The Christian Munsee were a group of Lenape native American Indians, primarily Munsee, who converted to Christianity, following the teachings of the Moravian missionaries. The Christian Munsee were also known as the Moravian Munsee or the Moravian Indians or, in context, simply the Christian Indians. The Christian Munsees also have a connection to Kansas Territory history.
The Munsee were the Wolf clan of the Lenape, occupying the area where present-day Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York meet. The first recorded European contact occurred in 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that would bear his name. Like most native peoples of the Atlantic coast, the Munsee were quickly devastated by European diseases such as smallpox, malaria, and influenza, and those who survived were forced inland. By the mid-1700s, one group of Lenape people began to follow the teachings of the Moravian missionaries. The Moravians, a German Protestant denomination based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sought to protect their converts by creating separate mission villages in the frontier, apart from both European settlers and from other native people.
The most prominent missionary among the Munsee was David Zeisberger. In 1772, he led his group of Christian Munsee to the Ohio Territory, which he hoped would isolate them from the hostilities of the American Revolution. However, in 1782, a force of Pennsylvania militiamen, in search of Indians who had been raiding settlers in western Pennsylvania, happened upon a group of ninety of Zeisberger's Christian Munsee and rounded them up in the village of Gnadenhütten. Although the Munsee truthfully pled their innocence, the militia took a vote and decided to execute all of them, including women and children.
After ten more years of strife, most of the Christian Munsee followed Zeisberger to Ontario, Canada, where they established a new home at Fairfield, commonly known as Moraviantown, along the Thames River. There they lived in relative peace for twenty years, supporting themselves with their farming and industry. However, once again they became unwitting victims of war, when American soldiers burned their village to the ground during the War of 1812, Battle of the Thames. The battle is known historically as a victory for General William Henry Harrison, and for the death of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, but the utter destruction of Moraviantown is little more than a footnote. The Munsee fled into the wilderness for safe haven until hostilities ceased, then returned to build a New Fairfield.
By the 1830s, a faction of the Christian Munsee favored a move to the American West. In 1837, some of the Munsee from Fairfield journeyed to Wisconsin to join another Christian band of Indians, the Stockbridge Mahican, where the two tribes became known collectively as the Stockbridge-Munsee; it is now the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Shawano County, Wisconsin. However, most of the Munsee eventually decided to return to Canada. The Christian Munsee in southern Ontario remain today as the Moravian of the Thames and the Munsee-Delaware
However, a small band of Christian Munsee decided to migrate again, this time to Kansas Territory, to join their Delaware kinsman. They first settled in Wyandotte County, then Leavenworth County. A few other families settled near Fort Scott in Bourbon County. By 1857, most of the other Delaware Indians (of Kansas) left for Indian Territory. The Christian Munsee, who now numbered less than one hundred, chose instead to purchase a new reservation in Franklin County from a small band of Ojibwa.
The Treaty of 1859 officially combined the Swan Creek and Black River Band Chippewa and the Christian Munsee on a reservation of twelve square miles along the Marais des Cygnes River near the town of Ottawa. Signing the treaty for the Munsee were Henry Donohoe, Ignatius Caleb, and John Williams.
Although the two tribes shared a reservation and were considered one tribe by the United States government in all dealings, the two groups maintained their separate identities in cultural and religious practices. The Moravian church continued to send missionaries to the Munsee.
Over time, the Chippewa-Munsee reservation was allotted to the members and descendants of the tribes, and they eventually accepted assimilation. In 1900, the final disbursement of federal funds was paid and all benefits and recognition as Native Americans were dissolved.