Ebenezer and the Salzburgers’ Separatist Identity in Colonial Georgia - Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History

Ebenezer and the Salzburgers' Separatist Identity in Colonial Georgia



Armstrong State University



The British Colony of Georgia was a melting pot of different immigrant groups all trying to preserve their traditions while surviving the harsh conditions of their new home.  The Georgia Trustees had a vision of small farms, landholding colonists, and a slave-free environment to prevent land speculation and uprisings, all to create a capable militia and buffer state between the other colonies and Spanish-controlled Florida.[1]  A combination of industry and philanthropy was exactly what the Salzburgers needed because on October 31, 1731 they were exiled from their home in Germany.[2]  The Salzburger settlement, Ebenezer, received the support of many different European benefactors and the Georgia Trustees for almost twenty years, making it one of the most successful colonial towns in Georgia and separating it, secularly and spiritually, from its neighbors Savannah and Augusta.  The support the Salzburgers enjoyed affected the mentality of the settlement at Ebenezer.  Their separatist identity was a result of their Pietism and persecutions in Europe, funding by more than one institution, and the early success the Salzburger peasant farmers achieved.  However, it eventually prevented Ebenezer from being able to adapt to the political and economic pressures of neighboring towns, and with the loss of European financing after the Revolution the town never recovered.



Celebration of the Salzburgers’ arrival in GA, 1934
Source: Georgia Salzburger Society

The Salzburgers lived in the Archbishopric of Salzburg, a Catholic state in Germany on the current border of Bavaria and Austria.  Rulers of Germany, in areas of Catholic control, persecuted the Lutherans after the Reformation.  The Salzburgers were mostly indentured servants and migratory workers.  When Prince Leopold issued his Edict of Expulsion for any Lutherans to convert to Catholicism or leave within eight days, it displaced up to twenty thousand people in the area of Salzburg.  Prussia accepted most of the exiles in order to repopulate areas devastated by the plague in 1710-1720.  Fredrick William I, of Prussia, envisioned settling the Salzburgers on his Lithuanian borders to protect against invasion, similar to the Trustees intentions for them in the colony of Georgia.[3]  In Prussia, re-settlement, or leaving the place that Fredrick designated for them was equal to desertion and punishable by death. The proximity of Prussia to their exile made it a welcomed new start and alternative to the sure death from violence or starvation.  The Dutch recruited two hundred Salzburgers from the salt and silver mining district of Dürrenberg.  These settled on the coast of Holland, but the harsh conditions and poor soil caused most to return to Protestant controlled areas in Germany.[4]  King George II of England sympathized with the desperate position of the Salzburgers and because of this, on their arrival in Dover; they swore their allegiance and the King in turn granted them the rights of Englishmen.[5]   



The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge's (SPCK) goal was to bringing the Christian faith to the poor of Britain and her colonies.  The Georgia Trustees and the SPCK shared common members such as Samuel Urlpsburger, who was also the Senior of Lutheran Ministry in Augsburg, Germany.  The SPCK and Trustees were comprised of European philanthropist interested in relieving the poor and distressed of Europe while fostering spirituality in the New World.  Urlpsburger received a commission by the SPCK to recruit three hundred Salzburgers for a settlement in the Colony of Georgia.[6]  Between Parliament, the Trustees, and the SPCK, the Salzburgers received travel expenses, initial supplies for a year and fifty acres in the new colony.  Those who could pay their own way received a grant of up to five hundred acres, the maximum allowed in the colony, as one of the colonies’ purposes was to counter large landholders and speculation of property.[7]  The Trustees and SPCK wanted an environment that would be beneficial for the poor and peasant immigrants of Europe, especially a peasant farmer class such as the Salzburgers.  Prior to the rough sea voyage, receiving such special treatment and consideration from numerous European nations was uplifting for a group of exiled peasants and reaffirmed their spiritual convictions as so many of their fellow Protestants looked after them. 



