Nothing fascinated Katharina Budmanski like the secret book. Day and night she lived around it. Deep in Roman Catholic Moravia in the early 1720s she learned to read from it, with her mother’s help, and her heart told her its message came from God.
Reading the words of Christ, Katharina found the way to inner peace. But trouble came with it. Her father, a strict Catholic from whom they had tried to keep their Bible hidden, became suspicious. Whenever he sensed Katherina and her mother trying to get off by themselves he followed them, or appeared suddenly. Finally, on the day of All Saints in 1725, after Katharina had turned 21, she dared act on what she believed and left home.
With her mother, a descendant of the forbidden Unity of Brothers, she had discussed it briefly. Her mother had told her that beyond the Sudeten Mountains, somewhere to the north, believers lived in peace with God and one another. “But tell me nothing of your plans,” she had cautioned Katharina. “The less I know, the better it will be for both of us.”
In the crowd of worshippers entering the village chapel on the day of All Saints, Katharina slipped away from her parents, unnoticed, and made her way behind village orchards, across the fields, into mountain forests surrounding her village of Seitendorf. From the top of a high ridge, she looked back and saw people already leaving the church. Knowing she would soon be missed and pursued, she committed herself to Christ and hurried on. By the next day she reached Niederwiese, home of more secret believers, who directed her across the mountains through Silesia to Herrnhut.
Nothing in Herrnhut disappointed Katharina. With her whole heart she gave herself to the Saviour and his Gemein, taking her place as a nurse in the young sisters’ choir house. Her father learned where she stayed and did what he could to get her back. But instead of that happening, her mother escaped and found her way to Herrnhut as well.
When the Saviour led Katharina into marrying Friedrich Riedel, a young stone mason at Herrnhut, she did not object. Neither did she complain when their first two children died, or when the congregation chose Friedrich to accompany Brother Josef, Johann Töltschig, Peter Rose, and seven others to America, in 1735. The Saviour, she had learned, makes no mistakes, and true joy springs from true surrender to him.
For a long time Katharina heard nothing from Friedrich and his companions. Then word came from America that they had arrived safely, the weather was warm, and she should come too. The British governor had given five hundred acres of land to the brothers at Savannah, Georgia. He had promised them exemption from swearing oaths or bearing arms, and said they could establish a Christian community however they desired.
With a group of twenty from Herrnhut, Katharina sailed from England in the winter of 1736. Fierce storms hindered their progress. On the fifth of February many thought the ship would go down, but casting themselves before the Saviour the believers on board sang and prayed. Their tranquillity in danger spoke to John and Charles Wesley, travelling on the same ship to America, and after twenty-one weeks at sea they reached Savannah in safety.
To Katharina’s surprise, Friedrich had turned sick and died, so the brothers quickly arranged her marriage to Peter Rose. With him she moved five miles up the Ogeechee River where they settled on an island among the Creek Indians. A friendly chief, Tomochichi, arranged for them to teach his tribe to read and write.
Katharina did well at learning the Creek language. She loved the children and found they easily memorised scriptures and songs. During their time on the island the Lord gave her two more children of her own. But her new husband often left for days or weeks at a time, visiting seekers. The Indians around her drank more and more liquor, their wild dances and songs lasting late into the night, and when the Spanish made war on Georgia, she was thankful to leave.
The British in Georgia did not trust the Moravian believers who, like Petr Chelčický and their Waldensian ancestors, refused to take up arms to defend the colony. The Spanish, just to the south in Florida, would have trusted them even less. But the Saviour had everything arranged.
Shortly before the Moravian believers settled in Georgia, the Schwenkfelders who had lived with them at Herrnhut moved to Pennsylvania. At the time the war with Spain broke out, Brother Josef had gone to visit them, and sent back reports of the healthier climate, the presence of many other nonconformed believers (Quakers, Mennonites, and Dunkards), and the freedom from military obligations there. To the brothers and sisters in Georgia it sounded too good to be true. But in little groups they made their way north, and friends in Germantown, not far from Philadelphia, opened to them their hearts and homes.
Brother Josef had not spent much time in Pennsylvania before a cluster of seekers gathered around him. In the home of Christoph Wiegner, a Schwenkfelder living with his mother and single sister, they met in the evenings to sing and pray. Johannes Gruber, a leader among the “Inspired” came to the meetings. So did the Reformed brothers, Heinrich Antes and Johannes Bechtel, the Dunkards Wilhelm and Andreas Frey, with Christian Weber, Conrad Weiser, Francis Ritter, and others. Seeing the reality of Christ’s church, far above denominational boundaries, they called themselves nothing but “brothers in unity at the Skippack” and prayed for the day when all who loved the Saviour could serve and worship him in similar peace.
Peter and Katherina Rose, with the others from Georgia, found their place among these warm-hearted believers at once. But living in Germantown did not remain their privilege for long.
