FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES1
By FREDERICK COYNE HAMIL
The name Moraviantown is well known to students of the
War of 1812, for it was near this place that General William
Henry Harrison defeated Colonel Henry A. Procter, and the
famous Indian Chief Tecumseh was killed. The Battle of the
Thames is also known as the Battle of Moraviantown. American
histories of the war, following official accounts, usually omit to
mention the sequel to the battle, the plundering and destruction
of the village called by the Moravians Fairfield. Of little moment
in the course of a war, this event was tragedy to the Christian
Indians of the settlement and their missionaries.
The Moravian missions in Ohio had been abandoned in the
fall of 1781 on orders from the British at Detroit. Although their
religion forbade fighting, they were looked upon with suspicion
by both sides in the American Revolutionary War. The follow-
ing March a hundred of the Indian converts, returning to gather
the standing corn, were massacred at Gnadenhutten by a party
of American frontiersmen. The remainder founded a settlement
on the Clinton River near the present Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
In 1787 they returned to Ohio, forced to leave because of the
hostility of the Chippewas. Four years later, feeling themselves
in grave danger from the warfare being waged between the
western Indians and the American militia, the Moravians secured
permission to move across the Detroit River, at the entrance to
Lake Erie, near where Amherstburg now stands. This place
they called the Warte, or Watch-Tower. It was but a temporary
refuge. It was still too close to the scene of fighting; and they
were terrified by threats from Indians who attempted to draw
them into the war with the Americans. They decided to with-
1 Extension of a paper read at Amkerstburg, Ontario, June 9, 1938, before the
joint meeting of the Ontario, Michigan, and Detroit Historical Societies.
2 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
draw to a safe distance within British territory, into a wilder-
ness where they would be undisturbed by friend and foe alike.
David Zeisberger says they were advised to settle on the
Thames River (then called La Tranche) by the trader Abiah
Parke, who knew it well and praised the beauty and fertility
of the land. Alexander McKee, Indian agent, also suggested
the Thames. At this time there were a number of white squat-
ters between the mouth of the river and the forks, where the
city of Chatham now stands.2 Above this were no habitations
until the Indian towns of the Munseys and Delawares, far up
the river.3 The surveyor Patrick McNiff had surveyed the
course of the river in 1790,4 and had but recently completed the
laying out of farm lots fronting on it, through two and a half
townships.5 The Land Board of the District of Hesse began to
issue certificates of location to retired soldiers and Loyalists about
the time the Moravians arrived.6
For a number of years, perhaps since before 1780, there
had been some white settlers on the lower part of the river,
either by virtue of Indian grants, or without any right. The
land on both sides for some distance back had been granted by
the Chippewas to various individuals in the early 1780's, some
of them Detroit merchants.7 An Indian woman named Sally
Ainse, widow of the famous interpreter, Andrew Montour, had
received a grant in 1780 of all the land on the north side be-
tween the mouth of the river and the forks.8 Some of this
she had sold to others, and when the Moravians first came to
this settlement they called it the "Sally Hand." These Indian
grants were eventually all disallowed by the government, although
those who had made improvements were given lots of 200 acres.9
2 Patrick McNiff's plan of the Thames River (partial), made in 1790, in the Sur-
vey Office, Department of Lands and Forests, Toronto, Ontario; see also Ontaric
Archives, Reports (Toronto), III (1905), xciv.
3 "Came to Brother Senseman's camp above the fork at the end of the settle-
ment, and further on no white people live." David Zeisberger, Diary; tr. by E. F.
Bliss (Cincinnati, 1885), II, 258.
4 "McNiff brought today a plan . . . of River LaTranche up to the second
fork delineated from actual surveys, made in the years 1789 and 1790." D. W. Smith
to Henry Motz, January 25, 1791, Land Report Hesse, MS. (Public Archives of
Canada, Ottawa), Report B, p. 13-4.
5 Ontario Archives, Reports, III (1905), xciv.
6 Ibid., 198.
7 Notarial Registers, Detroit, MS. (Public Archives), II, 43, 45; III, 398-402,
431-2; VI, 221, 228, 232.
8 Ibid., VI, 143.
9 The dispute over Sally Ainse's claims dragged on for several years. By
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 3
On the morning of April 12, 1792, the band of about 150
Christian Delaware Indians set out for the Thames.10 They
were led by four Moravian missionaries,--David Zeisberger and
Gottlieb Senseman with their families, and William Edwards and
Michael Jung who were unmarried. Lieutenant-Governor John
Graves Simcoe had promised them a grant of land when he
should come to Detroit, but they felt they must start at once
so they could clear and plant their fields and thus secure pro-
visions for the coming winter. McKee and Colonel Richard
England, the commandant at Detroit, gave them permission to go,
and loaned them a transport, which, along with nine canoes,
would carry them to their destination. Jung and several of the
Indian brethren went overland driving the cattle; the rest began
their voyage by way of the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair.
