The Life of John Papoonung – Part 12

The Indians, with two Moravian missionaries, Schmick and Zeisberger, reached their former settlement on the Susquehanna, about the middle of the Fifth month. They concluded it best to build a new town, and selected a site on the banks of the Susquehanna, one mile below the Wyalusing Creek.

The place was called Friedenshutten (tents of peace). With great industry they went to work to prepare ground for planting their corn, and in obtaining various kinds of provision from the woods for their present sustenance. The fame of this settlement, and Papoonung’s large acquaintance, according to Loskiel, drew large numbers of strangers there, and many heathen Indians had the opportunity of hearing the name of Jesus, and of the excellency of his grace. Of Papoonung himself, we learn from the same authority, that ” it became every day more evident that God himself had converted him.”

Desiring to live in peace and safety in their present abodes, the Indians of Friedenshutten soon after their arrival there, sent a messenger, with a string of wampum, to the chief of the Cayugas, who, on behalf of the Six Nations, claimed control over all lands on the Susquehanna, to request his approbation of their settlement. In reply, he told them, ” the place they had chosen for a settlement was not proper, because all that country had been stained with blood; therefore he would take them up and place them in a better situation, near the upper end of the Cayuga Lake. They might take their teachers with them, and as to their doctrines, believe and hold what they pleased, and be unmolested in their daily worship.” The Christian Indians were too well acquainted with the Six Nations to trust their word, and did not wish, by a too close proximity, to be entirely in their power; and beside, the situation proposed would not furnish them with deer and other game, without which they could not subsist. The deputies therefore postponed giving an immediate reply, but gave him some expectation of an answer when the corn they had planted should be ripe. By this they wished him to understand that they declined removing.

In the spring of 1766, the chief sent this message to them. “He did not know what sort of Indian corn they might plant, for they had promised him an answer when it was ripe: that his Indian corn had been gathered long ago, and was almost consumed, and he soon intended to plant again; they ought, therefore, to keep their promise.” The Indians now appointed four deputies, who, accompanied by Zeisberger, went up to Cayuga. The chief received them with kindness, but evidently felt contempt at the labors of the missionaries and the baptism of Indians. He said that he had seen many who had been baptized by the French in Canada, and could never perceive any difference between them and those not baptized. The deputies were somewhat discouraged by their reception, but concluded to open the case in council. The message which they delivered was this:— ” That they had formerly been ignorant of God, but had now been taught to know him as their Creator and Redeemer, and had received from Him life and salvation. That they loved Him above every thing, because He had loved them so much. They therefore could and would no more live after the manner of the Indians, but having found their joy and pleasure in the Savior, they had quitted all their sinful ways, and now endeavored to walk conformably to the word of God, and met twice a day to be instructed by their teachers. They wished to preserve their children from evil; they would not go to war, but endeavored to keep peace with all men, and meddled not with the Indian state affairs. They therefore could not agree to live near an Indian town; and as Friedenshutten was well situated, and they had builded and planted, they desired to remain there.” The Cayugas not fully understanding the language of the deputies, who were Delawares, the missionary translated it for them, and further enforced the desire of the Christian Indians After consultation, the council not only granted their request, but added a grant of land, extending up to Tioga. This grant was afterwards confirmed by the great council of the Six Nations.

Several of the Indians, among whom were Papoonung, Joseph, and Abraham, assisted the missionaries in their labors, and many of the visitors to Friedenshutten were convinced of Christian truth. One of the Indian visitors had been elected captain, but after a visit to this place, he returned the belt of wampum, which was his insignia of office, to his tribe. To the Indian assistant he made the following declaration. ” I am concerned for my salvation; my sins, which are many, lie heavy upon me. Sometimes I despaired of all help; but when I heard that our Savior receives the worst of sinners, it encouraged me to hope that even 1 might be saved. I then prayed to our Savior: ‘Have mercy upon me, and let me feel that there is grace, even for such a wretch as me!’ He heard me, and I saw him as crucified for me. I was convinced that I had wounded him with my sins; and this made me weep. I then said, ‘Dear Savior! I desire to be healed and saved by thy wounds, and to be washed from all my sins in thy blood.’ I often thought and felt, that, to be truly converted, I should bid farewell to the world; and therefore returned the belt of wampum. I do not desire any such honor among the Indians; if I may only obtain mercy, receive the forgiveness of my sins, become a child of God, and live happy among his people, then I have all my heart can wish for.”

