The Hidden Work of Moravian Wives

The Hidden Work of Moravian Wives:

A Conversation with Anna Nitschmann, Eva Spangenberg, Martha Spangenberg, and Erdmuth von Zinzendorf

Moravian Archives, Bethlehem

February 13, 2018


Katherine Faull, Bucknell University



Thank you for the invitation to talk this evening on the subject of Moravian women’s work and how it has been “hidden” in the records and from the eye of those who study labor history. I am going to talk tonight about the concept of “labor” in the colonial period of the Moravian Church, with a special focus on where women’s work was deemed to occur, how it was described and valued, and how in the historiography of the church this work has been described. I am going to look at the role that female leaders of the church played in defining what constitutes work in the church and how that contribution was later obscured.

The notion of concealed labor or hidden work is nothing new to scholars of gender and race where in the historiography of knowledge making and invention, the work of women and minorities has been regularly elided. One only needs to look at the history of discoveries in the field of science to repeatedly come across the trope/meme of the white male scientist working with a lab team that is remarkably male and white in a Nobel Prize winning discovery. See, for example, the discovery of the structure of DNA at the Cavendish laboratories at Cambridge University in 1953, credited to James Watson and Frances Crick which in their own relations of the discovery, hid the contributions of Rosalind Franklin’s earlier research into the crystallography . Or the case of the discovery of the Epstein-Barr virus that can lead to lymphoma also leaps to mind, where the hours of work done by both microbiologist Yvonne Barr and Trinidadian electron microscopist Burt Achong in the laboratory also go without recognition.

Within Moravian historiography the contributions of Zinzendorf’s first wife, Erdmuthe Dorothea, have certainly been recognized, probably a product of her class position coming from the nobility. Her contribution to the history of Pietism is investigated in the thoroughly researched, if dated, work of Wilhelm Jannasch. This 1915 biography of the Countess tells the story of her life, marriage with Zinzendorf, her mostly hands off approach to the establishment of the early Gemeine, her willingness for numbers of the Moravian exiles to be employed in her household, her gradual assumption of a working role in the leadership of the congregation, her growing role in the financial management of the church, her assumption of fiscal leadership during the time of Zinzendorf’s exile from Saxony, her assumption of leadership during his time in America, with the travels to London, Denmark, and the Baltic states and then her withdrawal, as Jannasch terms it, upon his return and the ascension of Anna Nitschmann to the role of “Mutter” in the church. etc. Although Jannasch’s work has been more recently supplemented by the appearance of Erika Geiger’s short volume (translated by Julie Tomberlin Weber) it is heavily derivative of the earlier work.

Of far more significance to the revised appraisal of the Countess’s work is the scholarly focus on the correspondence networks and the importance of the Reuss family that is being carried out in the University of Jena by Martin Prell; and also the research being carried out on the Countess’ and Benigna von Watteville’s correspondence, performed by Marita Gruner at the University of Greifswald.

Erdmuthe von Zinzendorf’s willingness to open her household to the members of the fledgling community directly benefited the three other leading women of the early Church I am discussing today. Best known is her support of Anna Nitschmann, who was employed in the Zinzendorf household as a servant and errand girl and then as companion to Benigna von Zinzendorf with whom she later travelled to America. At the same time as Anna Nitschmann is in the Berthelsdorf household, both of Spangenberg’s future wives are also in the fledgling Herrnhut community. Eva Immig, as she was then, was already widowed, was employed as nursemaid to Christian Renatus, and was counted among the first “Laboresses” of the community among the widows. Like Anna, Martha Spangenberg (or Miksch as she was then) came into the service of the Zinzendorf family in 1727. It is interesting to imagine all four of these leading women in the Moravian church living and /or working under one roof in the late 1720s.

As I have outlined in several of my other lectures in Bethlehem last year, evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s work was, after 1760, deliberately hidden by destroying records that pertained to her central role in the leadership and development of the church. Anna’s work consisted of both labor in a material and spiritual sense.

In a series of miniatures, presented to Anna to celebrate her 30 years as Eldress to the Gemeine, Anna is depicted as spinning while also receiving the visitation of several leading male theologians of the time. As I discussed in my Zug lecture, this trope is significant as a representation of the intersection of both material and spiritual realms of work. The image of Anna receiving the two prominent churchmen at the spinning wheel and in front of the floor loom encapsulates the idea, promoted by Zinzendorf, that the choir houses were the workshops of the divine. In the SS choir houses the spinning and weaving of cloth were two of the most prevalent economic and artisanal activities. I would also argue that in addition to producing vital goods (and income) for the Gemeine and the Choir, spinning and weaving as traditional tropes of women’s wisdom, also were imbued with spiritual worth.

Is this idea put into practice within the congregation? Let us turn to Spangenberg’s first wife, Eva Maria. Maria, as she known within the Gemeine, had been born in Dresden and married her first husband Dr. Christoph Immig, a lawyer, before coming to Herrnhut in 1727. They had two children, one of whom “went astray” and the other died. Eva Maria was one of the first 12 Laborers in the new community and then became the nursemaid to Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus. When her first husband died at the age of 77, Eva Maria became the Pflegerin of the Widows Choir for 12 years. During Zinzendorf’s exile Saxony she became the Vorsteherin of the whole Gemeine, assisting Martin Dober for two years. In 1739, she left Herrnhut and went to Wetteravia, where she married Spangenberg in 1740.

