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Book, statue on tap for Salzburgers' 275th next year
09.02 Heritage Day front
Ann Purcell, president of the Georgia Salzburger Society, unveils the last will of the Rev. John Martin Boltzius at Salzburger Heritage Day. They also uncovered an English translation of the will. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

When Salzburgers gather next year to celebrate the 275th anniversary of their forefathers emigrating to America, they will have two long-awaited projects ready for their celebrations next year.

Work on a statue of John Martin Boltzius, the pastor and leader of the settlement, is scheduled to begin soon, and the book of Boltzius’ letters back to friends, family and colleagues in Germany also is projected to be completed in time.

Dr. Russell Kleckley, an associate professor of religion at Augsburg College in Minnesota hired to translate Boltzius’ letters, said at Monday’s Salzburger Heritage Day celebration  that work on the book is moving to the
final stages. A publisher has been selected and the manuscript will be in their hands soon.

“We are right at the threshold of getting a text and the introductions to the publisher,” said Vince Exley of the Georgia Salzburger Society.

Kleckley went through more than 150 letters Boltzius penned in the archives of the Francke Foundation in Halle, Germany, and in archives in Berlin. One of the first letters in the collection was written on the day Boltzius was ordained.

Boltzius and Martin Gronau were teaching Latin at an orphanage in Halle when they were assigned to lead a group of Salzburgers fleeing persecution to the English colonies in America. They were ordained and met their soon-to-be congregation in Rotterdam, Holland.

The next to last letter in the collection was the last letter written by Boltzius, just prior to his death, which he knew was approaching, according to Kleckley.

“He talks about his hopes and dreams for the community,” Kleckley said.

The letters also detail Boltzius’ relationships with the Indians, Gen. James Oglethorpe, the governor of the Georgia colony, and with fellow religious leaders John Wesley and George Whitfield. They also describe the hardships, setbacks and success of the Ebenezer settlements.

“These letters do not tell the whole story,” Kleckley said. “But they do add a significant layer of understanding to what happened at this place.”

In his letters, Boltzius described his own feelings of unworthiness in being the leader of a community thousands of miles from home. The detailed reports sent back to Germany do not include some of the bad news that was taking part at Ebenezer. But Boltzius’ letters paint a more realistic picture.

“The letters parallel those,” Kleckley said of the detailed reports. “But you get the straight story here. Things that were not in the journals are here in depth. You get more depth and clarity from the letters.

“I think it will add to the larger story of this remarkable man and this remarkable community.”

Were he alive today, Boltzius may have felt uncomfortable with all the attention being paid to him, Kleckley said.

“But he would be gratified the community given to him has spread far and wide,” he said. “If these letters help you take that journey, I think he would be proud.”

Kleckley said the GSS publications and the work on the Boltzius’ letters is important not just to the Salzburger descendants but to American religious scholars as well.

“Through those publications, you allow others to travel back in time,” he said. “It’s hard to pick up a book on colonial America religion and not find some reference and what was going on here.

“In a very real sense of what continues to happen here, it’s an extension of the mission Dr. Boltzius talks about,” Kleckley said.

The GSS has raised about one-third of the $45,000 needed for the life-size bronze statue of Dr. Boltzius and is expected to order the work to start soon. The statue is scheduled to be revealed at next year’s Salzburger Heritage Day.