From the Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1777)

Submitted by The Rev. Judith A. Meier, Historian

The Historical Society of Trappe, Collegeville, Perkiomen Valley


The Christian ministry has a number of occupational

hazards, some of which are particularly threatening

during the winter. I personally can attest to that this

winter, as an ice storm allows me to stay at home this

morning to prepare this column and nurse a bad cold.

Old Father Muhlenberg certainly wasn’t immune to

those challenges; in fact, they could be absolutely lifethreatening.

One big difference: he didn’t benefit

from modern science and technology. He didn’t reach

for the hand gel before breaking the communion

bread; he didn’t smile approvingly as the children

coughed and sneezed into the bend of their elbows; he

didn’t rush to wash his hands after shaking hands with

his congregation; he didn’t put his 4-wheel drive into

gear to get through the snow banks or across the

swollen creeks. Let him describe one especially

rough spell in early 1777:

January 28 – In the morning our children and relatives

set out on their return journey to Philadelphia. Mr.

Kuntze, his wife, their three-months-old child, and my

youngest daughter Salome drove off in a stage-coach,

and Mr. Hall and his wife, Henrich Mühlenberg’s

parents-in-law, drove away in a chaise. The roads are

very bad for driving. Friedrich Mühlenberg is their

driver. Those of us who now remain here are we two

oldsters, Henrich Mühlenberg’s wife and child,

Friedrich Mühlenberg, his wife, and their children.

Jan. 29 – I was ill, took some medicine, and wrote.

Jan. 30 – Not yet improved. Had a visit from Dr.

Bodo Otto, of Reading . . . .

Jan. 31- Am severely afflicted with catarrhal fever. I

have not had it for a long time, and it worries me

especially because I have promised to preach in New

Hanover next Sunday and have no voice left.

Fortunately Friedrich Mühlenberg came back in the

evening from Philadelphia with the stagecoach. They

had an uncommonly difficult journey to Philadelphia

on Tuesday; they were stuck in the mud twice, finally

had to proceed on foot, and did not reach the city until

ten o’clock in the evening . . . .

Feb. 2 – Candlemas. Friedrich Mühlenberg rode to

New Hannover over unusually bad roads and in wet

weather, in order to conduct divine service there. I

was unable to go because I am still suffering severely

from catarrhal fever and cannot speak. He visited

Mr. Voigt after the service and dined with him. He

returned safely in the rain, splattered with mud from

head to foot. His horse fell under him only once.

Uninjured, thank God!

Feb. 4-5 – Am plagued with the catarrhal fever and a

hectic cough . . . .

Feb. 6 – My malady continues stubbornly . . . .

Feb. 8 – My catarrhal condition continues, yet I have

progressed so far that I can write and read somewhat

and can force some sounds to make myself heard. My

son Friedrich rode to the other side of the Schulkiel

today in order to conduct divine service in Peikstown

tomorrow. The roads are muddy, the water is high,

and, to make matters worse, it is raining today.

Feb. 9 – In the morning I rode [a neighbor lent me a

horse in order that I might ride] the half-mile from our

house to Augustus Church, for I was unable [did not

venture] to go so far afoot on account of my weakness

and the bad condition of the road . . . .

After the service I prepared to set out for home. In

spite of the help which the deacons and elders

rendered in getting me onto the horse, the stirrup

broke [unexpectedly] and I fell down on my side. As

a result I injured [bruised] the short ribs on my left

side, and this caused severe pain. Toward evening

Friedrich Mühlenberg returned home safely. The

Schulkiel was so high that the water reached to the

saddle of his [tall] horse . . . .

February 10 – In the afternoon H. Mühlenberg, Jr.,

arrived from Philadelphia in order to take his dear

family down with him. Friedrich Mühlenberg at once

offered to take me and them down in the stagecoach

with his horses. It is true that I was asked to go to

Philadelphia in order to attend the congregational

meeting for the accounting, which is usually held in

January, but was not held then on account of the

disturbances of war, but I cannot go now owing to my

physical infirmity. Moreover, Heinrich and his family

cannot get through, either, because the roads are still

very muddy and difficult to negotiate.

Feb. 14 – During the past night almost a foot of snow

fell. Today it is melting again, and the roads are more

impassable than ever.

Feb. 11 – I am still suffering from the catarrhal fever.

My massa fluida is losing the little fire [salt] which

still remained and is being transformed into phlegm,

which will disappear naturally [leave behind a caput

mortuum] in the next month of March—i.e., in the

equinoctial season.

Feb. 12 – My catarrhal fever continues . . . .

Feb. 14 – More than a foot of snow has already fallen

since last evening, and it is continuing to snow. The

weather is severe for the poor fellows in the army


Feb. 15 – My catarrh still continues . . . . In the

evening several companies of soldiers returned here to

Providence from Ticonderoga [from Canada after

serving their stipulated time]. It was difficult for

them to find quarters. Friedrich Mühlenberg took in

seven of them, gave them a warm room for the night

in the adjoining house, and supplied them with supper

[with sauerkraut, which pleased them very much and

for which they were thankful because they had not

had anything warm for a long time] . . . .

Feb. 16 – I am still suffering from catarrhal fever.

Friedrich Mühlenberg rode to New Hannover over

very bad roads to conduct divine service there and to

present to the congregation the new deacons,

Johannes Reichard and Matthias Wartman, who had

been elected in the congregational meeting on January

20 – He returned toward evening. Owing to my

catarrhal fever, which is holding on, I cannot even

sing and pray with my family at home.

Feb. 18 – The roads are more muddy, bottomless, and

full of holes than they have been for many years . . . .

Feb. 19 – Still suffering from chest fever and cough . .

. .

Feb. 20 – Resorted to my old remedy – an emeticum in

order to try to break up the viscidity in the massa


Feb. 22 – The severe cold continues. In the evening

Friedrich Mühlenberg returned from Philadelphia

with the wagon and horses. He brought my writing

desk with him, and also three doses of tartarum

emeticum. Each dose is to be accompanied by a halfpint

of water as a vehiculum . . . .Feb. 23 – I am still

suffering from catarrhal fever . . . .

Feb. 24 – From early this morning until late at night

we had an extraordinary snowstorm. Perhaps as much

as two feet of snow fell . . . .

March 1 – The snow which fell before has not

disappeared, and today a heavy snowfall has been

added . . . .

March 2 – My neighbor, Mr. Müller, was so good as

to take me in his sleigh to Augustus Church, and my

voice was sufficiently recovered to enable me to

preach, after a fashion, on the example of the

Ethiopian chamberlain, Acts 8 . . . .

March 9 – I conducted domestic devotions, but am

still unable to sing on account of my catarrh.

March 11 – All kinds of petitions for the sick. [Had

all sorts of English and German visitors who sought

help for the sick, for there are no practitioners in the

art of conjecture in this whole region inasmuch as

they have gone to the military hospitals.] I cannot

help them because the Halle medicine is exhausted.

What there is left of it is so expensive that poor

people cannot afford it . . . . As long as the Halle

medicines lasted, I used them according to the

accompanying printed directions. But since I must do

without these medicines on account of the closed

doors (importation ban because of the war), I give

people, who ask for it, counsel from the blessed Dr.

Johann Samuel Carl’s Apotheke and Dr. Tissor’s

Haus-Arzenei-Buch, and I show them the remedies

which the great Benefactor causes to grow on their

land or before their doors without payments or

interest. Perhaps the physicians will soon return and I

will be relieved of this burden.

Father Mühlenberg’s words and experiences are

humbling indeed.