Hidden Collections

John Heckewelder Papers

Archival Description

Title: John Heckewelder Papers
Dates: 1781-1821
Quantity: 6 folders
Identification: PP HJG
Language of Material: German; English
Location: Moravian Church Archives
Alternate View: View Moravian Archives Finding Aid


This collection primarily includes material related to John Heckewelder's missionary work among the Native American tribes in Ohio. These items include correspondence to and from Heckewelder, letters of recommendation on his behalf, notes written in a Native American language, newspaper clippings regarding Heckewelder and Native American missions, a print of Heckewelder's first house in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, paperwork from and accounts of Heckewelder's time in Ohio, including a 19th century reproduction of a travel diary from Heckewelder's first journey to Ohio in 1762.

The collection also contains a deed to a tract of land given to Heckewelder in 1800, a certificate naming Heckewelder as a member of the American Philosophical Society, and his certification as the Post Master General of Gnadenhutten, Ohio in 1804.


Johann "John" Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder was born to David and Christina Richter Heckewelder on March 12, 1743 in Bedford, England. While initially educated in England, Heckewelder moved to Bethlehem, Pa with his parents in 1754 where he completed his education. He was also educated in Nazareth, Pa at the Christian Spring. Though apprenticed to a cooper, Heckewelder believed his true calling was Evangelical. In 1762, he joined Christian Friederich Post (1710-1785) on his journey to establish a treaty and mission with Native Americans on the Ohio River. After returning to Bethlehem, Heckewelder received another opportunity to serve as a missionary under David Zeisberger (1721-1808) to Native Americans in the Ohio region in 1771. During this period, Heckewelder was ordained as a Deacon in the Moravian Church at Lititz, Pa in 1778 and two years later married his wife, Sarah Ohneberg, a teacher in the Ohio missions. Their daughter, Johanna Maria "Polly" Heckewelder (1781-1868), was said to be the first "white" woman born in Ohio. During the American Revolution, Heckewelder and Zeisberger were under heavy scrutiny from Loyalists and British-allied Native American tribes. British forces captured the two men and tried them for treason in Detroit. Both men were later released. After the war, Heckewelder continued his work as a missionary in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and Upper Canada. In 1810, he returned to Bethlehem, PA and began his work with the American Philosophical Society. He died in Bethlehem on January 31st, 1823. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Heckewelder was considered one of the foremost Moravian authorities of Native American tribes. He published many scholarly works concerned with the culture and ways of life of the Native Americans, including a book, entitled "History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States."



Custodial History

The John Heckewelder Papers were not received as a single collection. Various newspaper clippings, several mounted certificates, and a copy of Heckewelder's diary were deposited in the archives at an unknown time. Annette & Marion Masland donated the core of the collection on August 29th, 1977. Initially, the Masland donation was retained as a single collection that included papers belonging to John and Polly Heckewelder. During the summer of 2011, the Masland collection was reexamined by Erin Thorn, a Lehigh University student working on the CLIR grant. At this time, the Masland collection was dissolved. The documents were then organized into the Johanna Maria "Polly" Heckewelder Papers and the John Heckewelder Papers. These papers were united with other items belonging to Heckewelder. Also at this time, a letter addressed to Heckewelder was removed from the de Schweinitz collection and placed in the Heckewelder collection. More materials are expected to be found in the Archives, and they will be added to this record group.

Related Material

Indian Missions; Polly Heckewelder Papers


John Heckewelder Papers
1. Correspondence regarding John Heckewelder
Date: 1762 - 1821
Physical Description: some letters delicate
Scope/Content: Includes:
1. J. G. Davenport;, Pittsburg, PA; 9/29/1762
2. Edward Hand; Philadelphia, PA; 2/14/1800
3. William Hembel Jr.; Philadelphia,PA; 9/22/1819
4. H. Knox; War Department; two leters: 5/21/1792, 3/19/1793
5. A request of Heckewelder's "opinion" on the lands at Crows Town (today Freedom, PA) and Logstown, including a survey of the lands on the Ohio River, Col. Isaac Milken (?); 7/26/1789
6. Correspondence between Andreas von Nartow and Heckewelder concerning the Free Economic Society; St. Petersburgh, Russia; 1794-1797
7. Recommendation from James O'Hara; Pittsburg,PA; 11/14/1798
8. Peter S. Du Ponceau; Philadelphia, PA; three letters: 11/10/1818, 2/9/1819, 9/20/1821
9. Recommendation from Johannes Shropp; Bethlehem, PA; 8/31/1800
10. H. F. de Schweinitz; Bethlehem,PA; 9/16/1790
11. Charles Stewart; Princeton, NJ; 9/26/1820
12. Dr. C. Wistar; Philadelphia, PA; 5/2/1817
2. Letters written in Native American language
Date: 1800 - 1801
Physical Description: 1 folder
Scope/Content: Includes:
1. Possibly Delaware; 1/13/1800
2. Possibly Delaware; 1/2/1800
3. Possibly Delaware; 9/2/1801
3. Newspaper clippings, print of John Heckewelder's first house in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, Image of David Zeisberger
Date: 1856 - 1919
Physical Description: 1 folder
Scope/Content: Includes: Newspaper clippings concerning missions. Several clippings are mounted on paper and kept together under the title "Heckewelderania"
4. Documents related to Heckewelder's missionary work
Date: 1781 - 1793
Physical Description: travel documents very fragile
Scope/Content: Includes:
1. A note by Heckewelder regarding the Indian chief Tadeuskund [Teedyeschung] (n.d.)
2. A copy of the deed William Penn recieved from Native Americans on August 2, 1685
3. Travel Expenses; 1792-1793
4. Permit issued by Schuyler De Peyster allowing Heckewelder and other missinaries to return to Sandusky; Detroit, MI; 11/12/1781
5. An address given at the dedication of the monument commerating the massacre of Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio
6. Translation of J. Heckewelder's journey to participate in treaty negotations in Montreal, Canada; April 8- Sept 25 1793;) trans. Gertrude Masland
7. Translation of J. Heckwelder's diary of his journey to Vincennes, Indiana; 1792; trans. Edward Rondthaler, Jr. and copied by John H. Herman
5. Heckewelder travel diary
Date: without date
Physical Description: very fragile
Scope/Content: Includes: Copy of his diary from his trip to Ohio with Christian Friederich Post; 1762. Possibly copied by Lucinda E. Trager.
6. Certificates and Deed
Date: 1798 - 1804
Physical Description: good
Scope/Content: Includes:
1. Deed for a tract of land issued by John Adams; Philadephia, PA; 3/28/1800
2. Certificate of appointment to the American Philosophical Society; 1/5/1798
3. Certificae of appointment to Deputy Post-Master General in Gnadenhutten, Ohio by Gideon Granger; Washington DC; 8/11/1804