Digital Collection Spotlight #39: Travel Journals

Posted April 28, 2023 in General

One of the collections we have digitized and made available online is several Travel Journals, accounts written by Moravians recounting their travels, typically for pastoral or missionary work in the 18th century. The entire collection can be found on our online finding aid here. We thought it would be interesting to highlight two of the more unusual accounts, specifically an encounter with privateers¹ and a visit to the Great Pyramid.

Journal by John Cook from his sea voyage from New York intended for Amsterdam, aboard the “Little Strength,” captained by Nicholas Garrison, TravJournals 32, Moravian Archives Bethlehem.

The first example is from an account written by John Cook (1720-1747), concerning a voyage he and several other Moravians were on from New York City to Amsterdam in 1744. Cook was a mariner, poet, and painter, who was born in Italy and joined the Moravian congregation in London. This journey did not go as expected, however, as on April 20th they sighted another ship, flying the English flag but which they suspected to be a Spanish privateer². A chase ensued, and suspicions proved to be correct as Cook writes “She was haling down her English Colours hoisting Spanish & firing a Shot at us. When we saw that our Sav[iou]r had permitted them to take us we resigned ourselves cheerfully to his Will.” The privateers left some of their crew to sail the captured ship to the Spanish port of San Sebastian and stated that the passengers and crew would be killed if they offered any resistance and any money they had was seized, though the Moravians were not otherwise harmed and were kept locked in a cabin on the ship. They arrived in St. Sebastian on April 26th and after a night in prison were released and were able to continue their journey aboard a different ship.

Memorabilia from F. W. Hocker and J. H. Danke, from their missionary service in Egypt, including a visit to the pyramids at Giza Plateau, Cairo, Egypt, TravJournals 70, Moravian Archives Bethlehem

This second example concerns Moravian missionaries Friedrich Wilhelm Hocker (1713-1782) and Johann Heinrich Danke (1734-1772) and their time in Cairo, Egypt. Much of this document is concerned with the day-to-day work of the missionaries and their efforts to minister to the local Coptic community, and an interesting passage describes them accompanying a group led by the Venetian Consul to visit the pyramids at Giza. Upon their arrival at the site, it reads “They stand on a Barren Sand Hill, and 2 of them are of a Prodigious size. One can go, or rather creep into none but the largest; the entrance is about 4 1⁄2 foot square.” It goes on to describe them exploring the interior of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, including the Grand Gallery and King’s Chamber, while also noting then-blocked further passages³. Accounts by visitors such as this are a valuable resource for historians tracking the condition of such ancient sites and people’s knowledge of them at various points in time.


¹ While the line between privateers and pirates was often blurry the distinction is that a privateer operated under the auspices of a government whereas pirates were independent.

² This was likely part of the War of Austrian Succession, a conflict that embroiled many of the nations of Europe and their colonies between 1740-1748

³ These passages were later cleared in the 19th century and led to the Queen’s Subterranean chambers.

Further Reading:

Danky, John Henry: Narrative of the life of John Henry Danke: a missionary of the Church of the United Brethren among the Copts in Egypt who departed this life at Grand Cairo, on October 6, 1772. Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel among the Heathen, 1830.