Madison County Historical Society


Missionaries Mark Christmas

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From 1801 to 1806, German-speaking missionaries from the Moravian Church in Pennsylvania -- Abraham Luckenbach and John Peter Kluge, and his wife, Anna --lived among the Delaware Indians in what later became Madison County.

Kluge kept a daily journal of events during their five-plus years stay here.  Contained in the journal are yearly references to the first several Christmas celebrations to occur in Madison County.  Simple by our standards, their celebrations reflected the importance of Christmas not only to the missionaries but to those to whom they ministered.

Always included were their Indian brethren, a name they gave to those Indians that had been converted to Christianity.  Occasionally a heathen, or unconverted Indian, would join the festivities.

The first celebration occurred on Thursday, December 24, 1801.  Kluge recorded the weather that day was unusually warm with no snow and almost like spring.

The festivities began at 7 p.m. with a Love Feast, which was a large meal consisting of meat from the surrounding forest and vegetables grown the summer before.  In all, 56 attended, counting the members of the congregation and visitors.  Everyone met in Brother Joshua's log hours, which was full to overflowing.

Joshua was the son of a Mahican Indian convert also named Joshua.  It was said he had a genius for learning languages and the mechanical arts.  He was a good cooper and carpenter and could stock a gun nicely.  No one excelled him in building a handsome canoe.  He could speak and write both English and German.  In addition, he could speak the Delaware language and thus was quite valuable to the missionaries.

Work on a church did not begin until the day after that first Christmas.  When finished, it was a hut made of saplings and tree bark shingles measuring 15 square feet.  This may have been the first Protestant church established in what eventually became Indiana.

At the Love Feast, Kluge read the story of the birth of Jesus from the bible in German.  Joshua translated for the Delaware.  There was a feeling of joy throughout the whole service, wrote Kluge, which was increased when small wax tapers were distributed among the children.  Being short on wax, only 20 tapers had been made by Mrs. Kluge.

The little lights were a great delight to the children.  After the service the children, with lighted tapers in hand, led the way home through the darkness to their village at Andersontown.  They would have followed the trail along the river's edge that connected the village to the mission station.  That trail is still evident today on the river's right bank.

Christmas Day began with preaching early in the morning.  Kluge baptized a blind Indian woman, giving her the name Lydia.  That evening Luckenbach conducted the evening services.

Christmas Eve 1802 fell on Friday.  On the preceding Wednesday and Thursday, many of the heathen women gathered for the coming celebration.  Christmas Eve was spent in food preparation with the Indians busy baking cornbread for the evening's Love Feast.  That evening all rejoiced in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ with a reading of the birth.  This was followed by a short address, and then they bowed for prayer.  The believers were joined by 15 heathen women and children.

The Love Feast followed, and Luckenbach distributed 20 little candles among the children.  With candles in hand, the children sang verses of Christmas carols translated into Delaware.  The service closed by all singing a verse together.  On Christmas morning and evening, services were conducted before a church filled with worshipers.

In 1803, Christmas fell on a Sunday, which meant that Holy Communion was to be celebrated as part of the Christmas Day evening worship.  The morning worship was preached by Kluge fro the second chapter of Luke.

The Christmas celebration began the evening before with the Love Feast.  Kluge wrote in his journal that the service was attended by a heathen family of five who happened to be there on a visit and gave close attention during the service.

Christmas Eve 1804 fell on a Monday.  Everyone at the mission was busy crushing corn for the Love Feast.  Kluge wrote, "Though we are but a few here, we experienced His peace in this dark land also."  His statement reflected a change taking place at the mission.  Many of the converts had left or fallen away. 

Luckenbach accompanied the singing that night on the violin.  He was somewhat of an accomplished musician as he played several instruments during the course of their stay.  After the singing,
3 1/2-year-old Charles Frederick Kluge related the story of the birth of Jesus and repeated a number of verses.  Charles was born July 21, 1801, only two months after the missionaries arrived.  He is the first white child born in what was to become Madison County, Indiana.

After the Indian children sang, little candles were again distributed among them.  "All this, wrote Kluge, "made a deep impression on the old Indian Christians and they wept for joy."  Christmas was observed with both the usual morning and evening services.

The Christmas of 1805 was their last one spent here.  The day was filled with the normal preparations for the evening's services and the Love Feast.  There was one notable exception.  Chief Tetepachsit, his family and a number of other Delaware attended the Christmas celebration.  Tetepachsit was the Delaware Tribal Chief whose village was located in present-day Muncie on the grounds of the Minnetrista Center.  He was not a believer but his wife was.  Three months later, he was murdered within sight of the mission by his enemies who thought he have come under the influence of his wife's beliefs.

Christmas Day 1805 was a Wednesday.  At the conclusion of the morning services, Kluge baptized an Indian woman giving her the name Hannah.  Many of those present broke out into loud weeping, including a couple of heathens described as quite wild and raw.

This was their last Christmas on the White River as the troubling events of 1806 caused the missionaries to ask for permission to return to Pennsylvania.

The events described all occurred where Lynnwood Drive ends in a cul-de-sac on the city's east side.

By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian 


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