Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Mystery of the Recluse of Gnadenhutten: Frederica Misca

Frederica Misca, a shadowy figure of early Lehighton lore, came to live among the ruins of the fateful Moravian settlement.  In her own time there were many who praised her saintliness as well as many who detracted and scoffed at the very mention of the hermetic zealot’s name.   

Click here for "Gnadenhutten Massacre" post on the 11 Moravians killed here and details of Ben Franklin's defensive response.
So little is directly known of her now, that it is nearly impossible to know the complete truth. 
This original page from what is believed to be from Misca's book from the 1840s survives from Lehighton
Press publisher David m. McCormick's personal papers graciously given here from Bill and Kathy White of Lehighton.

According to Brenckman’s History of Carbon County, Misca purchased two tracts of the Moravian land and arrived here in 1825.  She lived here in the hope of turning it into the permanent home for a Presbyterian Church, to honor the deaths of the eleven Moravians who were martyred here.   

We have one sketchy account, written by Moravian newspaper and almanac publisher, Brother John Christian Blum. 

 Blum was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Salem, North Carolina when his family migrated down the Great Wagon Road.  They settled in the Moravian village known as Bethabara in 1787 when Blum was just three.

In August of 1831, Blum was part of a group of Moravian pilgrims who left Salem through noted Moravian towns of Lititz, Nazareth, and Bethlehem  They passed through Lehighton to see the “stone coal” fields west of Mauch Chunk.  They even rode the railroad while there. 

He recounted details of seeing the “stone coal” operations and how they traveled on cars “rolling along at a velocity of nine miles in twenty-eight minutes!”   

Eventually their pilgrimage brought them to the Gnadenhutten Massacre site by September.    
Misca's book, translated by a Rev
McClure from 1836, was published at about the
same time Rev James Alexander referred to
Misca as a hoax and a
"Pennsylvania huckster."

Blum referred to Lehighton as the place noted as “a great missionary place among the Indians, where our brethren and sisters were murdered.”  They paid homage at the marble tombstone and then happened to make a call on the lonely inhabitant of the place, the one many referred to as the “Recluse of Gnadenhutten,” the self-proclaimed German baroness, Miss Frederica Misca.

Blum noted that the church and the dwelling house of the minster still stood there.  And though he was most generous in his descriptions of the numerous people they had thus far met, he cast Miss Misca in a less than favorable light, believing her to be “somewhat deranged.”

After silencing her many dogs, she at first “addressed us in English, but soon discovering we were German, she began using the local Dutch dialect, which is far removed from our German.”   She said, “Gentlemen, I suppose you are from Bethlehem.”

If this account can be trusted as accurate, how then does this “German baroness,” only living here about five years, prefer to speak in a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect over the supposed High German tongue of her pedigree?

Her solitude in this place seemed to be tempered by the presence of the many animals in her care.  Her goat Sophy had just bore two kids the night before.  She recounted this to the weary travelers as she bent down to one of her dogs saying, “Lilla, kiss mama,” to which the dog licked Misca’s face. 

Blum goes on to describe how talkative she was, telling of her many pets including another dog named “Columbus” she brought with her here from Germany.  Blum retells how she said she had, “…seven cows, that is six cows and one bull named Hemrich.”

Frederica was pleasant in touring the graveyard of the departed Moravians but bristled at the requests by the pilgrims to see the interior of the dwellings there. 
A mention of Misca in Lehighton Cemetery Association's
Constitution, published in 1920.

“She made off and ran as fast as she could to prevent our entrance, as we thought.  Following her we arrived at the door, which, however, she opened for us.  We found the church hall filled with wheat and rye in the straw, and Frederica used part of it as a threshing floor.  She talked a great deal on different subjects, saying she was very desirous to purchase the place where she lived and requested Brother Herman to tell Brother Schweinitz, or Schweinrich, as she called him, that it was her wish to buy it.”

Perhaps the two tracts she purchased occurred after this late 1831 encounter or she was hopeful of purchasing more of the land.

Blum described Gnadenhutten as “situated in a poor slate country.”  This was somewhat confirmed later on, when Lehighton pioneer resident Lewis Graver, known for his timbering and brick making here, also quarried slate there.  

An 1877 newspaper account spoke of “seven to eight men clearing off the top rock…reached a depth of about seven or 8 feet,” finding specimens of slate easily split at uniform thickness, pronounced 'A No.1' and said to be equal to the “celebrated Vermont slate.”
This is a view from Graverville toward Lehighton: Note the cemetery at the left/center of the horizon and First Ward Elementary school at the right.  The photo is dated at around 1899 when the Henry Graver brick-works were still in operation.  Both the First and Third Ward buildings were built with Graver bricks.  The land was originally owned by the Moravians and later Misca.  (Photo Courtesy of Larry Graver).

Lewis Graver was born to Henry and Elizabeth in 1813.  They came to Lehighton, under contract to timber the Moravian’s lands he would later own, when Lewis was twelve.  

