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MORAVIANS

The Moravians' school-church "cultural centers" provided opportunity for sharing and learning between whites and Cherokees, both in the Southeast and in the Cherokee Nation west. However, in general the Moravians were much less successful than the Baptists and Methodists in converting American Indians to Christianity. Working among the Southeastern tribes east of the Mississippi from the late eighteenth century, the Moravians established missions among the Cherokee and Creek. These hardy emissaries were called Moravians because their Protestant religious sect, officially called the Unitas Fratram, or United Brethren, had originated in the 1400s in Europe in Moravia and Bohemia (now within the Czech Republic). In the early eighteenth century they had relocated to a German state in search of religious freedom. Again facing intolerance, in 1735 the Unitas Fratram sent many of its members to the British colony of Pennsylvania, and they spread to North Carolina. The church claims to have been the first Protestant denomination to enter the mission field. The stated "mission" of the Brethren in coming to North America was to Christianize the American Indians.

By the early nineteenth century the Moravians established school-church mission stations among the Cherokee, the most well known being Springplace in northwestern Georgia. The Moravians were so strict in their examination of Indian converts that in their thirty years among the Cherokee they only admitted forty-five to church membership. Like the American Board and the Presbyterians, the Moravians established "cultural centers," that is, school and church stations, and they also catered to the mixed-blood Cherokee "elite." Converts included the Vann family at Springplace and the Ridge, Watie, Boudinot, and Hicks families at Oochgelogy, the second mission, near New Echota. The Cherokee elite valued the Moravian schools, finding the education useful to their entrepreneurial activities and to their understanding of white culture.

Generally neutral in the issue of Indian Removal in the 1830s, the Moravian mission board nevertheless did not discourage the Cherokee from it. Three missionaries went westward to serve those who in 1839 were removed to present Oklahoma. In the newly planted Cherokee Nation Johan Renatus Schmidt, Herman Reude, and Miles Vogler established a school-church (on Barren Fork of the Illinois River, near Proctor), where some of their former students, including George Hicks, had settled. In 1840 the station relocated to a more healthful location on Beattie's Prairie (five miles west of Maysville, Arkansas) and was in 1845 renamed Canaan. By the end of 1841 there were 72 Cherokees associated with the Moravians. Another mission, called New Springplace, south of Beattie's Prairie, developed in 1842 near the present site of Oaks, in Delaware County. In charge there were Gilbert Bishop and James Ward. When the Presbyterians abandoned their Mount Zion Presbyterian mission, they entrusted that mission to the Moravians circa 1845. By the time of the Civil War branch stations existed on Caney Creek and on Grand River.

The Civil War brought destruction to all but New Springplace, and after the conflict it was reopened by Rev. E. J. Mock as a "preaching station," a site for religious services, without a school. By the 1890s mission stations operated at Springplace, Ulm Chapel and Washburne's Mill School (both west of Springplace), Braggs, Woodmount, and White Oak (all south of Tahlequah), and Mohr's (east of Braggs). In 1898 the church's national headquarters closed New Springplace, and its congregation in 1902 became affiliated with the Danish Lutheran church at Oaks. In 2000 no Moravian congregations operated in Oklahoma.

SEE ALSO: AMERICAN INDIANS AND CHRISTIANITY, AMISH, MENNONITES, RELIGION.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Vinson Lackey, "New Springplace," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 17 (June 1939). William G. McLoughlin, Cherokees and Missionaries, 1789-1839 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984). Edmund Schwarze, History of the Moravian Missionaries Among the Southern Indian Tribes (Bethlehem, Pa.: Times Publishing Co., Printer, 1923). Muriel Wright, Springplace, Moravian Mission and the Ward Family (Guthrie, Okla.: Co-Operative Publishing Company, 1940).

Dianna Everett

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