Johann Böhner (1710-1785)
The Life of the Blessed Brother Johann Böhner
I was born on November 10, 1710, in Grünberg1 in Moravia, near to the Bohemian border. Already in my childhood years the concern arose in me whether I too would become blessed when I should die? I believed, however, that because I did not yet have my understanding, the dear God would be merciful to me. Once, during a strong thunderstorm, I became very scared. I kneeled down tearfully and begged God to forgive me. At that time, I had an agreeable impulse, which I followed, to lead a pious life according to the ordinary idea that this was the way to salvation. But my piety did not bring me far. In my fourteenth year I came to Olmiz to an artistic wood turner [as an apprentice]. Because heÑat the instigation of his wifeÑbegan to treat me too hard, and one time beat me severely because I had closed myself in the store so as not to be troubled by the frivolous boys, I did not stay there for a whole year. My father came to visit me and told me that he had heard of a Count who was building a new town for those who were emigrating for freedom of conscience; he also wanted to move there. I then went with my father, and he set me to making clocks to help him. In 1727, the two brothers, Christian David and Christoph Demuth, the box maker, came to us, because our neighbor, the mother of Elisabeth Welzel in Herrnhut was the latter's sister. Christian David held meetings for our two families, as we lived alone in a valley by a sawmill. His addresses and singing was very agreeable to me. Although their talks had not yet taken root in my heart, it remained clear to me that I had to change and emigrate. In 1728, Br. Melchior Nitschmann and the Capist Br. George Schmidt2 came in the strength of the spirit from Herrnhut to our area and held night meetings with the Demuth family. My mother and my younger brother also went; they were all betrayed and taken prisoner, and we were also picked up. In the prison at Eisenberg my parents and we sons were examined, and after giving a guarantee that my father would present himself again, we were released. When my father went in 1729 on a second visit to Herrnhut, he took me along. The services and the way of life pleased me greatly, and I would gladly have stayed there. After my return, I came once again into sin, and then fell ever deeper into it. There was nothing good in my life, although I did not appear so bad from outside. In 1731, on May 17, I came with my parents and my oldest brother, who picked us up, to Herrnhut. That same summer the practice was established of the young Purschen, as they were called at the time, going two and two into the woods in the evenings after the Singstunde, holding Bands, and praying with one another. There was always one who already had mercy and experience, and one who was newly arrived. So it happened when I knelt on my knees with another, that it was to me as if the Savior hung before me and I were one of his crucifiers. My heart broke and I had to weep, yet he did not let me rise unconsoled, and gave me a glimpse of his mercy; my heart became glad and it was so well with me, that I thought: "if only I no longer had to sleep, but rather could spend all my time in communion with Him." I had a pleasing winter, yet I could not believe that I had come to the breakthrough of which so much was spoken of at that time; I thought something else completely different must happen, because I still felt my ruinous state deeply, and I believed that it should not longer be there. The poor sinner's-state was still not clear, which is why I also did not have the heart to ask to be taken into the Gemeine, since I held myself to be too bad for that. I begged the Savior to take me on as His, and when I wanted to stray from Him, to bar my path into thorns, since I had come to know my own ruin and my inconstant mind. Afterwards, I went out of Herrnhut for work, was among worldly people, and my heart lost the powerful feeling. I came in a lawful workshop; everything was sin to me, and I felt miserably tormented. Sometimes it was as if my heart were pressed between two stones, because I was missing the blessed Sinner's-state and the belief in the payment of Jesus. I became timid, and was anxious of being turned away from the Gemeine. To go into the world again was not for me: I thought I would rather starve in the wilderness.
