David Nitschmann, Sr. (1676-1758)
Bethlehem Diary, Volume XVIII, 1758, 267-79.
An abridged Memorial of the remarkable life story
He was born in Zauchtenthal, Moravia, on September 18, 1676. His father was Johannes Nitschmann and his mother was Catharina, born Friedrickin. His grandparents were named George and Catharina Nitschmann, both from Zauchtel.
His father held gatherings in his house every week, where generally
all the rooms were so full that not all the people could sit down; they
sang songs from the ancient Brethren's hymnal, and read sermons from a
Postille that they had at the time. This went forward unhindered
until another preacher came who did not want to tolerate these gatherings,
and they therefore had to hold them secretly.
In his sixteenth year both his parents died, one after the other, in two days; afterward he had many opportunities for seduction by the world, but the Savior allowed him no peace, and he could not well suffer what others did and no one thought worse of him for it. In 1700, on November 15th, he entered into marriage with Anna, the daughter of the blessed Andreas Schneider, in which marriage they spent thirty-five years in love and peace, and were blessed with four children, the two eldest of whom already went to the joy of the Lord several years ago: Melchior, who was a prisoner for the Lord and martyr in Schildberg in Moravia; and Rosina, married name Pischin, our dearest Anna Johanna's mother, in Herrnhut. His other two children are our dear beloved heart Johanna Nitschmann, Pfleger in Herrnhut, and Anna, the Jüngerin of our Lord.
In 1704, our blessed Brother moved to Kunewald, where he purchased a farm. But he found everything there cold and grim, and not at all as it had been in Zauchtel. He spent much effort on the people from the ancient Brethren. He visited them, held gatherings for them, taught them the old Brethren's songs, and wrote the songs out for them. Through this he became very beloved. This endeavor did not succeed, however, and at times such an embarrassment came over him that he did not know himself what he was about.
Around 1724 Christian David came to Zauchtel, and Br. David Nitschmannlater the first bishop of the renewed Unity, and his brothers sonbrought [Nitschmann] back to Zauchtel, where then Christian David powerfully prayed, and gave a sermon over the eight blessings of Matthew 5, which was pure truth to the heart of our dear Father, so that he came to the decision to become completely the Saviors, and wanted to go where ever that decision took him. When he returned home, he told his wife and children what Christian David had said, which made a great impression on all of them, particularly his son Melchior. From that time forward a great awakening began in the aforementioned Kunewald and the neighboring villages, where they would come together three times each week, and each time the number became larger. After this had lasted some time, they were forbidden to hold the meetings under the penalty of a steep fine; when they still would not stop, they were threatened with the penalty of death-but it did not stop them.
One Sunday more than one hundred fifty people came together in our Blessed David Nitschmann's house. His son Melchior gave a sermon and when it was all over, the local official came into the house and took all of the books away from them. Yet they kept singing, "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing," etc.
Another day all of the fathers, some twenty, were called before the local officials and thrown in prison. He, Schuster Nitschmann, and Quito were stuck together and left that way for three days without food or water. When, on the third day their wives wanted to bring them something, the wives were not allowed to come to them. But, seeing their wives standing below, they called through a broken pane that their wives should just go home and not return, because they felt no hunger.
The jailor heard this, repeated it to the bailiff, and that same evening they were released from prison. Their books were demanded, however, and they were ordered earnestly not to hold any more meetings.
Several weeks later an inspector from the regional authority came to investigate the matter; our blessed David Nitschmann alone was called for and examined as to why they had continued with their meetings against strict governmental orders? The Savior granted him much mercy and joy for the responsibility.
Some time later the local lord himself came to the place and had our dear David Nitschmann come before him. Nitschmann made such a moving presentation the lord's eyes welled up with tears, but he turned away and said, "My children, I can not help any more, I have already turned you over to the Consistory."
Seven weeks later, two commissioners from the Consistory came, and our David Nitschmann had to give a profession of his beliefs, upon which he was declared an arch heretic and immediately thrown in prison. He was kept completely alone in a room for four days and three nights, so that he could not communicate with the others. After the Commissioners were done with the examination of the other Brethren they were all put together in one prison again and chained two by two. Our David Nitschmann, however, they locked up all alone.
