Original Document
Original Document
Israel Acrelius Visits the Ephrata Cloister, 1753.

EPHRATA is a place in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, eleven and a half English miles from the town of Lancaster, in Cocalicoa township, situate on the Cocalicoa creek, between two hills. It is a Protestant cloister, having in possession about one hundred and thirty acres of land, well situated, and built with a number of wooden houses at some distance apart, with apple-trees planted in the intervening spaces. There are also grape-vines there of a good quality, but not in any great number.
The people who live here are called by the English, Dumplers, by the Germans, Dunkers, from " duncken " or " time ken" " to dip," as they are a kind of Anabaptists. From this the town is called by a nickname, but generally Dunkers' Town.
The arrangement of the cloister-life was made by Conrad Beisel, formerly a German burgher, who still lives in Ephrata, or Dunkers' Town, as the Director of the whole community, and he is now about 64 years of age. He is a small, lean man, has gray and bushy hair, is quick in his utterance as well as in his movements. Twenty-two years since he first chose for himself the life of a hermit, building for this purpose a small house on the banks of the Cocalicoa. After some time he took a notion to establish a society of his own, upon principles derived in part from other sects, and in part the product of his own brain. His undertaking prospered, and Germans of both sexes came thither, united with him, and made him their priest, chief man,  and director of the whole society, not only of the cloister, but of all the brethren in their faith living in this country. From this time he called himself " Friedsam " (Peaceful) ; as it is also an established regulation in their society, that all who are admitted among them shall receive a new name in baptism, as a sign that they have come into a new condition, different from that of the great and wicked world. The brethren and sisters call him Father Friedsam, which is also his common name in the country. He calls himself " Friedsam, the elder brother" He preaches among them, and administers the sacraments as a Minister. As a Director, he makes laws and regulations. …
Father Friedsam lives by himself in a little house between the brothers' and the sisters' cloisters, being waited upon by the brethren, and has his food from their kitchen. He lives in entire solitude, except when messengers go out or in, or he performs his duties in the congregation.
The brethren have their convent below, for the houses stand near to each other, with their rear running back to the stream. It is three stories high, and contains about one hundred rooms. The cells are about four paces long and two broad, and there are usually three cells to each antechamber. There is one man to each cell. One iron stove usually serves to warm two or three rooms. The house has a wing. In the lowest story is the brethren's church, in the next their refectory, in the uppermost their store-rooms for their economical purposes. All their doors are unusually narrow, the stairs steep and narrow, so that other people find difficulty in getting along them. The windows are in like manner small. No chair is seen in their rooms, but only narrow benches ; but these as well as the floor are just as clean and bright as though they had been newly scoured. The inside of the house is plastered and whitewashed.
The sisters' convent, standing by itself, is built on the hill above, and arranged in a similar manner, having its own refectory and its own church in a wing of the house. They have also some other small houses for work close by.