Alongside Spangenberg, she was central to the foundation of the Moravian congregations in London and Yorkshire, and worked extensively in England and then in America where she was General-Ältestin from 1744-1749. According to her memoir, which was written by Spangenberg, she was much loved among the mission populations in America, and in the mission diaries and travel journals, Spangenberg is repeatedly asked by members of the Iroquois and Delaware nations alike, where his wife is and how she is doing. When Eva Maria and Spangenberg left Bethlehem in October 1749, the Brothers and Sisters bathed the streets in tears (to quote from her Ll). Eva Maria died in 1751 in Herrnhuth. Before she died, her lost child, the daughter, came back to her and tended to her in her final illness. She was in her 55th year.

So what would have made Eva Maria so beloved to the Bethlehem congregation (although there are signs that this was perhaps not such a universal emotion)?

The Spangenbergs arrived in America in October 1744 and came straight to Bethlehem. Anna Nitschmann had left at the turn of year 1742-3, so the memory of her work at the Forks of the Delaware was still strong, and had been regularly kept alive by the reading of her letters from London and Yorkshire. According to the Bethlehem Diary for 1744, Eva Maria immediately travels to Shekomecko (following in the footsteps of Anna) and celebrates a Love feast with the mission workers (the Büttners and Macks) with rolls and chocolate (which we presume she had brought with her from Bethlehem/New York). Upon her return to Bethlehem on December 2, Eva Maria conducts her first Married Sisters ¼ hour service, and then a blessing for pregnant sisters and nursing sisters, and finally a ¼ hour service for the German and English sisters in Bethlehem. Eva Maria’s work also includes conducting the Speakings for the sisters (of all marital status’), leading Lovefeasts for the children, married sisters, and widows.

All of this is quite expected for a woman leader in the Moravian church at that time. However, Maria also conducts Lovefeasts for specific groups of women workers. Sisters who work in the laundry, or who spin, or weave, or knit, or sew also have a lovefeast dedicated to them respectively, and this appears to have been Maria’s own idea. In Oerter’s translation of the 1745 diary he states, “Mary made some orders and regulations for the Sisters spinning wool, cotton, flax and tow.” (Jan. 4 1745) At these lovefeasts for the different forms of women’s work, Maria apparently speaks so powerfully that the Sisters’ production is significantly increased (for example, on January 29 1745 50 sisters at a spinners lovefeast produced record amounts of yarn and also volunteered to strip feathers for the beds of the newborn).

Putting to one side the resonant echoes of Ernst Troeltsch and Max Weber’s appraisal of the Moravians economic activity, (Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) for one moment, I would like to think about the spiritualization of women’s work not in terms of how to produce more for the community but as a foregrounding of the work that the SIsters did. This work, noted in the Diary, is seen as a form of “Gottesdienst”, a service to God and is valued as essential to the mission of the whole community as spiritual work as well as encouraging the ethic of production.

Does this concept of women’s work operate outside the choirhouses? What effect does it have on the missions, for example? I would now like to draw on the manuscript material that informs my work on the Shamokin mission diary. Shamokin, on the forks of the Susquehanna River, was a strategically important point for Native Americans, colonial agents and traders, and Moravians alike. Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann, Benigna, and Spangenberg had all visited this place, not least to foster a relationship with Shikellamy, the vice-regent of the Six Nations.

In a conference held at the confluence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River in August 1747, the Moravian married couples, Nathaniel and Anna Hagen and Anton and Catharine Schmidt sat down to discuss how the blacksmith’s shop that was to be established there was to be run. The first article on the agenda that had been drawn up by Spangenberg was the stipulation that “When the Indians bring something for our Sisters to sew, they will accept it with thanks, and willingness and require nothing as payment.”FOOTNOTE: Footnote Five months later, when they were joined by the married couple Joseph and Martha Powell, this same topic appeared as the first item of business in their conference. The Sisters were to accept sewing from the Indians and require nothing in return.

While this might seem like a small incidental detail in the larger artisan economy of the Pennsylvania Backcountry, I would argue that the work and skills of the Moravian Married Sisters who came with their husbands to the “frontier” country of Pennsylvania in the first half of the eighteenth century were central to the Moravian and Native American understanding of how an exchange of services and goods, whether it be sewing, blacksmithing, shoe or mocassin making, grinding corn and baking could take place. The Married Sisters’ participation in an artisan economy both extends the previous notion of “women’s work” that I have outlined and also challenges the long held notion that women’s role in this early settlement period was primarily as part of the “household economy,” in which women were employed in the raising of crops, production of food and clothing, within an autarkic economy of the settlers’ log home.

