|Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg
Muhlenberg was born on September 6, 1711, into the devout Lutheran family of shoemaker Nicolaus Melchior Mühlenberg and Anna Maria Kleinschmid. He grew up in the German Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, also known as Hanover, and attended a classical school, at which he was taught Latin. After his father’s death, a local minister taught him to play the organ, developing in him a lasting love of music.
|Church in Trappe, PA, where Muhlenberg served.
Founded after 1742, not in 1712 as labeled.
At that time most of the Lutheran churches in Pennsylvania had been founded by lay ministers. Three congregations that had no church building or pastor appealed to officials at Halle to send them pastors who had a formal education. One of Muhlenberg’s former instructors, the son Halle’s founder, persuaded him to answer this call, and in 1742 he sailed for America.
|The Muhlenberg's home in Trappe
Muhlenberg held impeccable credentials, however. He had been licensed as the official Lutheran missionary to America not only by Halle, but also by the King of England, who ruled Hanover. After presenting his credentials to the two congregations under Kraft and Schmed, he ousted them and took over leadership. Zinzendorf, however, presented a greater obstacle since he was not only an ordained Lutheran minister, but also a highly respected man of standing in society and the church. Muhlenberg adamantly opposed Zinzendorf’s goal of uniting all Christian denominations under the Moravian standard. And ultimately Zinzendorf was also forced to defer to Muhlenberg’s authority.
|Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg
Muhlenberg’s influence extended into the following generations. His and Anna Maria’s eleven children all lived to adulthood and many held important military, political, academic, and church positions. Their oldest son Peter, became a pastor, a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and a U.S. Congressman. His bio will be the subject of my November post. Another son, Frederick, was also elected to Congress and served as the first Speaker of the House. Henry, Jr. pastored the Zion Lutheran Church at Oldwick, New Jersey. Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst, a scientist, became the first president of Franklin College, now Franklin and Marshall. The Muhlenbergs’ daughter Elisabeth married a future general in the army, Francis Swaine. Maria Salome married Matthias Richards, who was later elected to Congress. Eve married Emmanuel Shulze, and their son John Andrew became the governor of Pennsylvania.
Although I greatly admire major historical figures like Muhlenberg, it occurs to me that these men were very often absent from the home while pursuing important responsibilities. Do you ever wonder about the influence their mothers and wives had on their children—and on them—influence that historians generally neglect to mention? I do, and I’m wondering what you think about this subject. John and Charles Wesley acknowledged the great influence their mother, Susannah, had on their lives and faith. Are there other mothers and wives of famous men or women, whether mentioned in the history books or not, that you think must have exercised great influence in the lives of their husbands and children? Please share your thoughts!
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases April 1, 2017. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.