Chart and Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor
FIRST ENTRY IN A SERIES OF FOUR POSTS
DAVID NITSCHMANN, SR. (SEPTEMBER 18, 1676-APRIL 14, 1758)
“Father Nitschman;” Moravian Missionary
MELCHIOR NITSCHMANN (1702-FEBRUARY 27, 1729)
Moravian Missionary and Martyr
JOHANN NITSCHMANN, JR. (SEPTEMBER 25, 1712-JUNE 30, 1783)
Moravian Missionary and Bishop
ANNA CARITAS NITSCHMANN (NOVEMBER 24, 1715-MAY 21, 1760)
DAVID NITSCHMANN (DECEMBER 18, 1696-OCTOBER 5, 1772)
Missionary and First Bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church
The process of researching the Nitschmanns led me through a number of contradictory sources. I paid close attention to minor details to determine relationships. There were, for example, four David Nitschmanns (two of whom became bishops) and two Johann (or John) Nitschmanns (both of whom became bishops). I am not surprised, therefore, that some writers whose work I consulted confused one Johann (or John) Nitschmann with another. They were contemporaries (one born in 1703 and the other in 1712), after all. Also, I am aware that, in the age of the Internet, I can gain easy access to more information easily from home than was possible with more effort not long ago. Even with that ease of access to information I became confused along the way, until I checked details (such as birthplaces and geographical locations of certain people in specific years) again and again. I admit the possibility that I have made some mistakes or at least arrived at some inaccurate determinations (given the material available to me as well as human imperfection), but I have tried to be as accurate as possible.
I am aware that following the proverbial bouncing ball can prove challenging, so I have repeated certain details, such as lifespans and relationships frequently. I have reduced the bouncing-ball factor by breaking up one post into four, for the benefit of clarity.
Shall we begin, O reader?
The Nitschmann family belonged to the underground Bohemian Brethren, or the “Hidden Seed.” The Moravian Church/Bohemian Brethren/Unitas Fratrum/Unity of the Brethren/Ancient Unity, with March 1, 1457, as its official date of founding, had gone underground in 1620, early in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The diaspora spread out across Europe, meeting in homes at a time when the union of church and state was normative and religious toleration was not.
David Nitschmann, Sr. (1676-1758), or “Father Nitschmann,” was a leader of the “Hidden Seed.” He, like his father, hosted a house church. This saint was, by trade, a carpenter, a wheelwright, and a sometime farmer. The native of Zauchtenthal, Moravia, married Anna Schneider in 1700. The family moved to Kunewald, Moravia, in 1704. There the large house church (as many as 200 people sometimes) attracted the hostile attention of local authorities, who forbade such continued gatherings. David, Sr., and his son, Melchior (1702-1729), committed civil disobedience and went to prison repeatedly.
At this point in the narrative David Nitschmann (1696-1772), son of Georg Nitschmann (born 1662), brother of David, Sr., enters the story.
Nephew David Nitschmann (1696-1772), also a native of Zauchtenthal, Moravia, visited uncle David, Sr., and family in 1725, for the purpose of convincing the uncle to relocate the family to Herrnhut, the new (since 1722) Moravian Church settlement on the estate of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) in Saxony. The nephew succeeded. David, Sr., and his family left for Herrnhut, stayed a week, then relocated to nearby Berthelsdorf. They returned to Herrnhut two years later.
The three children of David Nitschmann, Sr., and Anna Schneider Nitschmann of whom I write in this post were:
- Melchior (1702-1729);
- Johann (or John), Jr. (1712-1783); and
- Anna Caritas (1715-1760).
Melchior Nitschmann (1702-1729), a weaver by trade, had, with his father, led a house church of the Bohemian Brethren/Ancient Unity. Melchior became on the first four elders of the Renewed Moravian Church at Herrnhut on May 12, 1727. Another elder was Christian David (1690-1751). These two elders were away on a mission trip to Hungary on August 13, 1727, the Moravian Pentecost, at Herrnhut. The following year Melchior and one George Schmidt were missionaries in Moravia when Austrian officials detained them. Melchior died in Schmidt’s arms on February 27, 1729, in a prison at Schildberg, Moravia. Schmidt remained incarcerated for five more years. He, a free man again, continued as a missionary.
Anna Caritas Nitschmann (1715-1760) found her niche in the Renewed Moravian Church, which was more egalitarian than the surrounding culture. Gender roles were not entirely irrelevant in the Renewed Moravian Church in the 1700s, but they were less stringent than elsewhere at the time. The basis of leadership in the Church was ability, not social status. Thus the fourteen-year-old Anna became an eldress in March 1730. On May 4 of that year she and the seventeen-year-old Anna Schindler (later Dober) (1713-1739) founded the Single Sisters’ Choir at Herrnhut, with Anna as the leader. (A choir was a communal group.)
Johann (or John) Nitschmann, Jr. (1712-1783), later a bishop, emigrated to Herrnhut with his family. He studied theology at Halle from 1728 to 1731. In 1731 he became a tutor at the orphanage at Herrnhut. Then, in 1732 and 1733, he studied medicine at Halle. Johann, Jr., returned to Herrnhut, serving as Count Zinzendorf’s private secretary in 1733 and 1734. Then, from 1734 to 1745, Johann, Jr., engaged in missionary work in Lapland.
David “Father” Nitschmann, Sr. (1676-1758), had skills the nascent Renewed Moravian Church needed. His carpentry skills proved essential in building up Herrnhut, for example. He also served as a missionary to the West Indies in the 1730s. His wife, Anna Schneider Nitschmann, died on the island of St. Croix on June 30, 1735. He returned to Herrnhut in 1737, remained for fourteen months, and shortly thereafter left for Pennsylvania. He cut down the first tree at the site of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1741. He did much to build and supervise the building of that settlement, where he spent the rest of this life. Father Nitschmann died on April 14, 1758.