Because of the Moravian notion of the “marriage militant,” many of these Brothers took their Sisters (wives) with them into the mission field to work with the female indigenous populations .  However, the Moravian mission in Shamokin, Pennsylvania (1747-55) was not set up as a mission village but rather as a blacksmith’s shop to serve the Iroquois and their protected tribes, the Delaware, Tutelo, Conoy, and Shawnee. The Moravian smithy at Shamokin was established because of its usefulness to the Six Nations, and, as such, its existence at the confluence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River, the intersection of eleven Indian paths, offers an interesting and anomalous microstudy of the artisan in the backcountry.

Shikellamy was quite explicit in his expectations of how the smithy would be run. In a slightly earlier conference with Brother Martin Mack in April of 1747 held at Shamokin, the Oneida chief and emissary of the Five Nations, stipulated that the work done at the smith for the Five Nations should be done for free when the Iroquois are travelling down river to war with the Catawba. He stated explicitly, “I desire, T’girketonti (Spangenberg’s Iroquois name) my brother, that when something is done to their flints that it is done for free, because they have nothing with which to pay. However, when they return, and they have something done, then they would have to pay for it.”FOOTNOTE: Footnote

In August 1747, at the conference held at Shamokin to set down the conditions of the establishment of the smithy there Spangenberg prescribed that the Moravians were to maintain themselves there “auf Indianisch Art.”  That meant that only the Three Sisters (beans, corn, squash) could be planted, no wheat, rye, or oats, and nothing that would make the place seem like a European plantation. All accounts were to be held by Brother Hagen or Joseph Powell; the blacksmith Anton Schmidt had to meet with him at the end of every day and go through the transactions of the day. The price of services had to be set so that one Indian does not get charged more than another, and the accounts were then sent on to the Sozietät für die Heyden (the Society for the Heathen), that paid for the blacksmith’s supplies.

At the Confluence, there was also the presence and agency of the Moravian sisters. In the literature on Moravian artisans and missionaries there is plenty of discussion of the role the men played in the development of settlements, a rural economy that goes beyond that of exchange, but almost no mention of what their wives were doing, what kind of work did they have and did it contribute to this rural economy? While the literature on Moravian missions is large, the multiple challenges and opportunities for cross-cultural trade and knowledge transfer that the Moravian sisters enjoyed, has only recently become the focus of study for historians such as Jane Merritt, Amy Schutt, Gunlög Fur, Rachel Wheeler, and Alison Duncan Hirsch.FOOTNOTE: Footnote In the Shamokin Diary we find evidence of Native, métis and Euro American women’s involvement in trade, care, and mission on an intimate level. Despite the dearth of official records of women’s activities, speech, and agency, from mission diaries we are able to delineate women’s experience as moving beyond the traditional notion of them as refugees for financial, religious, or ethnic reasons or as silent companions of fathers, husbands, masters, or maybe brothers. In Merritt’s discussions of Anna Mack, Anna Smith, and Rowena McClinton’s studies of Moravian women’s mission to the Cherokee women, and Alison Duncan Hirsch’s study of some of the women around the Susquehanna Confluence, the discussion focuses on women and cross-cultural communication, the inter-relation of religious concepts, notions of gender, and medical and pastoral concepts of the body.

Based on evidence from the Moravian mission diary from Shamokin I argue that there existed an artisan economy of sorts in which the skills of both the brothers and the sisters were sought after and exchanged with the Native American and Euro-American population. From the archival records, it is clear that the Married Sisters participated in an exchange economy, where sewing skills, for example, were vital in order to receive gifts of food and medicine from the local Native population. Married Sisters were central to the mission both because of their knowledge of Native American languages, their ability to communicate with the Native women around the blacksmith’s shop, and also because of their own artisanal skills, such as sewing and baking. These skills brought them into an economy of trade and also knowledge.

So how might this relate to the lovefeasts for the knitters, spinners, weavers, and launderers? In her 1995 book on artisans on the North Carolina backcountry, Johanna Miller Lewis argues (somewhat controversially) that women who practiced traditionally female skills such as spinning, sewing, weaving, or knitting for profit commonly have not been classified as artisans by historians.”FOOTNOTE: Footnote Miller Lewis ascribes this to the fact that women did not receive the same training as male artisans, and if they did, it was within the home, invisible to the historical record of craftsmen’s books, journeymen’s passes, and guild records. Furthermore, many historians considered women’s artisanal skills as “merely” part of the housewife’s duties and therefore not an income-generating skill. However, recent studies of rural populations in, for example, Ireland during the Great Potato Famine, have shown that women’s skills were central to the survival of rural populations in times of crisis and famine (Irish famine and women lace makers, for example).  Challenging the dominant notion of the “household economy” that has held sway over early modern economic history and its autarkic self-sufficiency, Miller Lewis argues for a more nuanced understanding of women’s participation in a backcountry economy where their skills in textile production and repair was also key to the survival of the family and also the community.FOOTNOTE: Footnote I would like to argue that what is presented as a paradigm for women’s work in the image of Anna Nitschmann spinning as she receives the eminent theologians, and in Maria’s institution of lovefeasts celebrating the work of women, provided many of the Married Sisters at Shamokin (and elsewhere) with precisely the model of work as Gottesdienst that women outside the Moravian church might have received within the household economy. The difference in the Moravian training was that women’s artisanal skills were taught not for the benefit of a more nuclear “household,” but rather for the larger “oikos” of the mission settlement; and, as such, these skills were both a form of women’s spiritual knowledge and income generating.

