Firstfruit of the Moravian Indian Mission in America
July 16, 1740 was probably just another day for the little port town of New York. It was a growing town, having doubled its population during the last 40 years—from about 5,000 to 10,000. It was not yet New York City.
Into these 10,000 inhabitants stepped a young man named Christian Henry Rauch. He was a man with a mission; a mission to change the world with the gospel, one sinner at a time. Christian had no quixotic dream of converting the whole world. But he did know the power of Christ could change whosoever will. And that included the so-called “red” men of North America. After all, if Christ could change a European, He could surely change a Native American … they were all made of the same stuff and were all from the same original descendent.
Stepping off the ship, Christian really had no idea where to begin his mission. He had been chosen from a group of 12 candidates and commissioned by the Moravian Brethren Church to go to New York to “preach the gospel to the Indians.” When his foot touched the dock, he was walking by faith that God would lead him to the right person. He didn’t know a single soul in New York, nor where to begin to find the people to whom he had been sent to minister.
To Christian’s great surprise, he “happened” to meet fellow missionary Frederic Martin, who “happened” to be in New York at the moment. Frederic took him to meet some pious local people. The report they gave Christian was anything but encouraging. “There’s no use trying to convert those people,” they said. “They have a chapel, preaching, and a schoolteacher already, and they are as much as drunkards now as they have ever been. It is not safe for a white man to live among them.”
Christian thanked them for the information but didn’t let it discourage him. He just kept praying.
Not too many days later Christian heard that a group of Mohican Indians were in town to complain to the authorities that the white people were encroaching upon their lands up the Hudson River. Christian looked them up, and to his great surprise he found he could converse with them in Dutch, although imperfectly. But a bigger problem than the language was the fact that these Indians—described as ferocious in appearance and manners—were seriously intoxicated. He had to wait until they recovered enough from their drunken state to converse with them. Thus the missionary had his first meeting with the people for whom he would pour out his life.
When sobered up, he spoke with Tschoop and Shabasch, both of whom were sachems, or tribal chiefs. Tschoop was a middle-aged man by our standards, but “old” for his time and place: he was somewhere around 40 years of age. Somewhere along the line, Dutch traders had nicknamed him Job, which name his fellow Indians had made into Tschoop. The name stuck. Why he had been called “Job” is unknown: perhaps it had to do with Tschoop being a crippled man and quite an unhandsome sight—different sources mention his great physical uncomeliness—like Job in his afflicted state. Another version is that he earned the name from his natural wisdom.
But unlike Job of the Bible, Tschoop was a servant of alcohol. In fact, he was known to be one of the worst of his people for succumbing to the firewater that the white man had introduced to the red man. So much so that when Christian went to visit his two new friends the second time just a few days later, both were so drunken that they could neither stand nor talk. But he had managed earlier to get their permission to return with them to their village to be their teacher in spiritual matters, so he remained undaunted. However, in the confusion of meeting up with them at a predetermined place, they returned home without him when the time came for them to leave.
Christian found out that his new friends lived at Shekomeko, a small Indian town near the Connecticut border, and so started out for a visit. He arrived on August 16, just one month after landing in New York. And the story of a revival began. But before the revival, great testing had to come.
Announcing the news
Tschoop had announced to the village that Christian would be their teacher, so immediately upon arriving Christian told them why he had come:
I come here from beyond the great ocean to tell you the good news! God, our Creator, so loved us that He became a human, lived 30 years in this world, went about doing good to all men, and was then nailed to the cross and shed His precious blood, dying so that we might be set free from sin …
The audience listened with great attention while he spoke. But the next day Christian found that the majority of his listeners simply laughed at him in derision when he tried to explain things further. Tschoop had listened to Christian’s first message as well, but he was so intoxicated that he remembered only one word from the whole sermon: “blood.”
Christian rose to the occasion by simply pressing ahead. Day by day he visited in their huts and tried to tell them his message. But things got worse before they got better. He was refused in many of their homes and wandered from village to village trying to find a receptive ear, and finding none. In fact, Tschoop even looked for an opportunity to shoot Christian, but the right moment never appeared. Shabasch simply tried to avoid him.