At Fighting Island near Detroit the little fleet was detained
for three days by unfavorable winds. Then the transport sailed
for Lake St. Clair, but the canoes were forced to stay behind
for several days longer. The wind was so strong that the trans-
port lost its mast and sail on the lake. Another was soon rigged,
and by nightfall they had reached the mouth of the Thames.
Here they ran aground in the darkness, after striking a floating
tree, and spent a miserable night drenched by the cold waves that
continually broke over them.
The next morning, with the aid of some Chippewas who
came in their canoes and partly unloaded the transport the ship
was floated. A day later they came to the settlement of the
"ally Hand," as Zeisberger called it. Here they secured one
hundred bushels of corn which they had bought in Detroit, prob-
ably from John Askin, whom they had seen there while detained
at Fighting Island. Zeisberger lodged at the home of Coleman
Roe, who lived just below the forks. They found the settlers
Order-in-Council dated October 17, 1792, she was to be invested with certificates for
"eight lots in the centre of the first township of the first concession on the north
side of the river." Letters Received, MS. (Survey Office, Toronto), 1, 288-9. The
Land Board of the District of Hesse had already granted these lots to other settlers,
except one lot to Sally herself. This lot was all she was ever able to secure. On
April 9, 1798, the Council refused her petition to be put in possession of the rest.
Land Book D, Upper Canada, 1797-1802, MS. (Public, Archives), 93. She continued
to address petitions to the government until as late as 1815, without success. Upper
Canada Land Petitions. Miscellaneous, 1789-1795, MS. (Public Archives).
10 Except where otherwise indicated, the account of the founding of Fairfield,
and incidents up to 1798, are based on Zeisberger, Diary, 11, 255-527.
4 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
very friendly, refusing to take payment for bread or provisions;
but when Zeisberger preached on Sunday only the women at-
tended, the men having no use for religion.
Jung and the Indians with the cattle arrived April 21, but
it was not until four days later that all the canoes appeared with
the brethren who had been detained near Detroit. The Sense-
mans and William Edwards had gone above the forks, where they
had erected a hut. It was decided that they should remain there
while the rest went on and found a suitable place to settle. Ac-
cordingly the transport was sent back to Detroit, and on the
27th Zeisberger set out with some twenty canoes, Jung and the
Indians with the cattle following along the bank. That night
they ate a supper of turtles taken on the way; and the next day
several of the sisters landed and picked cranberries, returning at
nightfall. By May 1 they had gone a considerable distance above
the "Big Bend," east of the present village of Wardsville. They
then decided to retrace their steps, and the following day took
possession of a height not far below a vacant hut belonging to
a French trader.
On May 6, after the arrival of Senseman, Edwards, and the
rest of the Indians, they abandoned this site, and moved to an-
other three miles farther down stream, where there was better
land for farming. Three days later all had moved except the
old Indian Thomas, who died worn out with labors. His body
was taken to the site of the future Fairfield, and was buried in
"a beautiful graveyard upon a little height," which they laid out
for the purpose.
The same day, May 10, they cut down the hardwood timber
which covered the sandy soil of their town-site on the north bank
of the Thames. The rich bottom lands, mostly across the river,
were divided up, and the work of clearing and planting went on
for nearly two weeks. Most of the hundred bushels of corn
they had brought from the lower settlement was used for seed.
Thirty-eight lots were laid out in the village, nineteen along the
river, extending westward from a ravine and creek which ran
into the Thames, and nineteen opposite, with a single long street
between. Vegetables were planted in the gardens at the back of
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 5
these lots; and finally they began to make preparations for build-
ing their houses. Until these were built they lived in huts
"under the green trees," plagued by swarms of mosquitoes and
flies. There was little time for hunting, but some deer and a bear
were brought in for food. During the early days of June the
supplies of 'corn were exhausted, and they were fortunate in being
able to buy some from the Munsey village for a dollar a bushel.
The work of building houses and fencing fields went on
rapidly. By the middle of June the Zeisbergers and the Sense-
mans were able to move into their homes, which were to do until
better ones could be built. A month later a temporary chapel
or meeting-house furnished with wooden benches had been com-
pleted, and the bell hung in the little tower. The day after
Christmas they began to cut and square timber, and split it into
boards. This was drawn in on sledges, and was used to build
a schoolhouse, which was finished by January 10, 1793.
A plan of the village, dated August, 1793, shows the church
on the fifth lot from the ravine on the side farthest from the
river. Just west of this is Zeisberger's home. Directly opposite
it is the house occupied by Edwards and Jung; next to them is
Senseman's house, and then the schoolhouse, extending down river.
The remaining houses were occupied by the Indians, whose names
are given in the plan. The graveyard, on a little elevation called
Hat-hill, is almost directly opposite the lower end of the village.