The business of the brethren outside of the house is to work in the fields, meadows, and woods, as also at their mill. The greater part of them seemed to be brought up to agricultural labors. Others labor inside of the convent at all sorts of handicrafts, such as shoemaking, tailoring, weaving cloth and stockings, and the like, partly for the use of the cloisters and partly for sale, and so as to enable them to purchase other necessaries. Others attend to other domestic duties, such as cooking, baking, house-  cleaning, washing clothes, etc., for all the work is done by the brethren without any female assistance in the men's cloister.…
We first announced ourselves to [Peter] Müller, and were heartily welcomed. I informed him that I was a Swedish Minister, and had long been desirous of seeing them. " So," said Müller, " will you also see this poor place? But however poorly we live here, and although we live almost entirely by ourselves, yet we have the advantage of seeing the most distinguished people in the country; for no one comes to the land, who wishes to be honored for his knowledge and understanding, without visiting us in our isolated retreat, even though our visitors be the proudest people in the country. We thus get acquaintance enough, though but little advantage therefrom. If any new Lawyer or Advocate comes to Lancaster, it is certain that we shall soon make his acquaintance." …
We went down again into Müller 's room, and there he showed me the " History of the Persecutions of the Anabaptists" a large and thick folio volume, which he himself had translated from the Holland into the German language, and had afterwards had it printed there in Ephrata, saying that it was the largest book that had been printed in Pennsylvania as also that he had labored for three years upon the translation, and was at the same time so burthened with work that he did not sleep more than four hours during the night…. The edition of Müller 's book was one thousand two hundred copies, of which seven hundred have been circulated, and five hundred are still on hand.  He said that they could be sold within ten years. I think he meant twenty. The price is twenty-two shillings. I asked him how they could be sold at so low a price! " Why not," said he; "for we do not propose to get rich." …
During our walk up the long hill, Müller asked me if I believed that the pains of hell were eternal? To which I answered, "Just as certainly as the joy of heaven is eternal. How else? " I asked, in reply. " Nay," said he; " I do not believe that the soul, which is a part of God's being, can perish eternally." "But," said I, "I understand that you believe that this part of God's being lies for thousands of millions of years in the punishment of hell as in a sort of purifying fire. Dear Mr. Müller," said I, "you are a benevolent man, but let not your charity extend so far as to wish to extinguish the fires of hell. Remember that there was a great gulf between Abraham's bosom and the rich man's place of punishment, so that no one could go from the one place to the other." " Yea," said he, " as long as you are evil and I good, we shall never agree; but if we are both good, then we shall well agree. When thirty-nine thousand years have passed, the great Jubilee comes, when the Devil shall be chained." I understood well whence that came and whither it tended. When we had made the distinction between cetcrnitas (eternity) and tzviternitas (a great period), we arrived at the church door, and that was the end of the matter.
…The church was not large, and could be filled by some hundred persons. The forepart of the church was the third part of its size, the floor of which was some steps higher than the other part, and there sat the cloister brothers in their order. Müller and Eleazar, together with some others, sat on cross-seats opposite to one another, the others on long benches on both sides, and also in the rear. Above, the sisters of the cloister had their gallery, so arranged that neither they could see the congregation nor the congregation see them. Father Friedsam had his seat separate between that high choir and the rest of the church. The cloister brothers went in through a little door to the high choir, whereupon the sisters immediately followed. But Müller conducted me in through the large door, and gave me in charge to the sexton, who immediately showed me my place in the foremost seats. In the church there were people both of their own and of other forms of faith.
When they were all assembled, they sat for some moments perfectly still. In the meantime Father Friedsam was seen to be preparing himself; he held his hands upon both his sides, threw his head up and down, his eyes hither and thither; pulled at his mouth, his nose, his neck, and finally sang in a low and fine tone. Thereupon the sisters in the gallery began to sing, the cloister brothers joined in with them, and all those who were together in the high choir united in a delightful hymn, which lasted for about a quarter of an hour. Thereupon Müller arose and read the third chapter of Isaiah.
Father Friedsam recommenced his former movements, and appeared rather ridiculous than devotional. Finally, he arose with his hands clasped together and his eyes turned upwards, and began to speak of the natural darkness of man's understanding, and prayed for enlightenment and a blessing. Then he sat down and preached about holiness of life, the danger of temptations, and the need of watchfulness. Examples of this were taken from the soldiers in Germany, who call out, " Who goes there ? Who goes there ? " Finally, he began to speak of faith, hope, and charity. Faith and unbelief are the points between which man fluctuates. Faith saves, but unbelief condemns. That hope and charity follow faith. But when he should have developed this point, he made faith the foundation of hope and love; but then again immediately said that just as love is so are hope and faith. All turned upon this, that faith was nothing else than an inward fear of God, and devotion. It seemed to me that Father Friedsam himself did not know where he was at home (what he believed). All this was spoken with an incomparable rapidity, in hasty language, with rapid gestures. Now he struck out his hands, now he pressed them to his breast, now he placed them upon one side, now upon another, and now upon both. Again, he scratched his head, then patted himself on the nose, and then wiped his nose on the back of his hand. Meanwhile, in the congregation, which he frequently called Jerusalem, some were moved and shook their heads, others wept, others slept, and so on. The sermon was concluded with an Amen.