The Salzburgers crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Purrysburg, arrived in Charles Town, SC on March 5, 1734, and within a few days proceeded on to Savannah.[8]  In 1734, forty-six Salzburgers arrived in the first transport, one hundred counting women and children, making up 10 percent of Georgia’s population that year.[9]  In all, four contingents of Salzburgers traveled to the new colony.  In 1742, one year after the last transport, the Salzburgers numbered 246, or 8 percent of Georgia’s population.[10]



The day after arriving in Savannah, Oglethorpe and a surveyor team set out to locate the new settlement for the Salzburgers, and at 9:00 a.m. on March 17, the commissary reached the spot Oglethorpe called Ebenezer, Hebrew for the Stone of Help.[11]   Philipp Georg Friedrich von Reck, a secular Hanoverian put in charge of the first transport of Salzburgers remained with the settlement while he traveled and researched local wildlife, plant life, and the Native Americans.  He was part of this first expedition and described the new site as a place where the woods are not too thick, the terrain is easy for riding, and all manner of vines, fruits, and vegetables grow wild.[12]  Von Reck was perhaps tired from the sea voyage or the Salzburgers were ready for anything to call their own and this location, twenty miles north of Savannah, is described this way by mistake or to make the public journals, used for promotion, as pleasing as possible.  Oglethorpe also wanted the settlement here, six miles inland from the river, because he had treaties with the Native Americans and did not want the Salzburgers to spread into the Indian lands. 



Map showing location of Ebenezer, 1735
Source: GeorgiaInfo

Regardless of first impressions, this settlement proved to be difficult in terms of soil, isolation, and sickness from the swamps.  Boltzius spoke of the difficulties in his secret diary: “I could tell him with good conscience that the damage was greater than the advantage, since last fall it spoiled the not yet ripe Indian beans and the seed that had been sown in the ground.  In the meantime we have not shirked in work or diligence to bring our dwelling and our entire economy into good order (in order to give a good example and to prevent all reproach), which, to be sure, caused no little expense.  At first we had cherished some hope of raising some garden produce for ourselves and other sick and needy people in the congregation; but we now regret these expenses and effort because our hopes have failed us completely.”[13] Boltzius pleaded with Oglethorpe to allow for a move in location, and on February 9, 1736, Oglethorpe ventured to Ebenezer, inspected the discontent for himself, and granted permission for the move.  He tried to persuade the Salzburgers not to transfer settlements, because they would lose all the labor exerted so far on clearing land, building houses, and constructing roads.[14]  In a letter to the Trustees in February of 1736 Oglethorpe wrote, “The People of Ebenezer are very discontented… I was forced to go to Ebenezer to quiet things there… Finding the people were only ignorant & Obstinate without any ill Intention, I consented to the changing of their Town.  They leave a sweet place where they have made great Improvements, to into a wood.”[15]




The Salzburgers moved east to Red Bluff, named for its red colored soil, and the settlement became known as New Ebenezer.  The industrious people wasted no time repeating their building and farming efforts.  By March 5, 1736 most were at New Ebenezer because of a town lot lottery.  The Salzburgers owned the houses they built, but the yards, gardens, and kitchens were all communal.[16]  New Ebenezer, was planned similar to Old Ebenezer, and Oglethorpe’s other planned cities, Savannah and Darien, utilizing the same garden and farm lot system.[17]  The town formed a square with “160 house lots laid out in groups of ten (known as tythings).”[18]  In 1737, descriptions by John Wesley of Savannah, Lord Percival, Francis Moore, and Thomas Jones all agreed that there were sixty huts present and the town was laid out neatly and orderly with regularly set out streets.  All of these accounts also reported that the garden lots and fields all produced crops and no land was wasted.[19]  By June 1738, the original Ebenezer settlement fell abandoned, with the exception of a single English family tending to the Trustees cattle.[20]



Oglethorpe ordered a fence built around the settlement, but the Salzburgers first built fences around their own lots, in disobedience of Oglethorpe’s plan.  Boltzius referred to this in his secret diary and also and gives the settlers motivation: “It must also be considered against Mr. Oglethorpe’s order that everyone is fencing in his own lot and hastily building something for his livestock.  If, as the surveyor desired, they had wished to surround the large area of the whole city with a single fence, then they would have had to leave outside of it the cattle…”[21] This was a planned settlement, but at the time, Oglethorpe was away for months building the fort against the Spanish along the Altamaha River.  One difference from Oglethorpe’s plan, partly due to the absence of the surveyor at the time of building, the Salzburgers did not build their houses “fronting the cross street” or “stationed in the center of the lot,” but they each built according to where they wanted their garden.[22]  Threats by a town official that the houses needed demolition and rebuilding were pointless and the Salzburgers made great strides in the building of their second settlement.[23]  Even in the early stages of building the settlement the Salzburgers cared little for the political or civil goals outside their community and looked to Boltzius alone for secular as well as spiritual guidance.



