The Wechquetank Mission

Wechquetank Memorial, Gilbert

When I left the Kresge Monument in Gilbert, I headed southward towards a monument a short distance away on the opposite side of Route 209. If I had not had directions to the monument located on Mill Pond Road, I would have never realized the monument existed – it was far enough off the main road that it could not be seen, so the average traveler easily passed through the community without knowing of its existence. Note: More about the Kresge Monument can be found here: The Kresge Monument.

I turned onto Mill Pond Road and soon saw the shaft of granite along the right side of the narrow back road. Parking at the location was very limited, so I pulled off the edge of the road as far as I could and turned on the hazard lights.

I walked over to the monument and stepped through the iron fencing to read the words engraved in the memorial. “The Site of / WECHQUETANK / A Moravian / Indian Mission Station / 1760-1763 / Erected by / the Moravian Historical Society / A.D. 1907.” While the monument marked the location of the Moravian mission, it provided no other clues to the history of this location.

The mission was founded by the Moravian Church as a means of converting the Native Americans to Christianity. The sect of Christianity was founded by the followers of Jan Hus, also known as John Huss, in 1457. This movement would become the first large scale Protestant missionary movement in Pennsylvania. Hus would not survive to see his teachings take root and grow. He would be tried for heresy against the Roman Catholic Church and was burned at the stake in 1415, years before the movement based on his teachings was formed.

In North America, the Moravians were known for setting up missions and preaching to the Native Americans to bring to them the news of Christianity. The Moravians first had their presence felt in the region in 1750 when members of the Moravian Church purchased lands on the northern side of Blue Mountain. Among those who purchased land and settled here was Frederick Hoeth, whose name remains connected to the land. Hoeth erected his house, a blacksmith shop and a mill, which was powered by the waters of Pohopoco Creek. Note: In various histories, Pohopoco Creek is referred to as Hoeth’s Creek, Head Creek, Heads Creek and Big Creek .

In 1752, the first mission in the region was erected – Meniologomeka was formed along Aquashicola Creek south of Kunkletown. This mission lasted until 1755, when the Native Americans living there were forced to move so the region could be developed by the English settlers.

The idea of a mission was not abandoned and the Wechquetank Mission was founded by Gottlieb Senseman in April of 1760. It took ten years to erect a mission at the site because there was no military presence in the area to protect the missionaries from hostile forces. Upon the erection of Fort Norris, which was located roughly four miles west of Wechquetank, the missionaries thought it was safe to build the mission.

Wechquetank initially housed thirty Delaware Indians who had accompanied Senseman from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The name Wechquetank was derived from the Indian word “Wekquitank,” a species of willow that was common along Pohopoco Creek. Note: Pohopoco is another native word for the same type of willow. 

Once the mission was established, Bernard A. Grube was placed in charge of it and under his guidance the mission flourished during its three years of existence. While stationed here, Grube translated the Four Gospels into the Delaware language. 

With the onset of Pontiac’s War in 1763, the mission floundered. The rise in hostilities created a deadly threat to the peaceful Natives living here. These converts faced death at the hands of both the white settlers and hostile Native American forces.

In August 1763, the fears of hostility towards the converted natives became a reality. A group of four Delaware Indians – recorded as Zacharias, his wife and child, and another convert known as Zippora – were traveling towards a village located on the Susquehanna River when they sought refuge in a barn under the guard of Captain Wetterhold. While they were sleeping, the soldiers, who were drunk at the time, shot and killed the defenseless travelers. White settlers feared retaliation from Zacharias’ four brothers for the senseless murder and the Delaware Indians at the mission feared more violence against them.

On October 8, 1763, a group of hostile Indians raided the John Stinton farm near Bethlehem. Stinton and several soldiers were killed during the attack. During the skirmish Captain Wetterhold was severely wounded and died later that day from his injuries. In the aftermath of this raid the Wechquetank Mission was abandoned. Fearing for their lives, those living at the mission fled to Nazareth seeking shelter and protection. These converts would eventually be moved to Philadelphia for their safety.

Although those living at the mission had fled for their safety, it was not until November 6, that the mission was officially abandoned. The handful of people who had remained at the mission were ordered to abandon Wechquetank. By November 11, 1763, the mission had been burned to the ground. Any traces that it had ever existed at the spot vanished into history.

I finished reading snd photographing the monument ehich was placed at the location in 1907 by the Moravian Historical Society to remember the Moravian missionaries who spread Christianity in the New World. As I left the monument, a sadness overcame me as I realized it was a reminder of the first attempts to convert the indigenous peoples of North America by the white settlers who did not understand the religion of the native peoples.

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