Blood, peace, and liberty
But several things would not let Tschoop rest: that one word he remembered and dreamed about, “blood,” the great peace which Rauch possessed, and the good news of deliverance.
Later in life, Tschoop explained it this way:
Brethren, I have been a heathen, and have grown old among the heathen; therefore I know how heathen think. Once a preacher came and began to explain to us that there was a God. We answered, “Do you think we are so stupid as to not know that? Go back to where you came from!”
Later another preacher came and began to teach us, saying, “You must not steal, lie, nor get drunk.” We answered, “You fool, do you think we don’t know that? First teach yourself and your own people to stop doing those things! Who steals, lies, and gets drunk more than your own people?” And we sent him away also.
After some time Brother Christian Henry Rauch came into my hut and sat down beside me and spoke to me like this: “I come to you in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth. He sent me to let you know that He will make you happy and deliver you from the misery in which you presently lie. That is the reason He became a human and gave His life as a ransom for humanity and poured out His blood for humanity …”
It was the message of freedom from sin that seemed to strike deep into the heart of Tschoop and his people. They already knew there was a God. They knew that this God wanted them to live morally and uprightly. And so they had sent home the earlier missionaries who came to tell them what they already knew. But here came a missionary with a different message … the message of deliverance, of a changed life with power over sin through Christ!
And freedom came by blood? Tschoop was confused.
Ever since that first message in which he only remembered that one word, “blood,” he had wondered about it. But not only wondered about it, he actually had dreams about blood! Tschoop thought it really strange that someone could go around talking about blood, yet seem so peaceful. So one day he asked the missionary about that blood. The conversation went like this:
“Why do you talk about the blood with such joy in your heart?” ask Tschoop.
“Because it is the blood of your Creator, who came to die and cleanse you from your sin,” replied Christian.
“But how can blood cleanse from sin?” came the honest question.
“If you love Him, the blood will work upon you,” explained the missionary.
“But I am so given to drink,” protested the debauched man.
“If you get the blood into your heart,” explained Christian, “the desire for drink will leave.”
And then there was the peace …
It “blew Tschoop away” that Christian Rauch could come into his hut with such security and peace. One day Christian came to his home to speak to him about Christ. After finishing, Christian said he was tired and wondered if it would be alright if he would take a nap there. The permission was granted and Christian promptly lay down on the floor and dozed off. Tschoop, looking upon the peacefully sleeping missionary, explained his feelings like this:
This man cannot be a bad man; he fears no evil, not even from us, who are so savage and cruel, but sleeps comfortably, and places his life in our hands. I might kill him, and throw him out into the woods, and who would even know it? But this gives him no concern.
Cleansed by the blood!
Of his own free will, Tschoop came to Christian one day and wanted to send a letter to the brethren at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. With great joy, Christian wrote the letter as Tschoop dictated:
I have been a poor, wild heathen, and for forty years as ignorant as a dog. I was the greatest drunkard, and the most willing slave of the devil; and as I knew nothing of our Savior, I served vain idols, which I now wish to see destroyed by fire. Of this I have repented with many tears.
When I heard that Jesus was also Savior of the heathen, I felt it to be my duty to offer myself with soul, body, and spirit to Him.
But my nearest relations, my wife and children, were my enemies; and my greatest enemy was my wife’s mother. She told me that I was worse than a dog if I would not believe in her idol. But my eyes being opened, I understood that what she said was nothing but folly, for I knew that she had received her idol from her grandmother. It is made of leather, and decorated with wampum. Since she is the oldest person in the house, she made us worship it, which we have done, until our teacher came and told us of the Lamb of God who shed His blood and died for us ignorant people.
I was astonished at this doctrine, and as often as I heard it preached, my heart grew warm. I even dreamed that our teacher stood before me and preached it to me. Now I feel and believe that our Savior alone can help me by the power of his blood, and no one else.
