At least 135 Colonial American music manuscripts from Pennsylvania are located in libraries throughout the United States and beyond. They are affiliated with the Ephrata Cloister, founded in 1732 by Conrad Beissel. Ephrata, and its nineteenth-century affiliated community Snow Hill, were celibate, ascetic, German-speaking, Sabbatarian communes in the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Their residents created a large corpus of hymns and motets in a scriptorium. Because Ephrata and Snow Hill produced no heirs, their documents were scattered and their traditions were mostly forgotten. Although significant strides have been made in recent years to understand Ephrata's theology, substantial lacunae remain in the study of its music.
This article outlines the methodology that the author developed as part of a dissertation in order to capture, organize, understand, and synthesize data of Ephrata and Snow Hill music manuscripts. It discusses the creation of a descriptive catalog of all extant available music manuscripts. This catalog is the first of its kind: it organizes music manuscripts according to their content and proposes a chronology for them. The article also discusses inferences and hypotheses relating to the music manuscripts and their creation. Of particular note is the research-based discovery that the music manuscripts provide tangible evidence of the first possible female composers in America. Finally, the article outlines potential avenues of research in future Ephrata music studies.