In 1734, the Single Brothers had a Liebesmahl, at which preparation was made among them for depositions. The blessed Jünger asked each one where he had the impulse to go, among the heathen, or among the Brothers after the flesh? When it came to me, I could not declare myself for either, because I felt too bad. That year after colonists were to be sent to Georgia. It was made known that those who wanted to go should speak up. I also received an impulse, and thought then that it would go better with me. It was taken under consideration if it was the right time for me, and the answer was yes. On August 5, I set off on the journey. From Altona3, where the whole group of travelers came together, 23 in total, we went to London, and arrived in February 1736 in Savannah, Georgia. There we found eight Brethren who had gone the year before, and who had already built a house and put a roof on it. After some time I was asked if I wanted to be taken into the Gemeine. This was very welcome to me, as I did not myself have the heart to continue, even though my only intention was to be there for the Savior and the Gemeine. I then took part in this blessing, after which I gave my promise to various questions. Being taken into the Gemeine also meant Confirmation at that time, because one became a recipient of the Holy Abendmahl on the next occasion of the same. Afterwards I also came into the hourly-prayers, and went with Br. Anton Seifert to Irene4 among the Indians to learn the language. We came back to Savannah after some time, however, because there was a lack of hands there. When it was decided that it was better to go to Pennsylvania, because we were given no peace with respect to the carrying of weapons and furthermore were not allowed to move into the land of the Indians, it was proposed to me by blessed Peter Böhler that I either go with Br. Michael Haberland, who had a call to bring his sister, the blessed [Sr.] Töltschig, to the Gemeine, or else to go to Pennsylvania as a scout, in order to find a place where we could settle. Because I had a great injury to my arm and did not trust myself to undertake the journey to Europe in the cold of winter, I chose the latter and departed from Georgia in January 1740. I arrived in New York after a seventeen-day sea journey, rested for two days in the home of the old Mr. Boemper, who was then our agent there, and then went on foot to Philadelphia. When I was five miles out and heard that it was no farther to Germantown, I turned myself thither and came to our old friend from Georgia, David Tanneberger. From there I went fifteen miles into the wilderness to Christian Wiegner, to whom I was addressed, but because I found no work there, I returned to Germantown where I worked for our Gotthold Demuth. After the other Brethren arrived from Georgia in May, we moved to the Nazareth land in order to build a schoolhouse for Mr. Whitefield. That same winter the Holy Ghost placed my ugliness directly before my eyes; I spoke to the blessed Br. Peter Böhler on the subject; he knelt down with me and prayed, and I wept. I saw myself as a stain before God and the Gemeine. I threw myself with my ruin and sins before the Savior, who undeniably reassured me the next morning of his mercy and his peace; it was none other than as if He stood before me, and my heart melted in love and submission. In the spring of 1741, I moved to the land that had been purchased, where Bethlehem now is. We began to build for ourselves, and there was much and difficult work. When, the next year, many Brothers and Sisters came from Europe and a Gemeine was established at Bethlehem by the blessed Jünger, I became the Br. Anton's Co-Elder. Not long after, I received a call to St. Thomas; my response to this assignment was: If I die, then I die! For this purpose, on July 10, 1742, I was married, and was sent off by the blessed Jünger on the twelfth, with Br. Gottlieb Israel, who was returning [to St. Thomas]. We were supposed to wait for eight days in New York, until he came there with his traveling companions from their trip among the Indians and could see and speak with us one more time. When, however, the Brother who had been to St. Thomas on a visitation, returned the night before our arrival with the report that there were only one pair of Brethren there, we had to hurry forth, and because no other transportation was sea-worthy than a small Barque5 that had been sold to Spanish Town, [Jamaica], we set off on it and sailed on July 20 from Sandy Hook.
My Hannel6 [Johanna Hummel] soon became very sick and remained so. Around Bermuda, on the 28th, a storm broke the mast. Then there was emergency and danger. Outside of the captain and the helmsman, there were only two sailors. I placed myself at the rudder, and they tried to pull the mast out of the sea. The storm worsened; we saw a sail and put out the flag. It was also a New Yorker; our captain asked him for a few men to help put on the broken mast. He said, however, he could not lower his boat, God help you, and sailed on. The mast lay crosswise over the vessel. Other than the captain, no one was in a condition to creep out on it to free the tip; he wrapped himself around the mast with his legs and one arm, and worked with the other hand. With every swing, however, he was dunked over his head in the water. It was a great protection that the waves did not tear him off. When the length of the mast was brought into the vessel, it was still too heavy for four people to erect. It had to be made shorter, but they had neither hatchet nor saw. I pulled out my tools, for which they were very glad. When the mast was half-raised, one tore from the ropes, and it began to swing around above us. Everyone retreated into the little cabin. If other cords had also ripped, it would certainly have been the end for us.
