Wednesday, July 27, 2016

German Migration to the American Colonies

When Bob’s and my Hochstetler ancestors arrived in Philadelphia aboard the ship Charming Nancy on November 9, 1738, they were part of a great migration of Germans to the American colonies. During the 18th century, more than 100,000 Germans arrived in this country. Among them were Mennonites, Amish, Swiss Brethren, and Pietists, who were the largest group. The Amish, which included my ancestors, and the Mennonites made up only about 5,000 of the German immigrants. Most of them settled in Pennsylvania, while smaller numbers made their homes in New York, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Together they became the largest non-English-speaking community in colonial North America.

German Peasants' Revolt
Why did so many Germans migrate here? During the 16th and 17th centuries, wars ravaged Germany and much of Europe. Armies trampled farmers’ crops, stole livestock, and put homes to the torch. Famine spread across the land and, along with ruinous taxes levied to pay for the wars and religious disputes resulting from the Reformation, made life intolerable. In addition, rulers determined what church their subjects belonged to, with no regard for personal conscience. The British colonies in North America, especially Pennsylvania under the Penns, offered them not only religious freedom and escape from constant wars, but also economic opportunity in the ability to own land, a right denied religious dissidents in Europe.

Conditions in Europe were bad, but the decision to move to America was not an easy one and required staunch determination and deep personal faith. The ocean crossing was often harrowing and could take as long as 2 months. A diary attributed to Hans Jacob Kauffman lists the deaths of many children and adults during his voyage. Below is Gottlieb Mittelberger’s vivid description of the conditions passengers endured during his passage in 1750.

18th Century Ships
“Children from one to seven years rarely survive the voyage; and many a time parents are compelled to see their children miserably suffer and die from hunger, thirst, and sickness, and then to see them cast into the water. I witnessed such misery in no less than thirty-two children in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea. The parents grieve all the more since their children find no resting-place in the earth, but are devoured by the monsters of the sea. It is a notable fact that children, who have not yet had the measles or small-pocks [sic], generally get them on board the ship, and most die of them. Often a father is separated by death from his wife and children, or mothers from their little children, or even both parents from their children; and sometimes whole families die in quick succession; so that often many dead persons lie in the berths beside the living ones, especially when contagious diseases have broken out on board the ship.”

Once they arrived, the troubles of the hard-pressed immigrants were not necessarily over. Many were forced to bind themselves as indentured servants until they could pay off the cost of their passage. In most cases this was voluntary, but sometimes individuals were kidnapped, bundled aboard a ship, and sold to the highest bidder as soon as it reached port in America. Either way, they often found their masters difficult or even abusive.

Others, however, moved to the frontier, where they built homes, communities, and churches. My ancestors were among these, settling along Northkill Creek in Berks County, Pennsylvania, along with other members of their Amish church. There they lived peacefully for many years until they again faced a tide of destruction and loss as England went to war with France and her Native allies.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Deleware's Big House Ceremony

The Northeastern Woodland tribes observed many common festivals and ceremonies such as the maple, planting, and green corn festivals, but many tribes, including the Delaware, had an annual religious ceremony that differed from those of other tribes. The Delaware’s supreme annual religious service was the Big House Ceremony, in which they worshiped and reestablished their moral relationship with their Great Spirit, Manitou.

Big House Ceremony

Delaware Big House Photograph and Sketch from Conner Prairie
The Delaware had a temple, called the Big House, which symbolized the universe and was used exclusively for this annual ceremony. They believed that the universe consisted of 12 houses stacked one upon the other, with Manitou residing in the 12th and highest house. When the people entered the Big House, they visualized themselves as passing through these twelve stacked houses to come before the great deity. Therefore they believed that everyone who entered the Big House and everything used in it had to be pure. No metal objects of any kind were allowed in the Big House, and ritually impure persons, such as menstruating women, were denied entry.

The Magic Moccasins
by Jane Barks Ross
Forty feet long, 14 feet high, and 24 feet wide, the building originally resembled a longhouse in form and construction, with its front facing east and its rear facing west. By the early 1800s it was often built of logs or boards, with gabled ends. The eastern door, facing the direction of the rising sun and moon, represented the beginning of everything. The western door, which faced the setting of the sun and moon, symbolized both the end of everything and the Good White Path, which one travels from birth to death. The building’s hard-tamped floor represented the lesser manitou, Mother Earth, and the underworld; its four walls, the four cardinal directions; and its vault, the sky’s dome, the domain of the Elder Brothers, sun and moon. Two smoke holes were located in the roof, one above each of the two sacred fires.

