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Journey to America

Chapter 8

ForewordChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3
Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7
Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11
Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15
Chapter 16NotesBiographyDownloads

Duties on the school plantation at the Moselem in the summer of 1823. -Churchly undertakings-marriages, -baptisms, -funerals, -confirmations. -Sunday worship. -Disadvantageous results of freedom on church and school affairs. -the attempt to make a church presentation. -Religious views of the German preachers there. -Architecture of the churches. -The churchyards and places of assembly.

After I had recuperated from my journey again, I continued my field and garden work; I still planted potatoes, put in corn and put my garden in the best order; I also made improvements to the fences of the fields on the plantation where it was necessary, and at the beginning of the month of June I mowed the greater part of my meadows already and made hay which there, if the hay weather is good, is dry enough always on the second day after mowing to take in. But this hay I did not have driven in, rather because the meadow, as almost everywhere there, was located quite close to the buildings of the school, we carried it on our backs under roof When the hay harvest was finished I mowed the winter grain which we likewise, as soon as it was dry enough, carried right from the field into the barn, for the field also bordered close to the barn. But from 10 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the afternoon one could not do any field and garden work because of the strong heat and had to stay in the house; for the sun burns so strong in these hours that those who are not used to it in active movement are in danger of suffocating. The preacher Knoske,32 a native Prussian, assured me that on the West Indian islands where he was for a time it was not hotter than it was one day when both of us had to tend to a funeral and at the end of this affair pearls of sweat hung on our black coats as though we had been in the rain and our underclothes were so wet as though they had been pulled through the water.

This Knoske was a preacher in Cootstown,33 a small city two hours distant from the Moselem church, and had several country congregations in addition, a very accomplished pulpit orator, and who because of his zeal had lost the parish at the Moselem congregation where I was schoolteacher, was still very much loved by several members of this congregation and for this reason many sick people still desired his visits; also he was called on at times for funeral sermons. This disturbed the greater part of the remaining congregation to a great degree, for he was formally dismissed under the stipulation never again to preach in this church either in one way or the other. Once a lowly laborer died who had expressly requested that Knoske should have his funeral sermon and since every time there is worship the church elders fetch the key to the church from the schoolhouse and unlock the church and after the conclusion of worship lock the same again, they fetched the key also this time but without unlocking the church with it, stuck the same in their pocket, whereby it was necessary for Pastor Knoske to have his funeral sermon on the churchyard.

But this time they left the church key hanging at its place and when the body was committed to the earth and I saw that the church doors were still locked, I got the keys and opened the same, also because this time not one member of the church council was present. Then everyone went into the church and the service was held undisturbed. Because the deceased was a respectable owner of a plantation it appeared that this time an exception would be made intentionally and so the door was not locked to Pastor Knoske. Several days afterwards, however, a member of the church council came to me and asked who had given me permission to unlock the church? I couldn't keep myself from laughing and asked the elder whether it really required special permission to unlock the church shortly before the service? Whereupon he answered that it was decided once and for all that Knoske should not again preach in it, they had dismissed him and ordered him never again to ascend their pulpit. In order to get rid of him I excused myself with the fact that I had known nothing of the entire affair.

Several weeks later, however, this man buried his wife and found therein the opportunity to take revenge on me. He punished me for unlocking the church in this way, by employing another schoolmaster who had to conduct the singing and play the organ at the funeral in my place, whereby the perquisite of one dollar was taken from me. The farmer has the right at funerals to have another preacher as well as another schoolmaster come. Because the preacher of this congregation lived all of fourteen English miles distant from there, it was often the case that other preachers were gotten for funeral sermons, but I was replaced only this one time. No body is buried without a funeral sermon, be it only the poorest people or small children; funerals thus take place very often there. However, Sunday worship which is held only once every four weeks in the country, is never allowed to be interrupted by them. The dead are not left above the earth for several days as with us, but rather the body of the deceased is usually buried the day following the death.

