I begin this series with some details about my own discovery of Moravianism around 1993. I had just completed my work on Dr. Cornelius Osborn and began to search for my next major project to engage in on the history of medicine in the Hudson Valley. By then I suspected the Hudson Valley to be a region with a large amount of “unclaimed territories” so to speak on medical history and the local culture.
One of my research leads due to work in a New York city library focused on Mahican Indians (which I often refer to as Mohecan in someof my older writings–please note, they are definitely not Mohegan). This renewed interest in Mahican culture and history came when I discovered a map in the manucript room. It was from a bible and was a depiction of the Wappingers Lake setting where Route 9 crosses the lake (the lake was there, but much smaller due to lack of a dam of course). Produced by a member of the Van Kleeck family some time during the 1690s, this map told me that the Mahicans resided closer to the Dutch families in the Valley than previously imagined.
This realization also led me to take another look at their history and distribution in the region, to determine whether or not they could have influenced some of the local cultural beliefs more than previously suspected. During this exploration of Mahican culture I was also in the middle of reviewing the history of spiritual revivals in the valley. A number of colleagues at the time commented on the similar history of revivalism that later made it way into the upper parts of New York State that came to be known as the “Burned Over district” , a name which referred to the numerous faiths that passed through this region during the period of time I was studying.
In the same library where I was reviewing the history and sociological reasons for spiritual revivals, I came upon a religious periodical published during the late 1800s known as Missions. Scanning through these bindings of “biblical size”, I saw an article on the Moravians in New York and in that article was the name of a local Missionary I had come to learn about–Christian Rauch. Reviewing other numbers in this set, I found a number of articles detailing the history and philosophyof this missionary group. It was these readings that provided me with the insights I needed to further understand not only Moravian history, in a fashion retold by religious writers rather than regular historians. It also provided with the insights I needed to better understand these locally important initiators of a unique faith in local religion history. Most importantly, my review of these articles told me how and why the Moravians were more effective than other missionary leaders in Christianizing American Indians in Connecticut and New York. The reasons for their success lie mostly in the unique social and philosophical upbringing of both of these groups. Both the Mahicans and the Moravians had the same respect for the wilderness and nature. They believed in much the same symbology of God and Nature and bore similar beliefs in the roles that each of these natural events played in defining natural philosophical beliefs.
The following essay I wrote in 1994, and is pretty much a retelling of a story told more eloquently by Hamilton and Hamilton, with numerous personal touches added here and there. With the exception of a single paragraph, and of course my corrections of any older version’s misspellings uncovered during this review, this essay remains untouched.
THE MORAVIAN MISSIONS. 1720-1820.
The eighteenth century Moravian Missions of the Spice Islands, British Colonies, and northernmost New France are the first missions to take place in the New World that lacked an underlying economic goal posed by any ruling Mother Country. This differentiates the purpose and history of the Moravian missions from the same for any other Missions to taking place in Colonial America. This uniqueness in large part was due to the pietous beliefs of Count Nicolaus Ludwig van Zinzendorf, who after more than a century of extinction was able to resurrect a fifteenth century religion known as The Church of United Brethren.
Born in 894 in Bohemia and Moravia, this sect later to be known as Moravian was originally practiced in the European religion centers of Bologna, Oxford, Paris, and Prague. During these years of growing popularity, the political powers of the church resided in the Vatican. This distance enabled a group sensitive to the differences that existed between the varying interpretations of the Bible enabled their followers in northeastern Bohemia to create the religious movement known as Jednota Bratrska in 1457.