I believe that He is my God, and my Savior, who died on the cross for me, a sinner. I wish to be baptized, and frequently long for it most ardently. I am lame and cannot travel in winter, but in April or May I will come to you. The enemy has often tried to make me unfaithful; but what I loved before, I consider more and more as worthless and sinful. I am your poor, wild Tschoop.
When Tschoop surrendered his will to Christ, the blood flowed … from Christ to Tschoop’s heart, rebirthing his inner man.
The Moravians had a different view of the blood atonement than the popular assumption that the blood of Jesus is like the pagans’ offering to appease the wrath of the angry gods. You know, like, “The gods are angry! Quick! Offer them a sacrifice to appease their wrath!” Not so, in Moravian theology.
According to Zinzendorf, the wounds of Christ were the key to rebirth. When the wounds were opened on the cross, blood flowed out … that is, the life of Christ. This flowing blood symbolized the Holy Spirit pouring out of the Messiah, which was then sprinkled into the spirit of sinful men—men like Tschoop—cleansing them of all sin. In short, the blood atonement was like a spiritual blood transfusion. The blood of Christ, His Spirit, would flow out of Christ and into a drunk, sobering him up. This life of the Messiah would flow into vengeful men and turn them into gentle, forgiving gentlemen. This Spirit, flowing out of the wounds of Christ, would take perverted men and turn them into faithful husbands and fathers. This blood, flowing out of Christ, would cleanse all selfishness out of fallen humanity. Indeed, there was—and still is—power in the blood of Christ to cleanse from all sin!
Tschoop would never be the same again! The old drunken, carousing, self-centered warrior was turned into a gentle, moral, and sober follower of Jesus.
And others, too
Not very much later, Shabasch experienced the grace that changes sinners into saints. And others followed, not only in Shekomeko, but in the neighboring villages of Wachquatnach and Pachgatgoch.
On Februrary 11, 1742, Christian had the privilege of baptizing the first three Native Americans into the fold—Shabasch being one of them—near Oley, Pennsylvania. They had travelled to Pennsylvania for the occasion, and there Christian was ordained as a deacon, and then the three Indians were baptized by him at a meeting attended by quite a number of different denominational leaders. This baptism was a moving sensation among the Pennsylvanians. But Tschoop could not attend since he was too crippled to make the journey. However, on April 16, 1742, Tschoop also received baptism at the hands of Christian, back in Shekomeko.
The four converts were also a sensation among their own people. From 30 miles away their people travelled to Shekomeko to see and hear: to see the changed countenances on the faces of the men, and to hear the missionary and the converts’ testimony and preaching. Tschoop’s situation was described with the following words:
His teacher had repeatedly told him that no one but the crucified Savior could help him, and that He was always ready to do so, if he would only submit. But he had loved so many other things, and he despaired of giving them up. He had stuck fast to the world, was full of self-love, making a god of his belly. He also feared the reproach of man, and yet convinced that unless he surrendered his whole heart to the Savior, he would be damned on account of his unbelief.
But in another letter, Tschoop himself described what happened:
But now I am happy, for I know that our Savior has done so much for me; I am now as much humbled as I was sorrowful. As soon as I felt that I loved Him, I immediately wished for brethren who loved Him also. Therefore I love my brother Rauch, and you, and all my brethren here, and all brethren everywhere, even those whom I shall never see in this world. All who love the Lord Jesus, I love and salute. I rejoice more and more because our Savior makes others likewise happy, and not me only. I am always glad when our Brethren make known to us the Word; it is sweet to my taste, and I attend closely, that I may be as the Bible directs. And it is easy. There are men who say, ‘The Bible is a hard book.’ But I have not found it so; it is all sweet and easy. I therefore wait patiently until I come to the hard part. Since I so far only know it easy and sweet, and can say nothing more except that I feel the power of our Savior’s blood. Signed—John, your brother.
And more yet …
More and more Indians humbled themselves and let Jesus be the King of their life. Indeed, nothing less than a revival was occurring! By the end of 1742, 26 Native Americans had been added to the fold. One person described it in these words:
It was truly delightful to see the poor Indians coming from places 25 miles distant to hear the new preacher, who, as they expressed it, spoke of God who became man, and loved the Indians so much that He gave His life to save them from the devil and the service of sin.