Some distance behind the church is a small field belonging to
Zeisberger, which he used for pasture and turnips. One of the
Indians, named Ignatius, had a large wheat field on the eastern
side of the ravine, extending across the present Longwoods road.11
Twenty years later, when the town was burned, it had grown
no farther westward, but there were several houses across the
ravine, which had been bridged. There were also a number of
houses on a cross street which ran back some distance from the
main street, just east of the chapel.12
A couple of months after this plan was made, new and bet-
ter homes were completed for the Zeisbergers and Sensemans,
11 Plan of Fairfield (Archives of the Moravian Church, Bethlehem, Penn.).
12 Plan of Fairfield, October, 1813, Robert B. McAfee, "Journal," Kentucky
State Historical Society, Register (Louisville), XXVI (1928), 129.
6 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
and their old ones served as stables. A year later a new meeting-
house was constructed of planks split from wild cherry timber the
winter before. It was not until this time, November, 1794, that
a name was chosen for the town. It was named Fairfield, or in
German, Schonfeld. Nevertheless the old name of Moravian-
town persisted, and was commonly used by travelers and the
inhabitants of the river.
The village was fortunate in having a good spring of water
at the head of the ravine, which fed the little creek running into
the Thames. There was also a salt spring on the bank of the
river less than half a mile away. This was not discovered until
October, 1793, as the bank here was steep and the cattle could
not get to it. Salt was an expensive necessity to the early set-
tlers, having to be bought from traders who brought it in from
the East. The oil from a petroleum spring not far away had
long been used by Indians as a medicine, but the Moravian mis-
sionaries used it in their lamps.13
In December, 1792, some of the Indians had built a road to
the white settlement below them. This must have been little more
than a trail, for five years later Zeisberger notes that the people
below had laid out and cleared the road as far as their township,
which the brethren completed through their land. It was only
now, 1797, that the trees were cleared away from the village
street. The previous summer they had constructed a bridge
across the ravine, which had been almost impassable because of
the steep bank. Senseman directed the building of the bridge,
and while doing so fell from it and was severely injured. This
may have hastened his death from tuberculosis less than four
Simcoe, lieutenant-governor of the newly formed province
of Upper Canada, was the most distinguished visitor to Fairfield.
His first visit was made in February, 1793, on his way to Detroit
from Niagara. He and his suite stayed a couple of hours and
examined the town. On their way back nine days later they
stayed overnight. Simcoe informed the missionaries that the gov-
13 McNiff's plan of the Thames, January, 1794 (Survey Office, Toronto), shows
a petroleum spring near Fairfield, with the notation: "The Moravian Indians burn it
in their lamps."
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 7
ernment would grant them land on both sides of the river, but not
a whole township as they requested, because he intended to settle
the river thickly, and he did not think they could use so much. He
also agreed to advance the colony two hundred bushels of corn,
as their crops had failed, and gave them an order for it on the
commandant in Detroit.14
On April 8, 1793, a memorial was addressed to the Land
Board at Detroit signed by the four Moravian missionaries at
Fairfield, requesting a grant of land. They suggested that a
township, or nine miles square of land, would answer their pur-
poses.15 A week later Senseman wrote to England, the com-
mandant, that the surveyor McNiff had finished surveying the
third township, and that they saw with concern it came too near
them. "It takes away some of our people's improvements, and
most all their sugar places," Senseman complained. He there-
fore suggested that the upper six lots of the third township
should become part of the Moravians' grant. England sent the
letter on to Simcoe, with the remark that he thought the request
rather unreasonable.16 In July Senseman journeyed to Niagara,
where the Council was sitting, to present his petition. It was
favorably received, and an Order-in-Council dated July 10, 1793,
granted the colony "a tract of land on the River La Tranche,
on a width of six and three quarters miles about their village,
extending twelve miles back on the south side, and northward
to the purchase line."17 The following January McNiff surveyed
twelve lots on each side of the river, through their lands, adding
to it, on orders from the governor, six lots from the third town-
ship. They were thus put in possession of a tract of land eighteen
lots in width, and the township below them was reduced to the
same size.18 By a second Order-in-Council of June 11, 1798, a
survey of the tract was ordered made, and the land was appro-
14 Details of his visits are given in Zeisberger, Diary, II, 299-302, 349. The second
visit was on March 31, 1794. See also Major Littlehales' "Journal," London and
Middlesex Historical Society, Transactions (London, Ont.), VIII (1917), 9-11.
15 Letters Received, 1, 82-4.
16 Ibid., 94-7.
17 Ontario Historical Society, Papers and Records (Toronto), XXIV (1927), 97;
Ontario Archives, Reports, III (1905), 248.
