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The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, edited and translated by Russell Kleckley, chronicles the experiences and perceptions of a German Lutheran pastor called to serve a struggling community in the American South soon after the Revolutionary War. Written mostly to Bergmann’s superiors at the important center of German Pietism in Halle, the letters not only report on conditions in Ebenezer, Georgia, established over a half-century earlier by religious refugees from Salzburg, they also offer a distinctive and often critical look at American culture, religion, and politics from an outsider’s viewpoint. Bergmann stresses the practical and corrosive impact of American notions of freedom in everyday life while also commenting on a wide range of other issues, including Georgia’s relationship with Native Americans and the practice of slavery.

Abstract

Throughout the first half of the 1790s, Bergmann’s pessimism about the religious, political, and moral life in America continues to grow. Bergmann describes the impact of the Revolutionary War on Ebenezer and accounts for the stance taken by the community, and several important members in particular, in support of either side. He continues his critique of American ideas about freedom while reporting as well on the impact of other denominations in Georgia and his relationship to them. Joseph Priestley’s acclaim in America catches his attention, and he writes a letter to President George Washington after briefly meeting Washington in Savannah during the President’s southern tour of states in 1791.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

A hurricane and other unusual weather events bring devastation to the area. A planned slave uprising is averted shortly before it occurs. Camp meetings associated with the Second Great Awakening continue. Fear spreads that America may be dragged into the Napoleonic wars plaguing Europe. Divisions and doctrinal arguments across Christian denominations provide more fodder for critics.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

Bergmann reacts to his call to Ebenezer in Georgia and describes his trip to Augsburg where he meets with J.A. Urlsperger, the head of the Lutheran ministerium there, for his ordination and orientation on the circumstances in Ebenezer. In Augsburg, he becomes aware of Urlsperger’s lack of confidence in him. Nonetheless, Bergmann relies on his assurance of the divine origin of his call. After meeting with J. G. Probst, who has been appointed to serve as a second pastor and schoolteacher in Ebenezer, he sets sail on the difficult first leg of his journey that will take him first to Tenerife before sailing across the Atlantic to America.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

Bergmann reports about the religious situation in the United States and offers his perspective on the clergy of other denominations in Savannah, as well as the relationships among different denominations. He reviews some of the history of Ebenezer’s past that sheds light on its present circumstances. He reports the rapid growth of Georgia’s population and the addition of new counties in the state. Orders are placed for books and medicines that are highly desired by members of the community.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

The election of Thomas Jefferson as president brings attention to Jefferson’s religious views and raises questions about his religious orthodoxy. At the same time, his commitment to religious freedom allows the opportunity for growth among Methodists and Baptists who tended to view Jefferson favorably. Thomas Paine has returned to America where his influence remains great. Atheism is on the rise while government authorities remain inattentive to religious concerns. On the other hand, religious revival, through the influence of the Second Great Awakening, has become evident even in Georgia through the appearance of camp meetings. A court decision in the matter of the Rabenhorst will has allowed the recovery of some assets.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

Upon his arrival in Ebenezer, Bergmann is shocked by the physical and spiritual condition of the community and challenged by the social, political, and cultural circumstances in the US in its early years. Compounding the problems in the community is the fact that Ebenezer had only been expecting one pastor, not two, resulting in Probst’s embittered return to Germany where he makes recriminations toward Bergmann for his fate. Bergmann also soon discovers that the recovery of assets from the will of one of his predecessors, a charge given to him by his superiors in Germany, is more difficult than expected, due not only to the intransigence of the estate’s executor but also because of the American legal system that Bergmann finds to be anything but just. Bergmann also reports his impressions of matters involving Georgia’s relationship with Indians and the treatment of its slaves, all while constantly battling fevers accompanying the illnesses he endures while adapting to Georgia’s climate.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

After several years in Georgia, Bergmann has become more familiar with his surroundings, including, the cultural, social, political landscape, along with the religious situation in his new land. While intending to remain neutral on the question of whether the American or British positions had been justified in the Revolutionary War, he clearly has come to believe that American notions of freedom were misguided and even ruinous to the promotion of morality and for Christian life in particular. He notes attentively the growth of Baptists and Methodists in Georgia in the early years after the Revolution but also is alarmed by the infiltration of “Rationalists” and “free-spirits” even into to the highest levels of government. Concerns about possible conflicts with Creek Indians also remains a concern as the decade approaches its end. Prospects for his personal circumstances also remain bleak, yet Bergmann is committed to remaining at his place of call, at least to the end of his initial six-year appointment.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

Bergmann reflects on Ebenezer’s past and finds the seeds for the community’s downfall already planted in its early years. Baptists and Methodists continue to grow numerically but many of the denominations remain embroiled in theological disputes over non-essential points of doctrine. Moral depravity is evident throughout the state of Georgia, even in the state legislature where pervasive drunkenness interferes with governance. Concerns remain about slave uprisings. The re-election of Thomas Jefferson as President and tensions between Republicans and Federalists dominate the national political scene that includes the death of Alexander Hamilton in his duel with Aaron Burr. The continuing Napoleonic wars in Europe also remain a concern that weighs heavily on Bergmann’s mind.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824

Abstract

Bergmann reports on the American response to the French Revolution, which he regards as consistent with the growing influence of the rationalism in American thought that continues to fuel misguided ideas about freedom. A schoolteacher who had embraced rationalism and taught in the area English school, led an effort to expel to Bergmann from Ebenezer. The effort failed but indicted the extent to which rationalist forces were making an impact even locally. Dissension among Christian groups lent support to the denigration of traditional religion. Bergmann considers the Lutheran Church, particularly in the American South, to be especially in disrepair due to the emphasis placed by clergy for purity of doctrine over true Christian living.

In: The Letters of Johann Ernst Bergmann, Ebenezer, Georgia, 1786–1824