So, how crucial were the women’s contributions to this artisan economy? Did the sewing, the baking, the interpreting and negotiating help the mission in Shamokin?

Towards the end of the existence of the mission at Shamokin, the picture of the place has changed. The Moravians now have livestock, cows and calves, and are thinking about getting a bull. A new mission house has been built further from the river and closer to a spring. Letters between Shamokin and Bethlehem talk of the need for sugar and tea (for the Moravian Lovefeasts), of wine and bread for communion; new trousers and shirts; the skins received in payment (racoon and deer) are being transported back to Bethlehem through intermediaries, such as Michael Schäffer, a shoemaker who lives 5 miles down the Tulpehocken Path.

The Married Sisters have gone. The mission has become a plantation, it services the flints of the traders and white settlers and its original purpose has been lost. Spangenberg wonders if they shouldn’t just shut up shop, sell the house and its contents that are no longer needed to Conrad Weiser, slaughter the livestock and sell the meat.

The end of the Shamokin mission almost coincides with the arrival of Martha Spangenberg in America. In the little literature that exists on her, scholars such as Beverly Smaby and Hartmut Lehmann concur that she understood “women’s work” in a very different manner than her husband’s first wife. Where Eva Maria was seen as a leader, much after the model of Anna Nitschmann and Erdmuthe von Zinzendorf, Martha is described as quiet and staying in Spangenberg’s shadow.

Martha Elisabeth Spangenberg was born in 1708 in Berthelsdorf and came into the service of Benigna von Zinzendorf 1727. In 1730 she married Mattheus Miksch and they had two children. In 1733 Mattheus was sent to St. Croix as one of the first missionaries there but Martha was very reluctant to go and preferred to stay behind with their two children in the congregation in Herrnhut. When Mattheus died in St. Croix in 1734 Martha moves into the Widow’s House as their Laboress for sixteen years until in 1750 she is called to London in 1750 to work with the widows there. Then in 1752 it is suggested that she marry Spangenberg. Martha is initially reluctant because she is very happy living and working with the widows. However, she finally agrees and in 1754 proceeds to work with him in North America. As Craig Atwood has outlined in his article on Spangenberg in colonial America, Martha and Joseph worked here to stabilize and consolidate the community’s affairs through the difficulties of the French and Indian War and after the deaths of Zinzendorf and Anna, the dismantling of the General Economy. They return to Europe via Philadelphia in 1762.

As I have argued in the introduction to my recent translation of the Instructions to the Choir Helpers, it is clear that Martha worked with her husband in the composition of the Instructions for the Single, Married, and Widowed Sisters. In 1764, she is one of the Sisters who is given the task of discussing women’s issues in the synod when they come up. However, Martha’s work with her husband appears to have not always been so welcome to the sisters. For example, in 1771 after the Spangenbergs have returned to Herrnhut, the Single Sisters write a letter to the Unity Elders Conference complaining that Brother Spangenberg and Martha are conducting the monthly Speakings with them rather than their Choir Helpers. Although I need to examine the archival record still to unearth more of Martha’s work, it is already clear from the Instructions and then this letter, that it consisted in implementing the Choir Principles and Instructions that she and her husband were formulating. At the close of her wonderful article on Female Piety in Bethlehem, Beverly Smaby makes the point that the dismantling of women’s power and valued work as spiritual leaders was the work of Spangenberg, and that if it was a man, Zinzendorf, who gave women this power, it was also a man, Spangenberg, who took it away. I would refine this claim somewhat and argue that the positive and vital value ascribed to women’s spiritual and material work was modeled and encouraged by Erdmuthe von Zinzendorf and followed by a multitude of extraordinarily talented women and also integrated into the economic and spiritual economy of the congregations and missions. And it is also a woman who helps to redefine what women’s work should consist of after Anna Nitschmann’s and Erdmuthe’s deaths, and that seems to be Martha Spangenberg.

Anna Nitschmann in America

Anna Nitschmann in America

Katherine Faull, Bucknell University

Visiting Scholar, Centre for Moravian Studies, Spring 2017

Thank you for the invitation to talk about one of the best and least known figures in Moravian history, Anna Nitschmann. She and her father were among the founders of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 275 years ago. However, although her position as a leader among women in the Moravian Church of the 18th century is often cited, little has actually been written about her that is based on archival sources in her own hand. Scholar after scholar who has attempted to write her biography has come up against two major problems when working on Anna Nitschmann.

One is what we might call, the “Anna Nitschmann legend” according to which, even during her lifetime, she became the paradigmatic Single Sister, elevated through poetry, song, verse, and art to an icon. The other problem is the almost complete lack of a scholarly biography of her, due not least to the deliberate purging of her personal correspondence, diaries, and papers after her death in 1760.