18 Zeisberger, Diary, II, 339-40.
8 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
priated to the trustees of the Moravian Society for the use of
The activities of the inhabitants of Fairfield were largely
confined to agriculture and maple sugar making. Corn was the
principal crop from their fields, and they had their gardens in
which they grew vegetables and tobacco. Turnips, potatoes, beans,
and pumpkins, were among the vegetables grown. In October,
1797, Zeisberger noted the sowing of winter wheat, seemingly on a
rather large scale. The plan of Fairfield made in 1793 shows
one wheat field belonging to the Indian Ignatius. Apple trees
were soon planted, but until they were of age to bear fruit frequent
trips were made to the lower settlement or to Detroit to obtain
apples. Probably few were grown on the lower Thames much
before the Moravians' own orchards were ready to bear.20 Maple
sugar was produced in large quantities in a sugar bush near the
village, where the Indians erected huts for the purpose. Corn,
sugar, pelts, and cattle, were the principal products sold to the
traders for clothes, implements, and other necessities. The sis-
ters also made baskets to barter; and the colony's buying power
was augmented by the labor of the Indian brethren in the fields of
the white settlers.
They had little time for hunting, and Zeisberger frequently
complained that game was scarce. In 1796, however, it was un-
usually plentiful, and many deer and bears were shot. Other
years the hunt brought in little, but some meat was secured for
food when they were working together on public buildings such
as the meeting-house, or when harvesting the crops. The river
also supplied them with food, especially in the spring when the
fish came up in schools. They built a "bound" or fish dam, which
enabled the children and older people to catch large quantities,
and then everyone in the village ate nothing but fish. In the sum-
mer the women picked and dried berries; and in the autumn they
gathered great quantities of chestnuts and walnuts. One of the
19 Peter Russell, Correspondence (Toronto, 1932-1936), II, 177; Ontario Historical
Society, Papers and Records, XXVI (1930), 312-3.
20 However, McNiff states that in April, 1791, Sally Ainse had a small orchard
on her land on the LaTranche. Letters Received, II, 344-5.
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 9
Indians had brought with him from Ohio a hive of bees, and soon
they were plentifully supplied with honey.
The proximity of Fairfield to the Munsey and Delaware
Indians on the upper Thames, the Mohawks on the Grand River,
and the Chippewas who wandered about the country, was the
source of much annoyance. The Thames River was a well
traveled highway between Niagara and Detroit, used by Indians
and whites alike. At times the younger and wilder spirits among
the Moravian converts were enticed away by war parties bound
for Ohio. Bands of Indians passed up and down the river almost
daily, usually encamping overnight or for days and weeks near
the town, and sharing its hospitality. The Chippewas were usually
beggars, but on the infrequent occasions when they had plenty
of venison they exchanged it for such products as corn, milk, and
butter. At other times they begged and stole. Each New Year's
day was the occasion for crowds of them to assemble and perform
their beggar dance through the village, although this might also
be done at any time during the year. In preparation they would
smear their bodies with white clay, and their faces with black, so
that they were hideous to look at. Then they would dance from
house to house, refusing to go away until they were given some-
thing. This happened so often that it became a terrible nuisance.
The village was also disturbed by the drumming and carousals
within the camps of these Indians. The French traders supplied
them with rum, and murders were frequent. After the departure
of a band of Munseys who had caused much trouble, Zeisberger
wrote thankfully in his diary: "Then followed great stillness in
town, and our King of Peace, to whom we are gladly subject, came
again to his rule."21
During the early years Joseph Brant and his Mohawks from
the Grand River were often seen as they stopped on their way
to or from the Miami, where the various Indian nations and
American representatives held assemblages to treat for peace.
Until the treaty was signed in August, 1795, the river was thronged
with canoes passing up and down. Sometimes the village was
saluted with the deathhallow, as warriors returned with scalps.
21 Zeisberger, Diary, II, 358.
10 OHIO ARCHEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Sometimes it was a salvo from the guns of Brant and the Mo-
hawks, which the Moravian Indians answered in like manner.
During November, 1794, they had to feed and support many
Indians fleeing from the Miami. Their fields and dwellings had
been laid waste, and they were drifting about in search of some-
thing to live on.
Many white people also visited Fairfield on their way up
or down the river. In June, 1793, there came first the famous
Moravian, John Heckewelder, and then six Quakers who accom-
panied the American peace commissioners. The latter gave
Matthew Dolsen an order for one hundred dollars worth of pro-
visions for the mission. In October, 1795, Zeisberger notes in his
diary: "White people arrive almost daily. The road to Niagara
is much used, for it costs much by water over the lake;" and again
in May, 1797: "Hardly a day passes that some or more do not
come here;"22 and so it continued. Some of these people were
passing through to Detroit or Niagara, many others were look-
ing for land on which to settle, or driving cattle through to their
Parke, Dolsen, and Askin's clerk, were the traders who came
most to Fairfield during its early years. Dolsen wished to estab-
lish a store in the village, but the missionaries would permit no
white person to settle within their reserve. He came often from
Detroit accompanied by his boat laden with supplies. Then for
two or three days it would be "like a yearly market," as the In-
dians bartered cattle, corn, maple sugar, and pelts for his goods.