More missionaries arrived to help with the work, among them Gottlob Buettner. By July of 1743, a little over a year after the first baptisms, a 20 foot by 30 foot chapel was built at Shekomeko. The famed Conrad Weiser wrote the following to one of the missionaries after a visit to Shekomeko:
The faith of the Indians in our Lord Jesus Christ, their simplicity and natural deportment, and their experience of the grace procured for us by the sufferings of Jesus have impressed upon my mind with a firm belief that God is with you. I thought myself seated in a company of early Christians. They attended with great seriousness and devotion; their eyes were steadily fixed upon their teachers as if they would eat their words. Tschoop was the interpreter and behaved himself in the best manner. I esteem him a man anointed with grace and Spirit. The text of Scripture, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever’ appeared to me as an eternal truth when I watched the venerable patriarchs of the American Indian church sitting around me as living witnesses of the power of Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Their prayers are had in remembrance in the sight of God and may God fight against their enemies. May the Almighty give to you and your assistants an open door to the hearts of all the heathen.
August Spangenberg, who for many years was one of the most important leaders at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, wrote the following in his journal upon visiting Shekomeko:
The nearer we approached to Shekomeko, the more veneration we found among all ranks of people for the great work of God in that place. The Justice of Peace at Milsy accompanied us, and declared that he would rather allow his right arm to be cut off than force the brethren to adhere to the Act passed against them, for he was thoroughly convinced that the grace of God had, by their means, wrought miracles in Shekomeko.
But when we arrived and were witnesses of it, then, dear brothers, dead indeed must be the man who could refrain from shedding tears of joy and gratitude for the grace bestowed upon this people! It is impossible to express what is felt here; God has done the work.
As we rode into town we met a man standing beside the road with a most remarkable countenance. We immediately thought of Tschoop and addressed him by name, and found that we were not mistaken. He received us with great kindness and brought us immediately to the missionaries.
Then the venerable elder, Abraham, came to see us and greeted us, and though he was marked, after the Indian custom, with a figure of a snake on each cheek, yet the grace of our Savior was so visible in his countenance, that we were struck with awe and amazement. The rest of the assistants came one after another and gave us a welcome in the most affectionate manner. Indeed, there was not a single one of the congregation that did not express joy at our arrival. They appeared altogether as meek as lambs.
While we were thus surrounded by our Indian brethren and sisters, I took up a Bible and the following text occurred to me: ‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my mother, sister, and brother.’
An Indian who had deviated from the right path wished to be readmitted, but the brethren could not trust him as yet. When we afterward held a lovefeast with all the baptized, 70 in number, he came likewise, stood at a distance, and looked upon his brethren with repentance and contrition in his countenance. We called him forward; upon which he went and sat down in a corner.
During love feast the presence of the Lord was powerfully felt. I spoke of the happiness granted to us by virtue of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, appealing to their own experience, and they affirmed what I said to be true.
Afterward, Isaac exhorted the brethren to be continually humble and low in their own eyes; never to forget the sufferings and death of Jesus, and not only to think of it in Shekomeko, but in the woods and when out hunting. We closed our love feast with prayer and supplication, and with tears commended these precious souls, and our venerable brethren who have labored among them, to God, our almighty Savior.
Conrad Weiser had written, “may God fight against their enemies.” And enemies arose, although the Indian converts had laid down the war hatchet to follow Jesus. The “enemies” were the rum traders. Like the men in the book of Acts who were losing business because of Paul’s preaching, the rum traders started losing business at Shekomeko and the surrounding villages. And they were upset.
In an effort to counteract the revival, they started some rumors in the area. One rumor was that the Moravian missionaries were actually Roman Catholics in disguise, and they intended to turn the Indian nations to Rome. This, of course, did not go over well with the white population in the area, who were basically either Reformed or Anglican. Another story that got started was that the missionaries intended to sell the Indian children as slaves. As well, the Moravians were also reputed to be in league with the French, with 3000 arms ready to distribute to the Indians against the English.
