Introduction: The Moravian Mission Among the Indians of North America

The records of the Moravian mission among the Indians of North America – located at the Archives of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – are frequently consulted by scholars of many fields. The popularity of the records is due in part to their intrinsic interest and in part to the detailed finding aids available for them.

The Mission

One of the major reasons the Moravians came to America in 1735 was to preach the Gospel to the Indians. In this respect they were different from most of the other settlers in America, who on occasion sent preachers to the Indians, but normally ignored or more likely feared them. For the Moravians the Indian mission was an intensive effort upon which they spent much money and manpower. The costs were borne by income from their businesses and by personal sacrifices of the members.

Although the Moravians had contacts with many Indian tribes, they did most of their work among the Delawares. They followed this tribe westward from Pennsylvania to Ohio, to Canada, to Indiana, and finally to Kansas. They also worked among the Mahicans in New York and Connecticut, and among the Cherokees in Georgia and Oklahoma. The work lasted until 1900, for a total of over 150 years.1

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the mission is that the Moravians were always on the scene so early. This was due to a conscious effort to locate their Indian villages beyond the white settlements.2 Consequently, the Moravian missionaries were frequently the first white settlers in the places where they located, and their records are often the oldest extant records from those places.

The first contact with the Indians was in Georgia in 1735. After that the beginnings in various states or colonies were as follows: New York, 1740; Pennsylvania, 1740; Connecticut, 1743; Ohio, 1772; Canada, 1792; Georgia (Cherokees), 1799; Indiana, 1801; Kansas, 1837; Oklahoma, 1838.3

The Moravian mission among the Indians was not noteworthy for its numerical success. There were never more than several hundred baptized Indians attached to the Moravians at any one time. The relatively low density of the Indian population – the frequent removals of the Indians westward – the massacre of ninety Moravian Indians at Gnadenhütten, Ohio, by white militiamen in 1782 – the impossibility of finding isolated settlement places where liquor agents and other objectionable whites could not penetrate – these were all factors limiting the numerical success of the mission.

In spite of its small numbers, the Moravian mission had wide influence. The missionaries were often consulted by the chiefs, some of whom became Christians. Wherever the Moravians went they attempted to conduct schools. Nearly all the Cherokee chiefs in Georgia had been educated or in some way influenced by Moravian missionaries.4

Many important names are connected with the mission to the Indians. The most famous missionary was David Zeisberger (1721-1808), who served the mission for over sixty years.5 Next in importance was John Heckewelder (1743-1823), who was admitted to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia on the basis of his Indian research.6 James Fenimore Cooper acquired much of his knowledge of Indians through Heckewelder’s writings.7 Both Zeisberger and Heckewelder are well-represented in these records, as are many other missionaries and some Indians. The names of other leaders not directly involved in missionary work also appear. Because of the importance of the Indian mission in the life of the Moravian Church, nearly all the important Moravian leaders (including Count Zinzendorf) and many non-Moravians (such as Benjamin Franklin and other government officials) had contacts with the mission.

The Records

In general, it was the custom of the Moravians – especially during the early period – to keep voluminous records, and the records of the Indian mission are no exception, totaling perhaps 50,000 pages. The missionaries carefully recorded the activities at each place in diaries, letters, church registers and catalogs, and other types of writings. In the diary they wrote a day-by-day account of happenings, by no means limited to religious matters. They made frequent references to the hunt, to Indian wars, to food, to health, to the weather, to travelers passing through, to journeys, to pastoral counseling situations, i.e., to a wide spectrum of human activity. Copies or abstracts of these diaries were circulated around the white congregations for information and edification. The letters sent to headquarters in Bethlehem were more likely to be private, often dealing with personal matters and problems. The registers and catalogs were the means to keep track of the member -–when they were born, baptized, confirmed, married, buried, etc. In this case the names of all the Indian converts are known, along with sometimes very detailed information about them.