At a funeral the following comes not only from the near vicinity, but rather gathers from a radius six English miles wide. How one learns about a death at such a distance in so short a time was incomprehensible to me in the beginning until I then found out that the country people carry or send the neighbors this news at the greatest speed. All of them are there at the designated time, namely, gathered in and about the house of the deceased and most all of them go first to the table; but because they cannot all eat at once on account of lack of space, the meal often lasts an hour and a half; whoever has eaten stands up from the table and then another takes his place. When the preacher, who is usually one of the last, has eaten, however, he goes to the room where the body is lying in the open coffin and delivers a moving address of comfort to the relatives of the deceased standing around in a circle. At the end of this affair the coffin is placed on a bier standing in front of the door under the open heaven, the lid is taken off again and the preacher tells the schoolmaster several hymns stanza by stanza which the latter has to sing. But since someone of the congregated only seldom has a hymnal, in the most cases he has to sing alone. After the singing the preacher has a rather long address after which, as before, there is singing. Then the coffin is screwed shut by the joiner, put on the wagon and driven to the churchyard; if this is not far away, the body is also carried there on the bier. In front of the gate to the churchyard the coffin is again put on a bier, opened and surrounded by the relatives of the deceased present, whereupon the preacher again has a short address after the conclusion of which the schoolmaster sings a stanza, the coffin is covered and during the singing the body is carried to the grave where the same is then finally put down for the last time, the coffin again opened and after a short address of the preacher is screwed closed and sunk into the grave. During the covering of the body with earth the schoolmaster sings the hymn "Let us now bury the body"34 etc. After the conclusion of the same the preacher speaks a short prayer and says that the gathering may assemble itself in the church, There a dirge is first played on the organ; after the same the preacher ascends the pulpit and announces which hymn is to be sung whose tune then, as with us, is first played through and then repeated stanza by stanza by the preacher, After the hymn follows the sermon and after the sermon and the votum the preacher again names the stanza that is to be sung at the end of the service. During the entire service in the church, indeed during the hymns as well as during the funeral sermon all male relatives of the deceased keep their hats on their heads. At the end of the sermon the preacher invites the relatives of the deceased to come to supper after the service at the home of the host.

Many big farmers have their own burial places on their plantations, especially if they live very far from their church. More often I have found this among the English.

For a funeral the preacher gets four to twenty dollars, five to thirty thaler in our money; indeed I know or-an instance when twenty-five dollars were paid out to Pastor Miller once for such. The schoolmaster, however, gets one dollar and at times from big farmers something more.

Except for those for funerals, I had no perquisites; for at marriages and baptisms the schoolmaster there has no responsibilities and thus gets no perquisite.

Announcements or banns and wedding banquets are not customary there, also an engaged couple there is never married in the church but rather almost always in the home of the pastor to which both bride and bridegroom come usually by horse late at night or early in the morning in the dark, without witnesses. Most of the time this occurs without foreknowledge of the parents on both sides and the relatives who first find out about it often months later. For when the son is twenty-one and the daughter eighteen years old, then, according to the laws, parents have nothing more to say because they have then become adults or of age. The justice of the peace may also perform the marriage, which also is done at times. According to Pastor Miller at least four dollars or in our money five thaler. is paid.

Baptisms are done for the most part as the opportunity arises; only seldom is a child baptized whose age is still under a year. People who live distant from the church often raise three or four children before they have one of them baptized. As the opportunity arises, if, for instance, the preacher has some business in their home, they then have the children present baptized altogether and at the same time, of which I was often an eye witness. Once I went with Pastor Hermann into a house for the purpose of planning a funeral and the father of the house addressed the latter: "Pastor, I have three boys here, you could first baptize them for me." These three boys were then put at the table and baptized, of whom the eldest was perhaps eight years old.

Many parents postpone the baptism of their children until the confirmation of the same when they are perhaps twenty years or older still; many grown youths and girls I knew of there who were not yet baptized and not confirmed. Among the confirmands were usually to be found even men and women who were married for some years and had also had some children already, also such as had not to that point been instructed in school On the day of confirmation the unbaptized step apart shortly before and first are baptized.

In this summer of 1823 in Richmond parish not far from the town of Coxtown [Kutztown] a man of sixty-three years was baptized, confirmed and participated thereupon in Holy Communion; similar cases often come to light there and are rather usual.

Once every two years the preacher there has confirmation in each of his congregations for which he prepares the confirmands six weeks long. This preparation is very necessary, for half of the confirmands can scarcely read a little and the rest not at all What shall the preachers do with such persons other than repeat the five articles of Luther to them and ask them questions about them. Also they teach them some quotes from the catechism there and explain such to them. Several times I had the opportunity to listen to Pastor Miller as he was about this task. For confirmation instruction the preacher there takes in a stipulated sum, for almost every child pays him three dollars or four thaler for it.

Should the preacher want to dismiss a confirmand because he is incompetent, he would thereby cause the whole congregation to go against him and perhaps lose his office. But another preacher would then gladly accept the dismissed one for confirmation. Pastor Miller, too, when I spoke with him about church matters, had this word in his mouth: "Friend! One has to adapt himself to the people here today!" Nor did he scold about the undesirable situation of the schools, but rather often praised the members of his congregation and portrayed them as good, decent people.

Except for funerals I had no official duties in the summer other than playing the organ and leading the singing in the service once every four weeks and always on the first of the festival days and at the sermon on harvest which were always celebrated during the week.

