|In 1732, Protestant citizens of the Archbishopric of Salzburg were given the choice of embracing
Catholicism or banishment. Over 22,000 chose exile, leaving behind all they owned rather than
betraying their religious convictions. The Prussian King welcomed thousands of them in the farthest
end of his realm in East Prussia. Thousands of others dispersed and went to Holland, other German
lands, Transylvania and elsewhere. Some went to the New World and to the new colony of Georgia.
Georgia was the last American colony and founded 50 years after the initial twelve. It was named for
King George II who granted a 21 year charter to a board of 21 trustees for the land between the
Savannah and Altamaha rivers and westward to the "South Sea". James Oglethorpe, its founder and
governor, was a member of Parliament as well as a reformer who was concerned about the atrocious
conditions of the grim debtors prisons. He resolved to ship their inmates to America instead.
Oglethorpe enlisted prominent men to lead and establish the new colony, both to give the needy a
new start in life and to extend British dominions. The applicants were examined for honesty and
"inability for English livelihood". Over the period of the trusteeship (1732-1755), fifty more trustees
were added. Oglethorpe points at his colony, above
Thirty-seven Salzburger families bound for America proceeded to Dover, England and swore
allegiance to King George and were awarded the same rights of Englishmen bound for an English
Colony. On January 8, 1734, a year after arriving in England, the Salzburgers began their stormy 63
day journey to Georgia on a two hundred ton ship named the 'Purysburg' under Captain Tobias Pry.
On March 12, 1734, their ship arrived at the Savannah River and was met by Oglethorpe who led
them to their new home. Oglethorpe named the town, its stream and the Parish, Ebenezer.
Salzburgers were Georgia's first religious refugees.
The Salzburgers occupied approximately 25 square miles on the eastern side of Effingham County.
By the fall of 1737, many farmsteads had also been established on the Mill Creek bluff, also known
as Abercorn Creek.
This area became known as the Mill District after several mills were founded: the first grist mill, first
rice mill and the first saw mill in the colony. The Salzburgers also had a silk business and built the
market squares in Savannah to sell their wares. They opened the first schools and the first orphanage
in the colony. Cultural solidarity characterized the colony's first 30 years, during which time, the
settlements retained a strong German identity.
The Salzburgers built the permanent Jerusalem Lutheran Church, in 1769 with 21-inches thick walls
made of handmade brick created from Georgia clay fired in a nearby kiln, and some bricks on the
front of the church still bear the fingerprints of Salzburger children who helped mold and carry them.
The bells adorned the church and rang every Sunday.
In 1765, there were about 1,050 residents in Ebenezer and its communities, but the population began
to fragment, a sad state further exacerbated by the events of the American Revolution. During the
Revolutionary War, the British occupied Ebenezer and plundered and burned the town. Troops
seized the Salzburgers' possessions, ruined their gardens and chased out and terrorized the people.
They used the old church as a hospital, a storehouse and as a holding center for prisoners. Finally, as
they realized that England was losing the war, they spitefully used the brick-floored church as a
stable for their horses. They burned the pews, hymnals, Bibles, library and copies of daily journals
of its pastors. One especially bitter British soldier fired a round through the swan weathervane on the
church steeple, which had survived an ocean voyage from the Old World.
When the Patriots under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne drove the British out in 1782, church
members immediately cleaned and repaired their church and resumed worship. The Georgia
Legislature also met in the church and named Ebenezer the Capital of Georgia for two weeks ( this
makes this church the oldest "public building" in Georgia ).
The Georgia Germans were pressured to assimilate after the Revolution, and many surnames were
Anglicized and no longer German. Sadly, with their beloved town in ruins, most of the Salzburgers
found new homes elsewhere. By 1782, most of the colonial Salzburger settlements were abandoned
and were essentially ghost towns. After an interval, Georgia was reorganized, whereupon some new
growth, already begun in response to the trustee’s relaxations, put the colony on a more prosperous
footing. But 2,000 residents had relocated, New Ebenezer declined even more until 1855, when it all
but vanished. Many had not gone too terribly far and were still able to visit the church on Sundays,
so the church remained active.
Alas, there were more hard times to come for Ebenezer during the Civil War when Federal troops
occupied the church, once again using its picket fence, Bibles and hymnals for fires and engaging in
skirmishes on the grounds. The Church is an amazing testament to survival, both of villains and of
heroes. Up until 1803, all services were still conducted in German. The church, along with the
cemetery and one home, are all that remain from the original community today. A small group of
descendants continue to worship in the brick church, giving Jerusalem Lutheran Church the longest
continual congregation in America, and the oldest church bells in Georgia still ringing from its heights.