Ohio History Journal







Professor of Historical Theology, Moravian College and Theological

Seminary, Bethlehem, Pa.

In the middle of the eighteenth century Nathaniel Seidel

and David Zeisberger were deputed by the Board controlling

Moravian activity in America to re-

port to Count Zinzendorf and his

coadjutors, in Europe, the character

which the mission among the Indians

was assuming, as well as to explain

its needs. The second of the two

men was peculiarly fitted for the task.

Though not yet thirty years of age,

he had been seasoned in five years of

missionary effort of unusual difficulty

among the aborigines of America.

The Count conceived so high a re-

gard for him that with the imposition

of hands he appointed him perpetual

missionary to this people. The com-

mission thus laid upon him was faithfully executed by Zeisberger

in a missionary career perhaps not equalled, certainly not sur-

passed, in point of length of service by any missionary of any

Church among any people. In the eighty-seventh year of his age

he rounded out Sixty-two years of continuous and unwearied

labor in behalf of the "red man," the narrative of which forms

one of the most uplifting stories of early American daring and

enterprise. Characteristics and achievements of such a career

are of manifold interest.

Imbued with a spirit at once unselfish and devout, the

Moravian settlers of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, naturally turned



Characteristics and Achievements of David Zeisberger

Characteristics and Achievements of David Zeisberger. 183


with pious yearning to the savages who roamed the American

forests. In Zeisberger, grown out of such fine missionary soil,

this yearning quickly ripened into the fixed purpose to devote

his life to Christian work among them. Unselfish devotion

focussed his energies and abilities on the effort. He began his

labors by applying himself to the study of the Indian languages,

not only taking instruction from a competent teacher but also

taking up his residence among the Indians for months at a time.

Self-denial such as this involved he practiced always.  Self-

denial became wellnigh complete in him. No selfish interest

was allowed to cross his purpose to devote his life to the ser-

vice of the Lord among the heathen. Through the channel of

this devotion he poured all the power of a consecrated life into

what he conceived to be his mission. It was a devotion clear in

its aim, as it was strong in its purpose, because it was free from

fanaticism. 'He wearied under no labors, however exacting,

and shrank from no hardships, however severe. His burning

zeal for the religion which was his life ever held his aims dis-

tinctly before him, though he might have to face the fury of a

white mob or the opposition of Indian conjurors, but it never

consumed itself in uncharitable feelings for fellow Christians or

fellow laborers. His devotion was as sane and kindly as it was

unselfish and intense. It was capable of husbanding the re-

sources of his energy and applying them freely and unhesitat-

ingly to every effort that commended itself to his sound judg-


His work, directed by an intense and wise devotion, ex-

tended over a wide field of operations. Necessities proceeding

from conditions of the time determined that Zeisberger's mis-

sionary life should be largely a succession of missionary jour-

neys. In many respects the frequent enforced wanderings were

a hindrance to his work. They foredoomed the failure of cer-

tain hopes entertained in the prosecution of missionary work

among any people.. No Christian Indian state was established

to crown his own and other faithful missionaries' labors. Yet

frequent removal of the mission from place to place and the

journeys incident thereto served to spread the knowledge of the

Gospel over vast stretches of territory and among many tribes.

184 Ohio Arch

184      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


Comparing his work with that of other missionaries to the

aborigines of our land, Zeisberger stands foremost in respect of

extensive missionary effort. One of the "Master Missionaries,"

as he has been called, he traveled through Massachusetts, Con-

necticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and entered Michigan

and Canada, preaching to many nations in many tongues. He

brought the Gospel to the Mohicans and Wampanoags, to the

Nanticokes and Shawanese, to the Chippewas, Ottawas, and

Wyandots, to the Unamis, Unalachtgos and Monseys of the

Delaware race, to the Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas of the

"Six Nations," and those who heard often carried the message

of the truth into regions where the missionary never appeared.

These journeys acquire additional significance when it is re-

membered that they represent Zeisberger's resolute faithfulness

to the remnant of his people, cruelly and heartlessly driven from

one locality to another. Like a Moses he led his people always.

The route of many wanderings, in quest of an asylum for them,

is quite unique in missionary annals. The history of missions

presents no instance of more intrepid persistence in seeking the

welfare of a wronged community amid endless perils and dan-

gers, reviled by men who should have known better but were

incapable of appreciating the motives of Moravian missionaries.

Scarcely a journey or undertaking of any kind did the devoted

Characteristics and Achievements of David Zeisberger

Characteristics and Achievements of David Zeisberger. 185


missionary enter upon that had not the welfare of the Indians

as its object.

Constant inspiration for such continuous endeavor despite

never ending, and sometimes heart-rending, discouragements was

supplied by a pure and holy passion for souls. Zeisberger was

not attracted to the Indians by any romantic notions about the

character and traits of these men of the woods. He learned

to know them if ever man did. In his historical account* of

the Indians, their country, manners and customs, he denounces

their cowardice, treachery, licentiousness, indolence in all but

unmeasured terms, even as he does full justice to their few re-

deeming qualities. His testimony is clear and well-founded, is

couched in calm and deliberate language and must be regarded

as conclusive evidence of the degradation and moral deformity

of the savages. More than this, he shows in a single significant

sentence how the pen of romance could have been misguided to

invest them with a distinction they could not rightfully claim.

