A Moravain Story

As descendants of Mrs. Wm. F. Tyree, you have been told that you have Moravian antecedents. Andrea got the message through experience; she was sent to a Moravian school. In visiting her while she was there, I learned to recognize the unique architecture of Moravian churches. Especially noteworthy is the little welcoming cupola that shades the front steps.


Then, one year, Andy and I were in the Virgin Islands, visiting friends on the island of St. Thomas. There are lots of things to see on St. Thomas -- the beautiful beaches, the abrupt hills, the barking town dogs, and off across the water the view of the rather flat island of St. Croix. However, the sight that most caught my attention was on a side street of the town area: it was a little church with a cupola that proclaimed, "Moravian." I just had to find out about it; what I learned was fascinating. St. Thomas was the location of the first Moravian establishment in the Western World; and this is how it came about.


Just after the Protestants of the Moravian Hills (from which the group got its name) had been freed from their hundred years of hiding, they had been given land (in 1722) on the estates of the German Count Zinzendorf where they could build their farms and villages. In this time of freedom and rejoicing, the first thing on their church agenda was how they could help others less fortunate. Although Protestants had never before sponsored missions, the idea of some sort of missionary work was enticing. A certain number of young men pledged themselves to this goal (in 1728) and began to ready themselves by studying medicine, languages, and geography.

Then one day a Black man was brought in to speak to the Moravians. He had been a slave on the Virgin Islands and, when he managed to get free, could think of only one thing -- to get help for those he left behind.


To us who know nothing of it, slavery was slavery, period. But in actuality there were many kinds of slavery. For example, in the American Colonies slaves were brought in to replace white indentured servants; so they were accepted from the beginning as working human beings. When England saw the economic problems of slave importation, she established laws to curtail it. Planters learned that the main way to replace or increase their work force was by natural reproduction; and living conditions that fostered such reproduction were provided. In contrast, slaves working on the sugar plantations of St. Croix were considered fodder for the production of the crop. They were brought in by the boat-load, worked out, and replaced by the boat-load. The living conditions were so bad that conception and births were minimal. It was this kind of life that the Black brought to the attention of the Moravians, with a plea for some sort of succor.


The soft-hearted Moravians responded immediately. Two men from the missionary group rose and offered to take the message to the St. Croix workers that they were children of a God who lived in heaven and that they would join Him there someday when the travails of this life were over. The men were Leonard Dober and David Nitschman. The year was 1731.


Once on St. Croix, there were problems. The owners had no complaint with the message; but no time was available for its presentation. The two missionaries were told they could live with the workers, go to the fields with them, and talk as they worked. Any reduction in work due to the talking would result in their expulsion.


The Moravians accepted. They had no idea how hard the work would be. Even as the workers sickened under the demands, they sickened. At least they could excuse themselves from the fields and go over to St. Thomas to recuperate. Even with that, after about 18 months, Leonard Dober died. David Nitschman opted to stay on but wrote his Moravian brethren that psychologically he didn't think he could handle the lonesomeness long. So 18 young men were sent from Europe in 1733 to join David and establish a church. One of these men was Matthaeus Miksch, your ancestor.


Matthaeus took his turn in the fields with the Blacks, also his turns with the sicknesses; he died within a matter of months. Fortunately for you, he left a 3 year old son, Johann Matthaeus Miksch, back in Germany with a young widow, Mary Elizabeth Jahne Miksch.


The widow was given a place in the Moravian Mission House to earn her way. In April of 1754, she was sent by the Moravians to do the same kind of work in America. By this time the Moravians were coming to America in numbers that warranted their operation of their own ships -- every passenger was Moravian. On Mary Elizabeth's ship, the Irene, was the returning Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg who had long been responsible for all Moravian colonization in North America. He was newly widowed; and, with no children, was very alone in the world. He must have found his ship-board acquaintance with Mary Elizabeth comforting. Shortly after the ship docked (in May 1754), he and Mary Elizabeth were married. Spangenberg had been given the biblical name, Joseph, by Count Zinzendorf, because he led his people in a foreign land. Now Spangenberg gave his bride the biblical name of Martha. Some old church records even refer to her as Martha Spangenberg.


Johann Matthaeus Miksch followed his mother to America in November of 1754; he was on the 9th crossing of the ship, Irene; the passenger contingent was made up primarily of young, unmarried men. Since a part of Johann's growing years had been spent with his maternal grandparents, a well-to-do German family, he had not been schooled in an occupational skill, as was the custom for Moravians. There was some concern and discussion among the brethren about how he should earn his way. He was given the right to run a drug store and tobacco store from his home; boarding students at the schools were placed in his home; and, as the father of the only three grandchildren the loved Spangenberg was to have, he was given the first privately owned dwelling erected in Salem, North Carolina. It was a two-story house that, with additions, was still serving as Miksch's Drug Store when Andrea attended school in Salem in the 1960's.


Researcher: Elinor Tyree



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