Nephew David Nitschmann (1696-1772) was also a foundational figure in the Renewed Moravian Church. He was one of the pioneers of Herrnhut. There Christian David (1690-1751) taught him carpentry. In late 1727 the two men served as missionaries to Austria. In 1732 Nitschmann accompanied Johann Leondard Dober (1706-1766) to St. Thomas, in the West Indies, to help Dober start missionary work there. Nitschmann departed for other duties after sixteen weeks; Dober remained for about two years until the Church recalled him to Herrnhut to become the Chief Elder.
David Nitschmann (1696-1772) traveled widely. He started a Moravian community in Holstein in 1734. On March 13, 1735, in Berlin, Daniel Ernst Jablonski, a grandson of John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) who had become a bishop of the Bohemian Brethren/Ancient Unity in 1699, ordained Nitschmann the first bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church. The new bishop traveled widely in North America (including in Georgia) in 1735 and 1736 then returned to Germany in 1736. The following year, in Berlin, he and Jablonski ordained Count Zinzendorf the second bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church. In 1737 and 1738 Nitschmann helped to found the ill-fated Herrnhaag settlement in Saxony. At Herrnhaag the excesses of the “Sifting Time” (1743-1750) were the most extreme and in the worst taste. And, in 1740 and 1741, he helped to found Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which his uncle, David, Sr., did much to construct.
Anna Nitschmann (1715-1760) became an authority in the Moravian Church. From 1735 to 1737 she accompanied Benigna, Count Zinzendorf’s daughter, to England. In 1740 Anna and her father, David, Sr., traveled to Pennsylvania ahead of Count Zinzendorf. There she wrote authoritatively to people regarding church matters and even preached. In 1740 she preached to men and women at a Quaker meeting-house. She preached to a group of Indian women the following year. Anna was not unique, for there were many women preaching in the Moravian Church. This fact prompted much criticism from Lutheran and Reformed Church circles at the time.
Above: Herrnhaag in 1750
Image in the Public Domain
Count Zinzendorf returned to Europe from America dissatisfied with strong criticisms of the Moravian Church from Lutheran and Reformed competitors. He concluded that such attacks were examples of legalism. So, unfortunately, the Count looked the other way for a few years as the Moravian emphases on the wounds of Christ and on familiarity with God, not to mention an exalted opinion of sexuality, mixed with excessive emotionalism and became simultaneously childish and NSFW, especially at Herrnhaag. Erotic imagery mixed with the wounds of Christ, gender roles blended in violation of sexual orientation (admittedly an anachronistic category for the timeframe), and Moravian simplicity gave way to as many as forty lavish festivals each year. Excesses of this “Sifting Time” (1743-1750) radiated from Herrnhaag, becoming the cause of scandal. Eventually the Count, acknowledging his accountability for the state of affairs, heeded the counsel of advisors, such a Christian David (1690-1751), and clamped down on excesses. Herrnhaag closed in 1753.
Johann Nitschmann, Jr. (1712-1783), continued to serve in the Moravian Church. He returned from eleven years of missionary service in 1745. From 1745 to 1750 he was deacon at Herrnhaag. Then, from 1750 to 1758, he was deacon at Herrnhut. In 1758 Nitschmann became the twenty-first bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church. Four years later he received the responsibility of oversight of the communities in England and Ireland. Then, in 1766, he became the leader of the community at Sarepta, Russia. There he died on June 30, 1783. Along the way he had written hymns.
Anna Nitschmann (1715-1760) remained single until her forty-first year of life. She traveled as part of Count Zinzendorf’s entourage on trips to England (1743) and Russia (1743 and 1744). Erdmuth Dorothea von Zinzendorf, the Countess died in 1756. The Count observed a mourning period of a year; then he remarried. He and Anna became husband and wife in June 1757. He was a nobleman and she was a peasant. Such distinctions were irrelevant in the relatively egalitarian culture of the Moravian Church, however. Count Zinzendorf died on May 9, 1760. Anna succumbed (perhaps to cancer) twelve days later. During her lifetime she had also written hymns.
David Nitschmann (1696-1772) remained in service to God via the Moravian Church for the rest of his life. He returned to St. Thomas in 1742. The bishop, en route to Europe in 1745, became a prisoner of the Spanish. Once free, he traveled in Denmark, Norway, and Silesia. He returned to Pennsylvania in 1748. Then the bishop served at Herrnhaag from 1749 to 1753 as part of the clean-up operation there. Rosina Schindler Nitschmann, whom he had married in 1726, died there in 1753. The following year the bishop returned to Pennsylvania, where he remained. He married Maria Barbara Leinbach (1722-1810), widow of missionary and bishop Friedrich Martin (1704-1754), in 1754. The new couple lived at Lititz, Pennsylvania, from 1756 to 1761. There Maria gave birth to a daughter, Anna Maria Nitschmann (1758-1823), who married Christian Heckewelder, a merchant of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Hope, New Jersey. Bishop Nitschmann and Maria resided at Bethlehem starting in 1761. He died there in 1772.
Here ends the first installment of this series of posts.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 25, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF FEAST OF SAINT MARK THE EVANGELIST, MARTYR
Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses:
Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of your servants
David Nitschmann, Sr.; Melchior Nitschmann; Johann Nitschmann, Jr.; Anna Caritas Nitschmann; and David Nitschmann;
may persevere in running the race that is set before us,
until at last we may with them attain to your eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 724