Professor gets $100,000 to uncover history of Moravians, Native Americans in Pa.


LEWISBURG, Pa. – Along the shores of the Susquehanna River in upper Appalachia, a group of Moravians from Central Europe formed an unlikely alliance with the Iroquois Indian tribes.

The rich history of that alliance and of Native Americans and Moravians in an area known as Shamokin – now Sunbury – remains largely untold, but a Bucknell University professor is working to change that.

Katie Faull, a professor of German and humanities, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities for her collaborative research and translations of the mid-18th century Moravian diaries, most of which were written in German.

The project also has been designated an NEH “We the People” project and will be supported in part by funds for that initiative. The goal of “We the People” is to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of U.S. history and culture.

“I am especially happy about that designation,” Faull said. “The area of Shamokin, which is today Sunbury, is largely ignored in terms of its significance as a Native American capital in the 18th century. The Moravian diaries provide more day-to-day than other records do.”

Cultures of the Confluence

Faull’s research is part of a larger, cross-disciplinary program at the Bucknell Environmental Center, “Cultures of the Confluence,” which involves several efforts to uncover and highlight the history of the Susquehanna River Valley.

Those efforts include mapping an extension of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail with the National Park Service; the creation of a Susquehanna River writers institute, run for the first time this summer with a gift from the John Ben Snow Foundation; a study of the various functions of local river towns; and other faculty and student collaborative projects. The confluence is where the northern and western branches of the Susquehanna River and Shamokin Creek blend to form the main branch.

While on sabbatical this academic year, Faull will work on the project with students and fellow scholars from Vassar College, the State University of New York at Cortland, and Indiana and Bloomsburg universities.

First ‘distinguished scholar’

Alf Siewers, an associate professor of English who is coordinating the Environmental Center initiatives, said Faull’s research will provide a key to documenting the history of the confluence, which was an important part of the development of the United States. Faull was recently named the first distinguished scholar in residence at the Environmental Center at Bucknell because of her significant contributions to documenting this history.

“Her outstanding work has been a linchpin of the Environmental Center’s regional studies related to the Susquehanna River and has provided a basis for the Nature and Human Communities program to involve students and faculty and community members with the river through her research,” Siewers said. “The work on the Moravians brings new light to the historical and geographic importance of the Susquehanna Confluence and establishes the confluence as a place with as distinctive and significant an early history in its own way as more familiar places such as Jamestown and Williamsburg.”

Student was inspiration

Faull began researching the diaries in 2006 after a student, Jenny Stevens, Class of ’07, asked Faull what she knew about the Moravians in Sunbury. Stevens was working with Siewers to create an online map of Sunbury. Faull has received two other NEH grants for her work on the Moravians, but she did not know much about the Moravian mission in Sunbury. Stevens’ question inspired her to find out. Her research began with an online catalogue of the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem.

Although some sections of the diaries have deteriorated, the detailed accounts give insight into the daily lives of Moravian settlers and their relationship with Native Americans, Faull said. The Moravians, who came from a small Protestant church founded by the charismatic Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, were invited to Sunbury by the Iroquois Chief Shikellamy in 1742 after running into problems with the Colonial authorities for aiding Native Americans.

The diaries include accounts about the daily activities of the Moravians and their interactions with Chief Shikellamy, the Oneida Indian Tribe’s vice regent who was sent by the Iroquois to oversee political treaties with the British as well as a trading post. A section in the diaries by David Zeisberger, a well-known missionary, has a detailed account of Shikellamy’s death.

Mixing of cultures

There are some gaps in the story, Faull said. Sections of the diaries – in particular the period from 1744 to 1755 – are crumbling or missing. But the diaries provide evidence that the Moravians and their Native American friends forged an unusually cooperative relationship, sharing food, shelter and their cultures, through song and dance.

“With an empathy uncharacteristic for many European settlers, the Moravian men and women shared their resources of food and knowledge with the Native people, just as the Native people did with them,” Faull wrote in an account of her work in Bucknell Magazine. “But most startling are accounts of cultural encounters that occur between the parties on an equal footing.

“In 1754, when, just months before the outbreak of the French-Indian War, the missionaries describe their journey along the North Branch of the Susquehanna, the river is seen as a place of cultivation, plenty and great natural beauty,” Faull wrote. “Here, the Shawnee come to greet their European visitors, invite them to a sweat lodge and conclude the evening with songs and music from Europe.”