The First of The Mohicans
The better Brother Josef came to know Conrad Weiser, one of the seekers sometimes attending meetings in Germantown, the more interested he grew in his story. Conrad told him how he came to America as a child, settled with his parents in a German colony in New York, and spent long periods with the Indians. Living among the Mohawks, Conrad said, he learned their language and now used it in his work as an interpreter for the government.
Conrad showed Brother Josef the diary he had kept on a journey from Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes area, south of Lake Ontario, on foot. He spoke of six Indian nations that lived there under wise and fair rulers. He spoke of their great towns and just laws. The more Brother Josef heard, the more excited he grew. “Souls for the Lamb!” he declared. “Who will go and tell them of the life-giving blood?”
Not only Brother Josef found Conrad Weiser’s reports exciting. When Christian David heard them back at Herrnhut, he jumped up and would have rushed to America at once. Brother Ludwig suspected the nations Conrad described might be the ten lost tribes of Israel, mixed with the Scythians or another ancient race. But the congregation brought the matter before the Saviour and chose Christian Heinrich Rauch, a twenty-two-year-old brother to visit the Indians in New York (near Conrad Weiser’s first home in America) in 1740.
The first Indians Christian met—two Mohicans called Shabash and Wasamapah—agreed to take him to their village. But they both got drunk and forgot their promise. Christian found lodging with a family of German settlers instead, from where he made his way to the Indian village alone.
The Indians hardly knew what to make of him. White traders, the only people they had much to do with, did not come to their villages alone, much less unarmed like Christian Rauch! Traders came with rum, cloth, and supplies to exchange for furs. Christian came with nothing. He knew only a few words in their language, yet acted friendly. What did he want? When would he go away?
At first the Indians of Shekomeko made fun of Christian and threatened to kill him. But to their amazement he hung around until after they had eaten and it grew dark. Then, finding a place near the fire, he curled up in a blanket and went to sleep.
The Indians looked at him in disbelief. A white man sleeping peacefully, without arms, in Shekomeko! Obviously he did not know much about the place. Or did he possess some unseen spiritual power? As quickly as they had despised him, their attitude changed to one of deep respect, and when Christian woke up he found them eager to learn what he had to say.
The longer Christian lived and worked among the Shekomeko villagers, the more they realised he was no ordinary white man. He loved them, and spoke of God’s Son who loved them too. Almost a year after his arrival Shabash and Wasamapah both repented and found mercy in the wounds of the Lamb. Christian felt the hearts of others becoming tender as well, and made plans to travel with them to Pennsylvania.
Arriving in Germantown early in 1741, Christian Rauch with his group of Mohican friends, brought great joy to all that loved Christ. In a meeting with the “Skippack brothers” at the home of a Mennonite farmer, Jan de Türck, in Oley, Christian described his work at Shekomeko. Mennonite, German Baptist, and Schwenkfelder believers had gathered there. So had the spiritually minded of local Lutheran and Reformed congregations, with a few white-robed brothers from the Sabbatarian community at Ephrata. All listened to the new Mohican believers telling how the blood of Christ had washed their sins away.
No one could doubt their testimony. They spoke of how dreadfully they had lived under the bondage of superstition, liquor, and fear. But now their faces shone with peace and who could deny them the privilege of Christian baptism?
For a moment the brothers and sisters gathered in the Mennonite home looked at one another. How should the new believers be baptised, by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling? Someone suggested the Saviour should decide the matter and the brothers cast lots. Pouring appeared as the Saviour’s choice, and the gathered crowd found their way out to the barn where kneeling over the water trough, the first three Mohican believers, baptised with water poured from a hollow gourd, received the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Not long afterward, Wasamapah (whom Dutch traders had called Tschoop) also asked for baptism and took the name of Johannes. Everyone that knew him “before and after” marvelled. From a drunkard and fighter the Saviour transformed him into a gentle believer with firm convictions. In 1742 when the Christian Mohicans of Shekomeko—Abraham (Shabash) and his wife Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jakob, Thomas and Esther, Jonas, and Timotheus—formally became a congregation of the ancient Unity of Brothers, Johannes served as interpreter for the brothers from Germany and become an enthusiastic evangelist among them. A year later the Indian believers celebrated their first communion and love feast. In July 1743 they built a Saal. Abraham, the first baptised among them, became their leader, and by the end of that year they numbered sixty-three souls.
Trouble For the Christian Indians
As the congregation of believing Mohicans increased, their testimony touched the hearts of native Americans throughout the English colonies. Tired of the disorder and debauchery contact with white traders had brought them, more and more turned to the Saviour. In him (and to stand in spiritual communication with unseen worlds was not a new concept for them) they found more than any medicine man had told them about. They found inner peace and forgiveness for their sins. Their attitudes changed to where they could live in peace one with another—at Shekomeko, in a new community they named Gnadensee (Lake of Grace) in Connecticut, and four other locations among the New England hills.
