Peter Miller, prior of the monastery of the followers of John Beissel in Ephrata, Lancaster County, PA, stemmed from Alsenborn near Kaiserslautern, Germany, studied theology at the University of Heidelberg, and in the first half of the 18th century emigrated to the United States, settling in Ephrata. Here he translated van Braght's great martyrbook, the Martyrs Mirror, from Dutch into German, thereby fulfilling a wish of the Mennonites of America, who had in October 1745 asked their brethren in Amsterdam to find a reliable translator to print a German edition for them. Over two years later, on 10 February 1748, the Amsterdam Mennonites replied that it was impossible to comply with the American request on account of the difficulty of finding a translator and the high costs of such a project (Brons, 219).
Meanwhile the Mennonites of Pennsylvania had approached the brothers in the monastery on the subject of publishing a German edition of the Martyrs' Mirror in Ephrata, since they had a printing shop with two hand presses—the second-oldest German printery in America. One of these presses has been preserved in the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania. From this shop other books had appeared for the Mennonites (Bender, p. 2): Guldene Aepffel in Silbern Schalen (see also Beissel) and Die ernsthafte Christenpflicht. They are among the oldest German books printed in America. Since there was no further demand for printing the press was not used for some years.
An entry in the diary of a Moravian Brethren missionary dated 20 March 1748, states that while he was in Ephrata visiting the monastery the Mennonites were just concluding a contract for the translation and printing of the Martyrs' Mirror (Frankfurter Biicherjreund V, Nos. 3 and 4; Menn. BL, 1908, 20). Now this important work of the Dutch Mennonites was to be made accessible to German readers. The printing was begun in 1748; it continued through three years, frequently delayed by a paper shortage, which the brothers manufactured themselves. For this printery with its primitive equipment this great work was a very meritorious achievement.
With his translation Peter Miller rendered the Mennonites of Germany and America a most important service. The Martyrs' Mirror is also of importance in the history of American literature, since it was the largest book printed in America before its independence. It is a folio volume of 1,512 pages. The translation was checked, as the conclusion of the book states, by Henry Funck and Dielmann Kolb, the ministers of the Mennonite congregations of Franconia and Salford. Five editions of the German Martyrs' Mirror have followed, all of them reprints of the original German translation by Peter Miller.
The printing of the German Martyrs' Mirror is also significant to the economic history of America. It was the occasion for the casting of type in America. Previously all type used in Ephrata had been obtained from Christopher Sauer in Germantown, the first printer of German books in the American colonies, who had it sent from Frankfurt, Germany. The brothers of the monastery made contact with Benjamin Franklin, who also owned a print shop, who furnished them matrices from which they made their own fonts, as stated in the conclusion of a religious book printed in the monastery (Gustav Mauri).
Bender, Harold S. Two Centuries of American Mennonite Literature, A Bibliography of Mennonitica Americana 1727-1928. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1929.
Brons, Anna. Ursprung, Entwicklung und Schicksale der altevangelischen Taufgesinnten oder Mennoniten in kurzen Züge übersichtlich dargestellt. Emden, 1912.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon., 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III: 136 f.
Mauri, G. "Der Buchdrucker Christoph Sauer in Gerrnantown." Gutenberg-Jahrbuch (1934): 229.
Wenger, J. C. History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference. Telford, 1937.
Cite This Article
Hege, Christian. "Miller, Peter (1710-1796)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 21 Dec 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Miller,_Peter_(1710-1796)&oldid=92851.
Hege, Christian. (1957). Miller, Peter (1710-1796). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 December 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Miller,_Peter_(1710-1796)&oldid=92851.
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