Parke was a much more frequent visitor, and was welcomed as an
"honorable dealer." In May, 1793, Parke took away in payment
a heavy load of pelts and over 1500 pounds of sugar. A year
later he and Dolsen obtained 2000 bushels of corn at Fairfield.
Askin's clerk came less frequently. French traders passed
through often, but were disliked by the missionaries because they
sold rum to their Indians. When they stayed overnight, as they
frequently did, the missionaries took charge of their liquor until
they left. Nevertheless passing traders caused much drunken-
ness. Finally, Zeisberger told them that if they did not stop carry-
22 Ibid., 422, 483, passim.
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 11
ing rum through Fairfield he would smash their casks. After this
they were careful to go around the town.
The missionaries had much to complain of in their associa-
tions with the white settlers on the river. Whenever the Indian
brethren worked among them, or went down to the mills or
stores, many of them returned drunk. "This is a godless people on
this river," Zeisberger writes, "and if they can lead our Indians
astray they do so gladly."23 Many were jealous or suspicious of
the Moravians, and accused them of stealing. In June, 1797,
Zeisberger records in his diary:
Trouble begins again with the white people, that if they lose cattle,
or these are killed or torn to pieces by wolves, they always accuse our
Indians of it. We heard today that the people in the lower townships
write and wish to hand in a petition about this, although they know well
enough that they themselves kill, steal, or slaughter the cattle of one
another, and that sometimes the Chippewas do it. If they could drive
us away from here, so as to take possession of our land, they would do
Nevertheless the connection of Fairfield with the settlers
along the Thames, especially those near the present village of
Thamesville, and those below the site of Chatham, were close.
During their first winter they had gone to the settlement below
the forks for corn, but were able to get none because "the settlers
are new beginners and have little." They were able to buy what
they needed from the Munsey town above them. Frequently after-
wards, however, the Indian brethren worked among the white
settlers to earn corn and flour.
Fairfield always had to depend on the mills below them to
grind their grain, despite the fact that the creek offered a suitable
site for a mill within the village. Several white men offered to
build and operate one there, but this was not permitted. Corn and
wheat were taken to a mill at Cornwall's settlement seven miles
away, a little below the present Thamesville.
The Moravian mission was the religious center of the Thames
for many years. Nearly every Sunday white people came from
the lower settlements to attend services in the chapel. Soon the
missionaries were called upon to extend their work outside the
23 Ibid., 518.
24 Ibid., 485.
12 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
town. Senseman and lung were much occupied with this. The
former was chiefly in demand for marrying and baptizing. Some-
times this was done at Fairfield, but more often in the settlements.
Sometimes he went down to preach, and rarely left without baptiz-
ing several children, once as many as eleven. Often he was sent
for to visit the sick. He was held in such esteem that in 1796
the inhabitants of the river wanted to choose him as their repre-
sentative to the Assembly, but this he declined.
On February 19, 1796, Jung went to the house of Francis
Cornwall, seven miles away, to deliver a sermon which had been
requested. After this he preached there every alternate Sunday.
Zeisberger says of Cornwall that he was "a man who loves the
good and arouses his neighbors to hear the preaching of the Gospel.
If there is no sermon he reads something to them."25 In Decem-
ber Jung wished to give up his sermons for the winter, due to the
difficulty of traveling, but the people begged him to continue, offer-
ing to buy him a horse so that he should not have to walk. Jung
declined this offer, but suggested that he hire a horse when he
had to go down. This was approved, and his visits continued.
Like Senseman, he frequently baptized children and conducted
The fame of the missionaries was such that in November,
1796, two white men came from a new settlement far up the river,
and requested that one of them preach in a church which they
intended to build the following year. The Moravians replied
that they were willing to serve their neighbors, but that the settle-
ment was too far away, and they were not there to preach to
whites, but to Indians.