Adherents to Jednota Bratrska (Czech for ‘United Brethren’) were an offshoot of the Hussites sect formed by Jan Hus. These traditionalists or purists believed in sharing the word of the Bible with people in their own language. A fairly recent description of this faith stated the following (yes, this is the only added paragraph):
“This body accepts the Apostles’ Creed as a valid expression of their beliefs, and stresses the ancient motto, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” They believe the Bible is God’s revelation to man, the sourcebook for all spiritual truth; that one God is revealed in three persons; that Christ is the only way of salvation; that salvation is by grace through faith; that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers; and that Jesus Christ will return to judge the world and reward the faithful believers. The Unity practices two sacraments—water baptism and holy communion. Christian parents present their infant children for baptism. All Christians are invited to communicate with them at the Lord’s supper or communion. However, they do not regard full agreement on the elements, methods and modes of the sacraments as essential. They believe that love is the supreme evidence of Christian disciples.” [Source accessed 10/1/10: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_of_the_Brethren]
In just a few years, the propagation of this belief system led to a series of Protestant rebellions against the Roman Catholics. The continued persecution of the first Moravians led them to remove to the more distant rural townships of Bohamia. A half century later, criticism against the Moravians had almost reached it peak when Jan Amos Comenius wrote a history of it entitled The History of the Bohemian Persecution from the Beginning of their Conversion to Christianity in the year 894 to the year 1632. Nearly extinct by 1632, what few dedicated Moravians followers remained kept a fairly low profile in Lititz, Bohemia. In 1722, with the re-initiation of a reformation about to take place amongst such European countries as the Netherlands with its Reformed Dutch and England, with its Church of England, the Moravians of Bohemia were forced to flee Lititz to make their way into Saxony.
As the last of the Moravians made their way to Saxony, residing there in the Saxon Court was Count Zinzendorf, whose family had also been forced to remove there after they suffered similar persecution for their devotion to the Protestant religion. Due to this flight, his grandparents were forced to surrender their ownership of a sizeable estate. His grandfather was a descendent of a royal family dating back to the thirteenth century. His Grandmother, Baroness Henrietta von Gesdorf was a close associate of the local pietists Philip Jacob Spener, a sponsor for Nicolas’s baptism.
Nicolas Ludwig’s father, Count Nicolas Louis of Zinzendorf, married Charlotte Justina von Gersdorf of Upper Lusatia. While residing in Saxon Court, where they had their son. Six weeks following Nicolas Ludwig’s birth, his father passed away, leaving his mother to return him to his grandmother’s care at the family castle of Gross Hennersdorf, where he first received his extended training in spiritualism.
Nicolas’s desires were to devote himself to theology. While residing with his grandfather, he was attended to by his Aunt Baroness Henrietta, a spiritual guide during his early morning and nightly prayers. His godfather Philip Spener also played many of the roles of Nicolas’s deceased father. Christian Ludwig Edeling, Zacharias Grubel, and Christian Hohman served as his tutors until he began his formal schooling at ten years of age.
Throughout his formal years of schooling, Nicolas was a troublesome student, often engaging in activities with his friends that were disliked by his teachers. While learning French and Latin, Nicolas made friend with four others who joined with him around 1714 to form a religious society which they called “Slaves of Virtue,” “Confessors of Christ,” and finally “Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed.” The first two titles chosen were based on well-defined premises. The third title this fraternity had chosen was no doubt intended to be secretive and symbolic of their desires as Christian. “The Grain of Mustard Seed” was no doubt based on their association of this flower and its receptacles with the Cross, for in Latin “Mustard Seed” translates to “Crucifera Semen,” inferring “the seed of the Cross” or “seed (birth and raising) of Christ.” As imitators of the missions of Baron Canstein in Malabar, Nicolas and his friends established a fraternity devoted to “the conversion of heathen” and “spiritual knighthood.” Much later in Nicolas’s life, this would have a great influence on his attitudes about other fraternities or spiritual groups which bore views about piety and theology considered by others to be unique and most likely unacceptable.
Nicolas Ludwig’s mother re-married to Russian Field-Marshal Von Nazmer in 1704. This marriage led both of Ludwig’s parents to become more interested in Nicolas’s goals as a legal and political leader, and were more interested in seeing him receive an education in statesmanship, diplomatic skills, and the law. Therefore, in 1716, Nicolas’s parents paid for his education in law at Wittenberg beginning at the age of sixteen. In 1721, Nicolas Ludwig began work as a counselor for the Royal Court and a justice. Throughout this time, Nicolas spent much of his free time learning theology.
Throughout his years as a judiciary, Nicolas’s family offered him little support for his desires regarding theology and mission work. He spent considerable time in Dresden, Leipzig and Frankfurt while passing through. Upon his arrival to Utrecht in 1719, he spent some time in the University attending lectures on history, politics, the law and English. It was in Utrecht where he made contact with two of his brothers from Amsterdam and the Hague, who most likely updated him regarding the Missionary programs and the related economic and political goals of the East India Company, which by then was making headway into establishing colonies in the New World were missionaries were being sent. Later that same year, Nicolas Ludwig made his way to Paris where he overwintered and began to detach himself from his roles and responsibilities as a judiciary.