There were also other denominations who wanted to bring the Indian converts into their fold. When a white man tried to convince Shabasch that the Moravian missionaries were not the “privileged” teachers that the Indian converts held them up to be, Shabasch replied:
That may be so. But I know what they have told me, and what God has worked within me. Look at my poor fellow Indians lying there drunk at your door. Why do you not send privileged teachers to convert them? Four years ago I also lived like an animal, and none of you troubled yourselves about me. But when the brethren came they preached the cross of Christ, and I have experienced the power of His blood, so that sin has no longer dominion over me. That’s the kind of teachers we want.
The reply of the white man is not recorded; there is not much he could have said. The salvation of the Moravian teachers brought conversion and power over sin, while drunks were lying at the door of their retractors. “The proof was in the pudding!”
Disobey Jesus to save the mission post?
Eventually the rumors did their intended work. The town of Sharon, near Shekomeko, remained under arms for a whole week, and some of the colonists fled the area. The colony of New York passed an Act in 1745 that basically forbade anyone to do mission work among the Indians within the colony unless they would swear to two things. One, that they “rejected transubstantiation, the worship of the Virgin Mary, purgatory, etc,” and two, that they were loyal to the British king.
But before the Act was passed, the missionaries at Shekomeko were arrested. They were brought before the magistrates, but were always acquitted. The Justice of Peace at Filkentown even said—after acquitting them—that “he must acknowledge the mission in Shekomeko to be the work of God, because by the labor of the brethren the most savage heathen had been so evidently changed that he, and many other Christians, were put to shame by their godly walk and conversation.”
The Moravian missionaries were not Catholics, and neither were they opposed to the king. But … the “problem” was that Jesus had told them not to swear oaths. So they were stuck with either disobeying Jesus’ explicit command, or abandoning their mission outreach at Shekomeko.
They chose to obey Jesus.
At first the converts at Shekomeko decided among themselves to “stick it out” without their teachers. Gottlob Buettner had died right before the missionaries pulled out, exhorting the converts to “abide faithful unto the Lord to the end … and he expired while they were singing.”
Moving on …
The converts in the villages held out for a few years, but circumstances eventually forced them to move on. White settlers made the claim that the ground upon which Shekomeko was built was not actually Indian land. Furthermore, a rumor was started that the Indians of Shekomeko were in league with the French. So great was the affect of this rumor that the inhabitants of Rhinebeck demanded a warrant—refused to them, thankfully—to kill all the Indians at Shekomeko.
As much as they loved their village, the villagers “saw the handwriting on the wall.” In April of 1746, the first 10 families packed up and headed out to seek asylum near their teachers in Pennsylvania. There, new villages were started, close to Bethlehem. Friedenshutten [shelters of peace] and Gnaddenhutten [shelters of grace] became Christian Indian villages, with refugees from Shekomeko and surrounding villages, along with converts from other Indian nations. Each family was given a plot of ground, and soon beautiful fields graced the valleys. The inhabitants also lived off of the wild game, with up to 15-20 deer being harvested daily, as well as wild berries, nuts, and honey.
The congregation met twice daily. Translation work was in process. New believers were taught. Strict and faithful discipline was observed. Cleanliness and orderliness prevailed. And alcohol was banned entirely from the Christian Indian villages.
The number of the Indian converts increased to about 500, and the chapel had to be enlarged only three years after it was built in 1746. Widows and orphans were cared for. The love of war was replaced by harmony.
The story of the Moravian missions to the American Indians continued on for many years. By the time the eastern Indian nations had been pushed—what little was left of them—all the way to Kansas in the 1800s, many such villages had been built in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario. But not without price. Gnaddenhutten, mentioned above, was raided during the French and Indian War and several of the missionaries were killed. It was soon abandoned, and eventually the Indian converts found other places to settle further north and west. In Ohio, another village also named Gnaddenhutten suffered a massacre in which over 90 nonresistant Indians were mercilessly butchered to death by white colonists during the Revolutionary War. The stories of these villages—as worthy as they are for retelling—are too long to include here.