Believers in Christian Indian villages overcome the barriers that years of warfare and abuse had erected. Rachel, an Indian sister, became the first to marry a European, Friedrich Post. Christiana, another sister from Shekomeko, married Joseph Bull, a Quaker baptised by the Moravian pilgrim Andreas Eschenbach in 1742. From widely varied backgrounds they become one Gemein at the feet of the Lamb—Christoph Pyrlaeus from Switzerland, Johann Jakob Schmidt from Reval in Livland, some from Germany and Moravia, and a growing number of believers from the tribes of the Allegheny, Hudson Valley, and Northeastern Woodland regions. But the enemy would not leave them undisturbed.
Unfriendly white settlers in New York, led by Gilbert Tennant, a Methodist preacher, could not stand what they saw. Week after week, Gilbert denounced the “pernicious sect of people called the Moravian Brethren” over his pulpit, together with their “detestable Arminian doctrines of the free will and the apostasy of the saints.”
“I cannot stand as an unconcerned spectator,” Gilbert Tennant declared, “to behold the Moravian tragedy. My heart bleeds within me to see the precious truths of Christ opposed, slighted and trodden under foot by our new Reformers, and that under a pretext of extraordinary sanctity, love, and meekness.”1
Not everyone in New York shared Gilbert Tennant’s “grief,” but colony authorities under continual pressure finally arrested Friedrich Post and David Zeisberger (a young brother who fled with his parents from Zauchenthal in Moravia, coming by way of Heerendyk to America), kept them in jail for six weeks, and banished them for refusing to bear arms or swearing oaths. The colony also passed a law forbidding Moravians to preach or hold unauthorised meetings, and obligated all suspected of belonging to their “sect” to swear the oath of allegiance.2 A British official locked and sealed the doors of the Saal at Shekomeko, and the Indian congregation, by now numbering over seventy baptised believers, knew the time had come to leave.
While young brothers put everything they had into bringing the Indians of New York and Connecticut to the Lamb, Peter and Katharina Rose, with their companions at Germantown found work as well. Some of them, travelling by sea from Georgia to Pennsylvania, had come with the English evangelist George Whitefield. Even though they could not understand everything he said, his plans to build a Christian boarding school on a five thousand acre tract at the Forks of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, sparked their interest. William Penn’s daughter, George Whitefield said, had left behind the estate, called Nazareth. Now, with the help of his supporters, he planned to build on it a school for freed slaves and whoever could not afford an education elsewhere. He hoped to teach practical skills along with the academic, and to train his students in Christian virtue.
In Germantown the Moravians kept seeing George Whitefield. He spoke at a meeting in Wiegner’s house, and when he asked them if they would build his school for hire, they consented readily. A few of brothers made their way to the forks of the Delaware, set up camp under an oak tree, and held a meeting to praise the Saviour for seeing to their needs.
For a short while the building project went well. The brothers from Herrnhut—skilled stone masons among them—worked on the lower storey of the first large building on the Whitefield property. Some made friends with Indians living in the area. But when George Whitefield and Peter Böhler (who also came to Pennyslvania by way of Savannah) began to discuss the doctrine of predestination, things stopped going well. George Whitefield became very upset. “How dare you Moravians insist that anyone can be saved?” he stormed. “Don’t you know that God alone grants that privilege to whoever he wills? How dare you insist he must grant it to all?”
When the brothers from Herrnhut remained unconvinced by his Calvinist teaching, George Whitefield broke his contract and asked them to leave his property at once.
They left. But not for long.
A short distance south of the Nazareth estate, closer to the forks of the Delaware, the brothers bought another tract of land. With even greater zeal they began to chop down trees and construct their first building of logs—a house and stable combination—before the snow fell. In the meantime, George Whitefield, short of help and out of money, had to give up his plans and his estate came up for sale. The brothers, seeing in this a divine opportunity, quickly agreed to buy it.
In Germantown, Peter Rose died. But more seekers kept coming and Katharina, even though she missed her second husband, found help to raise her children in a growing circle of believers. By 1741, when Brother Ludwig and his daughter Benigna arrived in Pennsylvania, he found the Moravians already living on their new land near the forks of the Delaware. Around them stood the great silent forest. Snow lay deep beneath the stars. But inside their first log building they shared a cheerful love feast of corn cakes and coffee made of roasted rye. With a choral liturgy—the work of Peter Böhler—all joined to sing before the Lamb of God in his advent season, and when the issue of naming the new community arose Brother Ludwig could think of nothing else but Bethlehem.
New World Peace
Brother Ludwig saw more than casual parallels between Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and the place of Christ’s birth. Peace and goodwill among men, he believed, might come again at Bethlehem. With the Quakers he dreamed of a new order in the New World where Christ would reign—a new land without forts or major harbours, not devoted to commerce “lest it incur the jealousy of surrounding nations.” In Pennsylvania, Ludwig hoped, the Indians would find mercy in Jesus’ wounds. Slavery would end. The black, the white, and the brown would all live as brothers, and unity among Christians would flourish again.