In the summer of 1798 Fairfield said goodby to Edwards
and the venerable Zeisberger. They left for the Tuscarawas Val-
ley in Ohio to found a colony there, accompanied by some forty
or fifty Indians. As Zeisberger's canoe passed down the river the
white settlers, now comprising more than one hundred families,
gathered on the banks to bid him farewell, and bring him presents
from their gardens and orchards. He left forever the settlement
25 Ibid., 454.
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 13
whose destinies he had guided for six years. Fairfield now had
300 acres of land under cultivation, and each year produced and
sold 2000 bushels of corn and 5000 pounds of maple sugar. It
also carried on an extensive trade in canoes, baskets, and mats.26
This exodus of part of the colony gave rise to rumors that
the mission was to be abandoned. Those who had for some years
cast covetous eyes on the Moravian lands took new heart. As
early as October, 1795, the deputy surveyor Abraham Iredell had
received orders from Surveyor-General D. W. Smith to make con-
fidential inquiries relative to the missionaries, no doubt to dis-
cover if they intended to leave.27 A few weeks after the
departure of Zeisberger and the others, Iredell reported it to
Smith, who immediately relayed the information to Peter Russell,
acting lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada.28 The Moravians
were alarmed at the rumors that they were only waiting to sell
their lands to move back to the Muskingum,29 and Senseman
journeyed to York in the summer of 1798 to see Russell. The
latter assured him that they would not be disturbed in their settle-
ment on the Thames, and the government would protect them
in it.30 Their fears were augmented by the fact that no steps had
been taken to survey their lands, despite an Order-in-Council
dated June 11, 1798.31
In August, 1799, the Reverend Gottfried Sebastian Oppelt
and his wife arrived at Fairfield to assist Senseman and Jung.32
Senseman was ill with consumption, and his death occurred the
following January. In the summer of 1804 Oppelt and another
missionary named Haven led out a colony from Fairfield and be-
gan the settlement near the site of New Salem.33 John Schnall
arrived during the summer of 180134 and remained until 1813.
26 Edward de Schweinitz, The Life and Times of David Zeisberger (Philadelphia,
27 Abraham Iredell to D. W. Smith, November 2, 1795, Letters Received, IV, 1124.
28 Iredell to Smith, Iredell MSS. (Survey Office, Toronto), 116; Russell, Cor-
respondence, II, 288.
29 Ibid., III, 150.
30 Ibid., II, 177; III, 100.
31 Gottlieb Senseman to Smith, February 5, 1799, ibid., 120; Ontario Historical
Society, Papers and Records, XXVI (1930), 312-3.
32 John Askin, Papers; ed. by M. M. Quaife (Detroit, 1928-1931), II, 243.
33 Schweinitz David Zeisberger 663.
34 Gottfried S. Oppelt and Christian F. Dencke to John Askin, May 28, 1801,
Askin MSS. (Public Archives), Vol. 32.
14 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
Christian Frederick Dencke had come from Bethlehem in August,
1800, for the purpose of founding a mission among the Chippe-
was.35 After two attempts had failed, first on Harsen's Island,
then on the River Sydenham below the present village of Florence,
he returned to Fairfield in December 1806, and remained as mis-
sionary there with Jung and Schnall.36
When Oppelt came to Fairfield he found that many of the
Indians had long standing accounts with the traders, especially
with Askin, and that it was difficult to get them to pay their debts,
After struggling with the situation for some time, Oppelt finally
wrote to Askin on May 6, 1801:
It is a very hard thing to collect old debts by the Indians, because
they look upon old debts as if they were paid. Therefore I will recom-
mend to you, to give no Indian much upon credit. Their intention is to
pay, when they take the goods, but they do not consider if they ever will
be able to do it. If you wish to continue trading with them, the best would
be, that you send early in the spring a boat with goods here and give the
men, who sells the goods strict orders, to give nothing out upon trust
and to fetch the corn directly down. Because it is very difficult to save
up corn here during the summer, on account of the vermin. We know
out of experience, that no Indian understands to trade. In the beginning
they pay good, but at last both the merchant and the Indian will lose
Askin wrote back a week later agreeing to this, and stating
that he was sorry to have bothered the missionaries about the
Indians, but the affair had become so mixed up that he had to have
assistance.38 The relations between Askin and Fairfield remained
cordial. Mrs. Askin had sent Oppelt two rose twigs, which he
grafted onto wild rose-bushes. In return Oppelt sent her a
present of some sugar, and seeds of Spanish beans and a good
kind of pumpkin.39
Another problem which confronted Oppelt and his fellow
missionaries at Fairfield was the tendency of the Indians to get
drunk whenever liquor was available. Zeisberger had prohibited
35 Askin, Papers, II, 303.
36 See Henry A. Jacobson, "Narrative of an Attempt to Establish a Mission
among the Chippewa Indians of Canada, between the Years 1800 and 1806," Moravian
Historical Society, Transactions (Nazareth, Penn.), V, pt. 1 (1895), 3-24.
37 Askin MSS. (Public Archives), Vol. 32; Askin, Papers II, 335-7. See also
Dencke to Askin, May 5, 1801, Askin MSS., Vol. 32 and Senseman's and Askin's
letters in December, 1798, and February, 1799, Askin, Papers II, 158-9, 164, 186.7.
