Gelelemend – Native American


Gelelemend (1737–1811), also known as Killbuck or John Killbuck Jr., was a Delaware (Lenape) chief during the American Revolutionary War. His name signifies “a leader.”


Gelelemend was born near the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, son of Bemino (John Killbuck Sr.), a renowned war leader of the French and Indian War, and grandson of Netawatwees (“Newcomer”), principal chief of the Delaware.

At that time, Delaware Indians were members of one of three clans or phratries: turtle, turkey, and wolf. Each division had its own chiefs, councilors, and war captains. The chief of the turtle phratry—the senior clan—served as principal chief of the tribe. By early 1776, as the Moravian missionary David Zeisberger recorded, Gelelemend had been “designated” as the successor to Netawatwees, who was thought to be close to 100 years old. After Netawatwees died on October 31, 1776, however, the succession remained uncertain, in large part because of the unsettled situation of the Delaware in the Ohio Country. Situated between the British at Detroit and the Americans to the east, the Delaware tried to remain neutral in the British-American conflict—despite strong pressure from the British, the Americans, and other Indian nations (nearly all allied with the British) to enter the conflict. Under these circumstances, the important counselor White Eyes seemed to assume the role of chief as much, if not more, than Gelelemend. With White Eyes and Captain Pipe (war captain of the wolf clan), Gelelemend signed the Delaware Treaty with the United States in 1778. Only after the death of White Eyes later that year did Gelelemend become principal chief.

However, the Delawares were deeply divided over how to respond to the war, and bands led by Pipe and Buckongahelas broke away from the pro-American leadership of Gelelemend. By 1781, Gelelemend had been forced from power, and he helped guide Colonel Daniel Brodhead in an expedition to destroy the Delaware capital of Coshocton where he had lived and served as chief. With a few of his followers, Gelelemend returned with the Americans to Fort Pitt. He had become a man without a country. He remained at Fort Pitt until 1785, always in fear for his life.

Long interested in Christianity, Gelelemend joined the Moravian mission at Salem, Ohio in 1788. At the baptism ceremony, he took the name William Henry, supposedly to honor a man who had rescued him during the French and Indian War. He was the most prominent convert in the Delaware Indian community. Gelelemend died in Goshen, Ohio in 1811.


In gratitude to William Henry, many of Gelelemend’s descendants used Henry as a middle name. This included a great-grandson, John Henry Kilbuck, who was a Moravian missionary in Alaska — and John’s daughter Katherine Henry Kilbuck.

Additionally, the village of Killbuck, Ohio in Holmes County is named for him.