Life on the frontier

Back when Ohio was an overgrown wilderness and the territory's only roads were a network of worn-down Indian trails, Moravian missionary David Zeisberger and a handful of Delaware Indians came to the Tuscarawas Valley to carve out a frontier settlement.
Founded May 3, 1772, in present-day New Philadelphia, Zeisberger named the settlement Schoenbrunn Village, which is German for "beautiful spring."
It was the first settlement in Ohio and by 1777 had grown into a thriving mission that was home to more than 300 Indians and whites.
But Schoenbrunn Village was abandoned in 1777 after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War made it a precarious place to stay because of its proximity to other warring Indian tribes that were taking sides with the British.
Restoration: Although the village soon became a ghost town of rotting log houses and forgotten graves, during the 1920s, the Ohio Historical Society took possession of the site and re-established it, this time as a historical treasure.
Today Schoenbrunn Village offers visitors a rare glimpse into daily pioneer life as well as what relations were like between American Indians and frontier missionaries.
The village features 17 reconstructed log buildings, including a meeting house and school; several acres of planted fields; and the old mission cemetery, with 44 graves dating from 1772 to 1777.
Visitors might also encounter volunteers dressed in period clothing and demonstrating colonial pastimes such as candle making, sewing or cooking over an open fire.
Each reconstructed cabin is situated on its original foundation and furnished with household goods appropriate to the era, such as primitive cooking utensils, rope beds and hand-hewn chairs.
Although the cabins were reconstructed during the 1920s, they are excellent examples of frontier housing. Small, dark and sparsely furnished, they dismiss any romantic notions 21st-century visitors might have about what it was like to live in a log house on the frontier.
Records: Because Zeisberger kept detailed diaries and maps of the village, historians have been able to identify who lived in each cabin and what his or her occupation was.
Of Schoenbrunn's 300 inhabitants, only a handful were white. The rest were Delaware Indians who had adopted the Christian faith.
Church services were observed twice each day, and village inhabitants followed a strict code of mission rules that forbade Indian rituals when hunting and the consumption of alcohol.
Although the Indians were expected to adopt Christian ways, they were treated with respect and permitted to dress as Indians and live in Indian houses. A few reconstructed wigwams on the grounds illustrate this alternative.
At peace: Although many people might imagine a 1700s mission settlement in Indian territory as a place of constant conflict, where bronze-skinned braves boldly rejected the Bible's teachings, Schoenbrunn was actually a very peaceful settlement.
One 18th-century Schoenbrunn visitor, who expected to discover a village rife with anarchy and confusion, wrote in his diary that he was surprised to have found a society of "regularity, order and decorum."
Modern visitors can still get a sense of that peaceful atmosphere as they stroll beneath Schoenbrunn's spreading shade trees or linger on the doorstep of one of its modest cabins.
Massacre: After the eruption of the Revolutionary War, the atmosphere in the Ohio territory changed, and white and Indian conflict became a harsh reality at mission settlements as outside tribes made violent threats and Indian loyalties became divided between American settlers and British soldiers. At Gnadenhutten Village, a reconstructed mission settlement 12 miles south of Schoenbrunn, 90 Christian Indians were massacred by a band of American militiamen in 1782.
Today this tragic event is re-enacted in the action-packed outdoor drama "Trumpet in the Land." The play was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green and is performed from June through August at Schoenbrunn Village's Amphitheater.
The play features a cast of more than 70 actors, singers and dancers as well as colorful costumes, horses, battle pyrotechnics, brilliant lighting and state-of-the-art sound systems.
Because the restored Gnadenhutten Village and Schoenbrunn are so close to each other, travelers from the Youngstown area might want to visit them both during the same day. The drive to Tuscarawas County will take about two hours.
Other settlement: Gnadenhutten was founded in October 1772 by a Moravian Mohican elder named Joshua. The first white child to be born in the territory took its first breath here July 4, 1773.
In 1781, British troops and Indian warriors rounded up all the Christian Indians living at Gnadenhutten and took them a few miles southeast to present Upper Sandusky.
The infamous massacre occurred when a group of these Christian Indians were given permission to return to Gnadenhutten briefly to get food.
Today Gnadenhutten features several reconstructed log buildings and offers seasonal events that include a craft show the first week of August; an American Indian gathering the fourth weekend of August; an apple butter festival and fall foliage tour the second weekend of October; and a Christian Indian Christmas display Thanksgiving through Jan. 1.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.