General Oglethorpe visits England—Favourable condition of the colony—Trustees determine to send out reinforcements—Aid from British Parliament—Character of the colonists engaged—Highlanders and Salzburgers—Liberal terms proposed by the Trustees—Captain Hermsdorff and Baron Von Reck—The Trustees charter the “London Merchant” and the “Symond”—The “great embarkation”—English and German emigrants—Moravians under Bishop Nitschman—John and Charles Wesley—Departure from England—Storm at sea—Effect of the conduct of the Germans upon Mr. Wesley—Testimony of Dr. Jackson, President of British Conference—Mr. Wesley’s spiritual condition—Conference with Mr. Spangenburg—Influence of the Moravians—Rev. Peter Boehler—Salzburgers confounded with the Moravians—Mistake of Mr. Bancroft—Removal of Moravians to Pennsylvania—Mr. Wesley’s religious experience—Extract from his journal—Subsequent visit to England—His conversion—Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans—Mr. Wesley’s preaching after his conversion—Forms “Societies,” the basis of Wesleyan Methodism—The Methodist Church a fruit of the Lutheran Reformation—Arrival of the “embarkation” at Savannah—Settlement of Salzburgers on St. Simon’s Island—Views of the Germans in relation to war—Reinforcement at Ebenezer—Lutheran settlement at Frederica—Rev. U. Dreisler—Revs. Bolzius and Gronau visit Savannah—Conference with General Oglethorpe—Salzburgers dissatisfied with their location, and desire a change—General Oglethorpe visits Ebenezer—Reasons of the Salzburgers for desiring to remove—General Oglethorpe’s advice and kindness to the Salzburgers—Change of location determined upon
THE affairs of the colonists, both at Savannah and at Ebenezer, being considered in a favourable condition, General Oglethorpe determined to visit his friends in England. Taking with him a number of Indians and other persons, he departed from Savannah in the winter of 1784, and arrived in England early the following spring. His representations to the Trustees of the flattering prospects of their colony, induced that honourable body to resolve upon strengthening it by sending out new settlers, and by taking the necessary steps to provide for its greater security.
In July, 1735, publication was made, that the Trustees would provide for the transportation of a given number of such persons as might be approved by them. The terms proposed were so liberal, and the success of the colony being no longer a matter of doubt, upward of twelve hundred persons made application to be sent over to Georgia. Though the funds of the Trustees had been greatly increased by the very liberal grant from the British Parliament of £26,000, yet they did not feel warranted in giving encouragement to any but worthy persons, and such as would be likely to prove of advantage to the colony. It was therefore resolved that this embarkation should consist chiefly of the Highlanders from Scotland and the persecuted Salzburgers from Germany.
In accordance with this determination, the Trustees invited one hundred Germans from the city of Ratisbon to remove to Georgia, and settle under their patronage. They engaged to give them a free passage, with an ample supply of sea-stores, and a freehold of fifty acres of land to every settler, together with such an outfit of clothes, tools, and farming utensils, as might be deemed necessary. To these proposals the Salzburgers consented, and about eighty of them, under the conduct of Captain Hermsdorf and Baron Von Reck, repaired to England to avail themselves of the liberality of the Trustees.
A sufficient number of emigrants having been secured, the Trustees chartered for their transportation two ships, the Symond, of two hundred tons, Captain Joseph Cornish, and the London Merchant, of the same burden, Captain John Thomas. The whole number consisted of two hundred and twenty-seven persons. This was called the great embarkation. Besides the Salzburgers and a number from England, there were twenty-seven Moravians, under the care of one of their bishops, the Rev. David Nitschman. General Oglethorpe accompanied this expedition, and took with him several English gentlemen of distinction. Among the passengers were Messrs. John and Charles Wesley, the former of whom was going to Georgia, by invitation of General Oglethorpe, to preach the gospel to the Indians, and to improve, as far as might be practicable, the moral and religious condition of the colony.
The Symond and the London Merchant sailed from Gravesend on the 20th of October, 1735 under convoy of His Majesty’s sloop-of-war Hawk, Captain Gascoine. It was not, however, until the 10th of December that they passed the Needles, and lost sight of the English coast. This voyage was a long and tempestuous one. There were frequent and violent storms, and on several occasions the vessels were in imminent danger of being shipwrecked. During one of these terrible gales, an incident occurred, the results of which will in all probability be felt until the end of time.
