Descent of the British upon Georgia—General Provost takes Savannah—British posts along the river—Mr. Triebner takes the oath of allegiance to the crown, and conducts troops to Ebenezer—A garrison established under Major Maitland—Proclamation issued by Major Maitland—Some of the Salzburgers take “protections”—Majority of the Salzburgers Whigs—Governor Treutlen—Holsendorf—John and Samuel Stirk—John Schnider—Strohaker—Jonathan and Gotlieb Schnider—Jonathan Rahn—Ernest Zittrauer—Joshua and Jacob Helfenstein—Sufferings of the Salzburgers during the war—Tories—Eichel and Martin Dasher—Marauding parties—Frederick Helfenstein and his two sons—General Wayne—The Salzburgers forced to abandon their homes—Sufferings at Ebenezer—Prisoners—Sergeants Jasper and Newton—Sacrilegious act of the British toward the church at Ebenezer—Other acts of cruelty—Mistaken policy of the British—Sad influence of the licentiousness of the British troops upon the morals of Ebenezer—Pastor Triebner—His removal to England and death—General character of the pastors at Ebenezer—Triebner an exception—Dispensations of Providence—General Wayne attempts the reduction of Savannah—British troops withdrawn from Ebenezer—General Wayne makes his headquarters there—British evacuate Savannah—Salzburgers return to Ebenezer—Scene of desolation—Condition of the church—Congregation without a pastor—Petition sent to Germany—Dr. Muhlenburg’s concern for the Salzburgers—A minister visits Ebenezer—Dr. Muhlenburg’s letter—Vindication of Mr. Triebner—Pastor to be sent in the spring—Despondency among the Salzburgers—Darkness begins to disappear—New pastor about to be sent.
THE Revolutionary War commenced in 1775. But it was not till 1779 that any demonstration was made against Georgia. In that year, General Provost, acting under instructions from Sir Henry Clinton, made a descent upon Georgia, and met with comparatively little resistance. He made his head-quarters at Savannah, and proceeded to establish posts along the western bank of the Savannah river. When Mr. Triebner heard that General Provost was in Savannah, he waited upon him, took the oath of allegiance to the crown, and advised that Ebenezer should be occupied by royal troops. This was accordingly done, and Mr. Triebner had the honour (?) to conduct a detachment of British soldiers to Ebenezer. These troops were under the command of Major Maitland. Upon arriving at Ebenezer, they threw up a redoubt within a few hundred yards of the church, with a view to fortify their position and guard against a surprise. The remains of this fortification are still standing.
Upon arriving at Ebenezer, Major Maitland issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of St. Matthew’s Parish, offering the protection of the British arms to all who might be disposed to take an oath of loyalty and allegiance to the crown. Many of the Salzburgers, influenced by the advice and example of Mr. Triebner, accepted this offer, and obtained certificates guaranteeing protection to themselves and to their property. The majority of the Salzburgers, however, warmly espoused the Republican cause. Those who figured most conspicuously were John Adam Treutlen, rebel governor; William Holsendorf, a rebel counsellor; John Stirk, rebel colonel; Samuel Stirk, rebel secretary; John Schnider, planter; Rudolph Strohaker, butcher. Beside these, mention should be made of Jonathan Schnider, J. Gotlieb Schnider, Jonathan Rahn, Ernest Zittrauer, Joshua and Jacob Helfenstein, and others. Most of these worthy men served faithfully in the struggle for independence, under General Wayne and other officers in the American army, and their names deserve to be perpetuated with the long list of worthies who distinguished themselves by their devotion to the cause of liberty.
The citizens of Ebenezer and the surrounding country were made to feel very severely the effects of the war. The property of those who did not take the oath of allegiance was confiscated, and they were constantly exposed to every species of insult and wrong from a hired and profligate soldiery. Beside this, some of the Salzburgers who espoused the cause of the crown became very inveterate in their hostility to the Whigs in the settlement, and pillaged and then burned their dwellings. The residence on the farm of the pious Rabenhorst, was among the first that was given to the flames.
Among those who distinguished themselves for their cruelty, was one EICHEL, who has been properly termed an “inhuman miscreant,” whose residence was at Goshen; and MARTIN DASHER, who kept a public-house five miles below Ebenezer. These men placed themselves at the head of marauding parties, composed of British and Tories, and laid waste every plantation or farm whose occupant was even suspected of favouring the republican cause. In these predatory excursions the most revolting cruelty and unbridled licentiousness were indulged, and the whole country was overrun and devastated. Dasher seems to have distinguished himself fully as much as Eichel, though perhaps he was not quite so cruel. He had stolen some cattle from a poor widow, and General Wayne, while occupying Ebenezer, sent him word that if he did not restore them to her in person, he would have him taken into custody and gibbeted. This threat had the desired effect, and Dasher became less troublesome to his neighbours.
