Origins of the Colonies

ronneburg castle
Ronneburg, in the Hesse province of Germany, was where many Inspirationists lived in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Background:

The Amana Colony in Iowa was established by German-speaking settlers who belonged to the Community of True Inspiration. It was a religious group originating from Himbach, Germany in 1714. Founders, J.F. Rock (1678-1749) and E.L. Gruber (1665-1728), sought a more meaningful religious experience than the established churches provided. They, like others, believed the Lutheran Church had become too focused on intellectual debate and formalized worship, thus neglecting the spiritual needs of the congregation. At this time Pietism, the desire to return to the basics of Christianity, was becoming increasingly popular. They believed religion was a personal experience, and emphasized sincere humility and earnest study of the Bible. The Community of True Inspiration was one of several groups which emerged from Pietism.

Rock was a saddlemaker, and Gruber a former Lutheran minister. They believed that God still spoke through prophets, and 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.

The Inspirationist beliefs attracted many followers and congregations were established throughout Germany and surrounding regions. Inspirationists declined military duty, wouldn’t take state-required oaths, and refused to send children to church-run schools, and thus were often in conflict with church and governmental authorities. Many Inspirationists were punished with fines, imprisonment and public beatings. Nevertheless, the movement flourished through the mid-18th century. By 1750, however, there weren’t 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, “received inspiration” in 1817, and began to attract 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, it helped move the Inspirationists to the formal communal system which would be established in America and Amana.

The Move to America:

By 1840 there were nearly 1,000 members of the Community of True Inspiration. This growth occurred despite persecution from German officials and the Lutheran Church. Even in Hesse, Inspirationists were fined for their refusal to send children to state schools. Rising costs and rents, along with a years-long drought impacted conditions on the estates. Metz and other leaders realized that they must seek a new home.

In September of 1842 a committee, led by Christian Metz, traveled to America in search of land for their community. They purchased a 5,000-acre site in western New York, near Buffalo. By the end of 1843 nearly 350 Inspirationists had immigrated to the new settlement. It was named "Ebenezer," meaning "hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

To facilitate the immigration of their members, all property in Ebenezer was held in common. Initially, the plan was to divide land among the people according to their monetary contribution and labor. However, leaders recognized that disparities in wealth, skills, and age would make it difficult for some to purchase land, and thus lead to the community’s collapse. So, in 1846, a constitution was adopted to establish a permanent communal system. Any debate on this was resolved when Metz spoke a divine pronouncement endorsing the communal system.

Ebenezer flourished. By 1854 1,200 people spread across six villages, and worked in communal mills, shops, kitchens, schools and churches. They had already bought land to accommodate growth, but more was needed. However, land prices were at a premium due to growth in nearby Buffalo. Furthermore, the community leaders felt that the economic development and materialism around them as a threat to their way of life. The leadership decided it was time to move the community again, and moved westward.

Last updated: December 18, 2017