Next he headed to Zurich and the Black Forest to visit his aunts, the Countesses of Castell and Polheim. He then met two young ladies who were his cousins, almost immediately falling in love with the older of his two, Theodore, during his two month stay at their place. She paid little attention to him during his visitation and in spite of her resistance, the support of Theodore’s mother led Nicolas to return to Saxon to secure the consent of his grandmother for a marriage in January 1721.
As Nicolas began his journey back to Black Forest, he made stay one night at the home of one of his friends, who also had a fondness for Theodore. The two of them decided to confront Theodore to see who she would accept as husband. To Nicolas’s disappointment, he learned of Theodore’s disinterest in him. So, by March of that same year, Theodore and Count Reuss were married.
Nicolas Ludwig, Count of Zinzendorf’s disappointment due to this marriage led him to consider his alternative in life, working as a missionary and servant to the isolated religious communities his “spiritual knighthood” he was so devoted to earlier in his life. When he returned to his family’s estate shortly before his twenty first birthday, he found his grandmother’s estate to be under the control of two of her daughters. By the Fall of that year he began plans to pursue a more ecclesiastical Christian life. Portions of his grandmother’s estate were being sold off; a portion of it was turned over to a local Pastor who was planning to use it to open an orphanage. As per his grandmother’s wishes, he reinitiated his legal services that autumn, but used this to secure the stability needed to purchase a portion of the Hennersdorf estate from his grandmother in April 1722 (for 26,000 thaler), at the age of twenty-two.
As Count of Zinzendorf and judicary, Nicolas Ludwig received considerable criticisms and ridicule regarding his theological desires. He had hoped to receive the support of his Lutheran goals. Without that support, Nicolas relied on his previous experiences regarding the operation of philanthropic institutions by a past mentor of his at Halle. In short time, he had secured the ownership of this land and thes attached manor house, and by September had married to Countess Erdmuth Dorothea Reuss, the sister of his friend Count Heinrich who had just a few months earlier married his cousin Theodore Castell.
Unitas Fratum Returns
During the middle months of 1722, as Count Zinzendorf’s life underwent a major transition due to marriage and his purchase of new property, the Count was now left with the need to what to do in Berthelsdorf. The land he had purchased appeared to him and most others as wilderness land in need of razing. One spot on this land bore a sizeable hill with a strong core of basalt serving as its base. This became the site chosen for the building of Herrnhut, so named due to its relation to Hutberg nearby and the words of the German prayers expressed by the Count’s appointed manager Johann Georg Heitz: unter des Herrn Hut (“under the Lords’s watch care” and auf des Herrn Hut (“on watch for the Lord.”) By December, a small house had been erected on Herrnhut to serve as a temporary residence. The building of the manor house was completed by the following summer.
The erection of a manor on Herrnhut led to Count Zinzendorf rebirth of his fraternity “Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed.” Only this time he gave it a more appropriate and mature name bearing much of the same original symbolism: “The Covenant of the Four Brethren.” Zinzendorf and three of his comrades, Friedrich von Watteville, Johann Andreas Rothe, and Melchior Schaffer, united to form a group whose goal it became “to seek the power of the Holy Spirit…for their own renewal in godliness and for an increasing acceptance of the rule of Christ throughout the land.” Their immediate goals were to obtain the support of others, and ultimately initiate a sort of revivalism or pietist movement.
By the end of 1723, the Count hired a printer from Pirna to open a publication house at Herrnhut, which had to be removed to another location due to local restrictions of such businesses which was previously set up by Council. By January 1724, the Count hired a physician to serve as his school’s Principal. Over the next few weeks, a school was set up nearby in the outskirts of Bethelsdorf where the remaining Moravain refugees were residing. With a more stable establishment, the Order became Unitas Fratum, and developed a following of local common people. The following year, publishing began of their weekly folio Der Dresdnische Socrates.
This set the stage for a massive migration of Moravians into the region by the end of 1726, most of whom were refugees drawn out of the nearby hills. In 1727, the Count purchased another lot of land. By now, Count Zinzendorf was constructing his own version of Moravian ideology, which at times led to the development of schisms by even his most devoted followers. Yet still, after several years of growth and development, a sizeable following received their training to serve as Moravians.
