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  • "Honey-Combs" and "Paper-Hives":Positioning Francis Daniel Pastorius's Manuscript Writings in Early Pennsylvania
  • Patrick M. Erben (bio)

Francis Daniel Pastorius . . . a man with a compulsion for accumulating information; indeed, much of his energy was spent in gathering material for an early American encyclopedia of knowledge.

—Marianne Wokeck, Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania (1991)

On June 7, 1683, Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1719/20) sent a final letter to his parents and friends before departing from England and sailing for William Penn's new province in America.1 Driven by a rejection of moral decay in Europe and a vision of spiritual renewal under Penn's "holy experiment," Pastorius wrote:

After examining to my satisfaction the European provinces and countries, and the impending motus belli [movements of warfare], and after taking apprehensively to heart the vicissitudes and troubles of my native country arising therefrom, I have suffered myself to be moved by the special direction of the Most High to journey over to Pennsylvania, living in the hope that this my design will work out to my own good and that of my dear brothers and sisters, but most of all to the advancement of the glory of God (which is my aim above all else), especially as the audacity and sin of the European world are accumulating more and more from day to day, and therefore the just judgment of God cannot be long withheld.

(Description 411; emphasis added)2

The son of a German government official, Pastorius had enjoyed a privileged education, and, with a degree in law, had once stood at the beginning of a promising career. A course of studies at various universities and a grand tour through several European countries, however, revealed to Pastorius the vainglorious culture of elite, particularly intellectual, society.3 As an antidote to spiritual depravity, he sought the company of a group of Frankfurt Pietists, initiated by the theologian Philipp Jakob Spener.4 Pastorius [End Page 157] soon agreed to function as the group's agent in purchasing land in Pennsylvania, and he rejoiced at the prospect of leading "a quiet, godly & honest life in a howling wilderness" (Bee-Hive 223). Six months after his arrival in Penn's colony, Pastorius sent his first report—later printed in Germany as Sichere Nachricht ("Positive Information")—to his Pietist friends. This missive and Pastorius's other letters to friends and family were quickly published as promotional tracts and widely disseminated throughout Germany. They delineate the many roles Pastorius assumed in order to turn his "design" into reality: founder of Germantown, liaison to Penn and other provincial authorities, scribe, justice of the peace, translator, educator, gardener, and author.5

Pastorius's published writings thus served to spread his reputation as a leading figure of the Pennsylvania-German community. The majority of his literary endeavors, however, remains unpublished, and his manuscripts continue to puzzle readers with their sheer quantity of sources, profusion of languages, and blend of original and copied materials.6 In the pages of his manuscript volumes, Pastorius seemingly led a separate and largely unknown life as a writer. He continually gathered excerpts from his extensive reading in classical and contemporary, especially Quaker, authors.7 While borrowing many books from other prominent Pennsylvanians, he amassed the "earliest extensive library in the middle colonies" (Green 219), including over 350 books and pamphlets.8 Pastorius mined these readings for his numerous commonplace books, but he also added much of his own compositions in verse and prose. Besides his more scholarly pursuits, he wrote most public documents of the early German-American community, as well as several compendia on gardening, law, and medicine. Among others, his monumental commonplace book and verse miscellany Bee-Hive, the smaller commonplace collection Alvearialia, and his volume of gardening emblems Deliciæ Hortenses remain testimonies to the intellectual and scholarly acumen of a man regarded as "one of the most learned people in Colonial America" (Rosenmeier 245). Notwithstanding his denunciation of academic culture in Europe, Pastorius seemingly attempted to preserve its ideals in his own manuscript writings.9

How, then, can we reconcile this apparent ambiguity between Pastorius's rejection of European cultural norms and the display of his own education...


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