Plan of New Ebenezer, 1747. Source: Georgia Historical Society

The types of houses that the Salzburgers built are an evolution of the original huts that they erected.  Initially the settlement built temporary wooden huts on the town lots.  By 1740, the addition of the water-driven mill allowed for log houses and eventually log frame houses.[24]  There is at least one example of a house resting on cypress stump piers and recent archaeology uncovered postholes to back up this method of construction.[25]  Later illustrations of the Salzburger’s dwellings also show the use of mud and stick chimneys.  In September of 1738 Boltzius wrote that the Salzburgers were building Mrs. Arnsdorff a house with a sitting room and bedroom and that they would finish it with floors, doors, and windows.[26]  The early settlement, prior to the move to the plantation homes, was largely a communal building effort.  Many of the houses in Ebenezer were never improved beyond huts, because the Salzburgers opted to put the better construction efforts into the plantation homes.[27]          



Wood was the material of choice in the first two decades at Ebenezer, despite Oglethorpe’s suggestion to take up brick making with the locally available clay.  Boltzius did not think fondly of the bricks made in Savannah or Purrysburg.  He thought they were mostly sand and since they were dried in open air instead of an oven that the bricks were not structurally sound.[28]  Originally the religious space was a large hut that Von Reck lived in, Boltzius’ personal residence, and on occasion the orphanage.  The Jerusalem Church was erected beginning in 1741 with thick timbers instead of boards as used in Savannah.  Likely, Boltzius’ discontent with the available bricks and nurturing of Ebenezer’s own lumber industry played a factor in this construction method.[29]  Within two years of Boltzius’ death in 1765, the church was rebuilt with bricks.  Today the Jerusalem Lutheran Church is the only building that remains from the colonial period in Ebenezer and the oldest religious structure in Georgia.[30]


The Salzburgers had lived in a Catholic run province in Europe and for as long as a century, had often attended Catholic mass to hide their Lutheran faith.[31]  This, combined with the Trustees and the SPCK’s assignment of Boltzius as their civil and ecclesiastical leader, created a situation where the Salzburgers often acted before approval of the Trustees. Boltzius tried to reconcile the differences in plan with the Trustees or acted as the authority in Ebenezer.[32]  The Salzburgers themselves mostly feared the wrath of Boltzius who could revoke church privileges such as communion.  After Thomas Geschwandel’s wife passed away, he alone could care for his property and a two-year-old daughter.  This was at the original settlement.  Attempts to cultivate his poor soil and personal losses put him in a state of public drunkenness.  For his actions, Boltzius “excluded him from the Lord’s supper.”[33]  Boltzius was well aware of Ebenezer’s special status among the Trustees, but acknowledged that the Englishmen had contempt for the Germans.  Boltzius kept this feeling to himself in his personal diary when he wrote, “It appears to me and to others that the Salzburgers and the Germans in general are a thorn in the eyes of the Englishmen, who would like to assign them land that no one else wants and on which they will have to do slavish work.”[34]  The large contributions received and special status of the Salzburgers among the Trustees’ settlements fostered the social bond of Ebenezer’s residents.  Boltzius had to live in a political realm where he knew if the settlement disappointed the Trustees, it would lose its special status while also trying to keep his Lutheran congregation from intermingling with the other settlements considered heathens.[35]  The separatist nature of this Lutheran sect, given different status from the start, made Ebenezer seem like a colony within a colony.