Mention has been made of Mr. Frederick Helfenstein, who settled at Goshen. He had acquired some property before the war commenced, and might have been considered in comfortable circumstances. It is known that he owned a large tannery in successful operation, a good farm, and several valuable Negroes. Of all this property he was dispossessed by the Tories, (or Cow-boys, as they were then called,) and he was left penniless to begin the world anew. Thus it would seem that his misfortunes did not cease even after his settlement in Georgia. Yet he never deserted the Whig cause, and furnished, in the persons of his sons, several bold soldiers during the war. Two of them joined a troop of cavalry under Colonel McCoy, and subsequently served under General Wayne. When General Wayne, at the close of the war, returned to Pennsylvania, (his native State,) these two brothers, Joshua and Jacob Helfenstein, accompanied him, and it is more than probable that from them the Helfenstein family in Pennsylvania is descended, several of whom are now distinguished preachers in the German Reformed Church. In Georgia the name has been changed to Helvenston. Mr. John C. Helvenston, of Macon county, Georgia, and his brother, residing in Florida, no doubt belong to the same family. Mr. Frederick Helfenstein died at Goshen at the advanced age of eighty-three, and his wife, who survived him many years, at the extreme old age of ninety-three !
The Salzburgers, nevertheless, were to experience great annoyances from other sources. General Clinton, as before stated, had directed that a line of British posts should be established all along the western bank of the Savannah river, to check the demonstrations of the rebel forces in Carolina. Under these circumstances Ebenezer, from its somewhat central position, became a kind of thoroughfare for the British troops in passing through the country from Augusta to Savannah. To the inhabitants of Ebenezer, particularly, this was a source of perpetual annoyance. British troops were constantly quartered among them, and to avoid the rudeness of the soldiers and the heavy tax upon their resources, many of the best citizens were forced to abandon their homes, and settle in the country, thus leaving their houses to the mercy of their cruel invaders.
Besides all this, they were forced to witness almost daily acts of cruelty practised by the British and Tories toward those Americans who happened to fall into their hands as prisoners of war; for it will be remembered that Ebenezer, while in the hands of the British, was the point to which all prisoners taken in the surrounding country were brought, and from thence sent to Savannah. It was from this post that the prisoners were carried who were rescued by Sergeant Jasper and his comrade, Newton, at the “Jasper Spring,” a few miles above Savannah.
There was one act performed by the British commander which was peculiarly trying and revolting to the Salzburgers. Their fine brick church was converted into a hospital for the accommodation of the sick and wounded, and subsequently it was desecrated by being used as a stable for their horses. To this latter use it was devoted until the close of the war and the removal of the British troops from Georgia. To show their contempt for the church, and their disregard for the religious sentiments of the people, the church records were nearly all destroyed, and the soldiers would discharge their guns at different objects on the church; and even to this day the metal “swan” (Luther’s coat of arms,) which surmounts the spire on the steeple, bears the mark of a musket ball, which was fired through it by a reckless soldier. Often, too, cannon were discharged at the houses; and there is a log house now standing not far from Ebenezer, which was perforated by several cannon shot. In short, it was the policy (an unwise one, truly) of the English officers at this post, as it was at every other which they occupied, to make their power felt, and by mere brutal force to awe the colonists into subjection. The Salzburgers endured all these hardships and indignities with becoming fortitude ; and though a few were overcome by these severe measures, yet the great mass of them remained firm in their attachment to the principles of liberty.
One of the most serious consequences which resulted to Ebenezer and the neighbourhood, from the occupancy of the town by the British, was the sad state of morals which ensued. The soldiers were licentious in the extreme, and tippling-houses were established for their accommodation in several parts of the town. These became the resort for the soldiers and many of those Salzburgers who espoused the royal cause, and thus habits of intemperance were introduced, and the once sober and moral Germans soon learned to imitate the vicious practices of their corrupt and debased English associates. It was bad enough to desecrate the church, to devastate the country, and to drive off the inhabitants. These were, however, light evils compared with the poisonous moral influences which were spread among those who remained, by the vicious practices which are always more or less incident upon the soldier’s life in the camp. These effects were seen and felt many years after the Revolution terminated.
It might be interesting to some, to insert a detailed account of the events which are said to have occurred at Ebenezer during the war, but many of them rest upon rather questionable authority, and are, besides, not of much historical value. The most important to our narrative is the part which was taken by Mr. Triebner, the pastor at Ebenezer. He seems to have remained unmoved amid all the wrongs which the Salzburgers suffered from the British; and when the war terminated he accompanied the English troops to England, where he continued to reside until he attained the advanced age of seventy-eight years. It was a wise movement on his part to leave the country in company with the English troops; for in view of the extreme lengths to which he went in carrying out his Tory principles, it is certain that the Salzburgers would never afterward have tolerated him. It was therefore a fortunate thing for him, that he found an asylum in England, where he could end his days in retirement and comparative peace.
