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Historical Essay

Moravians in Wisconsin

Moravians in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

 

The Moravian Church, an outgrowth of a reform movement in 15th century Bohemia and Moravia, is one of the oldest Protestant bodies in the world. The Wisconsin wilderness was an open invitation to the Moravians who came in the late 1840s and provided the backbone of three distinct Moravian strongholds: Brown and Door counties, Jefferson County, and Wood County.  John Frederick Fett, a pioneer missionary for the Moravian Home Missionary Society, was sent to Milwaukee in 1848 and the following year, the first Moravian congregation in Wisconsin was formed among a group of Scandinavians.  That same year, 1849, Moravian followers of Norwegian-born Andrew Iverson arrived in Milwaukee, and Fett turned his attention to the German community.

By 1890, there were 1,477 Moravians in Wisconsin, and their numbers increased by 84 percent in the next decade. Nils Otto Tank and his wife, both missionaries, came to Wisconsin to establish a religious communal colony based on Moravian principles near Green Bay. Tank named it Ephraim and in 1850, Iverson relocated the Milwaukee Moravians to the settlement.  Differences between Tank and Iverson led to Iverson's defection to the shores of Door County where he re-established the community and also called it Ephraim. Fett organized German Moravians along the east side of the Fox River in 1851. German Moravians also organized near Watertown and in Wisconsin Rapids where there was also a Scandinavian Moravian Church.  By the mid-20th century, Jefferson County had the highest concentration of Moravians.

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