The Salzburgers of Ebenezer were peasant migrant farmers in their homeland and because of this background were far more successful with early farming than the other towns in the Georgia colony.  There was a learning curve however; droughts, floods, insects, worms, deer, and other animals prevented the early success at Old Ebenezer.  The first five years were tough, and there was a trend of Salzburgers leaving their town houses to live on the farmsteads in 1738/39.[36]  In 1738, they produced a crop surplus and in 1739, “fifty-one farms produced 2,983.25 bushels of Indian or Welsh corn, 495.5 bushels of beans or Indian peas, 1,120 bushels of potatoes or sweet roots, and 717 bushels of rice.”  By 1740, at the new site, there were 154 acres under cultivation.[37]  Savannah never made advances like these, despite its supplies and support from the Trustees, and “year after year were fed from the stores and from the crops of the thrifty Salzburgers at Ebenezer.”[38]  Ebenezer’s agricultural production and success fed much of the colony from the start, and was only one of the markets that the Salzburgers sent their surplus.  In 1742, while most of the settlements were complaining of failed agriculture because of the lack of slave labor, Ebenezer’s 253 residents produced 4,987 bushels of produce.[39]  Boltzius, in a questionnaire from South Carolina, reported on the variety of crops the Salzburgers produced.[40]  In New Ebenezer, all of the settlers benefited from better conditions than the original settlement and prospects for Thomas Geschwandel also turned around.  Geschwandel’s crop yields for 1742 included forty eight bushels of corn, eighteen bushels of beans, eighteen bushels of sweet potatoes, 36 bushels of rice, 3.5 bushels of wheat.  These figures put him in the top quarter of producers in Ebenezer.[41]     


The Salzburgers were an industrious group that took to building both of their settlements right away, planted crops sufficient for surrounding areas and in spite of hardships advanced the industry of the community they built from scratch.  Within ten years of the transfer to New Ebenezer the community established water driven mills for grain and lumber, and a mill for stamping rice and barley to encourage the rice production in the local swamps.  Boltzius asked the Trustees for the financial support to build water-driven mills.  For Oglethorpe and the Trustees, a mill in Ebenezer meant additional food for troops and it would aid in the colony becoming self-sufficient.  For these reasons, the Trustees “donated money and material for the building of a water-driven mill” and construction began on August 20, 1740.[42]  A congregation in Savannah used lumber produced by Salzburgers to build a church in 1748.  In 1749, Savannah built a wharf for the strict purpose of selling the surpluses of Ebenezer lumber to merchant ships.  By 1751, a second millstone, a gift of the Trustees, arrived and Ebenezer built a second sawmill, calling Abercorn Creek by the name Mill River.  The Trustees even lifted the ban on the importation of rum from the West Indies in hopes of finding a market for trade in Ebenezer lumber with a sugar colony.  Aside from the donations of the Trustees in these ventures, the community as a whole undertook them all.  Few of the other colonies worked communally, without payment for labor, on the town’s fixtures.  Typically, this was private industry of a freeholder or men hired by the Trustees. The Salzburgers of Ebenezer, received the material to build their mills and presses as gifts, and they operated and enjoyed their profits communally for a time, creating a social bond not present in Savannah or Augusta.[43]


The Sericulture, silk production in Georgia, was one of the Trustees’ most important priorities for the colony.  It could make it profitable without requiring the harsh slave labor and large-scale plantations.  The Trustees initially sent for silkworm eggs from Italy and hired cultivators to train the Georgian farmers in silk production.  In 1736, the Trustees gave each Salzburger a mulberry tree and two individuals received training in the art of reeling the cocoons.[44]  By 1741, a team of twenty girls produced seventeen pounds of cocoons, the first major yield in Ebenezer.  That same year, Boltzius received money from Oglethorpe to purchase twelve hundred trees that he distributed amongst his congregation.  One year later, Oglethorpe gave five hundred more as gift to Ebenezer and Boltzius constructed a machine to manufacture the raw silk in his own yard.  By 1747, the silk industry of Ebenezer was thriving and the Salzburgers produced half of the silk in Georgia, about 420 pounds.[45]  The silk industry of Ebenezer continued to climb in production well past the Trustees’ surrender of the colony to the Crown and in 1764 produced as much as 8,695 pounds of cocoons.[46]  A travel account and report by John Ettwein, a Moravian from the second transport, wrote of Ebenezer’s silk production in 1765: “The Salzburgers, Swiss, and other whites in the vicinity of Purisburg and Ebenezer cultivate the silk worm.  I was told this was their only means for obtaining cash money.  A good housewife with three or four children (can gather three or four ounces each).  (I am not sure of this) For 20 to 30 pounds of cocoons they receive cash at a factory in Savannah (amount paid not given).”[47] The silk industry in Ebenezer peaked in 1766, and a declining trend in the economics of Ebenezer began to emerge.[48]  The introduction of slavery, combined with the discontent and division created by the ten years of petitions for the institution had a dramatic effect on the cohesion of the settlement.