Next, the chief goal became the development of a Missionary program. Although at first the goal of these missionaries was to be to serve at home, they soon came to emphasize the goal of the Foreign missions, once part of Zinzendorf’s original goals for his fraternity. In 1727, a revival was taking place throughout Western Europe, which in turn fortified the need for this Moravian school. Finally, in February 1728, twenty six unmarried men agreed to serve as Missionaries in connection with Hans Egede, who had been exploring Greenland and the West Indies. The requirements for these missionaries was adequate schooling in geography, medicine, writing and theology.
Zinzendorf’s final decision regarding the role of his missionary program came during the coronation of Christian VI, following the death of Frederick IV of Denmark. At this gathering, he was decorated with the Cross of the Order of the Knights of the Danebrog in honor of his religious services.
Zinzendorf watched as two Eskimos from Greenland and a negro from the West Indies then pleaded with Christian VI for assistance. Hans Egend’s work in Greenland was about to come to an end due to its apparent failure, and the soldiers and artisans laboring there were being ordered to return. Anthony, the negro “servant” for County Laurwig, pleaded for the improvement of the Danish West Indies settlements where they resided. A short time after, Zinzendorf was planning for missionary work to serve “the poor enslaved races” in Africa, America, Greenland, and Lapland. Anthony’s description of the slaves’ problems were especially wrenching for after the coronation in Copenhagen, he noted to Zinzendorf the likelihood that his missionaries would have to become slaves themselves and experience the same work in order to be able to instruct them.
Between 1732 and 1734, most of Zinzendorf’s trained and assigned missionaries departed. Of the six-hundred forming his congregation at Herrnhut, most were very poor, and of those who successfully became Missioanries, most were born into this religion. By late 1733, two classes of Herrnhut members could be noted: Evangelical Church dissidents who intended to serve as Missions mostly in Europe, and those descended from the traditional Bohemian and Moravian communities.
The earliest Missions appointments were made in 1731. They were for Matthaus Stach and Frederich Bohnisch to serve Greenland, and for Leonhard Dober and David Nitschmann to serve on the Dutch Island of St. Thomas where the Huguenots were also established. Both arrived at their assignments at late in 1732. Dober and Nitschmann had the added task of also serving a nearby much smaller island of St. John, where they arrived on December 13, 1732, and began preaching to the “poor slaves” on December 14, 1732, for it was “the Third Sunday in Advent.” This illustrates the devotion and dedication these men were required to have for their Missions. Not all who first arrived could perform baptisms though, only conversions. In the case of Dober and Nitschmann, this limitation did not stop them from performing their services. Their first successful case was the freeing of a young orphaned slave boy, Carmel Oly. He was subsequently baptized a year later at Ebersdorf and renamed Joshua. Over the next two years, further reinforcements came to serve the neighboring Danish-owned island of St. Croix.
The Greenland Moravian Missions were served by two cousins, Matthaus and Christian Stauch, and the third member of this threesome, a symbol of trinity, Christian David. All three departed on board the Caritas from Copenhagen on April 10, 1733. Expecting to arrive in a country rich in woodlands from which they could build log cabins, they instead had to settle with sod-houses, like those constructed centuries before by previous Norse settlers.
Upon landing, a site for New Herrnhut was identified and homesteads built. What little these Missionaries had to take advantage of as natural resources most likely made for a limited lifestyle. Their first encounters were with the Inuit, whose medicine man, the angekok, reminded them of the African “witch doctor” and Russian “shaman.”
Along with these missions came the small pox responsible for three-thousand “Eskimo” deaths. The Missionaries themselves next had to contend with their inability to obtain adequate amounts of food or materials for clothing and shelter. Then, scurvy set in over the winter. Following the arrival of three more Moravian reinforcements in 1734, these hardships continued, which no doubt were directly responsible for the decisions made by some to leave in 1735.
In Spring 1735, four of six Missionaries remained with the Greenland Eskimos, including Johann Beck, Friedrich Bohnisch, and Matthaus and Christian Stach. Christian David, one of the first to arrive, returned to Copenhagen. Christian Stach went to Europe to search for more help and support. When Matthaus Stach’s stepmother and two sisters arrived in Greenland by mid-summer 1735, their first task was to marry two of the remaining missionaries who were there. Related to the twins, their decision had already been made by fate.