The departure of Mr. Triebner occasioned no regrets among those Salzburgers who had sympathized with the Whigs of the Revolution, and we doubt very much if his friends cherished any particular desire to retain him. His appointment as one of the pastors at Ebenezer was very unfortunate in every respect, but it furnishes another mournful evidence of the fallibility of human judgment. The patrons of the Salzburgers, in Germany, exercised always, as they supposed, a wise discrimination in selecting pastors for the Ebenezer congregations; and it is worthy of remark that this was the only instance in which their judgment was at fault; but alas! what mournful consequences resulted even from this one mistake! It was, however, permitted for some wise purpose; and although with our present darkened vision we cannot comprehend the design which God contemplated, it is the duty of the Christian to bow in humble submission, and believe that the glory of God will be promoted even by those events in the history of the church which are seemingly the most adverse. Sometimes he permits an ungodly minister to creep into a church, to test the stability of his people in the trial of their faith and patience. Sometimes he orders it as a punishment for the want of faithfulness in the discharge of their Christian duties. But, whatever may be the design of such occurrences, it is for us always to feel persuaded that God will not forsake his church, and that even “the gates of hell shall never prevail against her.”
In the year 1783 the American troops, under General Wayne, attempted to recover Savannah from the British. General Clarke, who commanded the royal troops in that city, called in his outposts, and made preparations to defend his position. The British troops being thus withdrawn from Ebenezer, General Wayne established his head-quarters there. Between the 12th and 25th of July, 1783, all the English forces stationed at Savannah, amounting to twelve hundred royalists and regulars, besides women, children, Indians, and Negroes, sailed from the port of Savannah; the garrison having capitulated to General Wayne and other American officers. Thus Georgia, after having been three years, six months, and thirteen days in possession of the British, was abandoned after an inglorious attempt to subjugate her people to the control of the mother country.
As soon as the British left Georgia, the Salzburgers had an opportunity to return to their much beloved Ebenezer. This many of them did; but alas! what a scene of desolation was presented! Many of their dwellings had been burned, others had been very much injured, their gardens were completely destroyed, and the general aspect of the place so entirely changed that they could scarcely realize that here they had once had their homes, in which they and their children had dwelt in safety and peace, and that around those homes had clustered the warmest sympathies and most ardent affections of their hearts. They, however, went to work immediately to repair their houses, and to restore, as far as they might be able, order out of the general ruin which everywhere prevailed.
One of the first objects to which the pious Salzburgers directed their attention, was the renovation of their church. This they found in a most deplorable condition. True, they were not compelled to adopt the lamentation of the prophet: “Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire;” but they could say, “all our pleasant things are laid waste.” It has already been stated that the British had converted the church into a hospital, and subsequently into a stable for their horses. For this latter purpose they continued to use it until their departure from Ebenezer. As a matter of course, the Salzburgers found it in a foul and most disgusting state; and to render it again decent and fit for use as a place for divine worship, was a task almost equal to cleansing the famous “Augean stables.” But although there was no Peneus whose waters they could cause to flow through their church, yet by industry and perseverance they removed the filth which had accumulated, repaired the edifice, and having completely renovated it, they once more assembled for the worship of God. Amid the angry contentions, and the scenes of strife and carnage incident upon the war; many of them had remained faithful in their devotion to their divine Redeemer, and to the religion of their fathers. Even when they were scattered abroad, and were driven from place to place by their enemies, they assembled in groups for the purpose of prayer and mutual edification. Now that their church was restored to them, they longed ardently to meet in the sanctuary with the solemn assembly, and worship according to the forms which had descended to them from their ancestors, and which were hallowed by so many endearing associations. But who shall call them to the house of God? The faithless Triebner had abandoned them; the pious and beloved Rabenhorst was sleeping “his last sleep,” and there was nowhere to be found any one to sympathize with them in their distress, or to succour them in this the hour of their greatest need. They were made to realize that they had been left in a state of spiritual orphanage. They were without a pastor. If there was a time, since their arrival in Georgia, when they stood mostly in need of a wise and faithful minister, it was at this juncture. But alas! they knew of no man speaking their language, and sympathizing with them in this their day of severe trial, who would be willing to become their spiritual shepherd, and “lead them into the green pastures, and beside the still waters” of life.
In their destitution they naturally turned their attention to the much-loved fatherland. The elders of the church called together the scattered members of this once large and interesting flock, and banding themselves together as brethren, they renewed their covenant engagements with God, and then addressed an affectionate letter to the reverend fathers in Germany, humbly but earnestly requesting that a pastor might be sent over “to break unto them the bread of life.” A fraternal correspondence was opened, and their patrons in Germany expressed not only their warm sympathy with the Salzburgers in their present distress, but their determination to send them a suitable minister as soon as one could be obtained.
