Over the last five years, my work in the archives of the Moravian Church in the USA and also Germany, has focused on the Moravian mission to the Native Americans in Pennsylvania during the 18th century. The primary focus has been on the Moravian mission at Shamokin, Pa (now Sunbury), which sits at the confluence of the North and West branches of the river and which, in the contact period, was known as the “capital of the Woodland Indians”. Supported by a grant from the NEH, I have been transcribing and translating those mission diaries, deciphering very difficult German script, navigating the ink blots and bleed-throughs, occasioned no doubt by the conditions of production. At the beginning of the mission these consisted of tallow light, paper, quill and ink in the bark hut of Andrew Montour on what is today Packer Island; eight years later, just prior to the attack on the settlers at Penn’s Creek, a table, chairs, in a sturdy log house, built a little further from the river to avoid regular flooding. The lure of this place is its connectedness to points north in Iroquoia and points south, Harris’ Ferry, Lancaster, and the Chesapeake Bay. These points on the map that serves as my header were (and are) connected by Indian paths that were known to the Moravian missionaries through the sharing of Native knowledge. Rarely did a missionary set out without a Native American guide. When Martin and Anna Mack made the journey from Bethlehem to Shamokin, via Tulpehocken, their guide was Nathanael, who had been baptized at Tunkhannock. So there were paths that traversed the mountains and forests, but there were also familial paths that connected communities and settlements (Amy Schutt has written a lot about this in her book Peoples of the River Valleys (U Penn Press, 2007).
Another connection for the Moravian Indians was the path they took to avoid attack and persecution. Last fall, I was invited to give a talk at the occasion of the re-dedication of the Nain Indian house in Bethlehem. One of the houses that had been constructed for the Indian village that was subsequently abandoned had sat for years on Heckewelder Place, waiting for restoration. Finally this was done and many gathered to celebrate this fact. However, the story behind the Nain Indians is not just a quaint momento of Bethlehem’s past. It is a point of connection that still remains to be realized.
The text of the talk can be found here: The Nain Indians
The presentation may be viewedThe Nain Indians