Müller went forward to Father Friedsam and proposed that a psalm should be sung. It is to be remarked that every one has the liberty of speaking and suggesting anything profitable to the congregation. Then Father Friedsam hinted to a brother, who sat on a bench nearest to him in the church, that he should begin, and himself raised the tune ; the said brother began the psalm and led it. Father Friedsam also united in it, as also the brethren and sisters, who sat in cross-seats in front, having psalmbooks and also note-books ; but the cloister people, as well as the rest of the congregation, were silent.
It is to be observed that to every psalm there are three different melodies, according to which the note-books are written by the sisters of the convent. Different brothers, as well as the sisters, understand vocal music, as also does Father Friedsam. When they sing, each one holds a note-book as well as a psalm-book, both of which are of quarto size, looking into both alternately, which custom would be more difficult if the singing were not performed so regularly every day.
After that psalm, Father Friedsam asked the brethren generally if any one had anything to suggest for the general edification ? Thereupon a little man, quite old, with a heavy beard which concealed the greater part of his face, and with a soft voice, answered, "That he pictured the Gospel to himself as a beautiful flower, which had a delightful odor of still increasing strength, and that should bear glorious fruit. Also, that he had both a right to that flower and pleasure in it, when he could appropriate it to himself with a broken and contrite heart." Whereupon he burst forth into tears, so that the rest of his well-meant discourse was broken off and suppressed.
This part of their service consists, as it were, in common conversation, wherein each one relates what he has upon his conscience, in what state he finds himself, and what may be suggested as to the edification of the congregation. When any one announces anything of the kind, Father Friedsam gives his judgment thereupon. …
After Divine Service, whilst I went hither and thither among the brethren in their cloister, talking now with one and now with another, most of them being very stupid, Father Friedsam came to make me a visit, an honor of which not every one can boast, as is the custom of that place. He came in a white woollen coat, with a bare head and rapid gait. He bade me welcome to their brotherhood with friendly words and gestures. I perceived that the brethren had induced him to show me this politeness, as they also seemed to take pleasure in my society. We went into Müller's room, and the old man seemed more full of life than the others.
He asked what I thought of their Society. I answered, " It is not to be wondered at that, in a country where there is such toleration for all forms of faith, some well-meaning Christians should choose such a peculiar mode of life for themselves, according to the best of their understanding, and as tending to the promotion of that rest of conscience for which they long. I understood that they had seen in Germany every form of cloister- life, and established something of the kind for themselves here, retaining what appeared to them to be good."
" I doubt not, my friend," said he, " that you are aware that the cloister-life is older than the Papacy; as also that the Christian Church, whilst still in its state of innocence, had within it certain flocks that chose a life of celibacy, and had all things in common." "That is not denied," said I; "neither do I myself undertake to judge that manner of life, only through this, that no merit is aimed at before God. Or, how is that, my friends ? Do you believe that you are nearer to the door of heaven than I am, because of your hard life because you sleep upon these hard benches, and are so lean and haggard ? "
" We by no means think of meriting anything hereby," said Father Friedsam. " God guard us from that. But we are commanded to depart from Babylon, or the sinful world; and as we are left at liberty to separate ourselves in this manner, so we have had a desire to do so." I answered, " Do you mean that the world, the flesh, and the devil do not trouble you here in this house? " Müller fell into the conversation by saying, " We believe that these enemies are everywhere, and even here also ; but here we are not so much oppressed by them as you are in the great world, where there are more temptations. And you should also remember that the Apostle enjoins that each one shall walk in the vocation wherein he is called. We have found our calling to coincide with this mode of life. In this we are secure." …

Credit: "Visit by Provost Magister, Israel Acrelius, to the Ephrata Cloister, Aug. 20, 1753." Papers read before the Lancaster County Historical Society. Vol. 42, no. 4 (1938).
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