The majority of the records are written in German script, but a great deal of English also appears. German was the language used in most of the Moravian churches in America at the time, but even in the early years there were some Moravians who spoke or wrote English. Thus there are some English originals and many contemporary translations into English included among these materials. Furthermore, most of the correspondence with government officials is written in English. For the researcher’s convenience, several extensive translations into English, made in recent years, have been included in the colleciton;8 still other translations are readily available in print.

The use of these records through the years constitutes a history in itself. The earliest use was for the Moravian Church’s own informational and record-keeping system. In addition, some of the documents, such as the Delaware Hymnal, were printed for the use of the mission while it still existed. The Moravian Church has retained its interest in the Indian mission; many articles concerning the Indians have appeared in church publications up to this day. Many of the translations and books about the mission have been done by Moravian historians.

One of the first non-Moravian scholars to take an interest in the mission was Peter S. Du Ponceau of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, who corresponded with Heckewelder.9 Since then, many scholars in a wide range of disciplines – history, literature, theology, art, geography, geology, climatology, anthropology, archeology, sociology, linguistics, genealogy, etc. – have used these materials. Many articles and books have been published.10 It is interesting to note that one of Lawrence Henry Gipson’s early works was as editor for a translation of the White River, Indiana, mission records.11

Much of the emphasis for the study of the Moravian records has come from state and local historians, particularly in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. Ohio is a good example of the inter-relationship between these records and the historical sensitivity of the state. In 1908 the centennial of David Zeisberger’s death was observed with church services, speeches, poems, and a visit to Zeisberger’s grave at Goshen, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, Articles were published in the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly. In 1923 the state of Ohio began to purchase the farm land constituting the site of Schoenbrunn (established in 1772), with the intent of reconstructing the Moravian Indian village. Although the buildings had long since disappeared, the exact locations for the foundations – including Zeisberger’s fireplace – were discovered with the aid of a map found in the Archives in Bethlehem. Much additional information was found in the Moravian records to assist in the reconstruction. The reconstructed village is located in Schoenbrunn Memorial Park, New Philadelphia, Ohio.12

Arrangement of the Records

The present basis arrangement of these materials is the work of the late Reverend Carl John Fliegel (1886-1961), Research Assistant at the Archives of the Moravian Church from 1952 to his death. A native of Germany, Fliegel literally read every word on about 25,000 pages of these manuscripts, looking for information about the elusive Walam Olum, or "Red Score."13 At the same time he prepared a gigantic card index consisting of an estimated 30,000 cards with 135,000 entries. Some researchers find all the information they need in Fliegel’s index and do not even have to consult the records. For others, it is a comprehensive finding aid which eliminates extensive scanning.14

Fliegel arranged the materials in several large categories. His first category, devoted to the various mission stations, is arranged in rough chronological order. The earlier stations were in the East, the later stations in the West. His next category, called Personalia, consists of letters and documents written by missionaries and others. The arrangement here is alphabetically by author. The next category, Generalia, contains a great variety of documents, many of them of great importance. The last category, Indian Languages, contains the linguistic materials. Fliegel numbered each box and each folder within the box; normally he identified each item within the folder. Fliegel’s general system of arrangement has been followed for materials located in recent years, but no additions have been made to his card index.15

The Lists of Contents

The Lists of Contents are typed from Fliegel’s handwritten lists (which are also included on the microfilm). In the few cases where errors have been detected, corrections have been made on the typed lists.

There is a list of contents for each box. At the top of the list is a general description of the contents, giving:

Number of Box, Name of Box, Dates
Type/s of Material
Number of Folders

Below this general listing follows a folder by folder description of the contents:

Number of Folder
Name of Principal Writer/s
Type/s of Material
Whether the material is in the writer’s own hand
Whether copies of the material are included in the folder
Number of items in the folder

For easy reference, each item on the microfilm is identified by a 3 by 5 inch slip giving Box Number, Folder Number, and Item Number. It is a simple matter to go from a reference in the List of Contents to a folder on the microfilm.

Number of Box. Fliegel’s 3-digit numbers for the boxes have been retained; 4-digit numbers have been used for boxes of materials added to the collection in recent years. One should note that the numbers are not consecutive; Fliegel left gaps in his numbering system, apparently for later additions. Also, in reading numbers, the new number 1371 comes immediately after the old number 137, etc.

