Professor preserves diary written during Revolution

By on December 30, 2013


ROBERT SANDERCOX Special to the Record Express

, Staff Writer

A torn diary page suggests the fragility of this historical document.

At a recent meeting of the Archives Committee of Lititz Moravian Congregation, members and guests were delighted to learn from Dr. Paul Peucker, Archivist of the Moravian Church, Northern Province, that a generous donor had come forward to underwrite the complete restoration and digitization of an 18th century Lititz diary that had been discovered earlier this year in the Provincial Archives in Bethlehem, Pa.

The benefactor, Dr. Scott Paul Gordon, chair of the English department at Lehigh University, is no stranger to Lititz. Several years ago his discovery in the Lititz Moravian Museum of a sole surviving and hitherto uncatalogued copy of a 1775 broadside, an admonition by Lancaster leaders to those whose "religious Scruples" prevent them from bearing arms to "contribute" funds toward the "unavoidable Expenses of the Public," brought national attention to our community. Since then, Gordon has written articles on the Lititz response to the Revolution, and more recently about Mary Penry, who lived in the Single Sister’s House on Church Square during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and maintained copious correspondence with her relatives and friends.

Peucker discovered, in February 2013, the manuscript, which is a diary written by congregational pastor Bishop Matthaeus G. Hehl. He writes, "I was moving everything from our vault, preparing for a major renovation, when I came upon this box marked Lititz. It was separated from the other Lititz records, probably because my predecessor wanted to have it restored."

Peucker speculates that the restoration project was forgotten after the untimely death of the previous archivist in a traffic accident several years ago.

The diary was found to be seriously deteriorated, with pages separated from the binding and disintegrating at touch. After consultation with Lititz Moravian Archives Committee Chair Randy Reist, Peucker took the 120-page manuscript to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia for examination. In April, the condition report was received, indicating that restoration was possible and providing a cost estimate of nearly $10,000 for conservation and digitization. The latter process, which will be much easier to accomplish before the pages are rebound, will allow scholars to study the diary without handling what will remain a fragile artifact.

Peucker’s visit to Lititz was intended to provide background information as the Archives Committee prepared a fundraising strategy to secure donations for the restoration. After making his surprising announcement about Dr. Gordon’s contribution, Peucker encouraged the committee to turn their efforts to funding the next steps of transcription and translation of the manuscript. The Lititz Committee agreed to accept that responsibility and is now in the process of forming a fundraising subcommittee which will begin its work in the new year.

Peucker also announced that he had examined that afternoon another manuscript in the Lititz Museum and had determined that it was Volume I of the Hehl Diary. He said the diary that exists in Lititz is in much better condition than the volume at the CCAHA in Philadelphia, now to be regarded as Volume II, because of the quality of the paper.

Congregation member Marian L. Shatto, who is very interested to see the project go forward. "The discovery of this significant document is exciting news to history-lovers at Lititz Moravian, who welcome the prospect of having a new eye-witness narrative of life in Lititz during the Revolutionary War period," Shatto wrote in the Fall 2013 Church Square Journal. "Bishop Hehl’s account of the war years, especially as concerns the Military Hospital in the Brothers’ House, could add substantially to our understanding of how our small village coped with the turmoil and disruption of daily life."

When asked about his gift, Dr. Gordon wrote, "I am thrilled to be able to help conserve Matthew Hehl’s history of Lititz from 1771 to 1784. These revolutionary years were difficult ones for the Moravian Church. We know what these times looked like to church leaders in Bethlehem, because John Ettwein wrote a history that was published long ago. Ettwein used his history to criticize some of the decisions that Moravians in Lancaster made during the Revolution. What did these years look like from the perspective of Moravians in Lancaster County? Hehl’s history of Lititz will tell us."

"While the history must be based to some degree on the material in the Lititz (and Lancaster) congregational diaries, Hehl’s history probably draws on much more material than these sources," Gordon continued. "But we don’t know … and that’s part of the excitement! Whatever the history contains, it will add immeasurably to our knowledge of the Moravian experience in eighteenth-century America and, in particular, of struggles and sufferings of Moravians during the American Revolution."

More DIARY, page A14

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