Nathaniel Seidel (1718-1782)
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Supplement for the Month of May 1782
to the Diary from Bethlehem
containing the Personalia
of our dear venerable
Brother Nathanael Seidel
He himself left behind for us the following written biography through his first arrival in Bethlehem:
I was born on October 2, 1718, in Laubau in Upper Lusatia.1 My father was descended from the Bohemian immigrants. Both he and my mother were God-fearing people. After my baptism, the pastor who had baptized me sent a few lines to my mother and recommended to her that she should keep special watch over me, because when he pronounced the Holy Trinity over me, he had observed that I gave a smiling look upwards, and he believed that God had something special in mind for me! This stayed constantly in my mother's mind, and she often reminded me of it. Already in my fourth and fifth years, she often took me into her chamber and prayed over me on her knees. This pleased me, and I reminded her often to do it again. In my sixth and seventh years, I prayed often on my own inclination for an obedient heart, and I often had [this] memory in my heart when I went around with other children, and we decided to do something improper. I continued in this way for several years, [then] felt a fear of God in my heart, and could never go forward calmly with other children. So I told them that the dear God could not be satisfied with us. In my fourteenth year I felt a true love for the Savior, and he made me aware that he loved me and that I was blessed. At this time I prepared for the Abendmahl, through which I enjoyed many blessing for my heart, especially during Confirmation. As I afterwards went to the Holy Abendmahl, I felt such awe, that throughout the whole ceremony I could do nothing but weep. From then on, I felt increasingly that the Savior made a total demand of my heart. I learned to know myself then as a being that was by nature miserable and corrupt. My naturally frivolous character often seduced me into bad company, that turned me from the straight and narrow path, but I often had this memory: that it was not right with me, and with this thought I was full of uneasiness and fear. At that time, I learned the trade of cloth worker from my father, and soon received the desire-after the custom of artisans-to go on a journey, which occurred in my seventeenth year. I then came to the decision to devote myself to the Savior anew, and to recommend myself to him, that he would be with me on my travels, and might protect me from all temptations of the evil fiend. I was on the road for three and a half years, and I saw and felt how the Savior held His hand over me. I was everywhere beloved, and this was dangerous for me. If ever I wanted to join with a group and participate in their activities, I was filled with fear and misery, and often had to leave the group alone. I complained of my condition to the Savior; he heard me and comforted me, and gave me reassurance in my heart that I would still be His completely. When I returned home from abroad, the Savior took me especially into his work, and did not calm me until He had so fundamentally convinced me of my misery and corruption that I fell at his feet and lay there before him-so naked and bare that I no longer knew how to help myself. In this condition the Savior came so near to my heart, and was so lively in his martyr-spirit, that everything over which I had been embarrassed fell away, and I could take him and recognize Him as my redeemer and Savior with my believing heart. I have never in my life forgotten that moment. I made a pact with the dear Savior to be completely his from that hour forward, and from that time on He showed himself especially mercifully to me. It was settled for me: He is my Savior and I am his poor child! I still felt something of my misery and corrupt spirit, yet I could go to him, child-like, and complain to him, and He faithfully helped me through. But now I had no peace to remain in my hometown, and it was clear to me that I should hurry to go to a Gemeine, and the sooner the better. I revealed this to my dear mother, who was familiar with the Brethren. She would rather have seen me remain [at home], and be a blessing to the awakened souls there, but the Savior soon provided ways and means for my leaving. A Brother in the town went to the apothecary. Just then, an officer came into the apothecary and recounted, with much pleasure, that they wanted to pick me up that evening and make me a soldier (which they actually tired to do). The Brother soon came and told this to my parents and me; then there was no longer any objection, and a few hours later I was already on the road to Herrnhut. When I was about a half-hour from Herrnhut, a recruiting officer came up, stopped me, and the officer wanted to take me back to be a soldier. Among the recruiters was one with whom I had become well acquainted during my journeys abroad, and who had become a friend. He recognized me immediately and told the officer that he would like to let me go. He did this, and so I was freed, and came happily into Herrnhut, exactly on my birthday, in 1739.2
