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Killbuck was a tribal leader of the turtle clan of the Lenape (Delaware). He became a leader when his grandfather, Netawatwees (called "Newcomer" by Anglo-Americans), died in 1776.

During the early 1770s, missionaries, including David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, arrived in the Ohio Country near Lenape villages. The Moravian Church sent these men to convert the Lenape to Christianity. The missionaries established several missions, including Gnadenhutten, Lichtenau, and Schoenbrunn. The missionaries asked that the Lenape forsake all of their traditional customs and ways of life. Many Lenape did adopt Christianity, but others refused to do so and resented the missionaries' cultural imperialism and assimilationist policy. The Lenape became a divided people during the 1770s. This was even true for Killbuck's family. Killbuck resented his grandfather for allowing the Moravians to remain in the Ohio Country. The Moravians believed in pacifism, and Killbuck believed that every convert to the Moravians deprived the Lenape of warriors who might help stop further Anglo-American settler encroachment on Lenape land.

During the French and Indian War Killbuck actively assisted the British against their French enemy. In 1761, Killbuck led an British supply train from Fort Pitt to Fort Sandusky. The British paid him one dollar per day.

Killbuck became a leader in a very dangerous time for the Lenape (Delaware). The American Revolution had just begun, and Killbuck found his people caught between the British in the West and the Americans in the East. At the war's beginning, Killbuck and many Lenape claimed to be neutral. In 1778, Killbuck did give permission to a force of American soldiers to traverse Lenape territory so that the soldiers could attack Fort Detroit. In return, Killbuck requested that the Americans build a fort near the Lenape people's major village, Coshocton, to provide the Lenape with protection from British attacks. The Americans agreed. While the Lenape had begun to side with the Americans, other groups, especially the Wyandot, the Seneca-Cayuga, the Munsee, the Shawnee, and even the wolf clan of the Lenape (Delaware) favored the British. These Ohio Country American Indian nations planned to attack Fort Laurens in early 1779 and demanded that the neutral Lenape formally side with the British. Killbuck warned the Americans of the planned attack. His actions helped save the fort, but the Americans still abandoned it in August 1779. The Lenape had lost their protectors and, in theory, faced attacks from the British, other local American Indians sided with the British, and even American settlers that flooded into the area in the late 1770s and early 1780s. Most Lenape natives formally joined the British after the American withdrawal from Fort Laurens.

Facing pressure from the British, the Americans, and fellow American Indians in the Ohio Country who had sided with those colonial powers, Killbuck hoped a policy of neutrality would save his people from destruction. It did not.

See Also