The Settler-Colonial Memory of the Gnadenhutten Massacre and the Burning of William Crawford

Joshua Catalano

Major Professor: C Joseph Genetin-Pilawa, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Randolph Scully

Robinson Hall B, #333
July 24, 2019, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


The Settler-Colonial Memory of the Gnadenhutten Massacre and the Burning of William Crawford demonstrates how individuals have used memories of the Ohio frontier to advance settler-colonial goals. Putting Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s theory of how silences enter the historical record into practice, this dissertation examines how individuals manipulated the memory of a series of events for political and ideological reasons. In June of 1782, Colonel William Crawford led a force of a few hundred American soldiers in a campaign to destroy the Indian forces gathered on the Sandusky Plains in present day Ohio. The Indian coalition captured Crawford following a botched offensive and took him prisoner. After being tried, Crawford’s captors brutally tortured and then burned him alive in retaliation for the Gnadenhutten Massacre, where American militiamen rounded up ninety-six men, women, and children and systematically marched them into a cabin two by two and bashed in their skulls with a hammer.

This work analyzes the production, dissemination, and continual reinterpretation of the Gnadenhutten Massacre and Crawford’s burning through the present, using pamphlets, broadsides, songs, novels, trading cards, monuments, parades, reenactments, oral history interviews, plays, Twitter, and other miscellaneous sources. I argue that for over two hundred years, individuals have silenced, invoked, and manipulated the memory of these events to advance settler-colonial goals. While modern readers may not recognize these events, they have played an underestimated role in the settler-colonial ambitions and culture of the United States. Manipulation and artistic license have left the memory of these events hidden in plain sight.  Their influence is found in the works of popular literary authors, such as James Fenimore Cooper, Zane Grey, and Alan Eckert, as well as the classic cinema depictions of Daniel Boone. Whether reading a comic book, attending an outdoor historical drama, or visiting a museum, individuals continue to engage with the memories of these events and, in the process, shape the United States’ collective memory of its settler-colonial history.