It has been noticed that among the passengers were Messrs. John and Charles Wesley. The former had received orders in the Church of England, and was now on his voyage to engage in the duties of his high vocation. The German passengers, by their humble piety, had attracted Mr. Wesley’s attention, and awakened in his mind special interest on their behalf; and God, in his providence, seems to have designed that they were to exercise an important influence upon his religious character and his future history. On a Sabbath, about noon, while the Salzburgers and other Germans were engaged in public worship, a storm suddenly arose, which seems to have surpassed in violence every other that occurred during the voyage. Amid the commotion of the elements nearly every heart quaked, and some almost died with fear. Mr. Wesley himself was seriously alarmed at the imminent peril in which he and his fellow-passengers were placed. Notwithstanding his Christian profession, and his relation to the church as one of her accredited ministers, there was something wanting in his spiritual experience to fortify his mind against the fear of death. But far otherwise were the feelings of the pious Salzburgers and Moravians. While the tempest raged and the swelling billows threatened to engulf them, they calmly sang the praises of God, and manifested the most perfect self-composure and exemption from all fear, under the most appalling circumstances.
When the tempest had subsided, Mr. Wesley inquired of one of the Germans, “Were you not afraid ?” He mildly replied, “I thank God, no!” “But were not your women and children afraid?” He answered, “No! our women and children are not afraid to die !” Dr. Jackson, President of the British Conference, speaking of this occurrence in his Centenary of Methodism, remarks : “In these strangers the English Methodists beheld Christianity in a light more gentle, attractive, and consoling than that in which they had ever before seen it.
“In storms and hurricanes, when others were ready to die with fear, they calmly sang the praises of God, expressing a cheerful confidence and resignation in the prospect of immediately perishing in the great deep. With the tempers of these people the Wesleys were, at this time, personally unacquainted. Neither of them was delivered from the fear of death, and they had no just conception of the holy cheerfulness which is produced by an application of the blood of Christ to the conscience, and the abiding witness and operations of the heavenly Comforter. Theirs was a religion of fear and mortification, rather than of holy peace and joy.”
It was under these circumstances that Mr. Wesley’s attention was for the first time arrested to his spiritual condition; and now he realized what he had never done before, the groundlessness of his religious hopes, and his destitution of that religious faith which is necessary to justify the sinner and impart perfect peace to the mind.
The impressions made upon Mr, Wesley by the conduct of these Germans during the voyage were strengthened upon his arrival at Savannah. Here he was introduced to Mr. Spangenburg, one of the Moravian pastors, who had reached that place some time previously. Mr. Wesley immediately applied to this devoted man for advice in reference to his future course. Mr. Spangenburg, in complying with Mr. Wesley’s wishes, questioned him very closely concerning his religious experience. This conversation, while it revealed more fully to Mr. Wesley his ignorance of experimental religion, also explained the cause of those fears which he had experienced during the storm at sea. “His heart was not yet right in the sight of God.”
It will not be denied that Mr. Wesley received more instruction from the Moravians than from the Salzburgers ; and he himself declares that he had derived more light from the Rev. Peter Boehler than from any other man with whom he had ever conversed. But still it will be manifest to every impartial mind that is familiar with all the facts, that Mr. Wesley beheld in the persons of the Germans who were his fellow-passengers, and by far the great majority of whom were Salzburgers, the first practical illustration of the happy influence of genuine piety upon the disposition, affections, and general deportment of those who have experienced it. Whatever benefit Mr. Wesley may have subsequently received from the Moravians, and especially from Mr. Boehler, it is clear, that it was through his intercourse with the Salzburgers and other Germans at sea, under the circumstances already mentioned, that he obtained views of the true state of his own soul which he had never before experienced, and realized for the first time his want of that acceptance with God which is necessary to tranquillize the heart, and give serenity to the conscience, under all the varied circumstances of life.
The question might be asked, why does Mr. Wesley make such particular mention of the “Moravians,” and the instructions which he had received from their pastors, while he says nothing of the Salzburgers, who were Lutherans ? The answer to this question is, that Mr. Wesley seems not to have distinguished the former from the latter, their characters being so very similar; and hence he speaks of them all as “Germans.”
A similar error has been committed by Mr. Bancroft in his history of the United States. In every instance in which he speaks of the German colonists at Ebenezer, he calls them “Moravians.” It is time that these false impressions had been removed.
The Moravians never made any permanent settlement in Georgia. When the Spanish war broke out, they removed, almost to a man, to the State of Pennsylvania, because it was contrary to their religious faith to take up arms in any cause. Hence, they never left the impress of their peculiar tenets and usages upon any portion of the colony.
