Zeisberger, David (1721-1808)
Moravian apostle to the Indians
Born in Moravia (present-day Czech Republic), Zeisberger spent his childhood in Herrnhut, Germany, center of the Moravian missionary movement, where his parents had emigrated in search of religious freedom. As a youth, he accompanied Moravian missionaries to Georgia in 1738. He came into his life’s vocation when he began mission work among Native Americans in New York State in 1745. His goal was to establish conerts in villages that would provide protection from European settlers and non-Christian Native Americans. His work took him west through Pennsylvania. Despite many setbacks, he successfully established several Moravian Indian villages in eastern Ohio (present-day Tuscarawas County) beginning in 1772. However, this area soon became embroiled in hostilities marking the end of the American Revolution. While Zeisberger was defending his neutrality before British officials in Detroit in 1782, some ninety-six of his converts were massacred in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, by American militia. He eventually reestablished his mission in Fairfield, Ontario, and then led a few families back to Ohio in 1798. Efforts were made to establish new villages, but it was no longer possible to maintain exclusive communities, and the work eventually ceased. After 62 years in missionary service, Zeisberger died and was buried in Goshen, Ohio, the site of his last residence.
Zeisberger spoke several Native American languages fluently and produced a number of literary works that aided him in his efforts. These include biblical translations, hymns, catechetical materials, and general educational materials. He also produced grammatical studies and dictionaries that presented Native American languages with both English and German equivalents. Portions of his dictionaries have been published, and his manuscript “The History of the North American Indians” written in 1779-1780, has been translated and published by Archer B. Hulbert and William Schwarze in Ohio Archeological and Historical Society Publications 19 (1910): 1-173.
David A. Schattschneider, “Zeisberger, David,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 761.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Zeisberger’s manuscript materials are in the Moravian archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Zeisberger, David. Diary of David Zeisberger, a Moravian Missionary among the Indians of Ohio. Translated by Eugene F. Bliss. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1885. Vol. I.
_____. Diary of David Zeisberger, a Moravian Missionary among the Indians of Ohio. Translated by Eugene F. Bliss. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1885. Vol. II.
Heckewelder, John. A Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians from the year of its commencement in the year 1740 to the close of the year 1808. Philadelphia: n.p., 1820.
Loskiel, George Henry. The History of the Moravian Mission Among the Indians in North America from its Commencement to the Present Time with a Preliminary Account of the Indians Compiled from Authentic Sources. Translated by Christian Ignatius La Trobe. London: T. Allman, 1838. Orig. London: John Stockdale, 1794.
Wellenreuther, Herman and Carola Wessel (eds.). The Moravian Mission Diaries of David Zeisberger, 1772-1781. Trans. Julie Tomberlin Weber. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. Orig. p. in Germany, 1995.
_____. David Zeisberger’s Official Diary, Fairfield, 1791-1795. Translated by Paul E. Mueller, 1981.
_____. Schoenbrunn story; excerpts from the diary of the Reverend David Zeisberger, 1772-1777, at Schoenbrunn in the Ohio country. Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1972.
Barr, Daniel P., ed. The Boundaries Between Us: Natives and Newcomers Along the Frontiers of the Old Northwest Territory, 1750-1850. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2006.
Beck, Hartmut. Brüder in vielen Völkern: 250 Jahre Mission der Brüdergemeine. Erlangen: Verlag der Ev.-Luth. Mission, 1981.
Bliss, Eugene F. “Introduction.” In Diary of David Zeisberger (1781-1798): A Moravian Missionary Among the Indians of Ohio. Translated by Eugene F. Bliss, vii-xxxii. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1885.
Bond, Beverley W., Jr. The Foundations of Ohio. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1941.
De Schweinitz, Edmund. The life and times of David Zeisberger, the western pioneer and apostle of the Indians. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1870.
Gray, Elma E., and Leslie Robb Gray. Wilderness Christians; the Moravian mission to the Delaware Indians. New York: Russell & Russell, 1973. [1st edition, 1956]
Holmes, John Beck. Historical Sketches of the Missions of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen, from their Commencement to the Year 1817. London: n.p., 1827.
Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
Hutton, J.E. A History of Moravian Missions. London: n.p., 1922.
O’Donnell, James H., III. Ohio’s First Peoples. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004.
Olmstead, Earl P. Blackcoats Among the Delaware: David Zeisberger on the Ohio Frontier. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991.
_____. David Zeisberger: A Life Among the Indians. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1997.
Rice, William H. David Zeisberger and His Brown Brethren. Bethlehem, PA: Moravian Publication Concern, 1908.
Ricky, Donald B., ed. Encyclopedia of Ohio Indians. St. Clair Shores, MI: Somerset Publishers, Inc., 1998.
Schattschneider, David A. “Moravians Approach the Indians: Theories and Realities.” In Unitas Fratrum, 21/22 (1988): 37-48.
Sensbach, Jon. “Searching for Moravians in the Atlantic World.” In Self, Community, World: Moravian Education in a Transatlantic World, edited by Heikki Lempa and Paul Peucker, 35-53. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2010.
Wellenreuther, Hermann. “Introduction.” In The Moravian Mission Diaries of David Zeisberger, 1772-1781, edited by Herman Wellenreuther and Carola Wessel. Translated by Julie Tomberlin Weber. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. [Orig. pub. in Germany, 1995.]
Westlager, C.A. The Delaware Indian Westward Migration: With Texts of Two Manuscripts (1821-22) Responding to General Lewis Cass’s Inquiries About Lenape Culture and Language. Wallingford, PA: The Middle Atlantic Press, 1978.
_____. The Delaware Indians: A History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972.
Wessel, Carola. “Missionary Diaries as a Source for Native American Studies: David Zeisberger and the Delaware.” In European Review of Native American Studies 10 no 2 (1996): 31-7.
_____. “‘We do not want to introduce anything new…’: Transplanting the Communal Life from Herrnhut to the Upper Ohio Valley.” In In Search of Peace and Prosperity, edited by Hartmut Lehmann, Hermann Wellenreuther, and Renate Wilson, 246-62. University Park, PA: n.p., 2000.
Westmeir, Karl-Wilhem. “Becoming All Things to All People: Early Moravian Missions to Native North Americans.” In International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 21 no. 4 (October 1997): 172-6.
Biography of David Zeisberger from the Lutheran Witness (June 7, 1887): 7.
“David Zeisberger, ” Print, ca. 1761. A caption on the print states that it is “From a portrait painted at the age of forty.” Ohio Historical Society, David Zeisberger Collection SC 396.