On the evening of May 26, 1782, Col. William Crawford and his army camped in the ruins of the Moravian mission town of Schonbrunn on their way to attack the villages of British-allied Native Americans along the Sandusky River in north-central Ohio.
That night, as Crawford slept, legend has it that he had a horrible dream. In his dream, he saw a Delaware Indian, Ann Charity, leading the skeletons of 96 Christian Native Americans recently massacred by Pennsylvania militiamen in the mission town of Gnadenhutten.
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“They sang the Indian song of sorrow, and invoked – not our God – but their Manito, or Great Spirit, to avenge their death,” wrote CH Mitchener in his book Ohio Annals: Historic Events in the Tuscarawas and Muskingum Valleys, 1876 published.
Crawford and his men continued their march the next day. Near the Sandusky River towns, his army was defeated by a combined force of native and British forces. Crawford was captured by Native Americans, who tortured him and burned him at the stake in revenge for the Gnadenhutten massacre.
According to Mitchener, the surviving members of the American Army camped near Schönbrunn for the night on their way home. They were under the command of Col. David Williamson, who had also commanded the militia at Gnadenhutten.
“But there was no rest for him,” Mitchener wrote. “Amid the devastation arose a terrible storm which, by its lightning, revealed Ann Charity and the skeleton spirits coming down the path this time, followed by a party of warriors, each dangling the scalp of a white man from a pole, the all moved towards the massacre ground, while the unearthly scalp-cry of the Great Spirit echoed up and down the valley, momentarily silencing even the thunder of heaven.
Williamson and his terrified men immediately changed horses and fled the Tuscarawas Valley.
In his report, Mitchener stated that Charity was a real person.
“Endowed with a mysterious mental power, their religion was half pagan, half Christian,” he wrote. “She claimed to be able to summon the dead, and when the massacre took place, she decided to try her power and avenge her friends and relatives.”
She is also a character in the outdoor drama Trumpet in the Land.
Spent early years in Pennsylvania
Charity was probably born in Pennsylvania around 1735. She was baptized into the Christian faith on December 25, 1749 in the Moravian mission town of Gnadenhutten, Pennsylvania. She was described at the time as “a big girl of 14”. The missionaries called them Caritas, Latin for “charity”.
She was married twice, first to a native named Johan Jacob and then to a Native American convert named David. She and David were married on May 15, 1760. Moravian records show that she separated from David in March 1763, but she was won back by his kindness.
Missionary records provide further insight into their lives in Pennsylvania. On August 21, 1760, she was in tears for her disloyalty to the Faith. On November 1, 1762, she longed for her former intellectual happiness. In March 1762 she became foster mother to an orphan. On April 2, 1764, she burst into tears after reading the Passion of Christ.
Eventually, she and her family moved to the Ohio country to live in the Moravian mission cities along the Tuscarawas River. She visited Gnadenhutten, Ohio, on September 21, 1774, and she and David settled here permanently in 1777.
They remained in the Tuscarawas Valley until the missionary settlements were dissolved by the British in 1782.
Charity later settled among the Delaware Indians living along the White River in Indiana.
Missionary John Heckewelder wrote about them in his book, A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians, published in 1820.
“Ann Charity, an old woman who lived in the community from an early age until the dispersal of the Christian Indians in 1782, when she was taken to the White River by her pagan relatives to avoid the killing gang of whites who have already destroyed so many of their kin,” Heckewelder wrote.
“This woman, who as a child was placed in the family of the missionary (John) Youngman and brought up to do all kinds of household chores, belonged to women and, as an active, industrious woman, was particularly noted and admired for her cleanliness, both in dress as well as in the household.”
accusation of witchcraft
Charity’s adoption of the white man’s way of life was her undoing.
In 1806, disease ravaged the Delaware villages along the White River and many people died. Witches were blamed for this misfortune.
The Delaware turned to Tenskwatawa, known as the “Shawnee Prophet,” for help. Tecumseh’s younger brother had urged Native Americans to return to traditional ways and abandon the ways of the white man. Tenskwatawa traveled to a Delaware village on the White River to determine who was guilty of sorcery. Most of the convicts had been associated with the whites.
Charity was the first person to be sentenced to death for witchcraft. She was tortured until she confessed that she had given her Indian medicine bag to her grandson. A medicine pouch was a container for objects believed to protect their owner or bestow spiritual powers. Her grandson was interrogated but not punished.
Charity wasn’t so lucky. After confessing to being a witch, she was burned on April 1, 1806.
Jon Baker is a reporter at The Times-Reporter and can be reached at [email protected]