Now I was thankful to the Savior from my heart, because I knew for sure that I was in the place where he wanted me to be. I came to the Gemeine with a single, complete purpose, and thought: if I have nothing but bread and water, I will consider myself lucky to be with these people. After a few days I received permission to stay, and soon had to pass a test of my resolution, in that during the first half-year I had little other than bread and water. I let everything please me, however, even the most menial work to earn something for myself. How much better I daily became in my heart, and what a blessed effect His death and suffering had on my heart, are not to be described. In the month of October that year I was taken into the Gemeine, and in November the Savior allowed me to go to the Abendmahl. Both these events made me so small and humble, that I promised the Savior from my heart to live for Him alone in the world. At that time Br. Johannes came for the first time to Herrnhut, and I quickly came to know him. The addresses and gatherings that he held in Herrnhut laid very powerfully on my heart and I had very blessed hours and days. I was not long in Herrnhut before I received a call to go to Herrnhaag and to become the Choir Servant of the Single Brethren there. I took on this task with joy in my lively spirit and a blessedly pleased heart. There were, of course, many lessons there, which were a true blessing to my heart. I felt, then, a great pull to go to Pennsylvania, and it was clear to me that that I would come there. In the fall of 1741, the blessed Jünger sent a list back from London of Brothers and Sisters that he desired for Pennsylvania and my poor name was among them; when it was offered to me, I was immediately ready and willing. I left on December 19, with several Brethren. We were in Herrendyk for some weeks, and arrived safely in London in February 1742. Br. Spangenberg was waiting for us there, bought a ship for us, and made us into a Sea Congregation. I received the assignment of taking charge of the Single Brethren, and during that time of war we came safely into Philadelphia, where the Jünger was already waiting for us. He rejoiced greatly over our happy arrival, and that he met us all together as bright children. We had to wait for the Synods, which he was holding with the pious people of this land, when he presented us as a visible congregation of Christ. Then we traveled together to Bethlehem, and arrived here on June 21, 1742, with the Loosung: "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it./ With joy in our hearts before Him bow./ In faith He grants us even now/ To see the city of the Lord."3 So far his own [writing].
After the blessed foundation of the Gemeine in Bethlehem on June 25 of that year, he was confirmed as the Elder of the Single Brethren by the Jünger on July 14, and by the Lot elected to the College of Servants4 on November 30, which was assigned to oversee the Gemeine regulations. (This is now called the College of Overseers.) In June 1743, he made his first journey among the Indians on the Susquehanna, with Br. and Sr. Hagen, Br. Anton, and Br. Brucens.
1745: In March he attended the synod in Falkner Swamp, and afterwards visited our Brothers David Zeisberger and [Christian Frederick] Post, who were sitting in prison in New York, to their comfort. In May he traveled to Shecomeco with the Indian Brethren, in order to make arrangements for their move to Wajomik,5 and for this purpose he traveled with three Indian Brethren, Johannes, Nathanael, and Isaac, soon afterwards to Conrad Weiser in Tulpehocken.
1746: In January, he traveled to Shecomeco again, via New York, and came back in the beginning of February with two Indians; he was filled with the love that the Indian Brethren had shown him. On February 4, he was chosen as Missionary Elder by the synod that was gathered here, and the seventh he was consecrated in this position by Br. Joseph. From that time on his life's story for many years was a pure travel diary; he was barely at home before he was sent some place else, and he made all of his journeys on foot. In March 1746, he was on Gemeine business in Muddy Creek and the Mühlbach. In April, he was at the synod in Philadelphia, and in November at the one on the Cross Creek, over the Susquehanna.
1747: In the first half of the year he was primarily in Gnadenhütten, in order to serve the Indian Gemeine and the white Brethren of the Haus-Gemeine6 there during Br. Mack's absence. In the other half [of 1747] he visited the lands on the other side of the Susquehanna four times. In the beginning of 1748 he was on a preaching tour with Br. Westmann for five weeks, and visited the awakened People of the Man as far as the Manakosy in Maryland. They experienced many particular proofs of the faithfulness of the Savior on this trip: when they were in deep snow they found that had gone astray around Canegetshik, and they crossed the weak ice of the Susquehanna in great mortal peril. In May, he visited Philadelphia, and afterwards the Brethren in Shamokin. In July he made another preaching tour and visit to the People of the Man. At the end of the year he visited Shecomeco and Pachgatgoch with Br. Johannes and Br. Cammerhof.
