Skip to main content

Collection 153 Records of Moravian Missions Among American Indians

Identifier: CN 153

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of 35 reels of microfilm containing over 50,000 pages of diaries, letters, and miscellaneous records documenting the missionary work of the Moravian Missiont to American Indians. Separate indexes cover Indian and missionaries, geographic names, non-Indian nations, and topics. Originals are held in the Moravian Church Archives, Bethlehem, Pa. All microfilm reels are 35mm, positive copies.


[The following scope and content note is extracted from the relevant sections of the finding aid included on the microfilm.]

In general, it was the custom of the Moravians--especially during the early period--to keep voluminous records, and the records of the Indian mission are no exception, totalling perhaps fifty thousand pages. The missionaries carefully recorded the activities at each place in diaries, letters, church registers and catalogs, and other types of writings. In the diary they wrote a day-by-day account of happenings, by no means limited to religious matters. They made frequent references to the hunt, to Indian wars, to food, to health, to the weather, to travelers passing through, to journeys, to pastoral counseling situations, i.e., to a wide spectrum of human activity. The letters sent to headquarters in Bethlehem were more likely to be private, often dealing with personal matters and problems. The registers and catalogs were the means to keep track of the members--whey they were born, baptized confirmed, married, buried, etc. In this case the names of all the Indian converts are known, along with sometimes very detailed information about them.

The majority of the records are written in German script, but a great deal of English also appears. German was the language used in most of the Moravian churches in America at the time, but even in the early years there were some Moravians who spoke or wrote English. Thus there are some English originals and many contemporary translations into English included among these materials. Furthermore, most of the correspondence with government officials is written in English. For the researcher's convenience, several extensive translations into English, made in recent years, have been included in the collection.

The present basis for arrangement of these materials is the work of the late Reverend Carl John Fliegel (1886-1961), research Assistant at the Archives of the Moravian Church from 1952 to his death. A native of Germany, Fliegel literally read every word on about twenty-five thousand pages of these manuscripts, preparing a gigantic card index consisting of an estimated thirty thousand cards with 135 thousand entries. This index is available in book form in the Center Library, titled Index to the Records of the Moravian Mission Among the Indians of North America, call number Reference Oversize Z1210 M65 F5.

Fliegel arranged the materials in several large categories. His first category, devoted to the various mission stations, is arranged in rough chronological order. The earlier stations were in the East, the later stations in the West. His next category, called Personalia, consists of letters and documents written by missionaries and others. The arrangement here is alphabetically by author. The next category, Generalia, contains a great variety of documents, many of them of great importance. Fliegel's last category is Indian Languages, followed by extra materials added to the collection after his death.

Each box is given a three-digit number assigned to it by Fliegel. Some boxes were added to the numbering system after Fliegel's death, and these are denoted by a decimal digit at the end of the number. These items are not included in Fliegel's index. The researcher should note that the numbers are not consecutive; Fliegel left gaps in his numbering system, apparently for later additions.

The numbering system is as follows:

111-199 Specific Mission Locations

111-113 New York

114-115 Connecticut

116-137 Pennsylvania

141-159 Ohio, some Michigan

161-169 Ontario 171-175 Ohio

177 Indiana

181-185 Kansas

191-195 Georgia 1

96-199 Oklahoma

211-229 Personalia (Letters)

311-327 Generalia (Miscellaneous)

331-338 Indian Languages

340-350 Other (added later)

The folders are arranged in this order on the microfilm, and Fliegel's published index refers to these box numbers specifically.


  • Created: 1735-1900

Conditions Governing Access

Short quotations from the microfilm must be properly footnoted and identified as property of the Archives of the Moravian Church Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. See note at the head of each reel of microfilm.

Long quotations require permission of the Archives. Write to:

Office of the ArchivistMoravian Archives41 W. Locust StreetBethlehem, Pennsylvania 18018

Historical Information

[The following historical background is a word-for-word transcription of that section of the finding aid included with (or on) the microfilm.]

One of the major reasons the Moravians came to America in 1735 was to preach the Gospel to the Indians. In this respect they were different from most of the other settlers in America, who on occasion sent preachers to the Indians, but normally ignored or more likely feared them. For the Moravians the Indian mission was an intensive effort upon which they spent much money and manpower. The costs were borne by income from their businesses and by personal sacrifices of the members.

Although the Moravians had contacts with many Indian tribes, they did most of their work among the Delawares. They followed this tribe westward from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Canada, Indiana, and finally to Kansas. They also worked among the Mahicans in New York and Connecticut, and among the Cherokees in Georgia and Oklahoma. The work lasted until 1900, for a total of over one hundred fifty years.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the mission is that the Moravians were always on the scene so early. Consequently, the Moravian missionaries were frequently the first white settlers in the places where they located, and their records are often the oldest extant records from those places.

The first contact with the Indians was in Georgia in 1735. After that the beginnings in various states or colonies were as follows: New York, 17840; Pennsylvania, 1740; Connecticut, 1743; Ohio, 1772; Canada, 1792; Georgia (Cherokees), 1799; Indiana, 1801; Kansas, 1837; Oklahoma, 1838.

The Moravian mission among the Indians was not noteworthy for its numerical success. There were never more than several hundred baptized Indians attached to the Moravians at any one time. The relatively low density of the Indian population, the frequent removals of the Indians westward, the massacre of ninety Moravian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio, by white militiamen in 1782, and the impossibility of finding isolated settlement places where liquor agents and other objectionable whites could not penetrate--these were all factors limiting the numerical success of the mission.

In spite of its small numbers, the Moravian mission had wide influence. The missionaries were often consulted by the chiefs, some of whom became Christians. Wherever the Moravians went they attempted to conduct schools. Nearly all the Cherokee chiefs in Georgia had been educated or in some way influenced by Moravian missionaries.

Many important names are associated with the mission to the Indians. The most famous missionary was David Zeisberger (1721-1808), who served the mission for over sixty years. Next in importance was John Heckewelder (1743-1823), who was admitted to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia on the basis of his Indian research.


40 Reels of microfilm

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

The microfilm in this collection was purchased by the Billy Graham Center Archives. Originals remain in the Moravian Church Archives, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Collection 153 Records of Moravian Missions Among American Indians
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US