Ebenezer’s success in agriculture and industry was an example the Trustees used many times as proof that their philanthropic intentions were possible without slavery.  Ebenezer was able to produce the silk the Trustees desperately wanted, they were peasants perfectly suited to the small farm lifestyle in the colony, and they did all of this without slavery or the request of slavery.  This was not the case in the other settlements.  Augusta’s residents produced high yields of corn, but claims by other settlements that Augusta were was using slaves from South Carolina are present as early as 1738. In 1742, Savannah’s malcontents told Oglethorpe: “We are informed that the production of a considerable quantity of corn about Augusta was due chiefly to two circumstances—first, the goodness of the land; and second and chiefly, because “the settlers there are indulged in and connived at the use of negroes, by whom they execute all the laborious parts of the culture, and the fact is undoubted and certain that upwards of eighty negroes are now in the settlements belonging to that place.  We do not observe this as if it gives us any uneasiness that our fellow-planters are indulged in what is so necessary for their well-being; but we may be allowed to regret that we and so many British subjects, who stood much more in need of them, should have been ruined for want of such assistance.”[49] This is the situation in the entirety of the colony of Georgia, with Ebenezer’s Salzburgers as the exception.  The fact that Georgia’s settlers so desired slaves to ease their hard labor offended the Salzburger Lutherans in two ways.  First, part of their faith and piety rested on hard labor and contentment with what the Lord provides.  The Salzburgers did not seek wealth in the manner as other settlers, especially those that arrived as debtors and had no spiritual connections to a community or way of life.  Secondly, the Salzburgers had no interest to intermingle with Negroes based on cultural and religious reasons.  Their separatist behavior kept them at a distance from the other settlements that they deemed ungodly and the heathen Africans endangered their religious community worse than the English.


The Salzburgers’ success was often underpinned by the communal building and industry, but many of the communities failures arise from their isolationist nature.  The Salzburgers had an encounter with South Carolinian slaves at the very beginning of their settlement in Georgia’s colony.  In 1734, thirteen slaves came from South Carolina to help with the original clearing and construction at Old Ebenezer.  The pastors thought very little of their work ethic and basic character.  Boltzius writes of them stealing and fleeing every chance they get.[50]  On April 9, 1734, the pastors wrote that they approved of the punishment for those slaves that escaped and their quick return is how “God proves his fatherly care.”[51]  Clearly, the Salzburgers needed all the labor possible in the first years, but had no concern for the liberty of the black man, and likely had a racial bias towards the Negro slaves.  The Africans shared no moral or spiritual connections with the Salzburgers and their interactions, for Pietistic Lutherans, endangered the moral fiber of the settlement.  In Germany, they called black-skinned people Moors, and this is the common term Boltzius used while writing in the German language.  The Muslim context of the Moors also would have a frightening component since many of the Salzburgers in Europe lived on borders of the Ottoman Empire.[52]  Of the thirteen slaves, by July all but two were returned to their South Carolina masters, and after one committed suicide, the final also was returned home.[53]