The great central post supporting the roof’s ridge pole represented Manitou’s staff, on which his hand rested and through which he transmitted power to the Delaware. A carved face hung on its east and west sides. A single smaller carved face also decorated the 6 smaller posts that supported the roof along the building’s north and south sides as well as the posts of the 2 doors. These faces weren’t the object of worship, but simply served as channels for worship. All of them were painted red on the right side and black on the left, with red symbolizing life and black, death.

From The Magic Moccasins by Jane Barks Ross
The leader, or “Bringer-in,” managed every aspect of the ceremony. The 6 ceremonial attendants he appointed—1 man and 1 woman from each of the tribe’s 3 divisions, Wolf, Turkey, and Turtle—camped in tents on the square yard at the eastern end of the Big House, the men on the north and the women on the south side during the 12 days of the ceremony. On the first night the 3 male attendants built two fires of elmwood using the sacred fire drill reserved for that purpose. When the fires were lit the 3 female attendants entered and swept turkey wing fans on both sides of the fires 12 times to banish all dirt and evil influences from the building and to open a road to heaven. Two guards were stationed outside the building.

Big House and Encampment
from The Magic Moccasins by Jane Barks Ross
For the ceremony, all the people, including visitors, camped outside the Big House beyond the attendants’ tents, arranged by gender, tribal division, and sex. During the day the people spent their time in games and other activities, and the women cooked the hominy, corn mush, meat, and berries for the nightly feasts in large kettles as well as food for daily meals. When it came time for the ceremony, adults and children old enough to stay quiet entered the Big House by the eastern door, dressed in their finest clothing. Everyone sat in separate sections according to their tribal division, with the men and women seated separately within their sections. The Bringer-In or leader, the attendants, and the drummers occupied separate places of distinction. Two drummers began the ceremony by beating on a rolled up deer hide on which wooden slats were tied. This was followed by a long prayer of thanksgiving to Manitou.

Dreams and visions are very important among the native peoples, and the first 11 nights of the ceremony were devoted primarily to reciting visions as a form of worship. The Bringer-in began the service by chanting his story while dancing and shaking a turtle shell rattle, accompanied by the singers and drummers. One at a time other mature men took turns reciting their visions and leading the songs and dances. The hard-trodden dancing path that led counterclockwise from the east door down the north side, past the fires to the west door, then doubled back on the south side to its beginning symbolized the Good White Path, down which man winds his way to the western door where all ends. Dancers paused at each carved face to recite verses to them. Between the dances both men and women swept the Good White Path twelve times with turkey wings, recited prayers to the Manitou twelve times, and smoked tobacco. Bowls of food were passed around counterclockwise, with each person taking only one spoonful so everyone could share. The dances continued until no one else wished to take up the rattle and recite their vision.

Misinghalikun, from The Magic
by Jane Barks Ross
On the 4th day, ceremonial hunters went out, and that night the Mask Being, or Misinghalikun, the creator and keeper of game animals, appeared to lead the Mask Spirit Dance. The person impersonating him appeared frightening and imposing wearing a floor-length bearskin coat and a great wooden face painted red on the right side and black on the left and carrying a stick, a turtle-shell rattle, and a bearskin bag. Around the 6th or 7th day the hunters returned, bringing in more meat for the nightly feasts.

On the 9th night the fires were allowed to go out. The ashes were carried out the Big House’s western door, and new fires were kindled with the sacred fire drill. The carved images in the Big House and the face images on the drumsticks received a fresh coat of paint. Then the cheeks and foreheads of the participants were rubbed with red in a sacred rite of consecration.

On the final night of the ceremony, the women danced and recited their visions. In the morning the fires were extinguished, first the eastern fire and then the western fire. The ashes were thrown out the western door, then the participants filed out the eastern door to form a row north and south facing east. Everyone cried out the prayer word “Ho-o-o” in unison six times standing and 6 times kneeling, then the ceremony was concluded and the Big House closed up for another year.

