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The Christian Munsee were a group of Lenape native American Indians, primarily Munsee-speaking, who converted to Christianity, following the teachings of the Moravian missionaries. The Christian Munsee were also known as the Moravian Munsee or the Moravian Indians or, in context, simply the Christian Indians.
The Munsee were the Wolf clan of the Lenape, occupying the area where present-day Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York meet. The first recorded European contact occurred in 1524, when Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into what is now New York Harbor. Like most native peoples of the Atlantic coast, the Munsee were quickly devastated by European diseases such as smallpox and influenza, and those who survived were forced inland. By the mid-18th century, one group of Lenape people began to follow the teachings of the Moravian missionaries. The Moravians, a Protestant denomination from Herrnhut, Saxony, now in Germany, in America based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sought to protect their converts by creating separate mission villages in the frontier, apart from both European settlers and from other native people. The most prominent missionary among the Munsee was David Zeisberger. In 1772, he led his group of Christian Munsee to the Ohio Territory, which he hoped would isolate them from the hostilities of the approaching American Revolution. However, in 1782, a force of Pennsylvania militiamen, in search of Indians who had been raiding settlements in western Pennsylvania, happened upon a group of ninety of Zeisberger's Christian Munsee and rounded them up in the village of Gnadenhütten. Although the Munsee truthfully pleaded their innocence, the militia took a vote and decided to kill them all, including the women and children.
After ten more years of strife, most of the Christian Munsee followed Zeisberger to Ontario, Canada, where they established a new home at Fairfield, commonly known as Moraviantown, along the Thames River. There they lived in relative peace for twenty years, supporting themselves with their farming and industry. However, once again they became unwitting victims of war, when American soldiers burned their village to the ground during the War of 1812 Battle of the Thames. The battle is well known historically as a victory for General William Henry Harrison, and for the death of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, but the destruction of Moraviantown is little more than a footnote. The Munsee fled into the wilderness for safe haven until hostilities had ceased, then returned to build a new Fairfield.
By the 1830s, a faction of the Christian Munsee favored a move to the American West. In 1837, some of the Munsee from Fairfield journeyed to Wisconsin to join another Christian band of Indians, the Stockbridge Mahican, whence the two tribes became known collectively as the Stockbridge-Munsee. They are now the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Shawano County, Wisconsin. However, most of the Munsee eventually returned to Canada. The Christian Munsee in southern Ontario remain today as the Moravian of the Thames and the Munsee-Delaware Nation.
A small band of Christian Munsee decided to migrate again, this time to Kansas Territory, to join their non-Christian Lenape kinsmen. They settled first in Wyandotte County, then Leavenworth County. A few families settled near Fort Scott in Bourbon County. By 1857, most of the other Lenape (of Kansas) were removed to Indian Territory.
The Christian Munsee, who now numbered less than one hundred, chose to purchase a new reservation in Franklin County from a small band of Ojibwa (Chippewa) that had migrated from Michigan. The Treaty of 1859 officially combined the Swan Creek and Black River Band Chippewa and the Christian Munsee on a reservation of twelve square miles along the Marais des Cygnes River near the town of Ottawa. Signing the treaty for the Munsee were Henry Donohoe, Ignatius Caleb, and John Williams.
Although the two tribes shared a reservation and were considered one tribe by the United States government in all dealings, they maintained their separate identities in cultural and religious practices. The Moravian church continued to send missionaries to the Munsee.
Under the Dawes Act, the Chippewa-Christian Indian Reservation, as it was known in the 1859 treaty, was allotted to the individual members and descendants of the tribes in separate 160-acre plots. The people eventually accepted assimilation. In 1900, the final disbursement of federal funds was paid, and all benefits and official recognition as Native Americans were dissolved.
- Gelelemend (John Kilbuck Jr.)—Munsee leader and prominent Moravian native convert
- John Henry Kilbuck—a descendant of Gelelemend, he served as a Moravian missionary to Native peoples in Alaska
- Census of the Chippewa and Christian Indians, June 30, 1893. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building.
- Gray, Elma E. (1956). Wilderness Christians — the Moravian Mission to the Delaware Indians. Toronto: Macmillan.
- Olmstead, Earl P. (1991). Blackcoats among the Delaware — David Zeisberger on the Ohio Frontier. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press.
- Weslager, C. A. (1974). "Enrollment List of Chippewa and Delaware-Munsies Living in Franklin County, Kansas, May 31, 1900". Kansas Historical Quarterly 40 (2): 234–40.
- "A Fragment of Kansas Land History: The Disposal of the Christian Indian Tract" from the Kansas Historical Quarterly.
- Treaty with the Chippewa, Etc., 1859
- Chippewa-Munsee Genealogy