For all these “holy expectations,” what the brothers on the Skippack had began, seemed a sure sign. Already on December 15, 1741, Heinrich Antes had published an open letter to the Christians of Pennsylvania—German and Swedish Lutherans, Dutch and German Reformed, Swiss and Dutch Mennonites,3 Socinians, Quakers, Schwenkfelders, Dunkards, Seventh Day (Ephrata) Baptists, the Wissahickon Hermits, the Neugeborene (Baumanites) of Oley, 4 and the Inspired:
Dear friends and brothers,
For lack of trust and because we suspect evil one about another, a terrible thing is happening in the Church of Christ, and among souls called to follow the Lamb. Even though we have been commanded to love one another, the good that could be happening among us is continually brought to nothing. For this reason, for two years or so, some of us have thought of calling a general meeting, not to argue about opinions, but to learn how to understand one another in love. We think we should come to agreement on the basic issues of faith, and learn to accept one another in love even though we may disagree on matters peripheral to the salvation of our souls. If we would do this, much judging and criticising could be eliminated and the world would stop making fun of us for preaching peace and conversion while fighting among ourselves.
Considering all this in prayer, and acting on the counsel of many brothers and souls that seek after the Lord, we have decided to meet this coming New Year’s day in Germantown. You are invited to attend, along with your brothers that have a foundation for their faith and are able to explain it. This invitation has been shared with nearly all the other groups through letters like this. There will probably be a large gathering, but do not let this keep you from coming, for everything will be taken care of without much commotion. May the Lord Jesus grant us his blessing.
From your poor and unworthy brother, Heinrich Antes.5
The meeting at Theobald Endt’s house in Germantown, on New Year’s day, 1742,6 left all who came with much to think about. Brother Ludwig described his vision of a Gemeinde Gottes im Geist (Church of God in the Spirit): “My goal is to help all the scattered children of God to find their way, not into the Moravian brotherhood— something I would rather strive against—but into that universal Gemeinschaft of believers into which the secta moravica must also finally merge.”
With powerful conviction Brother Ludwig exposed the foolishness of bringing Old World divisions into the new, and challenged believers to rise above denominational strife to glorious liberty in the blood of the Lamb. Did that mean all Christians needed to merge into one mega-denomination? Not at all! “The Church of God in the Spirit,” Ludwig explained,
consists of innumerable believers around the world, united in the same basic beliefs. Not all of them have to belong to one household of faith, because in their diversity the wisdom of God lies hidden. If all Christian groups are merely parts of the same whole, there is nothing evil in each of them maintaining their own order and fellowship and no one should leave them as long as he is needed in them. Every one of these small groups that for geographical or other reasons has become a distinct unit is the church made visible. And if every visible manifestation of the church rests on Jesus Christ and is built a spiritual house, then diversity is something beautiful.7
If all Christians united, some who attended the meeting in Germantown wondered, what would happen to existing institutions?
To the brothers from Herrnhut it did not look complicated. Man should not take it upon himself to destroy what God tolerates, they believed. Much of religion belongs to Babel, but only God knows what to tear down and what to leave standing. We may leave the work to him. We will not overcome denominational strife by trying to tear denominations apart. But if we bring people within them to see the Lamb, Babylon (denominational confusion) will crumble and disappear on its own.
The emphasis of the Germantown meeting lay on the believer’s “privilege to sin no more.” Deeply inspired with this, and with the vision of unity in Christ before them, all who attended planned to hold another meeting soon, in the cloister at Ephrata. But a number of events changed their plans.
Leaving Germantown, Brother Ludwig visited the Schwenkfelder colonists and preached for them on the day of the Three Kings. Then he stopped in at Dunkard, Mennonite, and Lutheran homes. Wherever he went, he found people more inclined to argue than to pray. About the Dunkards, Ludwig wrote:
They are God-fearing people and do what their conscience tells them. Even though they do not have much light, they are sincere, and for that reason friendly. It seems they should unite with the Mennonites, if only they could agree on how to baptise, for that would make one less sect in the country.
About the Mennonites he wrote:
It is not our work to judge these people. In the Netherlands the blessing of the Lord has come among them, and many are true builders of the Invisible Church. But those of this land [Pennsylvania] have been more against us than for us, right from the start. Also, they are a small isolated religion with boundaries and gates. . . . We must leave them in the hands of the Lord.
The Lutherans, Brother Ludwig found sharply divided over the case of a baptism on the Tulpehocken Creek in Berks County. One pastor had agreed to baptise an infant presented to him by a drunken father, Philip Beyer. Another insisted that baptism (for the drunkenness) was invalid, and groups of people formed on both sides.