Thus, when scholars have undertaken to write about her, they have relied heavily on Anna’s own memoir, written in 1737 when she was 22 and which ends therefore before her emigration out of Saxony with the Zinzendorf entourage and, importantly for this talk, before her departure for America. Furthermore, this precious memoir (Lebenslauf) did not appear in print in German until 84 years after her death (and then in extracts) and the only translation into English is 139 years old, appearing in the Messenger in 1878, again in abstracts.

Why is a new look at Anna Nitschmann important? In my work on Moravian Women’s Lives for the last 20 years or more, the figure and name of Anna Nitschmann have come up again and again. As a role model, as a leader, as a pioneering female missionary to the Native Americans of Pennsylvania and New York, as the composer of hymns, as a woman who not only valued the agency of women but who worked with single women throughout most of her life to ensure that they saw their own strength and salvific value to the redemption of the world. In my volume of Moravian women’s memoirs, Anna Nitschmann’s name comes up repeatedly in the memoirs of other women: whether Anna Johanna Piesch Seidel with whom she worked closely on the formation and guidance of the Single Sisters Choirs; or Margarethe Jungmann, née Bechtel, whom she met in Philadelphia and with whom she and Benigna Zinzendorf founded the Girls school that would later become Moravian College; or in conjunction with Anna Rosel Anders, another one the leaders of the Single Sisters Choir. She worked in close conjunction with brothers and sisters and, I would argue, moved easily in and out of mixed groups in terms of gender and race. She was an intrepid explorer, a gifted poet, an inspirational leader. But so little is written about her!

This semester, as Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Moravian Studies, I have been working in archives and libraries to research Anna Nitschmann and to bring in the lives of other Moravian women of the 18th century (such as Benigna v. Zinzendorf, Eva Spangenberg, Anna Johanna Piesch) to try to build up a full picture of this remarkable woman. Indeed, my research so far has taken me to the archives in Herrnhut, London, and here in Bethlehem, where I have begun to piece together textual evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s life. I have found letters embedded within other letters, accounts of her travels attached to others’ accounts; I have found that even her autobiography has been neglected as an important source document that tells not only what happened in her life to the age of 22 but also looks at how she chose to describe that life in the context of the larger generic conventions of the Moravian memoir. I have gone through uncatalogued packages of papers in the London archives that revealed, quite by surprise, that someone else wanted to write a biography of her in the 19th century to celebrate the Single Sisters Festival. And that ministers in small British Moravian congregations are remarkably helpful when they discover what I am trying to do.

So, despite the ravages of post-Zinzendorfian archival culling and the 1940s London Blitz there is hope!


Respected scholars have seen in Anna Nitschmann a figure that deconstructs the traditional notion of women’s agency in the 18th century. Not a passive heroine, who allows things to happen to her, Anna is a doer, truly a mover and shaker, which is probably why her papers were all destroyed. At a time when to be a single woman in society meant either destitution, servitude, or cloistering, Anna Nitschmann refused marriage multiple times so that she could follow what she felt called to do; namely, provide spiritual guidance to women, especially young women. And her efficacy in this calling can be measured by, as Beverly Smaby has pointed out, the success of the Single Sisters Choir in the mission congregations, especially here in Bethlehem. Originally there was not supposed to be a large Single Sisters Choir here, as the Sisters who came from Europe were to be married in order to work in the mission field. However, Anna’s success in attracting single women from the colonies meant that there had to be Single SIsters Choir here.

What was Anna’s relationship to the much-lauded founding woman of Moravian College?

In 1734, Anna Nitschmann became the companion to Benigna von Zinzendorf, 10 years her junior (1725-1789) and thereby became even closer to the Zinzendorf family. In her memoir she writes that this was a difficult move for her, as she had to leave the solitude of her little room “Stübchen” and join the company of the nobility. The following year, marriage was proposed for her with Leonhard Dober, but because of a mutual reluctance, these plans were abandoned.

In a desire to educate herself further within the concepts and history of Pietism and mysticism, Anna befriended Steinhofer and Oetinger, Württemberg pietists who were visiting Herrnhut at that time, and began her study of Mme de Guyon and St. Theresa of Avila (JUNG 1998). By her own account, these readings tempted her to follow the contemplative life, but Zinzendorf called her instead to a life of action.

Early on, the leaders of the Moravian church recognized Anna’s abilities as a potential leader in the nascent mission field of North America. In 1740, both Zinzendorf and August Spangenberg decided that Anna (at age 25) should accompany her father to the American colonies to work among the German-speaking people there. Both men considered Anna’s gender to be a decisive factor in their choice, in that it would allow her to better speak with the “haughty and independent” colonists (FRIES 1924). So, in July 1740, Anna wrote her farewell letter to the Gemeine, in anticipation that she would never return.