In April 1739, these Missionaries performed thir first baptism of an Eskimo, Kajarnak, by first reading him a part of the Bible, and then baptizing and renaming him Samuel. Kajarnak/Samuel was subsequently threatened by other Inuit, followed with his son-in-law’s murder. This caused him to leave New Herrnhut for the south, where about 1741 he died of tuberculosis.
For years to come, the Eskimo medicine men remained hostile to the Missionaries. By 1745 a new chapel was constructed to attend to the desires of about two-hundred Eskimos who regularly arrived to hear the sermons and/or receive baptisms. This mission was continued well into the next century, leading the way for subsequent missions of varying religions intended to serve the Eskimos, Aleuts, Inuit, Montagnards, Naskapi, Beothuk, and Mi’kmaq.
The Georgia Missions
At the opposite end of this eastern North American coastline, in the sub-tropical to tropical environments of the Carribean and Georgian Colony, Moravians settled in yet a highly stressful environment much unlike that of their own. Instead of lacking timber, they had ample amounts available to them. Their food and beverage offerings were richer and more European in nature than the animal blubber, fish and seafood diet of the Greenlanders. But unlike Greenland, they had to contend with epidemic and epidemic. Like the natives who succumbed to their small pox and other forms of contagion, the Georgian Moravians were forced to suffer from the fevers, dysentery, yaws and worms, diseases carried to them by what were later known as animalcules.
Since May 1724, a class of Moravian refugees called the Schwenkfelders, about thirty families with 180 members, experienced repeated criticisms, persecution, and finally their banishment from Silesia to Gorlitz. Nine years later, much of the same prejudice was re-initiated in Gorlitz leading them to seek refuge in Berthelsdorf, where they sought the assistance of Count Zinzendorf to obtain permission to remove to the New World. At the time, English General James Oglethorpe planned to allow persecuted religious groups to settle in the Savannah area, where they could settle in the attached wilderness near the borders of New Britain, New France and New Spain. Their initial plans were to depart on May 26, 1734, with Christian George Wiegner serving as their accompanying Moravian missionary. The leading Moravian George Bohnisch would accompany them.
It was now ten years after the Schwenkfelders’s arrival to Berthelsdorf. They had learned they were to settle on a tract of land which measured 500 acres in size called Ogeechee, Savannah. Departing for Ogeechee in February 1735, they arrived on April 8th, 1735. The following year, they were joined by David Nitschmann, a carpenter, who arrived to serve as their Bishop. In addition, these second vessels brought members of the important Delamotte and Wesley families, who would later help to open other churches in Savannah considered to be more Anglican in nature.
Georgia was the colony where some of the most unique cultural interactions took place. As the Wesleys helped establish the Anglican church in this community, they were soonafter be joined by the Jews who had migrated there from New Portugal following the Inquisition. Also present were the influcnes of the French residing nearby in Louisiana, and the even closer inhabitants of New Spain and emigrants from Mexico. Even the islands around Cuba had cultures with their knowledge and belief systems interacting with those of the mainland. The Hoodooists of Africa for example made their way the Georgia, indicated by the growth of their medicines on the islands making up the Sea Island jsut off the Georgia Coast. Similar evidence for the presence of countercultures in this British-owned New World were the signs of Haitians with their practice of Voodoo. The Dutch of these Islands were present to provide their Spiritual knowledge, as were the French. With about two-thousand people by now residing in Savannah in 1736, this cultural and countercultural diversity turned rural Georgia into a haven for those dissatisfied with either the traditional English religion or its matching disheartening medical system. As John Wesley received the permission he needed to serve as minister of the Anglican Church in Georgia, Bishop Nitschmann nearby was being ordained to serve in the nearby Moravian Church. The Jews received no permission to perform their services, nor did the Dutch, the French, the Africans, and the Slaves.