His last hours in the prison and his departure he described himself in the following words:
"January 24, on a Thursday night, I said to my Brethren, 'I will take my leave of you tonight." David Schneider immediately said, "If you go, I can not stay here, I want to go with you." I said to him, "I won't tell you that you must come, but if you are sure, you can come with me." It stayed at that; we waited until the eleventh hour of night, I was worried how my chains would be loosed, I gripped my knife in my right hand, and with my left I took the lock, which was strong and new, and as I held it, the lock was already open. My eyes filled with tears of joy. I said to David Schneider: 'thus I see that it is the Savior's will, that we should go.' We took the irons from our feet in the room where we were, silently said farewell to the other Brethren, and searched over the yard to find a ladder. I went to the gate, which was closed every night with two doors, and there stood the first door open, I went out into the hall, and there the other door stood open as well-which was the other sign that we should go forward. As we came out of the castle, we laid our irons by the wall and went through the garden, and then into my house, where I told my wife how she should behave when I should send someone to pick her up, and then went in the night from the 24th to the 25th of January the five German miles to Oderberg, in Silesia, where we stayed three days. Thus I turned my back on my enemies, and the Savior rescued me from their land."
So far his own words.
From there our blessed David Nitschmann went a days journey farther to Neuendorff, where he stayed for ten days with an awakened preacher. Meanwhile, he had his wife and children informed that they should follow him there; they made it safely, and so he traveled with them directly to Saxony, and, after surviving many dangers, came happily with his wife and children into Berthelsdorf. He remained there for a year and a day, and was immediately put into a position of responsibility because it was recognized that he was a skillful and faithful man. He came to Herrnhut to live around the time of the great awakening in 1727, and was also a happy participant in the great Abendmahl of August 13, 1727, when the Gemeine first flowed together. And so he lived with many blessings and pleasures in Herrnhut until the eighth year, when he received a call, alongside other Brethren, to the new work among the Negroes in St. Thomas and St. Croix. He arrived there after a long and difficult journey, and remained for three-quarters of a year in St. Croix. During this time, on June 30, 1735, his dear and faithful partner in marriage passed away in St. Croix; he, however, returned to Herrnhut in 1737, was there again for fourteen months, and enjoyed the Gemeine.
Afterwards, he moved to Pilgerruh, and stayed there for two years. Finally, he received a call to go to Pennsylvania with his daughter Anna. He made his trip via Marienborn, where he enjoyed a very pleasant stay of three months, and then proceeded to Herrndyk and London. On December 14, 1740, our dear Father Nitschmann and the Jüngerin, in company with Bishop David Nitschmann, Christian Frölich, and Sister Motherin, arrived from Europe in Nazareth, where Brother Peter, Anton Seiffert, and the other Brethren who came with them from Georgia, were working. They remained there until March 1741, when our Blessed Brother, along with [his nephew] David Nitschmann, Anton Seiffert, Martin Mack, Johann Bühner, Matthias Seibold, and David Zeisberger and his parents, began to build Bethlehem. This was during such a hard winter with such deep snow that when marking and felling trees he was sometimes up to his knees in snow. He continued in this hard and unfailing work, which no one else could easily have done, until January 1747, so that we can truly say of him with warm gratitude: our school, our dear Bethlehem, he built for us.
From that time on, when he was already over seventy years old, his strength began to flag and his time of rest began. He looked after the happy progress of the Savior's work in and out of Bethlehem, however, and was pleased by it. And so he passed his last ten or eleven years with love, prayer, and blessing, and was in constant communion with the Savior. He busily visited the Brethren in their work, examined the fields and so forth, and his mouth steadily overflowed with thanks and blessings. His particular joy was the growth and development of our children, and the conversion of the Indians. He was a friend and a joy to all people, hence also the strangers who came to visit Bethlehem, and the Brethren from the countryside enjoyed resting their journeys in his company. He gladly saw them come and entertained them with devotional discourses. He was a diligent writer, and maintained a warm correspondence with the Brethren here and there in the missionary field. He entertained the Brethren with little verses for their birthdays, also spent much time writing out the Losungen and texts for daily use in the Gemeine Saal in a beautiful Fractur, in which he excelled. He continued until this task until the beginning of this year.
When Brethren arrived from Europe, they were his and he their particular joy, and after 1752 he had the special pleasure of having his beloved granddaughter, our dearest Anna Johanna, here, and enjoying her company for several months.
In 1750 he had himself naturalized [as a citizen of British Pennsylvania], which stood the Gemeine in good stead. The property of Bethlehem and the attached places, as well as purchases, contracts, and the like, were carried out with unblemished security in his name as a man respected and legitimated by everyone.
Since the time that a small Widowers Choir was started, and then by and by formed, here, our Blessed Brother was its Worker and Pfleger. He served these positions faithfully and blessedly; and the present Choir regrets his loss with tender love.
The honor of Disciple he wore often, most recently in February of this year.