An August 18, 1888 article in the “Carbon Advocate” proclaimed Lewis to have “known Frederica Misca well.”  Graver was also known in the late years of his life to still show the curious “foolscaps” paper deeds direct from the Moravians, though they were “worn through with age.”
In this 1938 aerial view of South Lehighton, you can see the rectangular "Graver's Swimming Casino" mid-left with the
Graver's Ice Dam dominate at the center and right of the pool.  At bottom, you can see the symmetrical pattern of Henry Graver's "Gnadenhutten Fruit Farm."  In the mid 1950s, this view would be bisected left to right by Route 443.

Lewis Graver’s son Henry was known to have an apple orchard on the 175 acres later to be known as “Graverville.”  Henry’s early huckster wagon delivered potatoes and apples to the area and into New Jersey.  Graver the younger even took this home-made hard-tired, chain-driven jalopy all the way to Florida in the 1910s.  He eventually established a permanent winter home there prior to his death in West Palm Beach Florida in December of 1926.  His fruit business was known as the “Gnadenhutten Fruit Farm.”
Henry Graver relaxing in West Palm Beach Florida with his "Gnadenhutten Fruit Farm" huckster wagon.  Note the chain-drive, hard tires, and lanterns.  One can only imagine how difficult this journey must have been in the 1910s with mostly dirt roads and the heat of the south.  Henry died in West Palm Beach on December 18, 1926.
(Photo Courtesy of Larry Graver.)

A 1916 newspaper account told of the recent Graver family reunion that was recently held on the massacre site and former home of Misca.

The First Presbyterian Church of Lehighton was built in 1874.  It was said to have originated as the “Gnadenhutten Presbyterian Church of Lehighton" in the year 1859.  The Reverend Edward Franklin Reimer employed the circulation power of the New York Times to help shed light onto the Frederica Misca mystery in a letter to the editor in April of 1904.
The end of Rev Reimer's 1904 letter printed in the
New York Times seeking information on Misca.

Rev. Reimer stated his church was experiencing the “most prosperous days it had ever seen” and he wanted to find out more about the “Recluse of Gnadenhutten” to pay homage to her founding efforts.  To his knowledge, Misca arrived in the area around 1825.

Few people claim to have known much about Misca.  Besides Graver, another Lehighton resident, Catherine Snyder, daughter of Peter Snyder of Towamensing Township, was born around 1825.  It was claimed in her 1909 obituary that she remembered seeing the recluse as a young girl.

The only reference I was able to find as to her eventual demise comes in the Rev Reimer letter.  Misca was known to travel far and wide, selling subscriptions for her proposed church.  She had produced a lithograph depicting a shining new church under her prayerful likeness complete with supplicating hands amid the burning remnants of the settlement.  The prints were given with each $50 subscription she secured.  

Reimer related that Misca disappeared while out on one of her fundraising tours through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  She was said to have been attacked and died in a Baltimore hospital.  Another account claimed she had disappeared near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The Misca lithograph - This color scan was mounted on a 
piece of photo stock and labeled "Property of David M. McCormick"
owner/editor of the "Lehighton Press."  As you can see, the imagery
of a shiny church on a hill where the martyrs were slain and depicting
the Native attack on the pacifist settlers of Gnaden Hutten.

In January 1836, a book written by “Frederica E. Misca” was translated from the German by the Reverend A. W. McClure.  McClure wrote in the preface of that book, “The Love of Jesus, A Treatise Upon the Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper,” that Misca “consecrated her soul and body, and all the living that she hath, to the cause of her Redeemer.”  

He went on to say she devoted “years of toil, and all her pecuniary means.”  McClure too was passing the proceeds of his book onto the mission of her life’s work.  His preface was dated June 2, 1836.

However in a letter, dated April 14 of the same year, the Rev. James Waddle Alexander, the son of famed Presbyterian minister Archibald Alexander, wrote a letter to a life-long friend that shares a different sentiment of Misca.  

He writes, “You probably see by the papers what a hoax there has been about Miss Frederica Misca, who turns out, instead of a German baroness, to be a Pennsylvania huckster.”

Regardless of what anyone can believe about her, her work and devotion ultimately led to her intended hope that one day a church dedicated to her faith would be built in Lehighton.

According to Brenckman, a New York gentleman named George Douglass came to the aid of Misca’s cause in 1831.  Douglass helped fund the balance of her mortgage on the property and soon after lumber and windows were hauled to the site.  A deed of November 1, 1833 was drawn, making Douglass the sole trustee of the property.

Douglass transferred his trust to the members of the Mauch Chunk Presbyterians in 1852.  Some of the property was sold, the proceeds helping the construction of the Mauch Chunk Presbyterian Church.  Passage of a 1870 church act by their assembly sold the remainder of the property to the Gnadenhutten Cemetery Association.
By February of 1872, money was transferred from Mauch Chunk to Lehighton for the building of the First Presbyterian Church at Third and Mahoning Streets.

It is unknown for sure whatever became of Frederica Misca.