While active in the church and interacting with the local residents, both Wesley and Nitschmann learned of the activities of these local tribes. The local Chief Tomotschatschi had attracted John Wesley’s attention early on, to such a degree that Wesley began to consider himself receiving an education in their language. By the following September, a school was constructed on the island of Irene just outside to town of Savannah. Meanwhile, Moravian leader August Gottlieb Spangenberg made his way quickly northward to New York in order to investigate what had become a New Rhinelanders-German settlement in the Highlands between Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Remaining at Christopher Weigner’s farm in Skipjack, New York, he soon learned important information to be shared with otehr Moravians, who subsequently made their way to Pennsylvania to settle on the Delaware River. Similarly, in 1738, missionary Peter Bohler made his way to the Carolinas, where he soon after helped install a mission at the five year old German settlement of Purysburg.
These early attempts to install Moravian Missions along the east coast laid the settings needed for later missionaries to produce more successful missions throughout Delaware and New York. Between 1738 and 1739 their attention focused more on the slaves and negroes of the colonies where the first slaves were being brought in from Africa. In 1739, the consequences of bringing in these slaves from the more humid tropical environment to a similar environment in Georgia set the stage for an influx of southern and central hemispheric contagion. The mosquito-borne Yellow fever struck many of these early settlers quite early in Savannah’s history. This is perhaps what led to the sickness, and at times the deaths of such Moravian missionaries as George Schulius, in August 1739 and within his first year of preaching to negroes who resided next to the German settlement of Purysburg. It was not the necessarily his contact with the slaves that led to the onset of a Yellow Fever, but more the living environment these early slaves had been placed in while on board the ships and alongside Georgia’s brackish waters, enabling this contagion, the Yellow Fever virus, to travel from person to person as the African mosquitoes brought on board carried it about.
This early influx of numerous slaves to Georgia, New Britain, by the 1730s wasn’t without political and economical reasoning. The English were by then suffering greatly from the Dutch monopoly on various spices from the Spice Islands, including Black Pepper, Cloves, Cinnamon and Nutmeg. The English plan was to establish a plantation in Georgia where they could grow the products needed to compete with the Dutch market and to provide their own subordinate countries and colonists with these increasingly popular foods and medicines. The British naturalists, agriculturalists, horticulturalists, and economists removed to this area were by then making headway into New Spain, often without the permission of either New Spain or Mexico. The British even went to the extremes of hiring the early French settlers residing in the Louisiana settlement, hoping they could introduce to them the local spices and medicines found in the wild. At one point, this became such an issue that the British had their Lords and Justice in England order the Mexican leaders to grant them the permission need edto harvest these flora so that they could transplant them to their plantations in Georgia. Needless to say, both Mexico and Spain resisted these attempts by the British to improve the potential gains of the British in this increasingly volatile spice market. The Major reason for this was that the Spanish had their own to protect. Their discovery in the New World was of the Cochineal on local trees, then being sold as a blistering agent and panacea for venereal disease. Also residing in New Spain were valuable tropical Palms, Sarsaparilla, fiber produceers such as ixtle and hennequen, the Agave used to produce a valuable alcoholic beverage, and Vanilla.
In 1733, this argument regarding land claims finally led Spain to attack Georgia with the hopes of ceasing the operation of the contemptuous British marketing and exploration strategies taking place there. This Spanish War began in late 1739. The Moravians were now ready to leave Georgia and head to land next to the former New Netherlands and New Sweden. In 1740, they arrived at the “the Forks of the Delaware” in Pennsylvania where.
The Pennsylvania Mission
As Moravian Missionaries prepared to remove from Savannah to Pennsylvania in 1739, George Whitfield of Georgia and William Seward of London purchased a tract consisting of five thousand acres of land situated in what is now Northampton County on the Delaware River. As was the case with Georgia, the plans were to have the Moravian carpenters construct a church school there, this one to serve negroes.
The Moravians erected their church in the wilderness located just south of Blue Mountains. Earlier, the Irish Presbyterians mountainmen or backwoodsmen had settled this region as well, thus facilitating any later precipitation of religious disputes which took place due to the faith of the Moravian church nearby. Finally, this led to an inevitable dispute between the leaders of each of these sects at a small meeting house in Philadelphia in front of George Whitfield in late 1740. In the end, the Moravians were forced to depart, but with winter soon to come, they were allowed to remain at the nearby village of Nazareth until the following spring of 1741.