The Gemeine occasions were unusually precious and blessed for him, and, unless he was kept away on account of health, he did not lightly miss one. In the last years of his mortal life he was afflicted with a form of Podagra. Now and then he had painful attacks, which, however, soon went away. He was always pleasant and patient through them. The last Passion Week through Easter, he was quite well. He also helped with serving the Brethren in the Pedilavium on Maundy Thursday. On April 4th, however, he had an attack of his usual sickness, but whereas he otherwise had much pain in his limbs, this time the sickness came into his body. He began to say, and repeated often, "Now my little hour will soon come." He was quiet, composed, and friendly. All the difficulties of his sickness fell on his chest; he stood up from his bed now and then, but he became somewhat weaker every day, and spent his last ten days sweetly and devotionally, in quiet expectation of his impending end and in communion with the Savior, without saying much because everything was already prepared. He remained at: "My little hour will soon come."
April 12th he had the pleasure of seeing Br. Christian Seidel and Br. Lischer come from Wachovia; he welcomed them warmly, and inquired over the Brethren there.
Friday, April 14, which was the day before the Gemeine communion, one noticed early that a change had come over his body. Brother Joseph visited him. The Blessed Brother asked him whether he had spoken to the Brethren at the Abendmahl? And then Br. Joseph answered him that he had, and that he had also found all of the Widowers pleased. And so he said: "I would rather not be by them this time." On his departure Br. Joseph said, "Worthy Father! The precious Lamb and His pain remain in the heart, even when it no longer beats." Yes, [Br. Nitschmann] said, "Christ's blood and Justice is my jewel and cloak of honor." At noon he stood up for the last time, and had his bed made. But he said, "I am very weak." Then he lowered himself down again, and a brother said to him: "And when my eyes grow dim, take me in your heart," thus he prayed quite audibly: "And when my Mouth grows pallid, In Jesu's Lap and Arms, The Corpse's Myrrh so Valid, Which in his Heart's Blood Swarms, Embalm my body dying, No other Salve at all, Myself to Salem Flying, Shall once that Flesh Recall, then I go to the Gemeine, my flesh will live again." These last words he spoke with particular emphasis, and that was his swan song. He sat up in bed one last time, laid down again soon, his chest heaved, and his lips grew pale in Jesus' arms and lap, at two o'clock in the afternoon, under a blessing and liturgy of Br. Joseph and in the presence of Br. Peter, his nurse, and several brothers from his choir, who sang to him: "Pale lips, kiss him on the heart! Open arms take him!"
And so our dear Elder concluded his mortal life in his eighty-second year. His venerable body was busily visited on Saturday the 15th in our funeral chapel by the Brethren, and looked upon with teary eyes. Sunday the 16th a great number of our neighbors from all over assembled here for the funeral procession, as well as all of the Brethren who could get away from Nazareth and our other places, most of the Moravians , and last of all came Brother Matthaus and his wife from Nazareth, where they had attended the previous day's communion.
In the evening, at five o'clock, people gathered for the purpose of the funeral procession in the Gemeine-Saal. Brother Peter sang: "It can well be a great Sabbath, as if the Friend is there, and His dear pallid lips kiss a heart homeward. Because He gave into to us so purely in the body's misery, so He hurried also our new life with His death. The forgiveness from His mouth, it kisses his body to health."
He said: "The purpose of this gathering is to bury the body of our dear, honorable Senior in a place where the Holy Ghost, who lived in him, will make him completely ready for the joyous resurrection and reunion with his soul. This occasion is also very agreeable for us, because through it our hope will be renewed also to follow the Lamb and the Gemeine in our time. Our dear Blessed Brother's journey lasted very long, and he longed for home into his eighty-second year. His life had been, however, very remarkable, in its time, as the details from his biography show. He was from the Ancient Brethren, and was among the chief personages in the Awakening of the Brethren, as well as one of the first who left his homeland with his family, after he had been rescued from prison in such a wonderful way, like Peter from the Bands in Jerusalem. Luckily for him, he came to Herrnhut, and from there he entered into his role as pilgrim, first to St. Croix, where he was once again among the first, next to Pilgerruh, and finally he came to Pennsylvania and helped begin to build Bethlehem. There he also reached his venerable age, to the general edification and pleasure of the Brethren, so that we could well have wished to have him with us longer. But for his own sake it is better that he is now able to rest in Jesus' arms and lap. Then Br. Peter read the ode, written by Brother Mattheus, that is here appended, about his blessed home-going, of which the three last verses were sung. Then one went in a considerable and handsome procession to God's Acre: the children from both schools in front, then the trombonists, then Br. Joseph, and Br. Peter as Liturgist, then came the body, which was carried by twelve of our Ordinarii and Deacons, and accompanied by all the Choir Workers, the Widowers Choir, and the other Brethren, then the Sisters followed in the same order. On God's Acre itself one sensed a very comfortable feeling as one buried the covered casket next to the grave of the blessed Br. Cammerhoff, under Brother Peter's beautiful liturgy, in the hope that as soon as it was purified, the soul would collect the body again.
Transcription and translation by Katherine E. Carté