Many heathen Indians frequented the settlement at Friedenshutten, and some, of a suspicious character, tarried long; this occasioned trouble to the congregation, and a few of the elder of the members were appointed to speak to all who came, to inform them that none but those who were really desirous of turning to the Lord and Savior could be permitted to dwell there, or remain for any con
siderable period of time. The introduction of 
intoxicating drinks, by strangers, also gave 
much trouble, and at length this led to a strict 
examination of every one who came. What
ever amount of spirits could be found, was 
kept in charge until the owner was leaving 
the place, when it was returned to him.

On the 20th of Ninth month, 1767, Zeisberger, accompanied by Papoonung, and An
thony, another Indian assistant, set out to visit 
some Indians in the west, who had express
ed a desire to know something of Christianity. 
The Delaware tribe of Indians had three villages on the Ohio, the whole forming a settlement called Goschgoschunk. They reached 
this place after sixteen days’ travel, attended 
with many difficulties and dangers. Papoonung had some relatives in the middle village, 
by whom the travellers were well received 
and gladly entertained. Zeisberger spoke to 
the Indians, who assembled to hear him, and 
Papoonung, with his fellow assistant, was en
gaged until after midnight in explaining the 
doctrine delivered. Whilst thus occupied, 
they found opportunity and received ability to 
bear a powerful testimony against heathenish 
customs and superstitions, and to magnify the 
power of Jesus Christ to deliver from sin. A 
great sensation was produced by the discourse 
delivered amongst the heathen Indians, and 
after some controversy between the missionary and an Indian preacher named Wangomen, the whole body of the men of that setlement, in council, requested another visit. 
The three returned in safety to Friedenshutten, on the 5th of Eleventh month.

A white man having murdered ten Indians near Shamokin, in the Second month 1768, great fears were felt amongst the Christian Indians lest it should occasion another war. The prompt steps taken by the government to punish the murderer, and other pacific measures, tended to prevent this result. An amicable convention of the chiefs of the Indians on the Susquehanna and Ohio was invited by William Johnson, Indian Agent. Freidenshutten declined to send delegates. It was the general opinion there, as it had long been that of Papoonung, that they ought not to meddle with political matters, and that these journeys and negotiations were likely to do more harm than good to the souls of the delegates. At this conference, disputes which had subsisted between the Cherokees and the Iroquois were settled, and after it was over, the Cherokee chief was led in friendly pomp throughout the whole Iroquois country. The procession came to Friedenshutten, and on this occasion the Oneida chief delivered a string of wampum to the Christian Indians, and expressed the satisfaction of the whole council at Onondago, that they had learned to know God, and were faithful to their teachers. To this, by another string of wampum, the Indians replied, ” It was their chief desire to grow daily in the knowledge and love of God, their Creator and Redeemer;” adding their fervent wish ” that all the Indian nations might become acquainted with their God and Savior; for then peace and benevolence would infallibly reign among them.”

One thing alone clouded the joy which was shed abroad in Friedenshutten by the restoration of peace; it was the unlooked-for intelligence that the Iroquois had sold all the lands eastward of the Ohio to the English. The knowledge that their title to their homes and hunting grounds was thus given to others occasioned some fears for the future.

Although the governor of Pennsylvania informed the natives of Friedenshutten that they should not be disturbed, whilst they remained peaceable, and that he had directed the surveyors not to approach within five miles of their place, yet it soon became evident that settlers would encroach upon them. Considering all the circumstances of the case, the Moravians thought it would be best for the two Indian settlements on the Susquehanna to break up, and remove to a new village then building on the Big Beaver, called Friedenstadt (Peace village).

(To be continued.)

“Relics of the Past No. 43 – Life of John Papoonung” from The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal Printed by Joseph & William Kite Vol. XVIII No.10 Nov. 30, 1844 Philadelphia. Biography is based on original documents from 1744-1758