1749: At the end of January, he went with Brs. Johannes and Joseph to a visit of the Land-Gemeine, and at the end of March he accompanied Br. Johannes and his group, who were traveling to the West Indies, as far New York. In June, he made a trip to New England with Br. Johannes Merck. They went via Pachgatgoch to New London, (where they visited the Indians in that area), through Rhode Island to near Boston, where they found many souls whom they heartily pleased with the Gospel that they preached. In July, he went with Br. Johannes and Br. Cammerhof to Philadelphia to confer with the deputies of the Six Nations,7 who were there for treaty talks, over our plan to preach the Gospel to the Indians. In October, he made a repeat journey with Br. Grube to Pachgatgoch and other places, where they preached to many Indians about the Savior. On October 27, he was ordained a presbyter in the Church of the Brethren. In December he moved for a time to Christiansbrunn, to lead 22 Single Brethren who had begun their own Oeconomie there. August 24, 1759, he traveled with Br. Zeisberger the Younger from here to New York, in order to go to Europe with the Irene. Of this he has himself observed: "On September 1, 1750, I began my trip out of America to visit the Gemeinen in Europe. On our very dangerous sea-journey, (in a storm, the Irene lost a mast and everything and sinking was near, and [I] saw another ship ahead of us go to ground), what we survived, and how wonderfully the Savior rescued us and helped us, is known. I arrived in London on November 18, and in Herrnhut among my most-beloved Brethren on December 19, and thus exactly nine years since I left Herrnhaag for Pennsylvania. In January 1751, I became Ortsgemeine Disciple in Herrnhut, and in February Co-Disciple of the whole [Unity]. I also visited the Gemeinen in Silesia. On June 5, 1751, I departed Herrnhut once again, to travel via Barby, Herrnhaag, and Zeist to Pennsylvania. On July 1, we boarded a ship in Holland, dropped anchor in New York on September 24, and came to Bethlehem on the 28. November 16, on Br. Johann Nitschmann's departure, I was confirmed as Interim Oeconomus."8
1752: In the first months he made another visit to the single People of the Man in the country, and was afterwards at the synod in Philadelphia. After this, he traveled with Br. Joseph and David Zeisberger to Shamokin and Wajomik, in order to visit to the Indians and the white Brethren with them. In July, he went to Gnadenhütten, and again served as minister in Br. Mack's place.
1753: In March he traveled with Br. Joseph and Br. Gottlieb to New York, accompanied them in their trip to Europe as far as the Hook, and went himself to sea on April 24, on a journey to the West Indies. At the glimpse of the Caribbean Islands, he opened his visit with the Loosung: "Go there in peace! Go, you will not go astray," which encouraged him greatly in his task. He was in St. Croix from May 18 to June 1, from then until June 26 in St. Thomas, then in St. Jan, from where he came back to Thomas on July 5th. He spoke everywhere to the white and black Brethren, and made a blessed foundation among them. A healthy number of blacks were baptized during his visit, and also ten new Helpers ordained in St. Thomas. On July 27, he took his leave from the white Brethren. The Loosung read: Be subjects among each other. July 28 he went under sail again with Captain Jung, and arrived in Bethlehem with Br. Sam Isles on August 23. On October 7, he traveled with thirteen Single Brethren to North Carolina, in order to make a beginning on the Brethrens establishments there. They arrived in Wachovia on November 17, with the Loosung: "Have the same purpose." There, he held the first Abendmahl for the Brethren in their first house. On December 17, he departed for Pennsylvania, and on January 19 arrived here once again. In the following June he went to Gnadenhütten for a time once again, where there was a synod in August. After that he made a visit of the Land-Gemeine with Br. and Sr. Spangenberg, and in November he visited New York again.
