Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hopocan of Ohio and Saul of Tarsus

Thursday, November 3, 2016, 14:08
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By David C. Brand

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you If you were of the

world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of this world, but I chose you

out of the world, therefore the world hates you. –Jesus the Christ (John 15:18-19 ESV)


And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only

were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried

to destroy.” — Apostle Paul né Saul of Tarsus (Gal. 1:22-23 ESV)


It was a sunshiny autumn day along the Ohio Canal. Walking southeast from Akron, we came upon an elaborate historical plaque commemorating Hopocan, the Chief of the native American Lenape Delaware Tribe also known as “Captain Pipe, King of New Portage.” [1] We read that Hopocan had aspired to avenge an American militia’s massacre of his fellow tribesmen, numbering 96 trusting, pacifist Moravian [2] Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio on March 8, 1782. At least two reliable histories record Hopocan’s unrelenting determination to avenge the massacre of these peace-loving Indians while documenting Hopocan’s disdain for them “because they would not fight.” The first history is Western Reserve and Early Ohio–a book esteemed by this author since childhood, when his father recommended it. The second is entitled Blackcoats among the Delaware published by Kent State University Press.

A good friend wrote a master’s thesis at Yale on the renowned Moravian leader and hymnwriter, Count Zinzendorf, and lectured at several Ohio higher education institutions and also at Schoenbrunn, the restored sister village related to Gnadenhutten. The mother of twentieth-century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Dietrich himself, were deeply impacted by Moravian values. [3]

Hopocan did eventually kill an American commanding officer who had shared responsibility for the treacherous slaughter of those Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten. These Indians had returned to this Muskingum River area to gather food for their fellow Moravians temporarily living in northern Ohio because their leaders, Rev. John Heckewelder, Rev. David Zeisberger, et al were meeting with British authorities in Detroit to address false accusations brought against them.

Meanwhile, Col. Williamson, the commanding officer of an American militia group, was sentencing the Gnadenhutten Moravian pacifist Christian Indians by calling for a vote to determine whether they should be taken to Fort Pitt or simply executed on the spot. Eighty-two of his 100 men voted for execution. These Moravian Indians, who had been tricked into turning over their weapons, requested some extra time to prepare their hearts for the slaughter. Though openly declaring their willingness to die, they affirmed that since “they had at their conversion and baptism made a solemn promise to the Lord Jesus Christ that they would live unto, and endeavor to please Him alone, in the world, they knew they had been deficient in many respects, and therefore wished to have some time granted to pour out their hearts before Him in prayer and to crave His mercy and pardon.” [4]

In these [two] houses rang all night long the hymns, prayers and supplications of these

Christian Indians crying to God their helper.


 In the morning these white men entered the cabins and by mallet, gun, spear and

knife killed all, men women and children, to the number of ninety-six. One man with a mallet

killed fourteen, and then handed it to another saying: “Go on the same way; my arm aches”.


These men, women and children were murdered in cold blood. It is the foulest

blot on Ohio’s fair history and as long as the state stands the name of Gnadenhutten will

be remembered. [5] 

Two Moravian Indian lads managed to escape by removing some floor boards and hiding below.

Two months later Gen. William Crawford (appointed over Williamson) conducted another militia expedition following “Williamson’s Trail.” History records that Hopocan’s scouts “never left them until they reached the Tuscarawas River towns, and from there took the news to Hopocan and he was ready for them, for he who had always hated the Moravians ‘because they would not fight,’ now constituted himself as their avenger.” General Crawford was captured and executed in a Delaware village by Hopocan who rejected Crawford’s offer of untold wealth. Williamson, however, managed to escape. [6]

Before executing General Crawford, Hopocan had defended the Moravians before the British court in Detroit, much to the court’s surprise because he had earlier testified against the Moravians. [7] Later Hopocan openly opposed the New Gnadenhutten land grant on the Huron River– provided to the surviving Moravians, and later land grants on the Cuyahoga River, and in Milan. [8] While Hopocan’s negative behavior hardly compares to Saul of Tarsus’ “ravaging the church, and entering house after house,” dragging off “men and women and committing them to prison,” [9] it does reveal Hopocan’s unresolved inner conflict with respect to these Moravian Brethren.

Saul’s pre-conversion conflict was rooted in his obsession with proving himself a good Jew by persecuting the church. [10] And in regard to Stephen’s martyrdom by stoning, Saul stood by and consented to his execution. [11] Hopocan’s conflict may be understood in terms of protecting the Lenape Delaware Indians by playing American and British authorities against one another when considered necessary for survival.

Unlike Saul of Tarsus who became the apostle Paul, Hopocan appears to have continued harassing the very Moravian Christian Indians whose slain brethren he chose to avenge! Perhaps eternity alone will reveal whether Hopocan ever moved beyond this historic anomaly.


Cherry, Peter Peterson. 1920. Western Reserve and Early Ohio. Published by R. L. Fouse, Firestone Park, Akron, Ohio, in 1921

Metaxas, Eric. 2010. Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich. Nashville: Thomas Nelson

Olmstead, Earl P. 1991. Blackcoats among the Delaware: David Zeisberger on the Ohio Frontier. The Kent State University Press. Kent, Ohio, and London, England

Olmstead, Earl P. 1997. David Zeisberger: A Life among the Indians. Foreword by George W. Knepper. The Kent State University Press. Kent, Ohio, and London, England

End Notes

[1]. Peter Peterson Cherry, author of Western Reserve and Early Ohio, identified the Captain Pipe associated with the area of Nesmith Lake as Captain Pipe, Jr., Hopocan’s son by the same name who “won his spurs” in “Mad Anthony’s War.”

[2]. Moravian: “A member of a Protestant denomination arising from a 15th century religious reform movement in Bohemia and Moravia” [traceable to John Huss and associated with Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760].

[3]. Eric Metaxes, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, pp. 12-13

[4]. Cherry, pp. 222-226

[5]. Cherry, pp. 50-51

[6]. Cherry, pp. 51-53

[7]. Earl P. Olmstead, Black Coats among the Delaware, pp. 42-43

[8]. Cherry, p. 227

[9]. Acts 8:3

[10]. Philippians 3:2-6

[11]. Acts 8:1

About the Writer

David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with

missionary experience in Korea and Arizona. He and his wife now reside

in Wooster, Ohio, where they first met at a Presbyterian youth

conference. They have four grown children and eight grandchildren. With

a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History,

Dave continues to enjoy study and writing. One of his books, a

contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was

published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.

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