Dr. Muhlenburgh also interested himself on behalf of the Salzburgers. He wrote to Germany, urging the necessity of prompt action on the part of the church there in sending a preacher to Ebenezer. These efforts were not in vain, as shall presently be seen. But while they were pending, a Lutheran minister visited the churches at Savannah and Ebenezer, (for they had both suffered alike during the war,) and he was temporarily employed until the congregation could be supplied from Germany. The following letter, written by Dr. Muhlenburg to the Hon. Mr. Davis, will show what the friends in Germany were doing. It also contains some other facts which will be read with interest. The letter, it will be noticed, was written in 1784, just after the close of the war.
“New Providence, April 19, 1784.
“DEAR SIR:—As to the accounts concerning the circumstances of the Ebenezer congregation, with which you have been pleased to favour me, I am very much obliged to you for your confidence and ancient friendship. It seemed to me somewhat strange and unexpected, when I heard that the house on Mr. Rabenhorst’s plantation had been burned down, and that the congregation had hired a young minister from Germany. On the same day that your letter arrived, I received an important one from Germany, from the unwearied benefactor, Rev. S. Urlsperger, D.D., and President of the Protestant Evangelical Consistory in Augsburg, containing, among others, the following facts:
1. The Rev. Mr. Triebner has, since his arrival in England, honestly paid the principal and interest of the three hundred pounds sterling belonging to Ebenezer church, (unto the Rev. S. Urlsperger,) which the deceased Mr. Caspar Wertsch owed him. Also, whatsoever Mr. Triebner himself owed to the said President he has discharged, and is acquitted.
2. Moreover, the Rev. Dr. Urlsperger offers, that if some one or other of the Ebenezer congregation may have a just and lawful claim against Mr. Triebner, if it be laid before him lawfully proved and attested, it shall be duly paid.
3. He would, during the winter season, endeavour to find out and call a faithful and suitable minister for Ebenezer congregation, and had such a one already in view, to be sent in the spring to Ebenezer, if it pleased God to grant his blessing to it.
4. The reverend fathers will grant the interest of the capital which lays upon the estate of the late Rev. Rabenhorst toward the support of the new minister, and therefore the said principal ought to be well secured.
5. The said fathers have asked the honourable Society in London, whether they would be pleased to continue their benefactions toward supporting a minister and schoolmaster at Ebenezer? and have received for answer, that the Society could not extend their benefactions except to British subjects, and had now to provide for a multitude of poor objects.
6. The reverend President mentions that he has forwarded a letter to the wardens and elders at Ebenezer, which I hope has arrived, and will no doubt give them satisfaction and comfort, so that I have only to add my due respects.
Your well-wishing friend and humble servant.
HENRY M. MUHLENBURG.”
“To the Hon. Mr. Davis.”
This letter entirely removes all suspicion in reference to the supposed dishonesty of Mr. Triebner, in the management of that part of the Ebenezer church fund which he controlled; and also exonerates Mr. Wertsch from all blame in regard to the three hundred pounds which he held as a store-fund. It is important, as showing that the aid which the “Society for the Promotion of Christianity” had extended to the Salzburgers, was withdrawn immediately upon the establishment of the independence of the States. The Salzburgers were no longer “British” subjects, and of course, were removed beyond the charities of the Society. Further, it proves, that even after the Revolution the reverend fathers claimed and exercised the right to appoint the pastor for the Ebenezer congregation, and this right was duly admitted by the wardens and elders of the church. Thus the dependence of the Salzburgers upon the church in Germany for ministerial service, as well as for pecuniary aid, continued until the year 1785, about which time a new pastor arrived in Georgia.
Up to this time the prospects of the Salzburgers had been very dark, both as regards their temporal and spiritual interests. They recovered rather slowly from the sad effects of the war. But they never suffered themselves to despair. They had been disciplined in a severe school, and had learned that it is unwise to yield to the force of circumstances, how forbidding soever they might be. They therefore laboured on patiently and perseveringly, hoping for happier and more prosperous days. They believed, too, that their benefactors in Germany would not be unmindful of their spiritual destitution, and with prayerful and believing hearts they looked to God, to send them, through these benefactors, a faithful and godly minister—one who would come imbued with the spirit of his station, and preach to them that word which had been their chief solace in the hours of their deepest calamity. Their prayers were heard, and in due time their pastor came. And thus, as the darkest clouds which obscure the sun are nevertheless tinged by some of his golden rays, adding even beauty to the darkness, so they were enabled to discover, amid the murky clouds which seemed to overhang their prospects, some bright indications of the divine favour, which filled them with holy joy, and afforded them the earnest that a brighter and better day was about to dawn upon them, and that they should yet see the glory of God as they had seen it in the sanctuary, an denjoy once again, not only temporal but spiritual prosperity.