David Zeisberger: A Life among the Indians

By Earl P. Olmstead; David Zeisberger | Go to book overview

3
Preventing Mischief, 1743-1745

THE SNOW-LADEN clouds of January 1743 hung heavy in the northern skies as David Zeisberger and Bishop Nitschmann left New York City. They were well on their way to Bethlehem when the ship carrying the Zinzendorf party cleared New York Harbor and headed to the open sea. Zeisberger's aborted trip to Europe marked a turning point in the twenty- one-year-old's life. Although the reason for sending him to Europe is not revealed in Moravian archives, it is clear he preferred to work in America. Within a few months he was assigned to the new language school. Classes began early in February 1744.

Moravian Church elders, both in Europe and America, were aware of the many and varied dialects of the American aborigines and the inherent linguistic difficulties in communicating with them. Most of the earlier Protestant missionary efforts collapsed because of their inability to master the Indian dialects. They knew that conducting social discourse required the use of a mutually understandable language. They could not expect the Indians to learn German or English. Thus missionaries must be trained as quickly as possible to master the Indian tongues. The task could take months, possibly years.

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