In Nazareth, what the Governor of Philadelphia had hoped for never came to pass. For in short time, the Moravians, led by one of the oldest of their elders, Bishop David Nitschmann, a carpenter, began to fall the timber nearby and construct what would later become the first building of the principal Moravian settleement of Bethlehem. Overlooking the Monocacy River, they built a cabin capable of housing seventeen people. At least two of these residents were women: Anna Nitschmann, and former Baroness Sister Johanna Sophia Molther; each were of different teachings than the Wesleys of Georgia from where they came and the teachings of the British churches in Pennsylvania.
In spite of their differences, this new settlement of Bethlehem was eventually accepted by British overseeing its operation, and so quite soon it became the centerpoint for a rapidly spreading missionary goal focussed on the conversion of Native Americans. Bishop Nitchmann remained in charge of this enterprise, overseen by the Moravian founder Count Zinzenberg in Europe, and at times by even the Governors of the Provinces his followers were about to have a tremendous impact upon.
The boundarylands were where the newest settlements would be established by these missionaries, and are where the first conversions took place. These boundarylands were defined as sites situated more than a day’s travel from the major township or city by land. Typical boundarylands were still residing close enough to the cities to have major impacts at times on these cities’ commerce, trade, religious input, and even education.
Just outside the boundary lands was wilderness, and quite often the difference between these two are unclear. To the early colonists, the wilderness was where unusual events took place. It was the place where ghosts and goblins were possible, since few actually witnessed these events long enough to tell about them. It is also the site where mysterious deaths took place, where maidens existed in the form of ghosts, and where hermitesses were little more than just witches. The wilderness also bore people the settlers had heard of but knew little about. Dwarfs, giants, sometimes elves, and even comparable plants and animals resided in these regions. To the colonist, any medicine borne from the wilderness had some sort of strange attraction and was often mystical in nature. For example the snakeroot medicines harvested from the central Mississipii Valley during these years bore unique root stocks that were quite sizeable and able to put a curse on you or extinguish you if they were harvested in correctly. Ther snakeroot medicines of the borderlands on the other hand were seen by many, and lacked the mysticism of those in the midwest. Thus these medicines quickly became accepted in the borderland communities. What the borderland communities teach us about medicine therefore, is how domestic, religious, and political purposes outweigh the potential imapct of economic gain whenever a medicine is being discovered and promoted. Whereas the wilderness medcicines were often just fantasies come true, the borderlands medicines served the countryman, the poor impoverished hermits and hermitesses, and provided those bent of mysticism, witchcraft, and fantasy, to produce a new belief system, which may or amy not last beyond their next decade.
At the Pennsylvania settlement, the Blue Mountain-Susquehanna region situated north and west of the British land claims were the border between boundary land and wilderness, and so any events or healings which took place in these hills, possessed the charm of the wilderness and intelligence of the borderlands. The intercultural polysectarian nature of this region immediately becomes clear when we review the various nationalities who resided in this region. In some ways this is comparable to Georgia, although with Georgia’s civilization, the Wilderness was of Spanish domain. The borderlands present there were important in developing the future practices of Voodism and Haitian religion in this region, but with it limited size and growing economic history during the peak years of colonial development (1730s and 1740s), the dominance of this area by the British dissuaded many people from remaining here, to practice their own religious or medical beliefs. The Jews for example who took safe haven in Georgia from the Portuguese, remained there briefly, for after the extermination of their elder due to his Judaical non-Christian beliefs, (he in fact called Jesus’s acts the practice of “Art Magic”) his death led the remaining Jews of Goergia to remove to better grounds. Those grounds were in Pennsylvania, but especially New Netherland/New York, where intercultural lifestyles had been taking place now for over a century.
There were almost one third of a million of the first colonists residing in and around Pennsylvania by the 1730s. One third of these emigrants were Germans, and the other sizeable non-Anglican populations were of French-German Palatinites, Swedish-Finnish naturalists, and Scotch-Irish presbyterians, along with some Danish, Welsh, and Swiss malingerers. The religious groups residing in this region were primarily English and Irish, but also Mennonites, Dunkers, Lutherans and Reformed. The Saxonic Moravian Schwenkfelders who removed here had established a small commune nearby, and Protestant monks and nuns were living at Ephrata.