The services of the Lutherans and the Reformed (about the others I concerned myself little) are very simple. Because the preachers have to preach every Sunday in at least two of their congregations and the churches of the same are often very far from one another, they have to hurry to get finished with these tasks, for after the same they often still have a long way to their home. For this reason the service starts at once with the principal hymn which consists of five stanzas at the most which, as already mentioned, are repeated each time stanza by stanza by the preacher because the people bring no hymnals with them to church, many of them also cannot read and still fewer can sing. Of course Pastor Miller reminded the people about it different times and pleaded heartily and urgently that the dear congregation should bring hymnals with them to church, but this had no further success. One can easily comprehend that also the largest portion of those that come to church sit there with almost no devotion. Above on the balcony are to be found mostly young unmarried men and these carve wood into all small curls during the sermon in order to pass the time. The young ladies below in the church gape around during the sermon and the hymns and talk about their clothes for otherwise they know of little to talk about. Often a whole troop of them also go out of the church and come back in only after a while again; many women have their babies on their laps and let them, if they whimper, dance awhile on their hands, also bare their breast and nurse them. When the crying of the little ones got to be too much, then Pastor Miller requested that the mothers go out a little with their little ones, which they then did and after several minutes took their place again. Pastor Miller was the only one of the preachers known to me who at times earnestly censured certain vices which were rampant there. This the farmers called backbiting! Then they usually said afterwards: "Miller is backbiting again, he is damned trite! Otherwise he is a clever preacher, but he has to learn to get away from backbiting." As here among us many country people call it scolding when the preacher out of a sense of duty publicly disdains many vices and disorders, so the American calls this backbiting.

Communion is held once a year and the congregation takes care of the hosts and the wine. After the service the preacher, the elders and the schoolmaster drink the left over wine in the church.

Church and school matters have taken a turn for the worse especially since the time the free states came into being. At the time that England still ruled it was much better. Every large congregation had its own preacher who also had the oversight over the schools and visited them from time to time. Even if at that time, as is also true now there was a lack of educated preachers and dutiful schoolteachers, at least order prevailed, for out of the mouths of old people I have heard everywhere that I asked that at that time in the populated regions almost every Sunday in every church services were held twice; the preacher preached in the morning and conducted instruction for children in the afternoon, also the parents were committed by appropriate means to sending their children to school as well as to instruction for children, even if they would not have done it on their own. The children at that time were at least instructed in the most essential things and learned reading and the catechism which was explained to them in the schools and churches if indeed only in the essentials. Since the times of unrestrained freedom, however, laxity and coarseness of morals prevail in the United States of North America, and the chief cause of it is only the lack of appropriate religious instruction in churches and schools. No German of any education who emigrates there can feel fortunate among such people, least of all people advanced in years. Young people get used to it sooner especially if they belong to those who also here have received a bad upbringing and education. People who are educated and used to good morals and living style have to feel unfortunate there for a length of time even if they are otherwise happy. More of this later.

The usual services are also distinguished from ours through this, that the preachers do not read any epistles and gospels, sing no antiphons and collects, not even at Communion, never preach on epistles and gospels, but rather always on free chosen texts.

Before I went to America, I was encouraged to become a preacher there, but I felt no special inclination towards that because I had already heard that the preachers there are dependent on the congregations and my favorite idea was to do farming there. But this plan, as I mentioned earlier, was brought to naught already at my departure from the fatherland and soon thereafter completely and I regretted on the trip by water that I had not made out my letters of introduction for the preaching field, which had been offered to me several times; for a fellow passenger by the name of Ruge, a native of Mecklenburg who had lived in America several years, married a young French girl there with whom he and a small son one year old had visited his parents in Mecklenburg and was now traveling to America again, portrayed the situation of the preacher there far better than it had otherwise been portrayed to me and was of the opinion that it was more advisable for me to choose this field and that I could come into the same with ease; Captain Fokkes too was of the same opinion. So then I began the task of completing some sermons and other churchly presentations which indeed was a far more difficult task for me in the beginning than I had previously thought; but because this work in my own opinion went rather well in the beginning, I continued it for a time and with time it came easier for me. Although during my stay in America the desire for the preaching field immediately left me again, partly because it would have been a very difficult and tedious business for my person, but chiefly for this reason, because I was not in a position to preach the church faith there out of a pure heart and did not want to become a hypocrite who spoke against his own conviction. But the desire ever again urged me on to hold a churchly presentation once in front of an American assembly. On this account I spoke with several members of the congregation who thought that no one would have any objection to it. Then I spoke about it also with Pastor Miller who also had no objection to it, and only advised me to get special permission from all the members of the church council. These men, however, had already promised me to inform all the members of the congregation that I would preach the next Sunday, Then I memorized one of the presentations completed and written down on the ship and one evening when I finished that I went by bright moonlight into the church, ascended the pulpit, made my presentation to the empty chairs and was elated that it went so well and not least about the next Sunday on which I expected a large number of listeners. But to my great astonishment the oldest of the elders came two days before and announced to me that I should not preach. Then I asked, "What is then the reason that you suddenly had a change of heart about it again?" He answered: "We thought it would desecrate our church." "And I think you are the simplest people I have yet come to know," was my answer. In the American fashion he let his head hang and was silent. Some time afterward I was told that several preachers in that area had brought my intention to naught this way, that they had advised the congregation not to allow what I wanted to do because I would thereby lead many astray from their pious faith. This seemed very possible to me, for I was often in preacher circles where the conversation was intentionally directed to religious things and opinions in order to find out which spirit's child I was. They often contended with me about opinions that they wanted to hold, which I could very easily refute for them, however, and even with the help of the Bible itself and when they then were no longer able to defend their position they would shake their heads and did not want to grant that I was right. The greatest orthodoxy I found prevailing there among the preachers; with diligence they supported their people in their ignorance and error and instead of destroying the corrupting superstition, the plague of men, the people were strengthened in it through many a preacher. The one chased his maid from service because she was a witch, for he found his scissors bewitched which cut his papers in two without being touched by a human hand; the other saw his glass vessels hop and dance under the beam in the room and chased the maid away who is supposed to have caused this through witchcraft and so forth. Also spirit superstition carried on its disorder still very frequently among the clergymen there.