The Reformed, wherever Brother Ludwig and his companions from Herrnhut travelled, opposed them with their talk of the sovereignty of God. The Inspired accused them of holding to “meaningless sacraments.” And in the end, even the Seventh Day Baptists at Ephrata turned against them, forbidding them to hold their next meeting there. “All the Count [Brother Ludwig] wants,” his opponents declared, “is to get everyone under his own hat.” Christopher Sauer, a printer at Germantown, began to publish material against them, and Ludwig—forced to conclude that “everyone in Pennsylvania, except the Quakers, keeps their religion primarily to plague others”—gave up his plans.
From Jews to Gentiles
Saddened by the Pennsylvania colonists’ rejection, but by no means discouraged, Brother Ludwig and his companions turned their attention to the heathen. “If the Jews—that is, the white Christians—have no desire for unity in the wounds of the Lamb,” they reasoned, “the Indians may.” So in the summer of 1742 a small group, including Brother Ludwig, travelled west.
West to the Tulpehocken Creek and Conrad Weiser’s house the brothers made their way before they met a large group from the Six Nations region, south of Lake Ontario. Important chiefs had come—Shikellamy, Canastego, Coxhayion and others—on business with the Pennsylvania government. Some had brought their wives and children. All smiled when Chief Coxhayion’s little son ran out to meet the men from Germany. Brother Ludwig picked him up and the boy threw his arms around his neck. “A little child shall lead them,” the brothers said in wonder, and the Indians took it as a sign from heaven.
For several days Conrad Weiser helped the leaders of the Six Nations and the Unity of Brothers speak with one another. They spoke of the Saviour and his work. With growing astonishment at their unity of ideals, they discussed the basis for peace between white and Indian people in America, and Brother Ludwig promised Chief Shikellamy (who lived much closer than the rest) that he would come to visit him.
Following several months of planning the group set out for Indian territory in the middle of September. Conrad Weiser served as interpreter. Joshua and David, two boys from Shekomeko recently baptised at Bethlehem, went along, as did Heinrich Leinbach of Oley, Martin and Johanna Mack (newly married), Peter Böhler, Anna Nitschmann, Brother Ludwig and his seventeen-year-old daughter, Benigna.
With pack horses heavily loaded (one with nothing but Brother Ludwig’s writing supplies and the books he planned to read) they followed the Shamokin trail. West over the Blue Mountains, five days through silent valleys, and across the last high ridge before the Susquehanna, they made their way. Describing their descent from there Brother Ludwig wrote:
Anna, the most courageous one among us, a brave girl, led us down the hill. I held onto the end of her coat to keep from sliding off my saddle. Conrad held onto my coat, and Peter Böhler onto Conrad’s. In this way we all kept each other from slipping and the Saviour helped us safely down.
The sight that met them was worth all hardships encountered. On a flat spot at the forks of the broad, shining Susquehanna, stood the little houses of Shamokin surrounded by sheltering peaks.8 Shikellamy, the Six Nations chief living in the village, welcomed them with open arms. He set food (boiled squash) and drink before them, and sitting by his fire, the brothers took note of his sincere interest in what they told him.
From Shamokin the travellers made their way north to Ostonwakin, and east into the valley of Skahantowano (the Wyoming Valley) where the Shawnees lived. Everywhere they met curious people—so interested in the brothers’ buckles and buttons Brother Ludwig soon had to tie his clothes shut with strings—but not all of them were friendly. Only after escaping, by the grace of God, a plot to take their lives, did Brother Ludwig and his companions return after several months in the wilderness, to Bethlehem.
While the believers in Pennsylvania turned to the Indians, events in Europe brought more and more of them to seek passage across the Atlantic to America. In the spring of 1742 a group of fifty-six—mostly from Herrnhut and refused permission to settle at the Pilgerruh community in Holstein—sailed from England on a chartered ship. Georg Piesch travelled with them as their leader. The entire crew consisted of Moravian boys, and a “little Herrnhut,” or Seegemeine (sea congregation) as they called it, formed on board.
Three brothers’s and three sisters’ choirs (for children, adult single, and adult married passengers) kept to their own sides of the ship—brothers on one and sisters on the other. Days on board began at six with a call to wash and dress. Morning prayers came at seven, with a reading of the Watchword, and breakfast at eight. Then the English believers on board began their German lesson for the day, and German believers studied English. At twelve, those assigned to kitchen duty served the meal. At seven in the evening everyone gathered for prayer and song services, one hour of German and another of English, followed by a daily brothers’ meeting and bedtime at ten.
All passengers had clearly assigned duties. Some kept track of the time, some cleaned, some prepared the food, and others did nothing but see to the comfort of the elderly and sick. All night long the hourly watch continued. One day they set apart for prayer and fasting, and with great joy in the wounds of the Lamb they celebrated love feasts at sea. Even though storms slowed them down and pirates pursued them three times, they arrived by June 7, 1742 at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, in good spirits.
