In May 1828 the Reverend Christoph Bergmann, pastor of Ebenezer’s Jerusalem Lutheran Church in Georgia, wrote to the Francke Foundations in Halle, Germany, to inquire about possible records in the archives that would shed light on the history of the Ebenezer community. Almost a century had passed since Ebenezer’s founding near the banks of the Savannah River in 1734 by a small group of Protestant exiles from the Catholic territory of Salzburg. With the passage of time, the community had grown, briefly thrived, spread, and eventually declined. The American Revolutionary War had devastated the community physically. Internal dissension had strained it spiritually. The residents’ assimilation into the American ethos of Georgia’s cultural landscape had altered its identity. Their gradual dispersion across the state’s topographical landscape had scattered them geographically.
Bergmann, the son of the last of the German-born pastors sent to Ebenezer from Halle, had come to realize that Ebenezer’s history, rapidly receding in the collective memory of the community, was in danger of being lost. The preservation of that history, beyond the mythologized story of “the Salzburgers” that it already had become, required documentation. The story needed to be written down.
Almost three decades later, in 1855, Philip Arthur Strobel (1812–82), a later successor of Bergmann at Jerusalem Church, fulfilled the need envisioned by his predecessor with the publication of The Salzburgers and Their Descendants: Being a History of a Colony of German (Lutheran) Protestants, Who Emigrated to Georgia in 1734, and Settled at Ebenezer, Twenty-Five Miles above the City of Savannah. Strobel, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, was himself not a descendent of Georgia’s Salzburger-Ebenezer community. His tenure at Jerusalem Church had been relatively brief, serving as pastor there between 1844 and 1849. Nonetheless, Strobel’s book, drawing on the available “literary archives” and “records in manuscript and print,” was a remarkable achievement for its time.
Prior to Strobel, only limited, fragmentary English language accounts of the Georgia Salzburgers and Ebenezer had appeared, usually as episodes in more sweeping narrative histories of Georgia or the American Lutheran Church. Strobel’s book was the first to offer an expansive and detailed work focused solely on Ebenezer, drawing on all of the extant sources known and available at the time. In doing so, Strobel framed a narrative of the “Georgia Salzburgers” that remained unsurpassed for the next one hundred years.
Yet even Strobel recognized that his account was far from complete. The destruction of Jerusalem Church’s records during the American Revolution had left gaping holes in his knowledge that later would be filled with the discovery of additional sources. The first major recultivation of the ground that Strobel had tilled came in 1960 from Hermann Winde with his ThD dissertation, submitted to the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, titled “Die Frühgeschichte der Lutherischen Kirche in Georgia” (The Early History of the Lutheran Church in Georgia). As the title of Winde’s dissertation indicates, the focus of his account extended beyond Ebenezer to take into account all of colonial Georgia. However, given Ebenezer’s relationship to other Lutheran communities in the state, it remained at the center of Winde’s investigation.
Drawing heavily from the archives of the Francke Foundations in Halle and the University of Tubingen, Winde was able to expand, deepen, and, in places, correct Strobel’s narrative. Historiographically and narratively, Winde’s dissertation provided a foundation for subsequent scholarship in the field similar to what Strobel had provided until that time.
However, unlike Strobel’s book, Winde’s unpublished dissertation was available only to a relatively small circle of German-reading scholars who had access to photocopies in scattered libraries.1 In 1984, George Fenwick Jones provided a fresh rendering of the “Georgia Salzburger” story and gave it wider accessibility with The Salzburger Saga: Religious Exiles and Other Germans along the Savannah and then again in 1992 with his more developed account The Georgia Dutch: From the Rhine and the Danube to the Savannah, 1733–1783.2
Winde, Jones, and others corrected, deepened, and expanded the narrative of Georgia’s Salzburger community pioneered by the work of Strobel. More-recent scholarship has tended to draw on the Georgia Salzburger-Ebenezer experience as a case study for a range of issues within the cultural and social world of the eighteenth century. These works have served the dual purpose of deepening and expanding knowledge of Ebenezer’s own history while using Ebenezer as a lens through which to view a variety of conditions and issues of the day. Notable examples include Charlotte E. Haver’s Von Salzburg nach Amerika: Mobilität und Kultur einer Gruppe religiöser Emigranten im 18. Jahrhundert (From Salzburg to America: Mobility and Culture of a Group of Religious Emigrants in the Eighteenth Century).3 Haver sees the Georgia Salzburgers as prototypical of emigrant communities of the past. She not only traces the story of their migration but analyzes the engagement of the community with other cultures in America, including Native, African American, and other European groups, while analyzing the process of the community’s acculturation into the American context.
Alexander Pyrges’s Das Kolonialprojekt EbenEzer: Formen und Mechanismen protestantischer Expansion in der atlantischen Welt des 18. Jahrhunderts (The Ebenezer Colonial Project: Forms and Mechanisms of Protestant Expansion in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World) examines the role of transatlantic relationships in shaping the particular course of the Ebenezer community.4 Ebenezer’s experience, in turn, casts a broader light onto the role of such relationships in the expansion and character of the established European Protestant church in the American colonies. The ability to transcend geographical and confessional boundaries, in the network of transatlantic relationships as well as by the religious communities on American soil, becomes an important factor in Pyrges’s analysis of the relationship between religion and the process of “socialization” that Ebenezer exemplifies.