It was certainly decisive for them, they feared, that I would seek the opportunity to get into the preaching office and come on as a reformer to their disadvantage; for soon afterward I fully convinced myself of that fact. The farmers told me that two preachers had seriously taken it upon themselves to change the mind of the congregation and especially the church council there and further make it possible not to let me preach. Pastor Miller to whom I told this occurrence soon thereafter then told me too that the whole story was already known to him and had its complete verity as I had mentioned. He told me further that these two preachers were bunglers and had feared a long time already that I would enter preaching and that because of me they would lose one or the other of their congregations. He suggested to me that I could have a presentation in another of his congregations; but I feared that there too something of the two would be laid in my path and gave up my idea.

The German Lutheran and Reformed churches are almost all very beautifully built and supersede by far those in Germany. When one builds even new churches here one gives them pretty well the form of the old ones, so that the windows have to give light to the lower room as well as the balcony where light is often lacking. The walls of the ones there, city as well as country churches, are all at least twice as high as ours usually are and have big windows which give light to the balcony and below some just as big that give light to the lower room, all of the prettiest white mirror glass with big panes. In several church walls I counted thirty-six, in others forty to forty-eight big windows. Window lead is everywhere out of use there; the panes are all fitted with wood. All the windows have four big sections so that they can be opened in summer. All of the churches I found beautifully and often very artistically vaulted above; altars and pulpits, however, were simple and uncovered. In the middle of the churches stands a big iron stove and in larger churches two, each with a cylinder open above. These are made glowing hot in wintertime shortly before the service so that it is as warm in the whole church as in a well heated room. Over the stoves thick iron pipes are put which lead into the chimney which is placed above over the vault. Even though it was so warm in the church, the stove was nevertheless constantly surrounded with people, mostly with women and girls, for when a troop left it and went to the chairs, another left the chairs and dribbled to the stove, took off their shoes too and warmed their feet. At the end of the sermon the preacher announces every time the day and the hour that the next service will take place. When the service is over everyone, almost every woman too, pushes to the stove to light cigars.

The churches there in the country, or as they say there, in the bush, do not have towers and bells because the people live too scattered for the bells to do them any good, With the east gable the churches border on the burial ground which is usually enclosed with a nice wall. Most of the graves are decorated with pretty upright.standing marble stones on which the names, the age and the place of birth of the deceased may be read.

I was often heartily happy when I found that many emigrated Germans in Richmond had attained an age of from 80 to 85 years. Most of the old ones whose inscriptions I read were native to the Palatinate. In addition to the stones the graves were planted with pretty rose bushes and this gave the churchyard at the Moselem in Richmond an especially pretty appearance. Also the graves were green in addition with thyme, sage and other pleasant smelling herbs.

In addition to the burial ground the churches in the country there are surrounded with a big gathering place on which many fruit trees grow. Under these trees the horses, wagons and sleds take their place during the service, on which the churchgoers have come; for whoever is not close to the church there rides or drives to it, men as well as women; the women there ride and drive as well as the men, the former not seldom better than the latter. These gathering places are enclosed with planks or another type of fence so that, if a horse should ever break loose, he could not run away from the place.

Source: Edited by Bryan Wright

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