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
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