In 1776, missionaries of the Moravian Church founded the settlement of Lichtenau. The purpose of the village was to convert the Lenape (Delaware) of Ohio to Christianity. This was the third Moravian village built in the 1770s in the Ohio Country. The first two were Schoenbrunn and Gnadenhutten. The Moravians, led by David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, found it necessary to build a third community due to the success of these earlier villages. Lichtenau was located near Coshocton primarily because Coshocton was the Delawares' main village. Lichtenau means "Meadow of Light" in German.
The Lenape (Delaware) living near Coshocton initially welcomed the Moravians. Their principal leader was Netawatwees (called Newcomer in English). Netawatwees never converted to Christianity but believed the American Indians could benefit from a friendly relationship with the missionaries. Most importantly, the missionaries might be able to intercede with British and subsequently American colonists and soldiers that were moving into the Ohio Country. Unfortunately for the Moravians, Netawatwees died in October 1776. His grandson Killbuck emerged as the leader of the Lenape (Delaware) at Coshocton, but he did not have Netawatwees's leadership ability. Other Lenape chiefs, including Captain Pipe, resented the Moravians for their cultural imperialism and enforcement of assimilationist policy. The missionaries were pacifists and asked all of their Lenape converts also to forsake war. Captain Pipe, however, needed warriors in order to resist increasing Anglo-American settlement on his lands, and did not like to lose them to the Christian missions.
In 1777, Killbuck invited the Moravians to consolidate their villages at Lichtenau. He promised the missionaries protection from the numerous other American Indians in the Ohio Country who had allied themselves with the British. In early 1778, Zeisberger accepted the offer, but as the Lenape (Delaware) became more divided during the American Revolution, Zeisberger felt it was best to disperse his followers among several locations. The Moravians reoccupied Schoenbrunn and Gnadenhutten in the autumn of 1778 or the spring of 1779.
By 1781, many Lenape (Delaware) who had not converted had chosen to side with the British. Most of the so-called "Christian Delaware" preferred to remain out of the conflict entirely. To keep the Lenape from launching raids on American settlers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, Colonel Daniel Brodhead left Fort Pitt with three hundred men to destroy the Lenape communities near Coshocton. Brodhead's army did not see the difference between the Lenape (Delaware) and the Christian Delaware. Brodhead's forces destroyed both Coshocton and Lichtenau. Lichtenau was never rebuilt. The destruction of these two villages illustrates a common occurrence in the Ohio Country during the American Revolution and the decades that followed. Rather than identifying the people who had actually attacked American settlements, soldiers and civilians often sought revenge against the nearest American Indian peoples and their settlements.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Zeisberger, David. Schoenbrunn Story: Excerpts from the Diary of the Reverend David Zeisberger, 1772-1777, at Schoenbrunn in the Ohio Country. Columbus: Ohio History Connection, 1972.