111-1991 Specific Mission Places

111-113 New York
114-115 Connecticut
116-1371 Pennsylvania
141-159 Ohio, some Michigan
161-1698 Ontario
171-1751 Ohio
177 Indiana
181-1853 Kansas
191-195 Georgia
196-1991 Oklahoma

211-2292 Personalia

311-327 Generalia

331-3389 Indian Languages

3400-3500 Other

Name of Box. The names of the missions, names of individuals, or names of types of materials are used for the names of boxes.

Dates. The earliest and the latest dates are given. The dates are somewhat approximate. Translations made later do not change the dates.

Types of Material. See below.

Number of Folder in Box. Some boxes are not completely full and contain only a few folders. In other cases the boxes are full, but each folder has large items within it. These boxes are of varying sizes, but most of them are three inches deep (The manuscripts are stored flat). The folders are made of acid-free paper.

Number of Folder. Folders are numbered consecutively within each box. In many cases a volume is given a folder number when in fact no folder actually exists. The purpose of this is to keep the numbering system consistent.

Name of Principal Writer/s. This is the name of the person/s who originally wrote the document, even if it is in translation from a copy by another hand. When there are several writers, the one who has written the most items appears first. For speedy reference, only last names are given, except in the section Personalia where full names are given.

Type/s of Material. The type of material is underlined. Letters, Minutes, and other terms are sufficiently well understood to require no definition. Many other terms are clear from their context. The following explanations may be helpful to those unfamiliar with Moravian terminology.

Diary. The Diary is a day-by-day account of happenings at the mission.

Report. A Report is usually a summation of the Diary. It may be a half-year report, an annual report, or otherwise. Reports were sent back to headquarters in Bethlehem for circulation among the churches. Some of the reports are almost as extensive as the Diary.

Personal Diary. A few Moravian missionaries kept personal diaries in addition to the mission diaries. Some of these personal diaries have come into the collection.

Travel Diary. The Travel Diary is like the regular Diary in that it is a day-by-day account, but of happenings while the missionary is traveling to or from the station, or through new territory.

Memoir (Lebenslauf). The Memoir is an autobiography written by an individual, or a biography written by his minister, or a combination, to be used at his funeral. Spiritual progress is stressed, but additional information is usually included.

Memorabilia. On New Year’s Eve it was the custom to read the Memorabilia of the out-going year, with special stress on the important events in the life of the congregation. Thus the Memorabilia is similar to the Diary or Report, but usually briefer.

Catalog. A Catalog is a list of the members, usually with important biographical detail, such as names of parents, date and place of birth, marriage, date of admission to Moravian Church, etc.

Register. A Register contains the official recordings of baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc.

Church Book (Kirchenbuch). Church Book is another name for the Register, usually, but in some cases it is a type of combined Catalog-Register.

Conference. The Moravian Church operates through representative conferences, or committees, who make policy decisions and do the administrative work. The conferences are ultimately subject to a Synod, which meets periodically (the Northern Province Synod now meets every four years) and itself consists of representatives from the congregations. During the period of the Indian Mission there were several conferences which are reflected in the records. Some were at a high level, such as the Provincial Helpers’ Conference in Bethlehem, the highest executive body of the denomination in America at the time, while others were on a congregational level. In many cases lay people were included as members of the conferences, but of course the usual conference at a mission place would be dominated by the ministers serving there.

Whether the material is in the writer’s own hand. A code is used here, as follows:

A At least some of the material is in the writer’s own hand.

No None of the material is in the writer’s own hand.

Whether duplicates are included in the folder.

No There is no duplication in this folder. (There may be duplication with materials elsewhere, however.)

C At least some of the material in this folder appears in duplicate.

Cc At least some of the material in this folder appears in triplicate or in more copies.

Language. The different languages that appear are:

G German
E English
Lat Latin
Ind Indian (not specified which tribe)
Del Delaware
Mah Mahican

Onon Onondaga
Cher Cherokee

When several languages are in the same folder, the more prominent one is given first.