1755: on April 9, he traveled with Br. Abraham Bömper and Ludwig Hübner to Berbice and Suriname, lands that had been opened for missionary work by the Dutch, to choose places on the Corentyn and Sarameca.9 They went from Rhode Island to Barbados, from there to Isequeb, Berbice, and so forth. After the completion of their task, and a very difficult trip, they came back on November 19. Our Blessed Brother particularly observed that on the return trip from Suriname, the dear Savior advised them to take passage in a miserable little sloop, and not in a pretty and comfortable brig which was otherwise advisable. That brig sunk on Long Island, and the people on board were almost all killed; they, however, arrived happily and safely in their poor vehicle. After his return from South America, he spent most of his time during the Indian War of the time in Christiansbrunn. In March 1756, he made a journey to the surrounding congregations and in September to Pachgatgoch. On September 27, he wanted to go from Christiansbrunn to Bethlehem. He had gone about two miles, when he became aware that two Indian warriors were standing behind a tree. He turned off his path, and the Indians followed him into the bush. After he had run here and there in the bush for a while and could go no farther, he laid low and the Indians passed over him. Thus, he came happily back to Christiansbrunn, but he had done much damage to his lungs through running in fear. In 1757, he helped to lay out the Gemein-Ort, Lititz, in Warwick; was made Oeconomus of Heathen matters; and traveled for the third time from here to Europe. He was afterwards with the Blessed Jünger in Switzerland, etc. On May 12, 1758, in Herrnhut, he was consecrated a bishop in the Church of the Brethren, and then sent on a visitation to the missions in the West Indies. He went from London to Portsmouth, sick, in January 1759, and so from there to sea and arrived on March 10th in Barbados. On March 30, he went to St. Thomas, and was there, as well as in St. Jan and St. Croix, until July 7, when he departed for Antigua, from where he visited Montserrat and St. Christopher. He arrived in Jamaica on August 15. During his stay there, on the Island and in Mesopotamia, the place for the Common Houses were determined and laid out. After a blessed visit to this island, he departed on November 12, with Br. Caries from Jamaica for Europe. Along the way, they were in Hispaniola and Cuba for four weeks, four times they were in strong storms, once their ship was completely under water for some minutes and very near to sinking, and two times on the trip he was followed by French privateers. He arrived safely in England on February 8, 1760, and on March 28 in Herrnhut once again. On the journey, he had acquired a fistula in a very dangerous place; Br. Roller and Br. Bethohler cut it out and safely cured him, during which he suffered much. On October 30 of the same year, he was joined in marriage to the woman who is now his widow, Sister Anna Johanna Piesch. On March 2, 1761, they departed Herrnhut for America with Br. and Sr. Marschall, and arrived here on October 23 with many other dear Brethren. He took over from Br. Spangenberg the position of American Oeconomus, became proprietor of the Brethren's estates in Pennsylvania, and with Br. Marschall made the changes in the communal economy in Bethlehem and Nazareth. He diligently visited the city and country Gemeine, and was everywhere blessed and beloved. In 1768 he bought, on the instruction of our dear Lord, Green's land in West Jersey for a Brethren's Settlement, held a synod in Lititz, and then traveled in 1769 to Europe once again, where he attended the General Synod of the Church of the Brethren in Marienborn with his wife. Afterwards he visited the Gemeinen in the north of England, because he and his group were hindered (presumably for their preservation) from leaving England that same fall. In May 1770, he arrived here once again, and continued his duties as the Oeconomus, or Provincial-Helper, and Gemeine-Helper in Bethlehem. After he had publicized the Synodal Proceedings here and in the other Ortsgemeine, and had set up things accordingly, he did the same in the city and country Gemeine with grace and blessedness. In 1771, he made his last trip among the Indians, where he was with Br. Gregor and Br. Lorez on a visitation to the Indian Gemeine in Friedenshütten or Weilusing. During this visitation, the departure of the Gemeine from the Susquehanna to Muskingum was resolved upon and arranged with them. In 1774, shortly before the civil upheavals in this land, he and his wife made a last trip to the city and country Gemeine. The whole unfortunate war with England-that devastated our houses with the hospital, the troubles and punishments of our Brethren because of military matters, the worldly- and bodily-understanding here and there among our