Like Pyrges, James Van Horn Melton, in his Religion, Community, and Slavery on the Colonial Southern Frontier,5 adopts the framework of “the Atlantic world” for his analysis on two fronts: (1) the European context of the Salzburger emigrants who came to Georgia and (2) the engagement of the Ebenezer community with the institution of slavery in America. In doing so, Melton provides important and accessible detail to the emigrants’ story for English readers while insightfully weaving into a coherent narrative strands of the story often considered separately, including the alpine world of the Salzburgers, the religious world of German Pietism, and “the ‘entangled’ Atlantic world of the Georgia colony and its British sponsors” amid its various cultural and social complexities.6
An even more recent example of the use of the Georgia Salzburger-Ebenezer community to illuminate broader scholarly interests is the 2020 PhD dissertation by Christine Marie Koch, “Salzburger Migrants and Communal Memory in Georgia.”7 Koch explores the origins, development, and transmission of the categories “Salzburger,” “Salzburger descendant” (in which Strobel’s book plays an important role), and “Georgia-Salzburger” as concepts and identity in three successive phases from 1731 to 2018. Drawing on memory studies methodologies, Koch points in particular to the role of the conceptualization of the term “Salzburger” in the construction of “white memory” in relation to other ethnic groups. More generally, her work aims to illustrate “the complex relationship between manifestations of history as memory and imaginary collectives.”8
The work that has emerged since Strobel has benefited greatly from the availability of sources inaccessible in the nineteenth century. George Fenwick Jones opened the door with his translation project for the eighteen-volume Detailed Reports on the Salzburger Emigrants Who Settled in America.9 These journals of Ebenezer’s founding pastors, though edited at the time for popular audiences in Europe, have provided invaluable access and insight into the life of the Ebenezer community. A wealth of information also has become available through the website of the Francke Foundations’ archives in Halle, offering not only the catalogue listing of holdings related to the Ebenezer community but also summaries of many of the documents.10 The Francke Foundations, in cooperation with the Georgia Salzburger Society, has also produced a bilingual guide, with summaries of the relevant documents in its collection, under the title Salzburg—Halle—Nordamerika: Ein zweisprachiges Find—und Lesebuch zum Georgia-Archiv der Franckeschen Stiftungen (Salzburg—Halle—North America: A Bilingual Catalogue with Summaries of the Georgia Manuscripts in the Francke Foundations).11 More recently, an English translation of the letters of Johann Martin Boltzius, Ebenezer’s founding pastor, has appeared.12 In addition, an English translation of the letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Christoph Bergmann’s father, is currently in preparation for publication. These resources contain a wealth of information yet to be explored for their significance not only for religion but also with regard to politics, economics, race, and gender, among other areas of interest, in the context of Ebenezer’s past.
While the availability of these additional sources places current scholars closer to the historical record than was Strobel, Strobel’s book remains far closer to the sensibilities of the people whose story it narrates. Writing in the style and conventions of his day, and with his own purposes in mind, Strobel aimed not merely to recount the community’s history but to engage it. He did not hesitate to take sides in past disputes that had divided the community. He used his account to promote a piety that competed with other visions of Lutheran identity in his own time. His unqualified endorsement of the faction in Ebenezer that supported independence transforms, at least in part, the “Georgia Salzburger” story into a chapter in the larger story of American triumphalism. When he reported the decision of Ebenezer, after initial resistance by Boltzius, to allow slavery into the community, he described a practice that was still current, likely among members of his own congregation.
In sum, the arc of the scholarship covering the Ebenezer community and the “Georgia Salzburgers” extends from the foundation laid by Strobel, through the expansion and reworking of the narrative in the second half of the twentieth century, to the application of the story in its social and cultural context in more-recent scholarship. Throughout, Strobel’s book remains a partner in the conversation. Although surpassed, corrected, and even criticized, The Salzburgers and Their Descendants even now cannot be ignored. Strobel’s book remains a work of interest not only for its foundational role as a source for the history of “the Salzburgers and their descendants”; it has now also endured to become a part of that history.
RUSSELL C. KLECKLEY
1. Currently, an English translation of Winde’s dissertation is in preparation for publication.
2. George Fenwick Jones, The Salzburger Saga: Religious Exiles and Other Germans along the Savannah (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984); Jones, The Georgia Dutch: From the Rhine and the Danube to the Savannah, 1733<n>1783 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992).
3. Charlotte E. Haver, Von Salzburg nach Amerika: Mobilität und Kultur einer Gruppe religiöser Emigranten im 18. Jahrhundert (Munich: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2011).
4. Alexander Pyrges, Das Kolonialprojekt EbenEzer: Formen und Mechanismen protestantischer Expansion in der atlantischen Welt des 18. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2015).
5. James Van Horn Melton, Religion, Community, and Slavery on the Colonial Southern Frontier (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
6. Ibid., 12.
7. Christine Marie Koch, “Salzburger Migrants and Communal Memory in Georgia” (PhD dissertation, University of Paderborn, 2020).
8. Ibid., 376.
9. George Fenwick Jones et al., ed. and trans., Detailed Reports on the Salzburger Emigrants Who Settled in America…Edited by Samuel Urlsperger, vols. 1–17 (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1968–95); vol. 18 (Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1995).
11. Thomas J. Müller-Bahlke and Jürgen Gröschl, eds., Salzburg—Halle—Nordamerika (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1999).
12. Russell C. Kleckley, ed. and trans., The Letters of Johann Martin Boltzius: Lutheran Pastor in Ebenezer, Georgia, 2 vols. (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009).