Beside this, the pastors of the Moravians were with them, and it was very natural that Mr. Wesley should look to them for instruction; but the Salzburgers were unaccompanied by any spiritual teacher, their pastors having been settled at Ebenezer for nearly two years. Now, whatever may have been the causes operating upon Mr. Wesley afterward, and by what means soever he was more fully indoctrinated in the essential principles of Christianity, it must still remain true, that it was at sea, while sailing with the German emigrants, that the practical influence of evangelical religion was first realized by him; and it may not be assuming too much to express the opinion that, but for his intercourse with the Salzburgers and other Germans, connected with the peculiar incidents of this voyage, he might have long remained unconscious of his spiritual condition, and he might possibly never have realized it. For, as he himself remarks, “I was ignorant of the nature of saving faith, apprehending it to mean no more than a firm assent to all the propositions contained in the Old and New Testament.”
Two years after his first visit to Georgia, Mr. Wesley returned to England, and shortly after his arrival he made the following note in his journal: “It is now two years and nearly four months since I went to America to teach the Georgia Indians the nature of Christianity; but what have I learned of myself in the mean time ? why (what of all I least expected) that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.” It is a matter of history, that subsequently Mr. Wesley was converted at a prayer-meeting, which he attended among the Moravians in Aldersgate street, London, while one was reading Luther’s preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, in which the great Reformer has given such a clear elucidation of the doctrine of justification by faith.
No sooner was Mr. Wesley converted, than he commenced to preach the great doctrines of repentance and faith, and the necessity of a radical change of heart and life to all who would secure their salvation. The proclamation of these doctrines in England, where religion in the Established Church had degenerated into a lifeless formality, together with the earnest and convincing manner in which he enforced them, aroused against him so strong a prejudice, that he was, as if by common consent, excluded from the churches of the Establishment, and was compelled to preach in the open air. One measure naturally led to another, and soon Mr. Wesley found it necessary to form those “Societies” which afterward became the basis of that ecclesiastical organization known as “Wesley an Methodism;” a system, whose beneficial effects upon the spiritual condition of the world, have been seen and felt in almost every part of the globe, and will no doubt continue to exert a wider and still wider influence until the end of time.
It is, therefore, not assuming too much, to say that Mr. Wesley’s conversion and the establishment of the Methodist Church may be regarded as the legitimate fruits of the Lutheran Reformation. And it is an easy matter, in this view of the subject, to account for the striking similarity which exists between the doctrines of the Lutheran and Methodist churches.
In contemplating these occurrences, we are constrained to admire the mysterious combination of circumstances by which God accomplishes some of his most gracious purposes. We see in the German exiles, who were fellow-passengers with Mr. Wesley, a band of faithful disciples, flying from religious intolerance in the land of their nativity, and seeking for freedom of conscience in a distant country. Going forth upon their pilgrimage, they are, in the providence of God, brought in contact with a personage of great genius and learning, upon whose heart their exemplary deportment and calm and heavenly temperament make a lasting impression ; and he subsequently becomes, through the transforming power of the gospel, a chosen instrument, by which is put in motion the greatest moral revolution that has occurred since the Reformation by Luther. Thus, while the Christian pilgrim wanders to and fro in the earth, an outcast from his country, and exposed to privation and danger, he is made to sow, broad-cast as it were, the seed of divine truth; and the fruit of that sowing is seen increasing from generation to generation, and extending even to the latest period of time. Thus strangely, yet wisely, does God execute his merciful designs. “Oh the depth of riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out !”
But we must resume the thread of our narrative. The whole embarkation reached Georgia in safety, early in the month of February, 1736. General Oglethorpe proceeded immediately to arrange the colonists, and to send them to their respective places of destination. It would appear that it was originally designed that a great portion of the Salzburgers who came over at this time were to go to the southward, and aid in establishing the town of Frederica, on St. Simon’s Island, where it was proposed also to erect a fort and plant a garrison, to protect the frontier settlements. As, however, the Salzburgers manifested an unwillingness to go to the south, General Oglethorpe did not insist upon it. The reasons assigned by these pious men for this course were, that from the rumours which they had heard of the threatened invasion of Georgia by the Spaniards, their position at Frederica might render it necessary for them to take up arms, and as “fighting was against their religion,” they preferred not to place themselves in a situation where they would be compelled to do violence to their consciences. Besides, at the new settlement there would be no church, at least not for some time, and they therefore preferred to go to Ebenezer, where a congregation of their own people was already organized, and they could enjoy the instructions of the two pious ministers who resided there. However, although this was the feeling of the great mass of Germans, Captain Hermsdorf succeeded in raising a small company of volunteers, and they offered their services to General Oglethorpe, who requested that they might be put upon any service that might be deemed necessary. This company was accordingly ordered to Frederica, to aid in the defence of that place. It became the nucleus for a Lutheran church, which was organized in 1735, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Ulrich Driesler, a German missionary, sent over by the Trustees, and supported from their funds.