The early fear of slaves in their presence made the Salzburgers ideal for the Trustees, who were fighting to keep the prohibition in the colony.  On January 17, 1739, Oglethorpe presented the Trustees with his reasons to continue the prohibition of slavery.  The six basic reasons given were: “that it was against the original intention of the colony to relieve the distressed; it would weaken rather than strengthen the frontier, give slave owners land designed as refuge for persecuted protestants, prevent improvements of silk and wine, and glut markets with American commodities which already too much interfere with English produce.”[54]  The Stono slave uprising in South Carolina, began in September, 1739, reinforcing the arguments for security and the Trustees were resolute in their decisions on the prohibition.  The uprising also scared the people of Ebenezer, because Oglethorpe delivered, personally on September 22, extra muskets, powder, and lead in case the rebelling slaves crossed the river.[55]  By 1739, petitions for the introduction of slavery were numerous, and William Stephens’ son began a campaign to rile up support from Savannah, and the other settlements, and even traveled to England to convince some of the Trustees.[56]  In 1740, a petition signed by sixty three landholders in Savannah requested the Negroes again and “indulged in bitter denunciation of Oglethorpe.”[57]  There were also dissenters in Ebenezer.  The English teacher, Christopher Ortmann, among others, on October 20, 1741 claimed, “That they and most their people have the most want for negroes but fear Boltzius too much to sign the Negro petition.”[58]  A very in-depth conspiracy began to take place throughout the colony at the hands of President William Stephens and his son, Thomas.  Over the course of a decade many of the Trustees fell to the side of the pro-slavery group.  Despite almost twenty years of prohibition, the Trustees relented on July 7, 1749 and granted permission to the colony to use African slaves under certain regulations, although these rules were identical to the petitions proposed by Savannah.[59]  The Trustees lost their noble pursuit of a colony founded on the back of common whites, and by August of 1751, due to financial reasons, the Trustees surrendered the colony to the Crown a year before the charter ran out.  The issue of slavery in the colony was not the first divisive subject among Boltzius and the non-Salzburger residents of Ebenezer.


Boltzius, in his letters, devoted a great deal of writing about his concerns for the Salzburgers that lived amongst the English.  On the first transport in 1733 seven non-Salzburgers traveled to Georgia as part of the new settlement:  George and Barbara Roth, Christopher Ortmann and wife, Von Reck and his assistant Christian Sweikart, and the apothecary Andreas Zwiffler.  In regards to Zwiffler, he wrote in a letter on March 22, 1734, “He relies too much on his own righteousness.”[60]  In the same letter, he wrote of Roth’s people and Ortmann’s wife, “Things stand in a very bad way, and one does not see how to help them.”[61]  A letter from the same day to a Professor Baumgarten in Germany, telling of his learning the English language, stated: “Along with the Salzburgers, there were also many people from the English nations on the ship from which whom I could have learned English.  But their behavior was objectionable to me since very few among them have an inclination in the sort of speech and action that God has commanded us in His Holy Word.”[62] These interactions dictated the relationship Boltzius played in the settlement with residents that were not part of the congregation.  In 1739, Ortmann signed a Savannah petition for the repeal of the slavery prohibition, but claimed that Boltzius made him and his wife remove their names.[63]  Boltzius would not have wanted to damage the reputation of the Salzburgers or disappoint their benefactors the Trustees, so this is completely possible.  In an event known as the Ortmann Affair, Christopher took his complaints regarding slavery and defaming remarks about Boltzius’ pastoral duties to Oglethorpe.  One of the remarks was that Boltzius had refused to allow his wife Eucharist because of her sinful life.  Oglethorpe apparently sided with Boltzius, and from 1739 on Ortmann was in league with William Stephens of Savannah as the leader of the pro-slavery party in Ebenezer.[64]


Boltzius did not want news of this sort reported for fear of losing the support of any one of his benefactors in Europe.  His need to stay within the good graces of the Trustees and the SPCK was his primary motivation for not wanting slaves.  The flock’s religious and cultural identity was second to protecting the financial support of the Trustees and European allies.  Proof of this lies in the fact Boltzius purchased slaves himself within three years of the repeal.[65]  Between 1750 and 1753, at least five Salzburgers, including Boltzius had purchased as many as fifteen slaves.  As the Salzburgers leader, Boltzius had to deal with the political realities of keeping his congregation productive, fed, and preferably out of servitude like many other Germans in Georgia.  His role in the secular realm and eventual purchase of slaves represents a “responsive adaptiveness” to the colony as it evolved.[66]  However, not all of the Salzburgers readily accepted the new realities of slave owning, and the economic impact that came with it. Thomas Geschwandel represented the Pietistic Lutheran views on slaves and the institution well.  After the repeal, he pleaded with Boltzius to ask more of the Trustees: "If they knew of a place within the King’s territory which had a provision against the introduction of slaves, and they were allowed to move there without opposition, and if they were given some help toward their new and difficult beginning, they would not hesitate for the sake of their children and other important reasons to emigrate again rather than live among Negroes. Thomas resisted purchasing slaves his entire life.”[67]


