5, 2000, Gazette)
step back in time
cornerstone of the Moravian mission house with a clay pipe.
With the 250th anniversary of the first Moravian mission to Labrador
drawing near, researchers have uncovered archaeological evidence
of that first attempt at settlement. Whats fascinating
is the remains of the 1752 mission house near Makkovik matches
key archival material gleaned from the journals of the very missionaries
who planted the cornerstone.
of the mission house from 1752.
The discovery of the mission house was the result of Dr. Hans
Rollmanns meticulous research into the Moravians
Labrador presence. The religious studies professor had collected
reels of microfiche containing the records of Moravian missionaries
since the 18th century.
But details of the 1752 voyage were stored in the archive in
Herrnhut in the former East Germany, before 1990 not the most
friendly location for Western researchers.
But with the fall of the Berlin Wall came the availability of
reams of additional records. Of particular interest was the journal
of Johann Christian Erhardt, the mariner and trade agent who
led four missionaries to Labrador in 1752.
team that uncovered the house (L-R) Dr. Hans Rollmann, Henry
Cary, Harvey Best, Ted Andersen, and Steve Mills.
At that time, the Moravians had in mind to settle as many
as 500 couples in Labrador and they were looking for a suitable
locale and to establish contact with the Inuit, explained
Thats what brought them to Nisbet Harbour, what is today
called Fords Bight, where they spent a month building the
After the construction, Erhardt left the missionaries and travelled
north to trade for whalebone.
It was near what is today Antons Island that Erhardt
was asked to follow some Inuit men behind the island, said
Dr. Rollmann. They were never seen again.
Anderson and Henry Cary.
The ship waited for three days before returning to Nisbet Harbour,
picked up the missionaries, left supplies in the event that Erhardt
and the missing crew made their way back to the mission house,
and sailed back to St. Johns.
Among the supplies left behind were two kegs of gunpowder. Curious
Inuit quickly discovered the purpose of gunpowder, blowing themselves
and the house to bits. A search party looking for the men the
following summer found the house in shambles. They also found
one body near Antons Island, which they buried.
Jens Haven, who was eventually credited with starting the permanent
Moravian mission to Labrador, had heard about the Erhardt voyage.
In 1771, he helped establish a Moravian presence in Nain and
from then on they have been a cultural force in Labrador,
said Dr. Rollmann. Today, you still have 2,412 Moravians
at the site of the mission house near Makkovik.
Local tradition always placed the mission house in Nisbet Harbour,
but some Western researchers had decided it lay elsewhere.
However, when a student of Dr. Rollmanns from Makkovik,
Pam Andersen, showed Erhardts journal entries to her father,
Ted Andersen, he knew exactly where it was.
Dr. Rollmann contacted Steve Mills of the Newfoundland Archaeological
Heritage Outreach Program part of the Department of Anthropologys
Archaeological Unit and they recently visited the site,
discovered the remains of the mission house, and found some archaeological
items including clay pipes, glass windows and musket balls dating
from the middle of the 18th century.
The measurements fitted to what we knew from the diary,
said Dr. Rollmann.
They were spot on, said Mr. Mills. It was recorded
as being 16 by 22 and we measured it at 16
8 by 22 8.
Now the outreach program plans to raise funding to do a complete
archaeological dig next year. Graduate student Henry Cary will
lead an excavation with the help of a local crew. He expects
it will take six weeks to excavate the site.
The match of a very detailed historical archive there
are two diaries that record day-by-day activities of the mission
party is exciting for the team.
Theres hardly ever been a site in the province that
has such an archival record that documents what took place,
said Dr. Rollmann.
Through the outreach program, the group was able to get the community
museum, the White Elephant, involved in the project as well.
They have a very, very dedicated group of volunteers and
they registered with the outreach program, said Mr. Mills.
The community is gung-ho, said Dr. Rollmann, adding
that while in Labrador, the group taught four classes in the
local high school.
The group thanked the archaeology office of the provincial Department
of tourism which supported the recent expedition, as well as
the Labrador Institute.
The Newfoundland Archaeological Heritage Outreach Program is
made possible by a grant from SSHRC.