Another sea congregation of 120 people—including thirty young couples married as the Saviour directed at Marienborn,9 just before departure—arrived a year later. Captain Garrison brought them on the Little Strength, and in 1749 another group of thirty-nine single brothers and forty-eight sisters. Promptly after arrival in Bethlehem, at a great love feast, the Saviour joined thirty-one couples in marriage. Some settled in Bethlehem, others in Nazareth, and twenty-two youths built a young men’s community at a place they named Gnadenhöh (Heights of Grace).
Light In The Wilderness
With so many young believers at Bethlehem, its population quadrupled within a few years and the brothers had to enlarge their log Gemeinhaus (community house). They also built new stone residences—single brothers’ and sisters’ choir houses, a chapel, and quarters for many new families around it. On the Nazareth estate, a group of single sisters moved into the Whitefield school building. Katharina Budmanski Rose, who had overseen the widows’ choir for several years, married Johann Michael Huber and together they became the Kindereltern in the childrens’ house there.
Like a joyful army the young men set to work clearing land, planting grain and vegetables, and building a circle of shops and a grist mill in Bethlehem. Hans Christoph Christensen, a hydraulic engineer from Holstein, built an oil mill and the community’s ingenious water works. But far more than earthly things got looked after. As soon as they could talk English—even haltingly—the brothers visited Scotch and Irish settlers on the southern bank of the Lehigh, and the English in New Jersey. Thanks to Captain Garrison a group of seekers on Staten Island formed a congregation, and in evening meetings at Bethlehem the believers heard letters read from St. Thomas, Greenland, Livland, Africa, and wherever Pilgrims from Herrnhut had gone. To each letter they responded with a song.
No weekend passed at Bethlehem without anxious seekers coming to evaluate the believers’ community. From all Pennsylvania settlements, from all denominations they came to speak of their inner need and worship the Lamb together. Before long the congregation put up a guest house with a believing couple on day and night duty to receive them. The Fremdenstunde (meeting for strangers) on Lord’s Day afternoons became a regular English-language service, and when this did not suffice, the brothers began to hold daily “question and answer” sessions from three to five in the afternoon. So many came to some meetings they had to stand at the back of the Saal, in crowded hallways, and down the stairs of the Gemeinhaus.
A few glimpses from the Bethlehem diary of this period:
Saturday, September 4, 1742: In the daily Viertelstunde we sang the litany as always. After the softly spoken request, “Bless us with your holy testaments dear Lord,” two Indian catechumens from Shekomeko and a single brother from Oley, a Quaker, were baptised into the death of Jesus. We could feel the Saviour’s presence in a special way.
Saturday, October 16, 1742: We spent a blessed Love Feast at noon in the Lord’s presence, remembering our brothers and sisters in Europe who were being fed with the Lamb’s flesh and blood at this very time. In this way we felt united with them in Spirit. The single brothers’ choir held their all-night vigil and received rich blessings. They discussed their condition, both as individuals and as a choir, thoroughly one with another and made plans for the Sprechen (personal interviews) next week. During all this they were keenly conscious of the Lamb’s presence among them.
September 22, 1743: An Englishman came to visit. He seemed like a nice man and asked to live among us. He was also ready to place his ten-year-old daughter in our care. The man was serious and we did not question his motives. But because Bethlehem is full at this time we could not take him in.
Sabbath (Saturday), December 11, 1742: All the brothers and sisters rose at four in the morning for the feet washing. His water and blood made us clean. Then came communion. We felt the blood from the Lamb’s wounds sweeping through our hearts, souls, and bodies, like a flood.
April 13, 1743 and other dates: We became vividly aware of our Saviour’s death and blood and he showed his grace, particularly to the single brothers’ choir. . . . Our communion was unusually blessed, and we were overcome with wonder in the gracious presence of the Lamb. . . . The Lamb showed himself to us, a little band of sinners with special grace. . . . The head of the congregation allowed his gracious presence to be felt among us with power. . . . Our love feast ended today with an explanation of the Watchword, during which the Saviour came to us in unspeakable joy. . . . We celebrated our love feast in tender awareness of the Lamb’s presence. . . . This Sabbath we spent quietly in the presence of our Lord. . . . Tonight the single brothers went about singing and praising their choir’s elder [Christ] with musical instruments. At six o’clock we held a love feast for the whole congregation in which his Spirit moved us mightily, causing us to fall on our faces and worship him. . . . The Indian brother Jakob from Shekomeko spent fourteen days among us and came to love the Saviour again.
December 29, 1743: The older sisters laid hands on Anna Maria Birstler at her baptism and received her with a kiss. Lights flashing from the blood of the Lamb circled through the Saal and melted the hearts of the brothers and sisters to tears.
November 13, 1756, on the celebration of the chief eldership of Christ: We felt the Saviour’s presence so powerfully we could no longer speak, pray, sing, or anything else. Such an awareness! Oh Lord! All of us were in tears and we fell with our faces on the ground before him. I cannot, no I will not describe it!