From the conduct of the Salzburgers on this occasion, we may learn something of the spirit which governed all their actions. Their religion taught them that war is inconsistent with the genius of Christianity, and is therefore to be avoided. As their spiritual improvement was of more importance than any worldly advantages which they might enjoy in other portions of the colony, they chose to relinquish these advantages, rather than forego the enjoyment of the preached word and the ordinances of the sanctuary. For these reasons the great majority of the Germans were allowed to go to Ebenezer, which they did without delay. Their arrival was hailed with much joy, and many were the kind greetings which these brethren exchanged upon being brought together under such favourable auspices. Thus, from the 12th of March, 1734, to the 8th of February, 1736, the day on which this last company arrived, about two hundred Salzburgers were settled at Ebenezer.
About this time Messrs. Bolzius and Gronau visited Savannah, to confer with General Oglethorpe in reference to the propriety of changing the location of the town. These gentlemen stated that there was very great dissatisfaction among their people; and they represented the colony at Ebenezer as being in such an unfavourable condition, that the general deemed it advisable for him to visit that place immediately. For this purpose he set out on the 10th of February, in company with the two ministers.
On reaching Ebenezer, where he was received with every mark of consideration due to his station, he patiently inquired into the causes of discontent among the people. These were various. They had been disappointed in the character of the soil, and their lands had not yielded them any thing like an adequate support. The climate had proved very unhealty, and many of their numbers had fallen victims to disease. Besides, the impracticability of navigating to any advantage the stream upon which their town was located, rendered their situation peculiarly distressing.
These reasons were not without weight, especially the latter. Here it may not be improper to inform the reader of the character of the watercourse upon which the Salzburgers originally settled. It is not properly a river, but a creek, which at times is swollen to a considerable size; and there is in Georgia hardly another stream so serpentine in its course, and so difficult to traverse. Some idea may be formed on this subject, when it is stated that although the distance from old Ebenezer to the Savannah river by land does not exceed six miles, the distance by the course of the creek is not less than twenty-five. Farms situated on its banks within two and three miles of each other, cannot be reached by water without travelling five to eight miles. It will thus be seen, that the difficulty of navigating this creek, which was the only outlet to the Savannah river, did furnish reasonable cause for dissatisfaction. The other grounds of complaint were equally worthy of consideration. There had been considerable mortality among the settlers, and the products of their farms had been so inadequate to their wants, that, but for the occasional supplies furnished by the Trustees from the public stores, their situation would have been very deplorable.
General Oglethorpe listened patiently to all the statements of the Salzburgers, and then counselled them with the kindness and frankness of an affectionate parent. He admitted that their dissatisfaction was not groundless, and that there were many embarrassments connected with their situation; but still their situation was not without its advantages. They had cleared their lands, erected dwellings, and made considerable progress with their town. If now they should remove, such a measure would be attended with great trouble and privation. The labour which they had expended would be all lost, and their circumstances, now sufficiently embarrassing, would be rendered still more so by the inconveniences and hardships of making a new settlement. He was also satisfied, from his acquaintance with the situation of the country to which they desired to remove, that as soon as the forests should be cleared, and the lands brought under cultivation, they would again be subject to the diseases peculiar to the climate, and would be forced to leave the neighbourhood. Still, if they persisted in their wishes, he would not oppose them, but would assist them, as far as practicable, in carrying out their designs. Subsequent events proved too painfully, the foresight and correct judgment of General Oglethorpe, and what was then merely an opinion, is now a matter of history. The general, having discharged his duty, in giving the Salzburgers such advice as was called for by the occasion, returned to Savannah, and left them to adopt such measures as they might deem most likely to promote their comfort and their interest.
Immediately upon the departure of General Oglethorpe, the Salzburgers held a consultation in reference to the expediency of seeking a new settlement. After giving the subject a serious and prayerful consideration, it was decided that it was not only desirable, but absolutely indispensable to the prosperity of the colony, to seek a more favourable locality. Thus, after remaining at old Ebenezer for only two years, it was found necessary to abandon it.