Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Delaware Witch Purge of 1806

Above:  An artist's conception of the Purge of 1806.  The Shawnee Prophet, later known as Tenskwatawa,is depicted second from right (the rightmost "fully drawn" person). 

After Beata withdrew her witch-finding services, the White River Delawares brought in an emerging spiritual leader from the Shawnee tribe.  The man's name was Lalawethika.  He'd been an alcoholic and his face was deformed from a hunting accident, but in May of 1805 he went into a trance and experienced a vision, which convinced him to stop drinking and started his career as a prophet in much the same way as the careers of other Native prophets began.

The Shawnee prophet arrived at White River on March 15, 1806.  Those accused of witchcraft were brought before him and he performed ceremonies before passing judgement.  Outwardly, Lalawethika made a big deal about being against aspects of traditional Algonkian religion, but the victims of the 1806 purge were the more acculturated Indians; they may have either been Christians or had done business with the United States.

Confessions were induced through torture.  An old woman named Coltos, aka Anne Charity was the first to confess her guilt and was put to death.  Then the elderly chief Tetepachsit met the same fate, and the Moravian missionaries witnessed his body being burned.  Tetepachsit's nephew Billy Patterson is said to have died "Bible in hand, praying, chanting hymns, and defying the power of evil until his voice was stifled" (Cave quotes Jacob Dunn's True Indian Stories 1909, page 67, but appears to doubt the accuracy of the statement).  Finally Joshua, the Moravians interpreter, was also executed.

Another round of excecutions was set to take place on April 9th.  The first of eight accused Indians was the last surviving chief, Hockingpompsga.  But this time, as the executioners put their hands on the old chief; his friends grabbed their weapons and put a stop to the killings.


Cave, Alfred (2006) Prophets of the Great Spirit pages 81-85.

Miller, Jay.  "The 1806 Purge among the Indiana Delaware: Sorcery, Gender, Boundaries and Legitimacy"  Ethnohistory, Spring, 1994 pages 246-266.

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