Tschoop became a translator and instructor of Indian languages and customs at Bethlehem for new missionaries. But his story is not long. It is the story of the smallpox among the Native Americans. Tschoop became a victim on August 27, 1746, along with over a dozen other neighboring Indians at the time. Smallpox (and similar diseases) is thought to have reduced the Native American population from several million, at the “discovery” of America by the Europeans, to several hundred thousand by the mid-1800s. Whole villages were almost totally wiped out by the dreaded disease to which the Indians were not resistant. Very few Native Americans who contracted it survived.
Tschoop lies buried along with 58 other Native American converts—from about eight different tribes—in God’s Acre in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The cemetery in Moravian communities was called God’s Acre because the Moravians saw the dead bodies “as seeds being planted, awaiting the resurrection to the final judgment.” When the trumpet sounds, all those dead bodies will “sprout” like so many seeds for the Savior!
Some years after his demise, a marble tombstone was placed over the seed named Tschoop, with these words:
In Memory of
TSCHOOP, a Mohican Indian,
Who, in holy baptism, April 16,
1742, received the name of
One of the first-fruits of the mission
at Shekomeko, and a
remarkable instance of the power
of divine grace, whereby he
became a distinguished teacher
among his nation.
He departed this life in full
assurance of faith, at Bethlehem,
August 27, 1746
There shall be one fold and one Shepherd.
John x. 16. ~
 Frederic was in New York from the St. Thomas (West Indies) mission, which is where the first two Moravian missionaries, Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, had gone a few years earlier. Neither Dober nor Nitschmann had stayed long on the island (Nitschmann a few months and Dober about two years).
 The Dutch had founded “New Amsterdam” as a trading post in 1625, but had ceded it to the English in 1664, who promptly renamed it “New York.” Thus the Dutch language had been introduced among the native population.
 The “tsch” in German has a “ch” sound. Thus the Indian variant was not that far from how we might pronounce “Job.”
 One writer commented that it was said that he “looked more like a bear than a man.”
 Near present-day Pine Plains, NY.
 The Moravians were not the first to preach to the American Indians, nor the first to have converts from them. But the Moravian Brethren were eventually the most successful in making disciples of Jesus—men and women who followed Jesus’ teachings—from among the Native Americans. Quite a number of nonresistant Christian Indian villages were formed during the following decades.
 The center of the Moravian outreach in North America.
 Writing to Count Zinzendorf.
 At his baptism, Tschoop had been given the name John. His original Indian name was Wasamapah. Thus Tschoop was known by three names.
 Returning to the theme of the flowing blood being a symbol of the life (Spirit) flowing out of the Messiah to enliven sinners, this phrase and sentence is like “apples of gold upon silver platters” when thus interpreted.
 Conrad was an official government agent to the Indian nations, helping in treaty negotiations and land purchases. His homestead, near Womelsdorf, PA, is now a State Historic Site. Conrad also was a member, for about six years, of the Ephrata Cloister, at Ephrata, PA.
 This “Act” will be described shortly …
 Tattooed, I assume.
 Abraham [Shabasch] had evidently been ordained as an “elder” [older brother, to be a spiritual counselor to the younger] and the others here mentioned were “assistants” of some sort in the Moravian system of church administration. It is to be noted that the Moravian use of some terms like “elder” does not equal what we normally think of when we use those same terms today.
 It is to be remembered that the Moravian missionaries taught their converts to be disciples of Jesus … these Indians practiced the Sermon on the Mount!
 An indication that church discipline was practiced at Shekomeko.
 Not some emotional experience, but the experience of being delivered from the power of sin!
 Otabawánemen, one of the first three Indians baptized at Oley, whom had been given the names Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
 The original stone would have probably only had his name and possibly the date of his death. It was replaced with the one mentioned here. As of the writing of this article, the stone mentioned here has also been replaced by another. On a side note, Christian Rauch died at Old Carmel, Jamaica, in 1763. The story of his missionary life at Shekomeko is only the beginning!
- Hits: 1761