Do you see any similarities in the Delaware’s religious beliefs and worship to Judeo-Christian beliefs and practice? If so, what are they?


Friday, July 8, 2016

Seneca Ceremonies and Festivals

I’ve been doing considerable research on the religious beliefs and practices of the Native American tribes that appear The Return. The Seneca, the westernmost tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy, held our ancestor Jacob Hochstetler captive from the fall of 1757 to May 1758, when he managed to escape. I'm finding their major religious ceremonies and festivals especially interesting. A very well-researched 5th grade textbook titled The Magic Moccasins by Jane Barks Ross (copyright 1985), now out of print, has been especially helpful, along with several online resources I found, which are listed below. The Seneca observed the following six major ceremonial festivals during the year to give thanks to Nauwaneu, the Master of Life.
  • The Maple Festival, in which they gave thanks to the maple trees for yielding their sweet waters, and to the Master of Life for the gift of the maple.
  • The Planting Festival, when they invoke the Master of Life to bless the seeds and cause the rain to fall and the plants to grow.
  • The Strawberry Festival, a thanksgiving for the first fruit of the season.
  • The Green Corn Festival to give thanks for the ripening of the harvest.
  • The Harvest Festival, which is a general thanksgiving to the Master of Life for the abundance of the harvest.
  • The Midwinter or White Dog Ceremony.
The White Dog Ceremony was the Seneca’s most important (and most interesting) festival. It was celebrated at the time of the new moon at the end of January or first of February to inaugurate the beginning of their new year by making a sacrifice for sins. It was believed that this would help the Master of Life bring back the spring and keep his evil brother from obstructing him.

 White Dog sacrifice at Onondaga Castle, January 18, 1872
Ten to 20 young men formed a committee to oversee the preparations and performance of the ceremonial. On the first day, 1 or 2 white dogs or those with the fewest spots—or sometimes a person held captive—were strangled near the door of the council house. (The Iroquois who still celebrate this festival today use a white basket.) They were careful to not make a wound or spill any blood. The dogs’ faces, the edges of their ears, and various parts of their bodies were then painted red, and after they were elegantly decorated with colored ribbons, feathers, and other ornaments, they were hung on posts outside the council house doors.

Dancing in Worship of the Great Spirit
The young committeemen now raced around the town wearing only breechcloths and beating paddles on the houses to drive the occupants out. After they left, the youths went inside, scraped up the ashes of the old fire with their paddles, and threw them into the air, scattering them throughout the house. After kindling new fires with a flint, they fired 2 shots with their guns as they went out.

The next 2 or 3 days found the committeemen dancing and running through the town with bearskins wrapped around their legs, firing their guns and running tortoise-shell rattles across the walls of the houses. Each carried a basket and demanded from the townspeople tobacco and other items to use for incense at the sacrifice. Ceremonial dances were held in which all the townspeople participated.

Iroquois Cornhusk Mask
On the festival’s 4th or 5th day the young men wore fearsome faces of woven corn husks in addition to their bearskins. They ran around the town, smearing dirt on themselves and on anyone who hadn’t given any incense. In this way they drove off the evil spirit and gathered into themselves all the sins of the tribe. On the 8th or 9th day the committeemen took the white dogs down from the poles and by a form of magic worked the sins of the tribe from their bodies into the dogs, which were then placed on a pile of wood. While they were burned, the people threw the gathered incense onto the fire so the scent would rise on the smoke to Nauwaneu and please him.

The chiefs conferred on the affairs of their nation throughout the 9 days of the festival and planned for the future. On the final day everyone feasted on meat, corn, and beans cooked together in large kettles. Then the war dance was performed, followed by the peace dance. After the people smoked the peace pipe, they returned to their homes feeling that they had been cleansed from their sins to start the new year.

Some of these customs may seem outlandish to us today, but they held great meaning to the Seneca as the means of making atonement for their sins. Their religionincluded some beliefs and practices that helped to open the hearts of many of the native peoples to the preaching of the Gospel. In next month’s post I’ll describe the festivals of the Lenape, or Delaware tribe, whose religious beliefs made this tribe especially fertile ground for the ministry of Moravian and other Christian missionaries.

What religious festivals are particularly meaningful to you? Please share how they help you to worship and draw closer to God.