Digital Collections Spotlight #43: Cammerhoff Papers

Posted August 24, 2023 in Digital Access

Digital Collections Spotlight #43: Cammerhoff Papers

Our holdings here at the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, include a number of collections of the personal papers of individuals important to the history of the Moravian Church. These collections are typically made up of a range of materials such as letters, diaries, and albums that belonged to the person in question and were acquired by the archives. These collections are a valuable and fascinating resource that we have been working to digitize and make available online. An excellent example of this is that we have recently digitized the personal papers of Johann Friedrich Cammerhoff, a notable 18th century Moravian bishop and missionary, and added them to our online finding aid, available here.

Born in Hillersleben, Germany, on July 28, 1721, Cammerhoff graduated from the University of Jena before joining the Moravian Church. He went on to marry Anna von Pahlen in 1745 and in 1746 became a Moravian bishop, traveling to North America as an assistant to Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg. There he was active in ministering to both European settlers and Native Americans, notably embarking on a three-month trip in 1750 to visit the capital of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederation, Onondaga, in what is now New York state. The goal of the journey was to seek permission for two Moravian missionaries to live among the Iroquois and learn their language, which they received. This journey resulted in some issues for the Moravian Church, as rumors spread that Cammerhoff had encouraged the Iroquois to cut ties with the English and perhaps even side with the French, resulting in James Hamilton (1710-1783), deputy governor of Pennsylvania, summoning him to address these claims, which Cammerhoff was successfully able to do. Unfortunately the travel to Onondaga took a severe toll on Cammerhoff’s health and he passed away on April 28, 1751, at the young age of 30.

The Johann Friedrich Cammerhoff Personal Papers consist of letters he wrote and sent to Count Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann and Johannes von Watteville in Europe and are reports on the activities of Moravians in Bethlehem and other parts of North America. They also include descriptions of his experiences, for example saying of the town in a 1747 letter to Zinzendorf:

Bethlehem is our dear refuge and home for pilgrims. A longed-for and welcome sight of travelers, and a joy for so many hearts…Its appearance now is quite something to behold, cloaked in green and lovely. Not long ago it had properly worn its drab winter garb. I could certainly find plenty more to describe, if I only were a more perceptive person. But it is indeed beautiful.¹

For each letter Cammerhoff prepared two copies, sending one to the recipient, these now held in the Unity Archives in Herrnhut Germany, and keeping one for his records, these held in our collection. Of course while this collection is a very valuable segment of our holdings for the study of John Cammerhoff they are by no means the only resource. As is often the case, relevant material can be found in several other collections. These include a memoir in the Bethlehem Diary, an English translation of which can be read here, and Cammerhoff’s account of some of his travels in the Travel Journals collection, which has also been digitized and uploaded and can be viewed here.

¹ “Copia Br. Cammerhoffs 4tes Briefs an Br. L[udwig] vom 22.-24. Maji st. novi 1747,” 22-24 May 1747, PP CJF 2. Translated from the German by Scott Paul Gordon and Edward Quinter.

Further Reading:

De Schweinitz, Edmund. Some of the fathers of the American Moravian Church. A series of brief biographies. Bethlehem, PA: Henry T. Clauder, 1881.

Jordan, John W., Jacob Rogers, and John Okely. “The Cammerhoff Trouble at Onondaga. A MS in the Moravian Archives at Bethlehem.” Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society 2, no. 7/8 (1885): 323–39. Accessed 8/21/2023


“Cammerhoff, Friedrich”, Johann Valentin Haidt, 18th century | PC 40, Moravian Archives Bethlehem