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.
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.
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.
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.
Bergmann’s ministry in Ebenezer was the continuation of a story that begin when a small group of Lutheran religious exiles from Salzburg settled in the colony of Georgia in 1734 under the leadership of Johann Martin Boltzius. Throughout its early history, the community was supported by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in London, England, and the A.H. Francke’s Orphan House in Halle, Germany. After some early success, as well as growth through the later arrival of additional German speaking immigrants, the community suffered decline, in large part due to internal strife resulting from a conflict between two later pastors and as a result of damage suffered in the Revolutionary War. Bergmann, who had been trained in Germany and influenced by the pietistic tradition of the Halle Orphan House, was selected after a long search and with some reservation by at least one of his superiors, to come to America to take charge of the shattered community and restore it to order.
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.
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.
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.
Bergmann reports on the political tensions increasing in the United States over issues of states’ rights and slavery, foreshadowing the American Civil War. The call up of militias in Georgia over fears arising from the First Seminole War causes difficulties for his son who qualifies for a medical exemption. The slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey in South Carolina is thwarted and its leaders executed. The work of American missionaries around the world captures Bergmann’s attention, along with fires on the east coast, hurricanes, and outbreaks of yellow fever. Bergmann is aware of his own approaching death.
Bergmann reviews some significant developments in the life of the community, both before and since his arrival. He recalls incidents from the time of the Revolutionary War that do not reflect well on the conduct of certain individuals in and around Ebenezer. He also describes unusual events in the weather and features of the land, plants, and animals of the region. The mistreatment of slaves remains a concern, along with the profiteering of wealthy landowners who prefer to plant cotton over crops that can be used for food. Savannah has virtually recovered from a fire that occurred in 1796, though outbreaks of yellow fever remain a concern. He continues to appreciate his good relationships with clergy of other denomination.