In fact, Anna Nitschmann’s time in North America solidified her reputation as one of Pietism’s most important women leaders. (Here she is speaking to a group of Quakers before her departure from London to Philadelphia) Anna Nitschmann left for America with David Nitschmann Episc., her father, David Nitschmann Sr, Christian Fröhlich, and Johanna Molther in late summer 1740. After an arduous journey, they arrived in Philadelphia on December 15, 1740, and traveled immediately to the Moravians’ newly purchased lands in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Many of the other German sects settled in the province, such as the Brethren at Ephrata Cloister, had heard of their arrival and subsequently came to visit with them. Anna’s “plan” was to work with these disparate groups, in the hope that her words, rather than those of a man, would bring them together in a truly ‘philadelphian’ ideal. To this end, Anna and her father traveled around Pennsylvania in the summer of 1741, visiting inter alia Conrad Beissel at Ephrata Cloister and the Associated Brethren of Skippack.

During her time here in Pennsylvania, Anna regularly wrote letters back to Herrnhut, to Benigna von Zinzendorf, to the Single Sisters Choir, and to those she had left in charge of that choir. In a letter dated April 1741, she describes her activities among the peoples of Pennsylvania, a place she says that is a huge confusion “ein gar grosses Gewirre” of different sects and varying religious opinions. Despite her judgment of this “Atlantic Babel” she sees that the people here are waiting for salvation. She reports that in the three months since her arrival, she has already gathered 20 young women who are seeking the Savior; and they are just waiting for the school that she and Benigna are to found to open. ( Although she lives with one of the Brethren of Skippack, she visits the Nazareth tract regularly, she notices the many Native Americans who visit her. As she is working to clear the land, she is helped by the Native girls and young women to carry wood and water. O Benigna, she writes, if only you were here to work with them!

Anna’s magnetic presence attracts other young women. So, despite the plan that a single sisters choir should not be founded in Bethlehem, Anna has other ideas. Not only has she gathered 20 young women together already, she is quite militant in her defense of their unmarried state. In another letter back to Herrnhut in April 1741, Anna congratulates Sister Brosel that she has refused the offer of marriage. Anna writes, ”I congratulate you, secondly, because you have refused your marriage with a conviction of your heart and want to remain a virgin as long as it pleases Him. I know well that we are not here for ourselves, but rather maidens of the Lamb. If He orders it otherwise, we cannot resist Him. But I have to confess, that this gave me not a little pleasure.”

“Zweytens, dass du hast …. Mit über Zeugung deines Herzens und mit … deine Heirath abgeschlagen, und Jungfer bleiben, solange es Ihm gefallen wordt. Ich weiss wohl dass wir nicht unsre sindt, sondern Mägde des Lammes. Wenn Ers uns anders befiehlt, so können wir Ihm nicht wiederstehen: Aber Ich muss bekennen, dass es mich nicht wenig gefreut hatt.”

In November 1741, Anna returned to Germantown to set up the Girls School with Anna Margarethe Bechtel and to await Zinzendorf’s arrival.

On December 9, 1741, almost exactly a year after Anna’s arrival in America, Zinzendorf and his daughter, Benigna, arrived in Germantown. Due to his lack of both financial and linguistic preparation, the Count deferred to Anna, who used the unspent money she had been given in Herrnhut to help the Count. Zinzendorf also relied heavily on Anna’s knowledge of English to communicate with the other German settlers in the province. As Zinzendorf embarked on his plan to proselytize to the Native Americans and to try to unite the German sects in the colonies, Anna became a crucial factor in his success.

During Bethlehem’s earliest months, despite there being explicit plans to the contrary, Anna worked to establish the Single Sisters Choir (SMABY 1999). While Zinzendorf is having a mixed reception among the German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, maybe it was Anna’s enthusiasm about the prospect of working among the Native peoples that convinces Zinzendorf that she (now 27 years old) and his daughter (17!!) should accompany him on his difficult and dangerous travels into Indian country. In 1742, much of the territory that Zinzendorf wanted to cover was known only to the Native peoples who hunted and lived there. Colonial agents, such as Conrad Weiser, were highly dubious about Zinzendorf’s plans to meet with one of the most influential Iroquois chiefs (Shikellamy) who had just been sent by the Haudenosaunee to oversee the politically crucial confluence of the Susquehanna river. And here is this Count, with his teenage daughter and another young woman wanting to travel through Indian country to talk to the Shawnee who were very unfriendly towards anyone (even the Iroquois). Conrad Weiser agreed to help but I can only imagine him shaking his head at such foolishness.

In August 1742, she set off with Zinzendorf’s party into the Pennsylvanian backcountry to meet the chiefs of the prominent American Indian nations, primarily the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), the Mohican, and the Shawnee.

First, Anna traveled to the Mohican mission in Shekomeko, New York. Here she met with Jeannette Rau, who once married to Br. Martin Mack, quickly became a valuable missionary with her knowledge of the Mohican culture and language. The following month, Anna accompanied Zinzendorf to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, to meet with Shikellamy, the Oneida chief to discuss the possibility of Moravian missionaries working in the Haudenosaunee lands of Iroquoia that stretched across New York state and down into Pennsylvania.