Number of items in folder. The number of items, interpreted with other data, will often reveal much about the contents, For example
A Cc G,E 3
says that at least one item is in the writer’s own hand. The material appears in triplicate form, with at least one German version and at least one English version.

In some cases there may be more than one piece in an item, depending on the arrangement.


As comprehensive as it is, the information in the Lists of Contents is often not detailed enough. There are several obvious ways to secure more information. 1) CONSULT THE MICROFILM. In nearly every folder where there is more than one item Fliegel included an item-by-item list. Although these lists have not been typed, they have been filmed in their proper place on the microfilm. A careful use of the microfilm will reveal other hints, such as the fact that Fliegel’s working indexes of Indian individuals are located in Box 3191. 2) CONSULT PRINTED LITERATURE. The rather extensive printed literature on the Indian missions offers useful leads to original material. 3) CONSULT THE FLIEGEL INDEX. Fliegel prepared a comprehensive card index, which is particularly valuable for diaries up to about 1820, but with proper use can be applied to other types of material as well. The techniques of using Fliegel’s card index are included with the index itself.

Vernon H. Nelson
The Archives of the Moravian Church
Bethlehem, Pa.
December, 1969



1 The Moravians began a mission to the Indians in California in 1890. It still exists as the Morongo Moravian Church.

2 The Moravian Indian villages were built according to a plan, with the church at the center. The church leaders controlled all aspects of life in the village, according to strict rules. Every effort was made to keep the Moravian Indians separate from non-Christian Indians and from the encroaching white population. The missionaries encouraged the Indians to plant gardens and till farms, rather than to reply upon hunting.

3 The work among the Cherokees was administered from the southern headquarters of the Moravian Church in Salem, North Carolina. Consequently, many of the records of the Cherokee mission, both in

Georgia and Oklahoma, are located in the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem.

4 Edmund Schwarze. History of the Moravian Missions among Southern Indian Tribes. Bethlehem, Pa.:
Times Publishing Company, 1923. 331 pp.

5 Edmund de Schweinitz. The Life and Times of David Zeisberger. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1870. 747 pp.

6 Paul A.W. Wallace. Thirty Thousand Miles with John Heckewelder. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958. 474 pp.

7 Edwin L. Stockton, Jr. The Influence of the Moravians upon the Leather-Stocking Tales. Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society, Volume XX, Part 1. Nazareth, Pa., 1964. 191 pp.

8 Usually translators have been identified on the folders. Many translations were done by the late William N. Schwarze while he was Archivist. The translators of the Petquottink Mission materials (Box 1571) were Miss G. Elizabeth Bahnsen and Miss Jutta Leheis. The translations were done for Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, Director, Great Lakes-Ohio Valley Research Project, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, in 1962.

9 John F. Freeman. A Guide to Manuscripts Relating to the American Indian in the Library of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1966. 491 pp.

10 Unfortunately, no one has compiled an up-to-date bibliography of books and articles, including many translations, based upon the Moravian records.

11 Lawrence Henry Gipson, editor. The Moravian Indian Mission on White River. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1938. 674 pp.

12 Joseph E. Weinland. The Romantic Story of Schoenbrunn, the First Town in Ohio. Dover, Ohio: Seibert Printing Co., 1928. Also later editions. 56 pp.

13 C.F. Voegelin, Eli Lilly, et al. Walam Olum or Red Score, the Migration Legend of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1954. 379 pp. Fliegel’s work was made possible by research grants from Eli Lilly. In all his work Fliegel found no reference to Walam Olum in the Moravian records.

14 Fliegel indexed primarily diaries from 1740 to 1821. In some cases the cut-off date is earlier.

15 Present day archivists would arrange these materials somewhat differently, giving more attention to provenance and the original order of the materials. The original order had been altered long before Fliegel began his work. See pp. 164 and 165 in William Henry Allison, Inventory of Unpublished Material for Religious History in Protestant Church Archives and Other Repositories. Washington, 1910.