An undated map of Springplace, Georgia, where Moravian missionaries documented their daily encounters with Cherokees in the 1800s. This map was used to help find foundations in 2005 with ground-penetrating radar. Document courtesy of the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. recently visited the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to tour the facility and visit with archive staff about the production of a multivolume book series, “Records of the Moravians Among the Cherokees.”
Tucked away among many of the complex German scripts of 18th century Moravian missionaries is perhaps the earliest and longest-running account of daily life among the Cherokees, and efforts supported by the Cherokee Nation to translate those stories have so far produced seven volumes in a series of books, with more in the works.
Since 2008, Cherokee Nation has donated $125,000 and Cherokee Nation Businesses has contributed another $75,000 to the Moravian Archives to ensure production of the books continues.
Hoskin was joined by Jack Baker, a former Cherokee Nation at-large Tribal Councilor and current president of both the National Trail of Tears Association and the Oklahoma Historical Society. The two saw firsthand the painstaking process involved in translating the German writings to English and visited historical sites that tell the story of early Cherokees and their interactions with Moravian missionaries.
“Anytime the Cherokee Nation has an opportunity to help reveal and preserve the story of our people, we want to do so, and our partnership with the Moravian Archives is a unique opportunity to do that,” Hoskin said. “These diaries, letters and reports made by the Moravian missionaries tell us what it was like among Cherokee communities up through the Trail of Tears in 1838, and further translation could uncover stories from the Civil War era and beyond. The records are invaluable, and we are thankful to the archive staff for giving us the chance to learn more about our ancestors and their way of life. It is clear that the Moravians were friends and supporters of the Cherokees 200 years ago, and I’m proud to say that unique bond has not been forgotten to this day.”
The Moravian Church is a modern Protestant community with roots in what is now Germany, where early members of the church gathered to avoid religious persecution in their native lands in Moravia. By the mid-1700s, they had established mission outposts among Native Americans, with the first mission among the Cherokees located in Springplace in modern-day Georgia in 1801.
Cherokees allowed the mission largely because they saw an opportunity for their children to receive schooling from the Moravians, according to Baker. He and Cherokee Nation citizen Anna Smith, a Winston-Salem Moravian, founded the Cherokee Moravian Historical Association in 2005 to bring renewed attention to Cherokee history found within the 200-year-old Moravian recordings.
“The Moravians became great friends to the Cherokees,” Baker said. “They recorded eyewitness accounts of treaty negotiations, of our Tribal Council meetings and of day-to-day life. Their insight gives us a look at these items in our history that we would not otherwise have. The records were written in an archaic— and since then, greatly altered—style of German script, which was later banned from being taught in Germany. The fact that fewer and fewer can read it today adds to the significance of getting these documents translated.”
Moravian missionaries became persistent advocates against the forced removal of the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. They traveled ahead of the Cherokees and prepared a “new Springplace” mission site north of Tahlequah. The property was taken over by Danish Lutherans in 1902 and survives today as Oaks Indian Mission.
“I am so grateful that with the Cherokee Nation’s help we can share new details of the struggles and tragedies that strengthened and preserved the Cherokee identity and community, much of which their friends in the Moravian community sought to avoid, then mitigate and comfort,” said J. Eric Elliott, interim archivist with the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem. “It’s a witness of shared humanity across cultural divides that should be honored and remembered and valued today, when that lesson is still needing to be taught in all cultures.”
The Moravian Archives staff has been translating and compiling books that include photographs, maps and other records with the support of Cherokee Nation and additional funding by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokee Moravian Historical Association, the Wachovia Historical Society and Friends of Moravian Archives. The series is a publication of Cherokee Heritage Press in Tahlequah and is distributed by the University of Oklahoma Press.
For more information on the Moravian Archives or to purchase any of the first seven volumes of “Records of the Moravians Among the Cherokees,” visit www.moravianarchives.org.
Cherokee Nation News Release
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