers and the Moravians were liable to expulsion at any time.

In the fall of 1809 two directors of the society, John G. Cunow

and Charles de Forestier, came to Pettquotting and the decision was

made to migrate to the Sandusky River. Some of the Indians re-

mained at Pettquotting and others went to Goshen. The mission at

the Sandusky was abandoned during the War of 1812.