Shelters of Grace
When the Indian believers from Shekomeko and the Connecticut villages arrived in Pennsylvania, the brothers gave them a place along the Monocacy Creek at Bethlehem. There, close to the Wundeninsel (Island of the Wounds), a place the brothers kept as a refuge for those wanting to pray alone, they set up camp. But living next to so many people did not suit them well. They missed the unspoiled wilderness in which to hunt and fish. So with the help of Martin Mack and David Zeisberger they settled further up the Lehigh, on a 1400 acre tract along the Mahoney Creek. There they built a new community named Gnadenhütten (Shelters of Grace).
With great eagerness the Indian believers erected a new Gemeinhaus and Saal. Around it they built a log Pilgerhaus (residence for temporary workers), a young brothers’ choir house, family residences, a barn, a stable, a kitchen with bake ovens, and a milk-house. Particularly important to their well being, they built a saw and gristmill from which many rafts of lumber floated down to building projects at Bethlehem and Nazareth. After a few years they bought more land across the Lehigh River, and their farms and fruit orchards flourished.
At the same time, Chief Shikellamy, through Conrad Weiser, asked for the brothers to settle in Shamokin on the Susquehanna River. Martin and Johanna Mack answered the call. With the help of the villagers they set up a smithy in 1746. Joseph Powell, a young brother from Shropshire, Johann Hagen, and Anton Schmidt came to help them. They showed the villagers how to plant turnips and cabbage, and the seed of Christ’s Word they planted flourished as well. Not only Chief Shikellamy, but numerous ones of his family and the Lenni Lenape people among whom they lived repented and found peace in the Lamb.
From this place David Zeisberger, Johann Jakob Schmick and groups of Indian believers made their way upstream to establish the Friedenshütten (Shelters of Peace) community at Wyalusing, and Friedensstadt (City of Peace) in far western Pennsylvania.
Rainbow of Promise
Before Brother Ludwig returned to Europe, the brothers in Bethlehem took care of an important issue. Up to this time they had worked with one man, a “chief elder” in charge. But “having found this office too much for a mortal being” they asked the Saviour (with the use of the lot) whether he would not take it himself, and he consented. That evening, on November 13, 1741, a rainbow arched across the eastern sky and the believers fell on their faces, assured of the Saviour’s approval and committed as never before to surrender themselves to him.
From this time onward the use of the lot, taken as the Saviour’s voice, became the last word in every major decision—and to the believers on the American frontier, it brought security and peace.
Samuel and Mary, the first Indian believers to celebrate a Christian wedding, received permission from the Saviour to become man and wife in 1744. That same year Andreas (the boy that had given Friedrich Martin the chickens, on St. Thomas) and Maria became the first black couple married at Bethlehem. Andreas, purchased by Brother Ludwig, had come to Pennsylvania with him. But he returned, and three years later the Saviour called Johann Michael Huber (Katherina’s third husband) to St. Thomas as well. A storm struck his ship. It sank and he drowned on the way there, leaving her a widow again.
Chief Shikellamy, baptised in his old age, died in 1748, resting in the wounds of the Lamb. The brothers rejoiced at his home going. But great tribulations fell on the Indian believers soon afterward.
Angered by white settlers’ seizure of their lands, the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) and Shawnee tribes revolted against British rule in the 1750s. The French, from Canada, supported them, and reports of sudden massacres began to trickle in from the frontier. In the Path Valley, at Penn’s Creek, in the Northkill Amish settlement, and along the Swatara Creek Indians fell suddenly on lonely cabins to burn, scalp, and destroy. Some, particularly women and children, they led captive.
For Martin and Susanna Nitschmann, with the rest of the believers at Gnadenhütten on the Mahoney, this frontier violence became a serious threat. Unconverted Indians hated them for turning so many of their number into peace-loving Christians. Those among the Indian believers, not well grounded in Christ, found it easy to slip back into their old ways. One of Chief Shikellamy’s sons, after white frontiersmen treacherously murdered his wife and children, became a leader in the Indian revolt. So did Teedyuscung, a Shawnee the brothers had baptised as Gabriel. But threats ended and action began on the evening of November 24, 1755.
Martin and Susanna Nitschmann, Gottlieb and Johanna Christina Anders with their baby, Joachim Sensemann (whose wife was sick, upstairs), Georg and Susanne Luise Partsch, with several young people sat around the supper table at Gnadenhütten on the Mahoney. It had just grown dark and the dog seemed restless. Joachim stepped outside to make sure the door to the Saal was latched. The others kept on eating. Then they heard pounding footsteps, dogs barking furiously, and Joseph Sturgis rose to open the door.
