I am Sister Margaret Schnall and my husband is Brother Johann Schnall. We lived with our family at Fairfield on the Thames from 1801-1813 and later at New Fairfield from 1818-1819.
Fairfield was established in 1792 as a refuge for our Delaware brethren, who were peace loving Indians whose lives had been constantly threatened by the white man’s westward migration. In the early 1790s, 96 innocent adults and children were brutally murdered at Gnadenhutten in the Ohio Valley by American militiamen. The British offered us land in Upper Canada and here we lived in relative peace and prosperity for several years, teaching our Indian brethren farming, domestic and academic skills as well as the word of God.
Life was not always perfect but we had no idea of the horrors to come. The Thames River was the main thoroughfare between the Detroit and Niagara regions. In between was one big wildnerness. We were obligated to provide lodging and food for everyone travelling by. Most were welcome (and paid generously) except for the dishonest whose purpose was to cause trouble (mainly sellers of liquor or warfaring Indians who sought to tempt our young men to join them).
The year 1812 brought rumours of war and increased river traffic but the autumn of 1813 was horrendous. After the British defeat on Lake Erie, the retreat up the Thames began. Fort Malden and Amerherstburg were abandoned and set on fire. Thousands came through our village: ordinary families with children; military and Indian families; soldiers; prisoners; and the wounded.
Our buildings were filled beyond capacity and our streets were chaotic with animals and military equipment. The Indian brethren panicked with memories of past brutalities and made preparations to flee eastward with Brother Denke.
On October 5th, Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames and the British fled east up the river. At first, the Americans promised us no harm but the next day we were accused of aiding and abetting the enemy. Our buildings and possessions were ransacked as they searched for valuables and signs of treason. Even our sermons written in German were thought to be code.
We thank Almighty God for sending us Commodore Perry who took pity on us and offered pro-
tection and assistance. Our preparations for departure were made in extreme haste. Since the American soldiers had taken all our food , we packed only a few small possessions in the wagon our friend John Dolsen had lent us. Imagine our horror as we looked back and saw the town in flames – all our possessions and over twenty years of work gone. Later my husband calculated our loss at nearly eleven thousand dollars for which we were never compensated.
Thus we began our toilsome trip back to Pennsylvania, using whatever means available – usually our feet. Despite difficulties and delays we were blessed with the help of many kind people and finally after two months we reached the welcoming arms of our Moravian brethren. Praise be
In 1815, the Moravians returned to the Thames to build New Fairfield on the south side of the river. Fairfield Museum now stands on the site of the original village.
By Chris Crawford, Thamesville. February 2012
- When Chatham was Woods-Reminiscences of the Pioneers by John Rhodes
- Romantic Kent by Victor Lauriston
- The Valley of the Lower Thames by Fred Coyne Hamil
- Moravians In Upper Canada:The Fairfield Diary 1792-1813 Linda Sabathy Judd
- Greater Evils: The War of 1812 in Southwestern Ontario by Glenn Stott