The Delaware Nation at Moraviantown has a rich and ancient history. Our original homeland is found along the Eastern Seaboard of North America, specifically, areas known today as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Delaware, or Lunaapeew, as we call ourselves, are revered by other Indigenous Nations as ‘the Grandfather Tribe. We established settlements up and down the Delaware and Hudson Rivers, where we farmed, hunted, fished and gathered for food, as well as traded with other Nations. At one time, our population is estimated to be in excess of 65,000.
Being located along the Atlantic seaboard, the Lunaapeew were among the first Indigenous Peoples in North America to encounter European explorers and new settlers, beginning with the arrival of the Swedish and Dutch, then the English. However, the Lunaapeew has proven to be a fierce survivor. As one researcher at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian describes it: It was the Delaware who took the hit for all the other Nations, who lived further inland. The Delaware survived wave after wave of Europeans landing along the eastern seaboard. The Lunaapeew attempted to make peace with the newcomers, becoming the first Indigenous Peoples in North America to sign peace treaties. The very first treaty was signed with the Dutch in the 1600’s. In 1778, we became the first Nation to enter into treaty with the new United States. However, both the Dutch and the Americans would violate the terms of these treaties, eventually forcing our people to cede lands and migrate into areas of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Ontario.
The eastern United States, at this time in our history, was rife with wars and tribulation, as various settler Nations fought for dominance and territory. Such long fought battles included the French and Indian Wars of 1689 thru 1763 and the American Revolutionary War of 1775 thru 1783 against the British. Another development taking place at this time was the spread of Protestant Christianity throughout the region.
A group of missionaries from the Moravian Church began establishing missions throughout parts of our traditional territory. The church itself originates from Moravia, which is now part of Czechoslovakia in Europe. The Lunaapeew opted to join the Moravian Missionaries as it afforded them some protection from warring factions, as well as mercenaries and vigilantes. Together, they would build 30 villages throughout the region, which they called ‘Moravian Towns’ from 1740 to 1815. However, violence and persecution would follow the Lunaapeew, despite their pledge for neutrality and following a Christian way of life. The most horrific incident took place in Gnadenhutten, a small village in Ohio.
The year was 1782. The Lunaapeew were living in Gnadenhutten with the Moravian Missionaries. It was a dangerous time for Indigenous Peoples, as American militia groups were determined to claim the region for more settler expansion. One day, while the Moravian missionaries were away from the community, the militia moved in and killed more than 90 Lunaapeew, including women and children.
The Gnadenhutten massacre is believed to be what lead our people and their Moravian Missionaries to leave the region and press northward into Michigan and eventually Canada. The Lunaapeew had petitioned the Government of Upper Canada for a land grant the size of a township in the region of what is now southwestern Ontario. The land grant offered measured six and three-quarters wide by twelve miles long, totaling more than 51,000 acres. The land provided to the Lunaapeew was available as a result of the 1790 treaty, signed by the Chippewas, Ottawas, Potawatomies and the Hurons.
By 1792, our people had established a new community, originally called Schonfeld, or Fairfield, in English. The town was a marvel for its time, as it was one of the first European-style towns, boasting the first school and church within the region.
Life at Fairfield was peaceful for a time. The Lunaapeew raised their families, grew bountiful crops, hunted, fished and traded with others in the region. Our community was self-sustaining. But it wasn’t long before the settler’s hunger for land would follow us to our new home. Another war had landed on our doorstep with the arrival of American and British troops during the War of 1812.
There were many battles during the War of 1812. One such battle took place at Frenchtown, which is on the western shore of Lake Erie. Frenchtown resulted in the wounding of Joseph Jacobs, who was the leader of the Moraviantown warriors. However, the Moraviantown warriors managed to overtake the town, and capture some American soldiers.
Perhaps the most significant battle in our history is the epic Battle of the Thames, also called the Battle of Moravian Town, which was fought just steps from our community at Fairfield. A Confederacy of Nations lead by the Great Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh, had long been battling against the Americans throughout the region. Fairfield was the farthest point north for the invaders. Tecumseh and his 600 warriors once again partnered with the British. The Americans greatly outnumbered the British on the battlefield and many British troops, including British General, Henry Procter fled, abandoning their Indigenous Allies. But our warriors managed to hold the Americans at bay. Despite the victory, Tecumseh was mortally wounded in the battle and died on October 5th, 1813. His body was taken to a secret location and buried. Still bitter from their defeat, a group of American soldiers burned Fairfield to the ground that same day, accusing the Lunaapeew of sheltering British soldiers and holding Americans prisoner.
Over the next two years, another village would be built, this time across the river, on the southern shores of the Thames. Called New Fairfield originally, the centre of the village was located close to the river, until the 1830s when a decision was made to move the community into the more wooded areas of the territory. Moraviantown eventually replaced the name New Fairfield.
Today, there are about 574 residents of Moraviantown, with more than 1100 registered members who live throughout Ontario, Canada and the world. Our community today is a fraction of the size it once was, roughly 3,000 acres, or 12 square kilometres, as most of our lands were sold. The community is today seeking compensation for the loss of those lands, as the legality of some of the surrenders is in question. Our original community along the Thames, Old Fairfield, was recognized as a Historic Site in 1945. A Mission House and Church built in the 1800s still stand in Moraviantown today.