The Schwenkfelder religion goes back 200 years before the Exiles left their homes in Silesia, to the writings and speeches of a wealthy nobleman named Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig. A contemporary of Martin Luther, he engaged in many debates on religion with this great man. Gradually, he came to have a considerable following of men and women who believed as he did. This belief centered upon an Inner Light, which was to guide their conduct, and later was embodied in books that came into possession of George Fox of England, who adopted the ideas into his philosophy which emerged as Quakerism. In fact, some books call the Schwenkfelders German Quakers. No less authority than Dr. Rufus Jones attested to the vital influence of Schwenckfeld upon the thought of the Quakers. This religious thought in Silesia did not conform with the ideas of the rulers who paid allegiance to the Church of Rome. Some Jesuit priests were sent by Emperor Charles to convert the Schwenkfelders who, however, believed in liberty of conscience and paid fines rather than have their children baptized by the Jesuits. They saw their dead refused burial in the village plot because they dared to oppose the might of Rome and the Lutheran Church (see Viehweg at Harpersdorf –
What It Is and Why We Care). In 1732, there was a chapel built in Harpersdorf with the fines our ancestors paid rather than worship as the Pope and Emperor dictated. This chapel is still in existence and used for services. Finally they were driven from their homes and found refuge for eight years in Saxony under Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, supporter of the Moravians. He then was forced to withdraw his protection and our ancestors were given a period of grace not to exceed one year. Although they were forbidden to emigrate, on Tuesday, April 20, 1734, a band of 176 persons deserted their homes, sailed down the Elbe River, and found refuge in Holland. Dutch Mennonites gave them food and shelter and paid for passage on the ship St. Andrew bound for Philadelphia, PA. Nine of this group died and were buried at sea on route.
For information on Schwenckfeld’s homelands, click on Schwenckfeld’s Homelands.
For information on Schwenkfelders in Silesia, click Schwenkfelders in Silesia.