38 Askin MSS., Vol. 32.
39 Ibid.; Askin, Papers, II, 335-7.
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 15
traders from bringing it into the village, but he could not prevent
them from selling rum to the Indians outside. In 1801, on peti-
tion from the missionaries, a bill was introduced and passed in the
Provincial Parliament to prevent the sale of spirituous liquors
within the tract occupied by the Moravian Indians.40
News of the war between England and the United States was
received at Fairfield on July 1, 1812. Two weeks later the In-
dians fled to the woods when they heard that the enemy was ap-
proaching.41 The day before, a detachment of soldiers from
William Hull's army at Sandwich, under Colonel Duncan Mc-
Arthur, had penetrated as far as Chatham on a foraging expedi-
tion.42 Ten days later, when they heard that the Americans
had gone back, the Indians returned from their hiding place. For
the next twelve months they were filled with alarm, and wished
to move away, but could not agree among themselves where to go.
On September 10, 1813, they heard the sound of guns from
Lake Erie, where the British fleet under Robert H. Barclay was
defeated by Oliver H. Perry. Late in the month Harrison's army
landed at Fort Malden, and the British and Indians under Procter
and Tecumseh began their retreat up the Thames. Procter arrived
in Fairfield on the 29th in advance of his army and installed his
family in Dencke's home. Three days later the church and school-
house were used as hospitals for seventy sick and wounded
soldiers; and the members of the mission families spent the day
in tending them and in preparing lint for bandages.
On October 3, as the Americans pursued the British forces
up the Thames, Procter advised the Moravians to abandon their
town, as he intended to make his stand east of it. The Indians
thereupon fled to the woods. Dencke and his wife followed them
on the 5th, but were captured by the enemy the next day. The
other missionaries remained. Procter had his wife and the
wounded hastily removed to Delaware, some distance up the river,
and announced he would occupy the village with his soldiers. He
40 Ontario Archives, Reports, VI (1909), 200, 206-9.
41 Unless otherwise indicated the following account of Fairfield until its destruc-
tion on October 7, 1813, is based on Henry A. Jacobson, "Dispersion and Flight of
the Missionaries and Indians Living at Fairfield, Canada, in October, 1813," Moravian
Historical Society, Transactions, V, pt. 1 (1895), 24-47, and McAfee, "Journal,"
42 An Ohio Volunteer, The Capitulation (Chillicothe, 1812), 34.
16 OHIO ARCHEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
changed his mind, however, and met the enemy on the 5th about a
mile and a half below Fairfield. The British made little resis-
tance, and Procter fled up the road through the village, leaving his
Indian allies to hold out for some time longer, until Tecumseh
Fairfield was occupied by Colonel Richard M. Johnson's
cavalry and the officers, the rest of the American army encamping
on the battlefield. That night and the following day the town was
given over to plunder. Everything of value was loaded onto
rafts to be floated down the Thames. The missionaries were
accused of hiding some English officers and their possessions, and
were roughly commanded to produce them. All the houses and
especially the garrets of the church and schoolhouse were searched;
mattresses were torn apart, and chests and boxes opened for valu-
ables or correspondence; but nothing incriminating was found.
Schnall pleaded with Harrison to stop the plundering, but he re-
fused to listen, saying only that the missionaries might leave.
They had a friend in Perry, who obtained permission for them to
take away their personal property. John Dolsen, son of Matthew,
who had a farm below Chatham, had fled to Fairfield just before
the battle. They departed in his wagon drawn by a team of
horses. The next day the whole town was burned to the ground.
Schnall and his family, with Jung, eventually made their way
back to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but Dencke and his wife, who
were soon released after their capture on the 6th, followed the
Indians and remained to care for them. After nearly two years
spent near Burlington Heights, at the western end of Lake On-
tario, the band returned to the site of Fairfield in August, 1815.43
For a few weeks they lived in huts there. Brother John G. Cunow
came from Bethlehem to visit them, and in September it was de-
cided to remove to the opposite side of the river, where the village
of New Fairfield was founded. In 1818 Dencke went back to
Bethlehem, and Schnall returned to the mission to take his place,
dying there the following year.
Early in 1814 the Moravian Mission Board wrote to Presi-
dent James Madison and to Congress asking compensation for the
43 Schweinitz, David Zeisberger, 695.
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 17
destruction of Fairfield. The committee in charge of the petition
reported that "the evidence showed that the Fairfield Indians had
been in sympathy with the opponents of the Americans and that
some of them had been in some of the battles on the English side.
Of the early and persevering hostility of the Fairfield Indians there
can be no doubt." This had been the reason given for the burn-
ing of Fairfield, and on this ground the petition was refused. It
is true that some of the younger and wilder Moravian Indians had
at times been induced to join the other Indians in the war against
the Americans, and several had been killed at the Battle of the
Thames, but the colony as a whole had remained neutral. There
seems little justification for its destruction.