Even more unusual for this region were the Wissahickon “monks,” who made up the utopian methaphysical community nearby in Germantown. Johannes Kelpius, a Transylvanian-born theologist trained in alchemy, astrology, chemistry, astronomy, and science, had developed what was called “The Chapter of Perfection” or “The Society of Woman in the Wilderness” (so named in accrodance with the writings of Revelation 12:14-17). Located on Wissahickon Creek in Germantown, his followers practiced such practices as the celebration of Norse-Paganism, the Occult, and at times even the more orthodox theological practices. These people resided in a perfectly cubic building, measuring a perfect 40 feet in each direction, with an observatory on top, to hopefully attract the attention of all of Christianity and Christians during the upcoming Second Coming of Christ.
So, how did all of this affect the Moravian missionaries in New York? Nearby these numerous communes throughout the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-New York tri-colonial province were the Count Zinzendorf’s followers who were trained in religious medicine and made well aware of the Eskimo angekoks, the African witch-doctors, and the Jewish-German alchemist. By the 1740s, as the Moravians readied themselves to face the same sort of medicine men who resided with the nearby tribes they had hopes of converting, they most likely realized they would probably also have to deal with the words of practice of numerous other healing faiths. Therefore, in many ways, the impact of the regular English doctor on early medicine, whose government after all owned these Provinces, was minimal, if at all influential or even present.
Zinzendorf’s colony of Bethlehem (formerly called Lehigh) was the end result of the first years of regular church-based spiritual revivalism then taking place in Europe and certain parts of the New World. The Germans residing in Pennsylvania, intermingled with the cultures of the Dutch residing along New Netherlands’ North or Hudson River and the Palatines of new Rhinelands. The next migratory routes to take these people further inland were the waterways of the Delaware and Hudson-Mohawk River systems. By 1742, Zinzendorf made his way thrice into the Native-dominated border and hinter lands. In Blue Mountains, one of his first successful interactions were with members of the Iroquois. How he came to meet them is in many ways a practice that would later be carried out by numerous other missionaries as well during their attempt to establish missions much deeper within pristine prairielands and woodlands.
In late July-early August of 1742, Zinzendorf was in the vicinity of the residency of Conrad Weiser in Tulpehocken, an interpreter then serving Pennsylvania’s Governor Thomas. Here, he came upon “deputies” of the Six [Iroquois] Nations who had just met with the Governor in Philadelphia, and were returning by way of the Delaware River to the lands Thomas had asked them to vacate in terms of what had been called “the walking purchase.” Zinzendrof took this meeting as an opportunity to help secure good relations between Moravians and Iroquois, an agreement he sealed by giving them a belt of wampum. This allowed him and other Moravian Missionaries to make their way further into the deepest parts of “Indian Territory.”
In just a few years, they made their way as far west as the Wyoming valley where the Shawnees were residing. Their proximity to important Silver mines had several times led to political disruptions at times, which were often associated with physically-traumatic events between Moravians and Shawnees, and Moravians and the colonists who had laid claim to these mines. Both Bethlehem and Nazareth provided this remaining borderlands about this tri-colonial border with Missionaries, its various religious groups, and finally its first settlers. In New York, Zinzendorf’s travels through Rhinelands and into the former New Netherlands, taught him about Mohegans and their various sub-divisions. In short time, the tribe that once sold Manhattan and the area of Albany to the Dutch, and much of the Hudson Valley to Holland, Amsterdam and England, was about to experience the impact of Missions on the genesis of their first Christian Indian tribes.
Hamilton, J. Taylor, and Hamilton, Kenneth G., History of the Moravian Church: The Renewed Unitas Fratrum, 1722-1957, Bethlehem, Pa., Interprovincial Board of Christian Education, 1967. A standard history of the Renewed Unity.
LINKS to MORE on the MORAVIANS and MAHICANS, at THIS SITE
- The Story of the Moravians
- From Missions and Revivals, to a New Philosophy of Medicine
- Georg Loskiel: Spiritualist, Storyteller, Historian, Scientist, Physician
- Shekomeko and Tschoop
- Mahican Medicine
- Mahican Medicine, Part 2
- Personal Health
- Community Health in Transition
- Epidemiological Transition
- Rauch, Tschoop and Zinzendorf
- The Baptisms
- Brethren John’s Health and Well-being
- Brother John’s Mysterious Illness
- Rituals and Sainthood
- Saintly Practices
- The Evidence
- Site Visits