"They love to be deemed honest and good, even when detected

in the worst villainies." To gratify their eagerness for praise

they became past masters in the art of dissembling. Yet Zeis-

berger loved them. He spent his life in the effort to do them

good. So great was his passion for their souls that, as Paul

"unto the Jews became as a Jew, in order that he might gain the

Jews," so Zeisberger became to the Indians as an Indian that he

might gain the Indians. He learned to move with ease and

grace in the Indian forms of courtesy. He employed the man-

ner of speech in vogue among them for greetings and in the

council. He observed the Indian ideas of propriety. He could

smoke the peace-pipe comformably to the rules of the ceremony.

In some respects he became like the natives, particularly in tac-

iturnity and adaptation to their modes of thought. All this did

his unquenchable passion for souls bring about, in order that he

might bring to bear on Indian hearts those Scripture truths that


* A voluminous manuscript, now in the archives of the Church at

Bethlehem, written by Zeisberger in 1778, giving a full account of the

Indian nations with which he was acquainted. A translation of this

manuscript is about to be published by the Ohio State Historical and

Archaeological Society.

186 Ohio Arch

186      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

are facts of prime moment for every man, savage and civilized


No less significant are the achievements of a career so

admirably furnished for successful effort. It follows very

naturally from what has been stated that Zeisberger should

have attained to great influence among the Indians. No man

of this country was more sincerely honored, loved and trusted

by the Indians. Early in his career, at the Iroquois capital, he

was adopted a sachem of the Six Nations in the Clan of the

Turtle: On that occasion an Indian name was given him,

Ganousseracheri. Subsequently, he was formally naturalized

among the Monseys. Whenever he appeared among these or

related tribes, he was received not as a stranger but as one of

their own people. At one time he was keeper of the Archives

of the Iroquois Confederacy, said to have comprised "the most

valuable collection of treaties and letters from colonial gover-

nors ever made by an Indian nation on this continent." For a

number of years he swayed the Council of the Delawares. Dur-

ing the War of Independence of the American Colonies, he was

able to keep that powerful people neutral, else had the Colonies

experienced far greater difficulty in making good their declara-

tion of independence. The power which the attainment of such

influence placed in his hands Zeisberger used both to christianize

and civilize the Indians.

No man of his century did more for the development of

the Delaware language and the Onondaga Dialect of the Iro-

quois, the two most important languages of the North Ameri-

can Indians. The former particularly, the Lenape tongue, he

set himself to master, and proved his competency as a Lenapist

by reducing it to a uniform orthography. In both languages he

left important philological works for later students. In the

Delaware tongue he gave to the people hymns, liturgies, ser-

mons and portions of Scripture. His literary works represent-

ing life-long labor were a precious heritage to the Christian

Indians and are the best earthly monument to Zeisberger's


The most illustrious features of his work were the Christian

Indian communities he established. He founded no less than

Characteristics and Achievements of David Zeisberger

Characteristics and Achievements of David Zeisberger. 187


thirteen. They were a source of wonder to all who saw them.

They proved beyond shadow of doubt how much could be ac-

complished by a practical application of Christianity to savage

life. They were not aggregations of hunting lodges, they were

agricultural colonies. The chase was not neglected but played

a subordinate part. These settlements, moreover, were gov-

erned by a published set of laws. They proved that under the

matchless power of the Gospel even the Indian could be con-

strained to exchange his wild habits and unsettled ways for

peaceable life and regular duty, to give up unrestrained and ar-

bitrarily used liberty in order to submit to municipal enactments

that secured the greatest good to the greatest number.

Most of all did Zeisberger exert his great influence to move

the Indian heavenward. His pure and strong religious char-

acter was such as to constrain his charges to holy living, to

the cultivation of similar traits and the engaging in similar

service. Amid multitudinous activities he never forgot that it

188 Ohio Arch

188      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

was his vocation to preach the Gospel to the Indians and spread

the Kingdom of God. Perseveringly, zealously, faithfully and

courageously he presented his message. Nothing afforded him

greater joy than the real conversion of those to whom he

preached. Gracious seasons of revival blessed his ministry.

Large numbers were through his instrumentality brought into

the Church of Christ. Among the hundred and more men sent

by the Moravian Church to the Indians he stands pre-eminent as

the soul-winner, even as he takes rank above them in other re-

spects. He was happily successful in the character of the native

helpers whom he raised up, and thus his missionary work sus-

tains one of the severest tests applied in estimating the real value

and advance of such effort. Of the many excellent natives who

came forward to preach with boldness Anthony may be named.

Zeisberger himself bears this testimony, "Anthony was as eager

to bring souls to Christ as a hunter's hound is eager to chase the

deer."  Anthony succeeded in winning amongst others Glikki-

kan, equally renowned as warrior and orator. Glikkikan in turn

became a most efficient coadjutor of the mission. Only that

great day, when "every man's work shall be made manifest,"

will reveal how many precious souls were led out of darkness

into light through the ministry of Zeisberger and the faithful

men trained by him to be spiritual leaders of their brethren.

Even so brief an outline of the characteristics and achieve-

ments of this remarkable missionary career points again the

admonition that we ought never to let the memory of a great

and good man perish. It is worth too much to the living age

to be suffered to go with him into the grave. The memory of

Zeisberger's completed activity has now blessed us a full hun-

dred years. To the devout and thoughtful, to the seriously-

minded and those really desirous of serving their day and gen-

eration it yields both instruction and inspiration. They, appre-

ciating the towering excellence of this man, recognize that un-

selfish devotion, large and generous aims, pure passion for man-

kind should be incorporated in the lives of noble purpose and

will assure achievements that are profitable "for the life that

now is" and that will receive their true rating and fullest valua-

tion in "the life that is to come."