Some years later the Mission Board presented a similar
petition for compensation to the Canadian authorities. After an
investigation, an appropriation was made to cover part of the loss.
This was paid in installments, the last in 1836.44
The ruined basements of Fairfield remained in view until
nearly the end of the century, and were remarked upon by various
travelers, including Patrick Shirreff and Sir Richard Bonnycas-
tle.45 One family of Indians named Jacobs continued to live on
this side of the river, but east of the ravine. In 1868 Chief Philip
Jacobs was residing there.46 This family was descended from the
white man Joseph Bull, who joined the Moravian church in 1742
and married an Indian woman. He was called Schebosch by the
Indians, which meant "Running Water." His son was the first
to fall in the massacre at Gnadenhutten in 1782. One of his
daughters married an Indian named Jacob, and their descendants
were known as the Schebosch Jacobs.47
By 1836 the Moravian Indians had been induced by the
government to surrender, for an annuity, all their land north of the
river, and much of that on the south.48 Their reserve was reduced
to a little over 3000 acres. The site of Fairfield thus passed to
44 Jacobson, "Dispersion," 45-7.
45 Patrick Shirreff, A Tour Through North America (Edinburgh, 1835), 191;
Sir Richard H. Bonnycastle, Canada and the Canadians in 1846 (London, 1846), 11, 105.
46 Plan of the village of New Fairfield, about 1868 (Archives of the Moravian
Church, Bethlehem, Penn.)
47 Zeisberger, Diary, I, 1, 259, 443-4, passim. See also Schweinitz, David Zeis-
berger, 131, 605.
48 William H. Smith, Canadian Gazetteer (Toronto, 1846), 188.
18 OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
the Crown, but the Jacobs were not disturbed, and continued to
live beside the ravine until the latter part of the century. The
land between the Longwoods Road and the river, where one row
of houses in the village had stood, marked out as lot number 6A,
was granted to Thomas W. Johnston by patent dated November
18, 1861. On January 10, 1889, George Yates received a Crown
grant of "lot lettered B north of the Longwoods road, township
of Zone, containing 116 acres, reserving thereout and therefrom
the Indian burying ground as marked out thereon, containing about
51/100 of an acre."49 This comprised most of the village site
north of the road. In 1894 Yates sold the lot to Joseph Misner,
who lived there and was the first to plough up the land on this
side of the Longwoods Road. Mr. Misner, now living in Thames-
ville, says that he found four or five basements lined with cobble-
stones. These he filled in and leveled off so that he might plough
over them. They were near the ravine, and may have been on
the cross street running north. Probably the remains of the
houses along the main street were destroyed by the widening of
the Longwoods Road, and the digging of ditches on either side.
The old graveyard is now neglected. Many of the trees in
it have been cut down; and the plough has apparently encroached
upon its unmarked boundaries. Only one gravestone remains
there, and it is broken in two. The inscription reads: "Simon, son
of John Schebosch and Polly Jacobs, born July 3, 1836, died,
February, 1864." Most of the Indian graves had wooden markers
which have long since rotted away. The gravestones of the mis-
sionaries, including that of Senseman, were removed some time
after 1900 to Bothwell Cemetery, where they may still be seen.
The last burial in the Fairfield Cemetery was that of Mary Ann
Vogler, in June, 1901. She was the wife of Jesse Vogler, Mora-
vian missionary at New Fairfield, who died in 1865. There were
few burials in the old cemetery after 1813, as another was laid
out across the river. This has been largely destroyed by the
falling away of the river bank, and a third is now used, about a
mile to the southeast, not far from the present Moraviantown.
49 Register for the Township of Zone (Kent County Registry Office, Chatham,
FAIRFIELD ON THE RIVER THAMES: HAMIL 19
Between the road and the river, where the land seems never
to have been cultivated since Fairfield was destroyed, there are a
number of apple trees, as well as large and ancient hawthornes,
similar to those described by Shirreff over one hundred years ago.
These are evidently descendants of those planted by the Mora-
vians. The apple trees have now become wild.
The little creek still runs through the ravine into the Thames.
It is fed by numerous springs along its banks, and one at the head
of the ravine, where Fairfield secured its water supply. Un-
fortunately the once crystal-clear stream is now polluted by black
and evil smelling water from a small oil well on its bank, beside
Except for these things nothing now remains to show where
a thriving town once stood, a town that played an important part
in the spiritual and economic life of the settlements on the Thames
River. Even the church and mission buildings of New Fairfield
are deserted and in disrepair, with the river every year eating its
way towards them. The Moravian missionaries themselves have
long departed. On April 1, 1903, the Methodist Church in Can-
ada, whose workers had been invited to the reserve about forty
years before, took over the mission at New Fairfield. The church
and village of the reserve are now situated about a mile south-
east of the river. The name Moraviantown remains to com-
memorate the work of the self-sacrificing missionaries of the