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[graphic header] The Amana Colonies: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary of a unique historic communal society in eastern Iowa

[Historic Photo]
Ronneburg, a medieval castle in the Hesse province of Germany, which was occupied by Inspirationists in the 18th century
Photograph from "Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism" printed by the Amana Society in 1936

The Amana Colony in Iowa was established by German-speaking European settlers who belonged to a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration, which traces its origins to Himbach, Germany in 1714. Community founders J.F. Rock (1678-1749) and E.L. Gruber (1665-1728) were among many Europeans seeking a more meaningful religious experience than they felt the established churches provided. Like many others, Rock and Gruber maintained that the Lutheran Church had become bogged-down in intellectual debate and formalized worship and thus neglected the spiritual needs of the congregation. An increasing desire to return to the basics of Christianity gained popularity in the doctrines articulated by this movement, known as Pietism. For Pietists, religion was a personal experience with an emphasis on sincere humility and earnest study of the Bible. The Community of True Inspiration was one of several groups which emerged from Pietism.

Rock, a saddlemaker, and Gruber, a former Lutheran minister, believed that God still spoke through prophets as described in the Old Testament. The Community of True Inspiration was founded on this belief. The new prophets were called Werkzeuge, or instruments. The divine pronouncements through the Werkzeuge were recorded by scribes and printed in collected volumes.

[Historic Photo]
Monastery Arnsburg, Germany, where the Inspirationsists started their first woolen mill in 1838
Photograph from "Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism," printed by the Amana Society in 1936

The Inspirationist beliefs attracted many followers and congregations were established throughout Germany and surrounding regions. Because Inspirationists declined to perform military duty, take state-required oaths, or send their children to church-run schools, the congregations were often in conflict with church and governmental authorities. Many members of the Community of True Inspiration were punished with fines, imprisonment and public beatings. Nevertheless, the Inspirationist movement flourished through the mid-18th century. However, by 1750, there were no longer any Werkzeuge and both Rock and Gruber were dead. The movement declined and faded in the midst of European wars and economic depression.

War and famine, compounded by sweeping social and economic changes, devastated Germany in the early 1800s. Farmers and craftspeople in particular were affected by high rents, taxes and a new wave of industrialization. Many people, including a tailor named Michael Krausert, took comfort in religion. Krausert studied the words of J.F. Rock and received inspiration in 1817. This event revitalized the Inspirationist communities and attracted a new following. The Werkzeug Krausert was soon joined by two others, Barbara Heinemann and Christian Metz. Metz emerged as the guiding force of the community during its crucial years of growth and relocation to America.

During the 1820s and 1830s, Metz consolidated the community in the relatively liberal province of Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany. Congregations from Germany, Switzerland and Alsace moved to join the new communities in Hesse. The community leased large estates and castles within a few miles of each other. Both rich and poor lived together and shared in the social and economic life of the group. Although not communal, this arrangement helped to predispose the Inspirationists to the formal communal system which would be established in America and Amana.

[Historic Photo]
Christian Metz's home in Ebenezer, New York
Photograph from "Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism," printed by the Amana Society in 1936

By 1840 there were nearly 1000 members of the Community of True Inspiration, many living on the estates in Hesse. This growth took place in spite of persecution from German officials. The government, closely tied to the Lutheran church, viewed the Community's theology as a political threat. Even in Hesse, Inspirationists were fined for their refusal to send children to state schools. Rising costs and rents and several years of drought aggravated the conditions on the estates. Metz and other leaders realized that they must seek a new home for the Community in America.

In September of 1842 a committee led by Christian Metz traveled to America in search of land on which to relocate the Community of True Inspiration. They purchased a 5,000-acre site in western New York, near Buffalo, and by the end of 1843 nearly 350 Inspirationists had immigrated to the new settlement, which they named "Ebenezer," meaning "hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

[Historic Photo]
The woolen mil at Ebenezer, to which was brought some of the machinery from the mill at Arnsburg
Photograph from "Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism," printed by the Amana Society in 1936

From the start, in order to facilitate all members of the community to come to America and live together, all property in Ebenezer was held in common. The initial plan was that after some time the land would be divided among the people according to their contribution of money and labor. However, leaders saw that the disparity in wealth, skills and age would make it difficult for all to purchase a portion of land--the community would fall apart as a result. Therefore in 1846 a constitution was adopted which established a permanent communal system. Any debate on this was resolved when Metz spoke a divine pronouncement endorsing the communal system.

Ebenezer flourished. By 1854 the population reached 1,200 people. Six villages were established, each with mills, shops, homes, communal kitchens, schools and churches. To accommodate this growth, additional land had been purchased, but more was needed. However, the booming growth of nearby Buffalo put land prices at a premium. Furthermore, the community leaders perceived a threat from the economic development around them. It was felt that capitalist and worldly influences were bringing about a growing interest in materialism and threatened the spiritual focus of the Inspirationist community. The leadership decided it was time to move the community again--this time to the unsettled west.



 [graphic] Link to the Utopias in America essay  [graphic] Link to Origins of the Colonies essay  [graphic] Link to Communal Amana essay  [graphic] Link to Amana Colonies Today essay


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