A roar of gunshot and painted warriors burst into the room. A bullet grazed Joseph’s face and Susanna Nitschmann saw her husband drop to the floor. Shots in quick succession struck John Lesley, Johann Gattermeyer and Martin Presser.10 Susanna herself was struck by a bullet and while the others scrambled up steps to the loft she slipped and fell into the arms of an Indian who dragged her out the door, surrounded by war whoops, tomahawks, knives, and guns.11
From the single brother’s house, Peter Worbas (who had been fasting that evening) looked on with horror as he heard continual gunshots through the floor into the loft where the others had fled. Then he saw flames and Joseph Sturgis leap from an upstairs window. Following him Susanne Luise Partsch also jumped out and ran, followed by Georg Fabricus promptly struck down by a tomahawk and scalped.12
For fifteen minutes Peter listened to shots and yells. He saw one sister run from the burning building to a cellar nearby. Then something momentarily distracted the warrior posted in front of his door, and he also jumped out and ran. The last he heard were the screams of Johanna Christina’s baby above the roar of the flames.
By the time David Zeisberger and believers from the other side of the river arrived on the scene, nothing remained of Gnadenhütten but a blanket and a hat left on a stump with a knife sticking through them. Grief swept the believers’ congregation, but only for a short while. Hearts fixed on the Lamb could see nothing in this bloody massacre but a confirmation of life as it is—short and perilous, a prelude to the everlasting—and set out with good courage to build new and larger settlements in the Tuscarawas River valley of Ohio. There, with the believing Indians of western Pennsylvania, the survivors of Shekomeko and Gnadenhütten built the new communities of Schönbrunn (Beautiful Spring), Lichtenau (Meadow of Light), another Gnadenhütten, and Salem. Their squash and beans grew wonderfully. The forest abounded in game. Once more they planted fruit trees and flowers, and before long their central meetinghouse at Schönbrunn, built for five hundred, could not hold the crowds of Indian believers that came to worship there.
Witness of Grace
Back in Bethlehem, trials of faith continued through the French and Indian war. But the Saviour’s grace did not fail. A band of Indians gathered to fall on Bethlehem before dawn on Christmas, 1755, experienced it with singular power. Just before the planned attack, heavenly music broke out above them, floating over the town and out across the Lehigh River. The single brothers’ trombone choir stood in the belvedere above the Saal, playing the Advent Chorale, and all the Indians could do was listen, speechless, before fading back into the woods. One of them, who came to the Saviour several months later, told the brothers what had happened.
In the summer of 1752, Brother Josef, Heinrich Antes, and four others left on horseback to explore and purchase one hundred thousand acres of land in North Carolina. On this tract they named Wachau (Meadow of the Watch) believers coming both from Europe and Pennsylvania built the communities of Bethabara, Salem, Friedberg, Friedland, and Emmaus. And from here Pilgrims left to bring the good news of peace to the Cherokee and Catawba Indian tribes.
South of York, Pennsylvania, the brothers began the small community of Gnadenheim (Home of Grace), and near Lancaster, a larger one they named Lititz, after the first home of the Unity of Brothers in Moravia. In Lititz, and at Hope, New Jersey, they built brothers’ and sisters’ choir houses in beautiful “home communities” from which the brothers contacted seekers far and wide.
The Revolutionary War brought new trials to the believers, in particular to the Christian Indians of the Tuscarawas Valley in Ohio. American militiamen massacred eighty-six of them at the village of Gnadenhütten and the rest fled to Canada. Opposition continued here and there but on the Love Feast celebrating fifty years at Bethlehem, in 1792, thousands had been added at immeasurable cost, and immeasurable gain, to the Saviour’s Gemeine in America. And in that Love Feast, as a special witness to his grace, one of the eight surviving settlers was still able to take part. That was Katharina Budmanski Huber.
Christ’s words still fascinated her.
1 The Examiner, Boston, 1743
2 The same law gave Dutch and French Reformed preachers, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Quakers and Anabaptists (groups less likely to upset colony affairs) total liberty.
3 Appearing in the list as Vereinigte Vlaaminger und Waterländer
4 A celibate group, rejecting all sacraments, and believing themselves incapable of sinning—therefore beyond need of the Scriptures. Most of the Neugeborene joined the Moravian Church and moved to Bethlehem.
5 Büdingische Sammlungen, vol. II
6 January 12, according to the Gregorian calendar
7 Authentische Relation von dem Anlass, Fortgang und Schlusze der am 1sten und 2ten Januarii Anno 1741/2 in Germantown gehaltenen Versammlung einiger Arbeiter derer meisten Christlicher Religionen und vieler vor sich selbst Gott-dienenden Christen-Menschen in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin
8 Sunbury, Pennsylvania, today.
9 with the use of the lot
10 Martin Presser, not immediately killed, managed to drag himself off to the woods where his body was found several days later.
11 The Indians took Susanna to Tioga and eventually killed her.
12 Georg’s body, riddled with bullets and mutilated, was found the following day, still guarded by his faithful dog.