youth, and other secret cares, strained him severely in the last years, and made him tired. The expulsion of the Indian-Gemeine from Muskingum and the subsequent massacre of a large part of them cut him very deeply and caused him many painful hours and sleepless nights. During our dear Br. Reichel's visit and stay here, he was noticeably renewed, and though he already knew and recognized that his corporeal and spiritual strength was giving out, he was still willing (because he saw the great lack of workers in America) not to spare himself, but to serve the dear Savior in his church, through his duties and his calling, weakly but yet with great faith, until He himself should call him to rest. And yet one finds the following words, written in his own hand in a note to the Unity Elders Conference which he made shortly before his death: "I can not now omit to write you a batch of letters. I see every day more and more shortfalls in continuing my duties, and yearn sincerely for rest. I had thought it would become different with me, and would have rather wished to served the Savior until my end, but it's becoming too difficult for me, and the matters that come up press hard on my weak spirit and my sickly body, and I can not do what I should." etc. On his last trip here from Europe, he received the Podagra 10 for the first time, which since that time has bothered him at least once a year. In addition, he often got boils, and now and then open sores on the body, as well as other severe pains in the limbs, that he had to suffer as the fruit or result of the violence that he had done to his body in his younger days during his many trips through snow and ice. On December 27, 1780, after a night in which he had bled badly from a sore on his arm, he had an unexpected epileptic attack, which recurred several more times. On May 6, he held the big Helpers' Conference for the last time. He reported with melancholy his worry and pain at the behavior of some of our younger people, who were abandoning themselves too much to the free spirit of the world, and encouraged these same people to watch and to help diligently and faithfully so that nothing would creep in [to the community] which would be the ruin of Gemeine and Choir affairs. In closing, he prayed urgently on his knees to the dear Savior for forgiveness for past shortcomings in the faithful watchfulness, and asked for new mercy, that each should feel such a change for his own person, that would convince such bad people among us that they were in a Gemeine of the Savior in which they could not stay unless they gave their heart to Him. This gathering, held with holy enthusiasm and spiritual strength, was seen and perceived by the Brethren-upon his passing that followed soon after-as a blessed legacy for them. For a few days his hand was swollen with Chiragra.11 Early on May 17 the swelling retreated. This was worrisome to him, and he soon felt a great internal weakness and sinking of his life's spirit. Around twelve o'clock noon he had strong convulsions which continued until around three-thirty in the afternoon, when the body and soul separated, and he went in peace into the rest and joy of his dear Lord, with the blessing of the Gemeine, in the sixty-fourth year of his life.
His forty years of faithful service in the Gemeine here, his humble conduct, his warmth and love for all the Brethren, his unflagging diligence as long as his strength permitted, and in particular, however, his heart, which was taken with Jesus' death and suffering, and his great concern that the dear Savior would hold us to the end of days by the simple teaching of his bloody reconciliation, had made him dear and comforting to his Brethren, and his bishop's duties delightful and valuable to them. His memory will remain a blessed reminiscence for all the Gemeine here, in the West Indians, and among the Indians in North and South America.
1. Laubau is located a few miles from the Moravian center of Herrnhut.
2. Seidel turned twenty-one in 1739.
3. Psalm 118:24. This translation is taken from kenneth G. Hamilton, ed. The Bethlehem Diary, Vol. 1, 1742-1744, 15.
4. The "Dieners-Collegium," or College of Servants, was the first governing body of Bethlehem. It was replaced, as this Lebenslauf notes, by te Aufseher-Conference, or College of Overseers.
5. The Wyoming Valley in northern Pennsylvania.
6. The Haus-Gemeine refers to those Brethren who were not missionaires, but rather worked for the sustenatation of the Gemeine.
7. The Six national of the Iroquois
8. The "Oeconomus" was the administrative head of the Bethlehem Oeconomie.
9. The Courantyne and Sarramaca are rivers in northern Suriname.
10. A gouty inflammation of the limbs.
11. A gouty inflammation of the hand.
Introduction, transcription and translation by Katherine Carté Engel
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Updated: 9 February 2006