Just up the West Branch, at Ostonwakin, Anna displayed her typical spirit of outreach in speaking at length with the celebrated interpreter between the Iroquois and the Colonial government, Madame Montour. In accounts of these travels into Indian country, Anna was always described as intrepid, taking the lead through difficult terrain, to the point where Zinzendorf had to hang on to her coattails to climb Shamokin mountain. She wrote thus: “The last journey was into the heart of their country, where we sojourned forty-nine days, encamping under the open heavens in a savage wilderness, amid wild beasts and venomous snakes.” (REICHEL 1870, 85n.) Her last foray into the wilds was a hazardous journey from Bethlehem to Ostonwakin on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and then on to the Wyoming Valley to meet with the Shawnee.

This definitely constituted the least successful and most dangerous of the meetings with the Native peoples, yet Anna returned safely with Zinzendorf to Bethlehem.

In January 1743, just over two years after she arrived in America, Anna embarked on the return trip to Europe. Her work in Pennsylvania was foundational: “If others reaped the harvest it was she that sowed the seed, and her name should be written in capitals in the church history of Pennsylvania, instead of being only casually mentioned !” (FRIES 1924, 134) On board the ship from New York to Dover, Anna writes back to Bethlehem: “As I never shall forget Pensilvania in generall so I think I shall remember thee also… an ever Dear Church of Sinners….. It is very weighty to me, that even from out of the English Nation, which hath Erred for so many years, trying many and various ways the Lord should gather a little Flock and bring it to rest on his Holy Wounds.” Life on board was rough, but in a separate letter to Brother Anton Seiffert dated March 1743 Anna describes her journey back to Europe. They Set sail on January 20 from New York and within 6 days had formed a Sea Cong. (they chose Elders). Everyone was seasick except Br Andrew the Negro and his wife. After experiencing two great storms that washed them onto a sandbank where wicked sailors tried to take advantage of them, they arrived Feb. 17 1743 in Dover and then continued on to London on Feb. 19.

In London, Anna stayed with Br. Hutton. However not for long. As Br Spangenberg was not in London but in Yorkshire, Zinzendorf, Benigna and Anna N. travel on to Yorkshire by coach. Anna continued her work among the single sisters in Yorkshire, and Zinzendorf preaches to the assembled crowds on a Gemein Tag. They are like “hungry bees” she says (sometimes over 1000 people). She speaks about her experiences in Pennsylvania, and especially telling stories of the American Indians.

Once back in London, Anna meets with and preaches (in English) to 30 young women in the Fetter Lane chapel, London. Those women in the audience were captivated by her words and, if not already members of the Fetter Lane Society, quickly joined.

Anna writes of this time: “On Sunday I held a Qr of an Hour with 30 young women together with 3 Bands. I with 10 Laborers and the 2 others with each 10 Sisters. I can make use of my little English here very well.” But, she assures her listeners, “Don’t you know, my Dr. Br. that the Bethlehem Brethren and Sisters are remarkable above all others?”

All this success had its results. After returning from America, Zinzendorf made Anna into the “Gemein-Mutter” of all women in the Moravian church and by so doing finally ousted his wife, Erdmuthe, from this position.

Anna Nitschmann’s legacy to the history of Pietism lies in her significant contribution to several branches of the Moravian Church; primarily mission work, hymnody, and religious leadership. Anna’s efficacy in the mission field was enormous. Although severely under-researched, archival evidence reveals that Anna Nitschmann was a superb missionary and leader. Her interactions with American Indians in Pennsylvania were effective and long-lasting, and her work establishing the Girls School in Philadelphia with Benigna von Zinzendorf and Anna Margareta Bechtel (m.n. Büttner, Jungmann) was foundational. Furthermore, Anna Nitschmann was also an accomplished hymn writer, especially productive between the years of 1735 and 1748, composing while in Germany, England, and North America. For example, the 1741 Herrnhuter Gesangbuch contains 56 hymns of her composition, the most famous of which is Nr. 1027 “Verlobter König”. Despite later efforts to de-emphasize her importance, during her lifetime Anna Nitschmann was an object of widespread reverence. Archival records reveal lavish celebrations of her birthday throughout the Moravian world, from North America to Germany. Her death was as much of a shock to the Moravian church as was Zinzendorf’s.

However, it is important to consider what is missing from Anna Nitschmann’s archival records (SMABY 1997). Falling prey to the masking of female piety in post-1760 Bethlehem, the vast majority of her personal papers, diaries and letters were deliberately destroyed after her death (PEUCKER 2000); SMABY 1997 points to the additional, subtle ways in which Anna Nitschmann’s foundational activities were de-emphasized after 1761.

The recent discovery of a set of Anna Nitschmann’s addresses to the Single Sisters Choirs can give today’s reader some insight into her efficacy as a preacher (ZIMMERLING 2014, 253 and VOGT 1999). As mentioned above, both textual and visual evidence shows that Anna Nitschmann preached in America to men and women, both Quakers, Moravians, and other sects (VOGT 1999). Although VOGT 1999 argues that Anna preached only to other women in the Single Sisters choir and did not preach to men, FRIES 1924 argues the opposite. To date, biographers (JUNG 1999; ZIMMERLING 2005, 2014) have relied heavily on Anna Nitschmann’s own 1737 Lebenslauf. As PEUCKER 2000, SMABY 1997, and VOGT 1999 indicate, the deliberate destruction of Anna Nitschmann’s personal papers, letters, diaries, after her death in 1760 has relegated her to relative obscurity within the history of Pietism; however, her efficacy as a leader of Pietist women, a preacher, a hymn writer, and a missionary here in North America deserve more serious scholarly examination.

