Johann Martin Boltzius (1703-1765)
Johann Martin Boltzius (sometimes spelled "Bolzius") was senior minister to the Salzburger community at Ebenezer for three decades (1735-65) and was largely responsible for its success. He was a vigorous opponent of slavery during the formative years of the Georgia colony.
Education and Early Career
Gotthilf August Francke, cofounder and professor of the school, selected Boltzius to serve as senior minister to the Salzburg Protestant refugees who journeyed to Georgia in the fall of 1733 to escape the repressive policies of Catholic archbishop Count Leopold von Firmian. A younger associate, Israel Christian Gronau, accompanied Boltzius. To cement relations with their new charges, Boltzius and Gronau married two Salzburg sisters in the Georgia settlement.
Boltzius envisioned a thriving community that emphasized Christian principles, a strong work ethic, practical business sense, and economic diversity. To accomplish his goals, he mastered English to work with British officials and learned the Salzburg form of German to teach Pietistic principles to his communicants. Boltzius stressed that God governed the community through appointed ministers who handled disciplinary and administrative affairs. When necessary, he submitted to the Trustees' authority but generally insisted that the Salzburgers maintain a semi-independent status within the colony.
Boltzius always sought the best for the Salzburgers, but he found himself acting more as an administrator than a minister. He understood the advantages of private enterprise over communal efforts and repeatedly advocated that policy to the Trustees. He urged the adoption of new agricultural technology and helped the community to construct a gristmill, a rice mill, and a sawmill to supplement their funds. Both he and Gronau encouraged their wives to experiment with the cultivation of black and white mulberry trees to help the women of Ebenezer develop a small-scale silk production. While the Salzburgers generally loved their senior minister, opportunities for personal independence in Georgia gradually reduced their deference to his authority. At times, Boltzius also faced opposition from non-Salzburg residents who argued with his theology and denied his ministerial leadership.
Expansion and Slavery
Boltzius was outspoken in his opinions about issues that affected the colony. He reluctantly supported Oglethorpe's 1740 attack against St. Augustine because he thought it an aggressive, unnecessary attack and because he remembered the horrors of war in Europe. Boltzius insisted upon servants' deference to their masters to maintain a God-ordained social order, a policy that frequently placed him in conflict with indentured German servants who argued with their Trustee employers.
Yet Boltzius vigorously opposed slavery as a violation of his Christian values, work ethic, economic pragmatism, and enlightened sense of rational reform. The colony's proslavery group, the Malcontents, angrily accused Boltzius of tyrannically forcing his opinions upon the Salzburgers. They sought to remove him by writing letters of complaints to British and German supporters of the Ebenezer settlement. The effort proved divisive, and for a time Boltzius feared that the Malcontents might take his life. But their opposition to his antislavery stand gradually withered. By the late 1740s, however, Boltzius reluctantly concluded that he must accept slavery or risk losing the Salzburg settlement because of a labor shortage. He compensated by looking upon slavery as a new field in which to spread Christianity. In time, he too purchased black laborers.
Boltzius frequently sent correspondence and reports to Samuel Urlsperger, senior Lutheran minister in Augsburg; the Trustees; and the Francke Foundation. His letters and travel diary, both in German and English, reveal detailed observations about his ministerial duties, his administration, and the worship practices of the Salzburgers. Urlsperger published these reports for European evangelical Protestants, but he frequently expunged the most sensitive and negative parts, particularly of those written in 1744 and 1745. He removed comments relating to the fight over slavery in the colony and other sensitive material that he feared might hinder financial support for both Ebenezer and the Francke Foundation.
As he grew older, Boltzius lost much of his eyesight and continued to suffer from malaria contracted earlier in his Georgia career. When Gronau died in early 1745, Boltzius began to delegate his responsibilities among Lutheran assistants sent by supporters and civil appointees of the Trustee and royal governments. In 1751 he received a 500-acre grant near Goshen, southeast of Ebenezer, which he called Good Harmony, but he never made a serious effort to develop it. He claimed that the Salzburgers required his energy and time more than did a plot of ground. He died at Ebenezer on November 19, 1765. The community suffered from the absence of his guidance and firm direction.
Codrina Cozma, "John Martin Bolzius and the Early Christian Opposition to Slavery in Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 88 (winter 2004): 457-76.
George Fenwick Jones, The Georgia Dutch: From the Rhine and Danube to the Savannah, 1733-1783 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992).
George Fenwick Jones, The Salzburger Saga: Religious Exiles and Other Germans along the Savannah (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984).
George Fenwick Jones, "The Secret Diary of Pastor Johann Martin Boltzius," Georgia Historical Quarterly 53 (March 1969): 78-110.
Samuel Urlsperger, Detailed Reports on the Salzburger Emigrants Who Settled in America, 8 vols., ed. George Fenwick Jones (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1968-85).
Renate Wilson, "Public Works and Piety in Ebenezer: The Missing Salzburger Diaries of 1744-1745," Georgia Historical Quarterly 77 (summer 1993): 336-66.
Carol Ebel, Armstrong Atlantic State University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.