From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Killbuck, John Killbuck Jr., William Henry
Delaware (Lenape) leader
Personal details
Born 1737
Near the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania
Died 1811
Goshen, Ohio
Relations Grandfather of Netawatwees
Parents Bemino

Gelelemend (1737–1811) (Lenape), also known as Killbuck or John Killbuck Jr., was an important Delaware (Lenape) chief during the American Revolutionary War, who supported the rebel Americans. His name signifies "a leader." Born into the senior Turtle clan, which had responsibility to lead the tribe, he became principal chief of the Lenape in November 1778, following the death of White Eyes, a war chief and Speaker of the Delaware Head Council. Gelelemend succeeded his maternal grandfather Netawatwees.

Due to undifferentiated American attacks against the Lenape during the war, chiefs of other clans switched to ally with the British. After being pushed out as principal chief, Gelelemend led an American attack on a major Lenape town, then retreated to Fort Pitt. After the war, he converted to Christianity at a Moravian mission in Salem, Ohio, where he took the Christian name of "William Henry."


Gelelemend was born near the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, son of Bemino (John Killbuck Sr.), a renowned war leader during the French and Indian War, and his wife. Under the matrilineal kinship system of the Lenape, Gelemend was born into his mother's Turtle clan, which had responsibility for providing hereditary chiefs for the tribe. His maternal grandfather was Netawatwees ("Newcomer"), principal chief of the Delaware.

At that time, the Lenape had three clans or phratries: Turtle, Turkey, and Wolf. Children were considered born into their mother's clan, which determined their social status in the tribe. The mother's eldest brother was more important to them in shaping their lives than was their biological father, who belonged to another clan. Each clan had its own chiefs, councilors, and war captains, as well as a distinct role for serving the tribe.

The Turtle phratry was considered the senior clan, with the role of leading the tribe. Their hereditary chief served as principal chief of the Lenape tribe. By early 1776, the Moravian missionary David Zeisberger recorded that Gelelemend had been "designated" as the successor to his maternal grandfather Netawatwees, who was thought to be close to 100 years old. But, after Netawatwees died on October 31, 1776, however, the succession remained uncertain.[1] This was due to the unsettled situation of the Delaware in the Ohio Country.

Situated between the British at Detroit and the Americans to the east, the Delaware tried to remain neutral in the British-American conflict. They were subjected to strong pressure to enter the conflict from the British, the Americans, and other Indian nations (nearly all of whom allied with the British, in the hope of pushing American colonists out of their territories). Under these circumstances, the important counselor White Eyes, who by 1773 was Speaker of the Delaware Head Council, seemed to have some authority as chief in addition to that exercised by Gelelemend.[1] With White Eyes and Captain Pipe (war captain of the Wolf clan), Gelelemend signed the Delaware Treaty with the United States in 1778. Only after the death of White Eyes later that year, murdered on November 5, 1778 by an American militia officer, did Gelelemend become principal chief.[1]

However, the Lenape were deeply divided over how to respond to the war. Following indiscriminate attacks by Continentals against the Lenape, bands led by Captain Pipe and Buckongahelas broke away from the pro-American leadership of Gelelemend. They allied with the British for the rest of the war and later resettled in Upper Canada, where they were granted land by the Crown.

By 1781, Gelelemend had been forced from power. He helped guide Colonel Daniel Brodhead in an expedition to destroy the Delaware capital of Coshocton in Ohio, where he had lived and served as chief. With a few of his followers, Gelelemend returned with the Americans to Fort Pitt. He had become a man without a country. He lived at Fort Pitt until 1785, always in fear for his life.

Long interested in Christianity, Gelelemend joined the Moravian mission at Salem, Ohio in 1788. At the baptism ceremony, he took the name William Henry, supposedly to honor a man who had rescued him during the French and Indian War.[2] He was the most prominent convert in the Lenape community. Gelelemend died in Goshen, Ohio in 1811.


  • The village of Killbuck, Ohio in Holmes County is named for him.
  • To honor William Henry, many of Gelelemend's descendants were given Henry as a middle name. This included a great-grandson, John Henry Kilbuck, who became a Moravian missionary in Alaska. He named his daughter Katherine Henry Kilbuck in honor of his ancestor.


  1. ^ a b c Wellenreuther, Hermann. "The Succession of Head Chiefs and the Delaware Culture of Consent: The Delaware Nation, David Zeisberger, and Modern Ethnography", In A. G. Roeber, ed., Ethnographies and Exchanges: Native Americans, Moravians, and Catholics in Early America. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008. 31–48.
  2. ^ For an attempt to assess this story, see Scott Paul Gordon, Two William Henrys: Indian and White Brothers in Arms and Faith in Colonial and Revolutionary America (Jacobsburg Historical Society, 2010), pp. 1–6.