This account was recorded in the mid-1800’s and includes some of the background information about the early Moravian missionary work in North America.
The preaching of the gospel of salvation to heathen nations and their establishment in the faith and love of Jesus Christ our Savior was a subject of the most earnest and anxious consideration among the members of the Brethren’s church, usually denominated Moravians, shortly after their settlement in Herrnhuth, in Upper Lisatia, then under the government of the Duke of Saxony. Their first missionaries were sent, in the year 1732, to St. Thomas, one of the Danish West-India islands, for the conversion of the negroes, there held in bondage. In the following year missionaries were sent to Greenland, and in both of these stations their labors were crowned with success. Not long after, the Brethren had an opportunity of introducing the gospel to the Indians of North America. They accepted, through Count Zinzendorf, the offer made to him of a tract of land in Georgia, then held by General Oglethorpe and other trustees residing in England. The Brethren hoped by this means to become acquainted with the Creeks, Cherokees, and Chickasaws, and other Indian tribes inhabiting the British colonies. The first company set out from Herrnhuth in November, 1734, and another followed in the spring of 1735, under direction of the Rev. Mr. Spagenberg; and their number was increased during the summer by a larger company conducted by the Rev. David Nitschman. The first attempt made by the Brethren to bring the aborigines of the country to the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, was the establishment of a school-house for Indian children of the Creek nation, on an island about five miles above the town of Savannah. The small colony began to prosper, and the appearance, both as it regarded externals, and the conversion of the heathen, was favorable.
In the year 1737, the Rev. Peter Boehler was chosen and ordained a minister of the colony of Georgia, and arrived there in the year following. And the Rev. Mr. Spangenberg, having fulfilled the duties of his particular appointment, in establishing the mission in Georgia, then went to Pennsylvania. While tarrying in that colony among the German settlers, he became acquainted with Mr. Conrad Weisser, an interpreter to the existing government with the surrounding Indian nations. The latter had been sent in the winter of 1736 to treat with the Iroquois, or Six Nations, concerning a war which was ready to break out between them and the Indians of Virginia, and to endeavor to settle the dispute in an amicable manner. The weather was uncommonly severe, and he had to force his way, mostly on foot, through deep snow, thick forests, and over brooks and rivers, carrying his provisions for several weeks on his back. He happened to meet with two Indians on the road, who, seeing that he was almost broken down by hardships, bid him take courage, adding, that what a man suffered in his body cleansed his soul from sin. These words made a deep impression upon Mr. Weisser; he prayed to God for strength, and was supported. He related this circumstance to the Rev. Mr. Spangenberg, who communicated it by letter to the elders of the Brethren’s congregation at Herrnhuth, and they immediately became desirous to instruct these blind, but not thoughtless Indians, in the only true way by which man may be cleansed from sin and all unrighteousness.
Meanwhile the prosperity of the colony of the Brethren in Georgia received an unexpected check; though favored by the trustees in England, the persecutions of their white neighbors were of such a nature, that they could not remain there any longer, and in consequence removed to Pennsylvania, in the years 1738 and 1739. Thus the mission among the Indians in Georgia, after so promising a beginning, was at once suspended.
The Rev. Mr. Spangenberg visited Germany in 1739, and the account he gave the Brethren at Herrnhuth of the deplorable state of the Indians to the British colonies in North America, made so strong an impression upon them, that several immediately offered to venture their lives, in endeavoring to make these heathen nations acquainted with their Creator and Redeemer. Twelve persons were nominated as candidates for this mission, and one of them, Christian Henry Rauch, was sent in the same year to America, to seek an opportunity to preach the gospel to the Indians in Pennsylvania and the neighboring colonies.
He arrived in New York, July 16, 1740. He knew as yet nothing of the people to whom he should declare the gospel nor did he know where to find them, and in what manner it was most advisable to make himself known to them. But he had an inward assurance of his call and placed a full confidence in God, that He would assist him and lead him to those heathen nations, to whom he was sent. In sole reliance upon Him who has promised, that His word shall not return unto Him void, but accomplish that which He pleases, and prosper in the thing whereto He sends it, the missionary betook himself to prayer and commended himself and his mission to God.
Some days after he heard that an embassy of Indians had arrived at New York, to meet with the government of that colony. He went in search of them, and was rejoiced to find that he was able to speak with them in the Dutch language, which they understood, though very imperfectly. These were the first heathen he had ever seen. They were ferocious in appearance and manners, and at the same time in a state of intoxication. Having waited till they were sober, he spoke with two of them, called Tschoop and Shabash, and without ceremony inquired whether they wished for a teacher to instruct them in the way of Salvation. Tschoop, (of whom we desire to give a more particular account in these pages,) immediately answered in the affirmative, adding that he frequently felt disposed to know better things than he had been taught hitherto, but he did not know how or where to find them; therefore, if any one would come and instruct him and his acquaintances, he should be thankful; he further said that they were all poor and wicked, yet he thought it might answer a good purpose, if a teacher would come and dwell with them. Shabasch, the companion of Tschoop, also giving his assent, the missionary rejoiced to hear this declaration, considered it as a call from God, and promised immediately to accompany them on their return, and to visit them and their people; upon which they declared him to be their preacher with true Indian solemnity.
A few days after this occurrence, the missionary visited the Indians again in their encampment, but found them intoxicated to so great a degree, that they could neither speak or stand. Soon after they left New York without the missionary, but he undauntedly set out alone on his journey; and having found out that they lived at Shekomeko, an Indian town about twenty-five miles east of the Hudson river, on the borders of Connecticut, one of the New England provinces, he proceeded to that place, and was pleased to find that already, before his arrival, Tschoop and Shabasch had announced him as the man whom they had appointed to be their teacher.
He arrived at Shekomeko on the 16th of August, 1740, and was received in the Indian manner with much kindness. He immediately addressed them on the subject of his visit in these words: “I have come hither from beyond the great ocean, to bring unto you the glad tidings, that God our Creator and Benefactor has so loved us as to take upon Himself our human nature; that He lived more than thirty years in this world, and was engaged in doing good to the souls and bodies of men, and at last for our sins was nailed to the cross, on which he shed his precious blood, and died for us, that we might be delivered from sin, saved by His merits, and become heirs of everlasting life. On the third day, He rose again from the dead; ascended into Heaven, where He sits upon His throne of glory, but yet is always present with those who worship Him in spirit and in truth, though we see Him not with our bodily eyes; and His chief desire is to show His unbounded love to us, that we may turn unto Him, and be saved from eternal condemnation.”
Tschoop The Converted Indian Chief: Written for the American Sunday School Union, and Revised by the committee of publication. American Sunday-School Union. Philadelphia. 1842.