The Ortmann affair and repeal of slavery were not the only things to divide the people of Ebenezer.  By March 1740, many of the Salzburgers were moving to their plantations.  As the first profits from industry and agriculture came in the residents were able to build better housing on their farming lots.[68]  The initial communal exercises of building the community and gathering silk as a family had dissolved and on their farms, they had individual identities.  The huts in the settlement were taken over by other Englishmen and never turned into suitable permanent housing.  The introduction of slavery meant that some of them joined the planter class and bought larger plantations for personal profit, leaving behind their piety.  Only a few could afford this financially, and competition in rice and cotton prices destroyed the smaller farmer’s motivations for producing excesses for almost no profit.  After 1763, new areas in Georgia opened for settlement and many Salzburgers opted to move to lands not yet depleted and remain small farmers continuing the European traditions.  The death of Boltzius in 1765 was a devastating loss of leadership for the settlement.  The silk industry reached a peak in 1766, and without price fixing under the rule of the Trustees was not a profitable venture for the people of Ebenezer.[69]  The Revolutionary War occupations brought trade to a halt.  After the war, new trade routes went around the city, and Ebenezer lost its markets.[70]  The Salzburgers also lost the support of English charities and the loss of assets that resulted from the Revolution ruined the SPCK financially.


Unlike all the other settlements in Georgia, the Salzburgers of Ebenezer treated their home like a gift from the Lord, or a Stone of Help.  They received gifts and charity from countless organizations in Europe, constant sponsorship for industry from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and served as the perfect example for the original values the Trustees tried to instill on the colony.  These factors, applied to a group of people that experienced persecution at the hands of their rulers, were exiled, and created a Pietistic Lutheran settlement in the middle of the British debtors colony, gave the Salzburgers a unique identity in Georgia.  Because of religious and racial bias and support for the Trustees, they separated themselves from the other settlements.  Their constant affection from Europe and the Trustees only worsened the feelings of the less productive and successful cities toward Ebenezer.  The Salzburgers’ separatist values made them the Trustees perfect colonists and a successful settlement, but it also made them incapable of adapting to a quickly evolving new continent.  Those that did adapt lost the communal spirit, and those that did not could not maintain the glory of Ebenezer in a colony of large slave plantations.  The same values that made Ebenezer great also made it a short-lived dead town in Georgia.



About the author

Tannie Arnsdorff is a senior history major, member of Phi Alpha Theta and Undergraduate Research Assistant to Dr. Jason Tatlock in the history department.


Recommended citation

Francis Tannie Arnsdorff, "Ebenezer and the Salzburgers' Separatist Identity in Colonial Georgia," Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 3, no. 2 (April 2013).




[1] Renate Wilson, "Halle and Ebenezer: Pietism, Agriculture and Commerce in Colonial Georgia," (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1988), 2.

[2] George Fenwick Jones, The Salzburger Saga: Religious Exiles and Other Germans Along the Savannah (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), 7.

[3] Alexander Pyrges, German Immigrants at the Ebenezer Settlement in Colonial Georgia, 1734-1850: Integration and Separatism (PhD diss., Kansas State University, 2000), 61.

[4] Wilson, 13.

[5] Jones, 8-13.

[6] Jones, 9.

[7] William L. Withuhn, “Salzburgers and Slavery: A Problem of Mentalite,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 68, no. 2 (Summer 1984): 175.

[8] Wilson, 1.

[9] Ibid., 1.

[10] Withuhn, 176.

[11] Charles C. Jones Jr, The Dead Towns of Georgia (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2008), 13.

