Johann Konrad Beissel, born 1 March 1691, at Eberbach in Baden, Germany, died 6 July 1768, As a baker's journeyman he devoted himself to an exhaustive study of the Bible and the works of Jakob Böhme. He was converted in 1717. In the late summer of 1720 he emigrated to America (first to Boston) with a group of fellow believers to escape persecution by church and temporal authorities. He was a "man of lively imagination, great energy, and inspiring eloquence, especially when the Spirit came upon him." He went to Germantown, where he learned the weaver's trade for a year under Peter Becker, organizer of the Church of the Brethren, who also baptized him in 1722. He now assumed the name Friedsam Gottrecht. After some time as a hermit at Mill Creek in Lebanon County and as the head of the "newly founded Dunker Church" of Conestoga in Lancaster County, he withdrew to solitude on the Cocalico Creek near Ephrata, and there established the Ephrata Cloister of the Seventh Day Baptists. Beissel was an outstanding though amateur musician, the composer of over 1,000 hymns, of which 441 were printed.
Beissel rendered great service in the printing of German books in America. The first book printed in America with German letters, by Christopher Saur in Germantown, was Beissel's Zionitischer Weyrauchs Hügel (1739). In 1745 he published on his own press in the Ephrata monastery a small extract from the Mennonite Martyrs Mirror with the title, Das Andenken einiger heiligen Märtyrer oder: die Geschichte etlicher Blutzeugen der Wahrheit . . . Wie solches in dem Blutigen Toneel zu finden. Aus dem Holländischen gründlich und treulich übersetzt. (Durch Theophilum Al. Mack jr.) Drucks der Brüderschaft in Zion. Anno 1745.
Three years later, at the request of the American Mennonites, Beissel undertook the publication of the entire Martyrs Mirror in German. Fourteen brothers of the cloister worked on it three years; six were employed in the paper mill, four as type setters, and four as printers. The prior of the cloister, the learned Peter Miller of Alsenborn near Kaiserslautern, who had studied theology in Heidelberg, managed the translation from the Dutch into German. Beissel directed the entire undertaking, and thereby earned the gratitude of the Mennonites. The German edition of the Martyrs Mirror is besides the Saur Bible the "most precious German book that was published in the 18th century in the German language in America," and the largest book published in the American colonies before the Revolution.
Alderfer, Everett Gordon. The Ephrata commune: an early American counterculture. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Univ of Pittsburgh Press, 1985: 14.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 157. (where Beissel is wrongly identified as a member of the Schwarzenau Brethren).
Klein, Walter C. Johann Conrad Beissel: mystic and martinet, 1690-1768. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 1942.
Nieper, Fr. Die ersten deutschen Auswanderer nach Pennsylvanien. Mörs-Neukirchen, 1940: 137.
Renkewitz, Heinz. Hochmann von Hochenau (1670-1721): Quellenstudien zur Geschichte des Pietismus. Witten: Luther-Verlag, 1969.
Sachse, J. F. The German sectarians of Pennsylvania; a critical and legendary history of the Ephrata cloister and the Dunkers. Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: The Author, 1899, 1900.
Cite This Article
Neff, Christian and Sam Steiner. "Beisel, Johann Konrad (1691-1768)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2009. Web. 14 Oct 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Beisel,_Johann_Konrad_(1691-1768)&oldid=91027.
Neff, Christian and Sam Steiner. (2009). Beisel, Johann Konrad (1691-1768). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 14 October 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Beisel,_Johann_Konrad_(1691-1768)&oldid=91027.
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