(un)Mapping Networks

How do you represent visually relationships between people and places that are, I have discovered, unmappable. Only in this last week, under the gun of a deadline thrice removed, did I finally realize that this is what I have been trying to do. Still working on a chapter for a book on Pennsylvania’s Babel of the 18th century, I needed to find a way to describe the dynamic and complex way in which not only Native peoples but Moravians, men and women, communicated and travelled in mid-18th century Pennsylvania. This is an important realization as, within the traditional historiography of this period, both Native and Euro women were just elided.  More recently, the focus has turned to Native women in in terms of their agency and mobility. However, what I have been wanting to discuss is how a group of women who were active as missionaries in the Moravian mission field of the 18th century brought with them their expertise from either Europe or the early settlements in New York State and Pennsylvania to effect a translation of culture and knowledge here on the Susquehanna River.

The source materials I have been working with for this chapter are predominantly unpublished, or, if published, reside in 18th century Fraktur imprints. Seemingly straightforward questions, such as birth dates and places, require lengthy investigations of manuscript sources or typed up lists of information taken from the Geburts- und Tauf Register of the Bethlehem communty (also unpublished) or other missions. Spreadsheets of names, dates, places that I have put together over the years have helped in these investigations. And in this quest I was to find out that this accounting of data over the last 25 years would help more than I could have imagined.

I have wanted to map the way in which these women lived and worked (in German I would use the verb “agieren”) in the mid-Atlantic. I wanted to show how their lived lives became an integral part of the warp and weft of the environment of the Pennsylvania backcountry. But to do that I had to also delve into why they were here, what brought them to this place at this time? How did they translate the skills, experiences, concepts of self that had been learned in the Pfalz, Germany, or a village near Oxford, England, or a farm close by the Mohican villages in upstate New York to the banks of the Susquehanna or the Lehigh rivers?

I started to make maps. Firing up my GIS layers, I mapped the missions, I mapped the women, I inserted date ranges. But it still was static. It didn’t show the movements of the women between the missions over time in an effective way (maybe because I am not as skillful at this as my students…) Then, staring at the DH Humanities list from my alma mater King’s College, London, I saw the announcement of palladio in beta out of Stanford. Assuming that this was a happy by-product of the well-known and ground-breaking project “Mapping the Republic of Letters” I decided to “dive in.”

When I first started working on the Moravian women’s memoirs 25 years ago I was surprisingly data driven. I wanted to know who these fascinating and diverse people were. One of the places in Bethlehem that inspired me to work on the Pietist group was the “Gottesacker” with its flat gravestones that are ordered in terms of marital status, age and gender and not by social ranking or racial group. I found the register of the Gottesacker and built a database of all the women who were buried there, found information about their birthplace, dates, brief biographies. When I looked at how data was supposed to be entered into Palladio, I thought this would be a good first project. With the help of my research assistant, Hein Thun, we entered all the exact locations of birth and death in longitude and latitude and then I entered this into the online program. What came out was good. A mapping of places from which the Bethlehem women came in the 18th century, both in terms of a geo-location and also a very basic visualization.

first visualization of Moravian women's birth places
First visualization in Palladio of Moravian women’s birth places
initial mapping of Moravian women's birth places
Initial Palladio mapping of Moravian women’s birth places

Having had some success with this visualization I wanted to try it with the missions and missionary women. But I couldn’t get it to show what I wanted. I was still too hung up on mappy maps.





It wasn’t until I talked to Andy Famiglietti, one of the Digital Scholarship co-ordinators at Bucknell, that I realized that I had to think of maps that weren’t maps. I had to remove the “geo” from my spatial thinking to visualize these relationships. This was not easy for me; really, really not easy. I had tried working with Gephi before, but it was only once Andy explained to me the fundamental rule of thinking about networks as relationships between two entities (not three, not four) that I understood why my attempts to date had failed. So, modifying the data, stripping it down to the “edges” of people and places, we were able to visualize what I had been looking for and trying to express in my chapter.

Screenshot 2014-04-02 15.15.16
Gephi produced network analysis of relations between Moravian women missionaries in the mid-Atlantic

It was truly a “eureka” moment. Yes, it is not the most elegant, or beautifully rendered visualization. But it showed what I wanted it to show, the strength of relationships between these women and their places of agency.



Curious to see how Palladio might represent this same data I fiddled around that night and came up with another, different, visualization of these people and places.


palladio visualization article
Using Palladio to visualize relations between Moravian women and mission place

Again, it is not beautiful and I have not fully explored the capacities of Palladio, but it is a beginning. A beginning of mapping without maps, of being able to render visible what has been invisible to date, namely, the strong network of women’s lives in the history of this place.