Finally, they got the mast up. Then Br. Israel, who was with my emaciated Hannel in the cabin, said that now we could have been be very unlucky; she answered, [so?], and with that she passed away. He called to me, "Now your wife goes home!" I turned my face away, but could not let the rudder out of my hands. He sang a few verses to her. The storm continued on. We made ready the body as best we could; when she was to be given to the sea early on the 29th, the captain asked Br. Israel whether he didn't want to give a funeral sermon? The body was then laid on the deck, but hardly a verse was sung before a wave came over the ship so that we were standing up to our knees in water, and it took the body away towards the Gallery. There was then nothing else to do, and a sailor helped me to lift her over board. She could not sink, however, because we had no stones. But we could not see her for long, because the storm pushed us back. On the morning of the thirtieth the storm finally gave out, but afterwards we were becalmed, and spent many days before we reached the Pasat. Now the drinking water gave out, and we could not cook. On September 4, we finally came to Spanish Town, rented a boat, or little sloop, for 14 Spanish dollars, which brought us to St. Thomas. We arrived there on the sixth, glad and thankful, as Br. Israel was also very sick on the trip. August 11, 1742, I was married for the second time, to the Widow Verona Lehaus, born Demuth, whose husband traveled for Bethlehem after my arrival and could not take her along, because otherwise there would be no sister to do the work of the souls among women there, and also because she had been confined [in childbirth] just a few days before. The dear Savior called her husband, Valentine Lehaus, into eternal rest on his return journey to Staten Island. In our twenty-two year marriage, we were blessed with four children, of whom one son and one daughter are with the Gemeine in North America, and two lay in God's Acre in Bethlehem. In November of this same year I had my first great sickness. It left me no bodily strength, but the soul received no permission to leave its house. In 1744, I traveled for the first time with the blessed Friedrich Martin to St. Croix, to repair the house on the land that had been purchased there. I was still weak and the recovery from my illness went slowly. There was much poverty and the food scarce; I became sick again. After two years, I received the first sugar mill work, which the blessed Domingo helped me to find. Afterwards, the second [job] followed for Mr. Carstens, and so the mill work continued afterwards; from then on our very poor housekeeping recovered. In 1747, I traveled to Bethlehem with my wife and two children. In 1748, at the synod in Donegal, our return journey to St. Thomas was determined. Meanwhile, the news arrived that our dear Br. Johannes would come to Pennsylvania via St. Thomas, and our return was postponed until his arrival. We then went to Gnadenhütten and served the community there from April until the end of October. Br. Johannes had changed his journey, and came first to Pennsylvania; in the spring of 1749, he went there [St. Thomas] with a society of Brethren, in which I and my blessed Verona were also included. The trip with him settled much for my heart. In 1754, we traveled to Bethlehem, we also bought Br. and Sr. Ohnebergs little son with us, and in 1755 returned with Br. and Sr. Christian Rauch. He was sent here on a Visitation. I was assigned the duties of Vorsteher, which I held until 1759, when, during the Visitation of Br. Nathanael Seidel, I was relieved by Br. Jens Korn, upon my request. After his passing, however, in 1762, I had to take on [those duties] again, until Br. Bröndom, who was sent there for this purpose, relieved me again in January 1764. In February 1765, I came to Bethanien in St. Jean with my Verona to serve the souls there, because in a short time two pairs of Brethren7 there had been separated through death. In October, my dear wife also went blessedly home; but I had to remain [in St. Jean] until April 1766, because of the lack of married pairs, until Br. and Sr. Melchior Schmidt came there. On receiving instruction from the Unity's Direction, I traveled to Bethlehem again in March 1767 with the little Engelhart. There, in the September before my return, I was married for the third time with the Widow Christina Heckewelder. In 1768, we traveled to St. Croix in the place of the blessed Br. and Sr. Hantschen. In the following year, however, in August, I became a widower once again. In June 1770, I was present for the beginning of building in Friedensberg, in May 1771 it inaugurated, and in October I came back to New Herrnhut to live, where I find myself in 1778, in good health for my age through the blessing of my God and Savior, until it pleases him to call me home to rest in his wounds.
O my trusted Lord! Give me only what you
deem, more I do not ask!
So far the composition in the blessed
brother's own hand.
1 A note written on the Lebenslauf manuscript
sometime after the original composition identifies this town as "Krumberg."
Transcription and translation by Katherine