[12] Philipp Georg Friedrich von Reck, "An Extract of the Journals of Mr. Commissary Von Reck," in Peter Force, Tracts and Other Papers, 1836-46 (Printed by W. Q. Force, 1846), 4:16-18.

[13] Johann Martin Boltzius, "The Secret Diary of Pastor Johann Martin Boltzius," Georgia Historical Quarterly 53, no. 1 (March 1969): 90.

[14] Jones, Jr., Dead Towns, 18.

[15] Verlegt Von Matthias Seutter, Plan von neu Ebenezer, MS 1361-MP112 Manuscript Collection, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah.

[16] Daniel Elliot, Ebenezer, An Alpine Village in the South Georgia Swamp, Ebenezer Archaeological Report Series, Lamar Institute, Savannah,43.

[17] Joan Niles Sears, The First One Hundred Years of town Planning in Georgia. (Athens, GA: Cherokee Publishing Company, 1979): 35.

[18] Elliott, 3.

[19] Ibid., 47.

[20] Jones, Jr., Dead Towns, 19. This is the most detail given about Old Ebenezer. The second transport arrived at the time that New Ebenezer was being settled and little written records of Old Ebenezer’s plan remain. 

[21] Boltzius, 101.

[22] Elliot, 3.

[23] Boltzius, 101.

[24] Elliot, 17.

[25] Ibid., 17. “The survey was accomplished in November and December, 1987 with the aid of numerous professionals and amateurs who volunteered their services.  The historical research, artifact analysis, and report writing were subsequently conducted by Daniel Elliott and Rita Folse Elliot.  Approximately two-thirds of the town was examined by shovel testing.  Tests were spaced at 20 m intervals, and over 300 tests were excavated.  The survey identifies areas of concentrated early colonial activity, architectural features, a brick-lined well, a boat slip or inclined ramp way to the river, old roadbeds, and Revolutionary War earthworks, or redoubts,” 27.

[26] Ibid., 61.

[27] Ibid., 45.

[28] Ibid., 17.

[29] Ibid., 68.

[30] Ibid., 10.

[31] Ibid. 38

[32] Withuhn, 177.

[33] Van Horn Melton, 121.

[34] Boltzius, The Secret Diary, 92.

[35] Scomp, 286.

[36] Elliott, 7.

[37] Ibid., 20.

[38] Scomp, 286.

[39] Elliott, 20.

[40] Johann Martin Bolzius, “Johann Martin Bolzius Answers a Questionnaire on Carolina and Georgia,” The William and Mary Quarterly 14, third series, no. 2, (1957):  238-239.  The range of food production varied to include rice, pumpkins, squashes, watermelons, sugar melons, muskmelons, peanuts, cucumbers, potatoes, cherries, pomegranates, figs, grapes, peas, rye, beans, wheat, apples, pears, peaches, plums, corn, walnuts, mulberries, beechnuts, acorns, barley, cabbages, strawberries, celery, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, beets, cress, parsnips, onions, chives, garlic, parsley, rue, thyme, marjoram, sage, fennel, coriander, mustard, wild saffron, radishes, balsam, rosemary, poppy seeds, cassena (black drink), cloves, and many others used as cattle feed.

[41] Van Horn Melton, 123.

[42] Pyrges, 94.

[43] Ibid., 95.

[44] Jones, Jr., Dead Towns, 27.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., 28.

[47] John Ettwein, Report and Map, 1762, 1765, Manuscript Collection, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah.

[48] Jones Jr., Dead Towns, 28.

[49] Scomp, 288.

[50] Withuhn, 179.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Melton, 129.

[53] Withuhn, 180.

[54] Scomp, 285.

[55] Melton, 132.

[56] Scomp, 294.

[57] Ibid., 295.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid., 302.

[60] Boltzius, The Letters, 60.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., 64.

[63] Pyrges, 89.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid., 92-93.

[66] Withuhn, 191.

[67] Melton, 136.

[68] Elliott, 18.

[69] Ibid., 19.

[70] Jones, Jr., Dead Towns, 38.

© 2014 Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History, Online ISSN 2163-8551
A special initiative of the Department of History,
Armstrong State University, a University System of Georgia Institution