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Continuing to reveal history

POSTED: March 17, 2014 8:18 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Francis Hutto, right, talks with Christoph Sanders during the Georgia Salzburger Society’s annual Landing Day event.

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Thirty years after he started working on the history of Ebenezer and the Salzburgers, Dan Elliott continues to uncover facets of their life.

Elliott, the president of The LAMAR Institute, has traveled to England, the Bahamas and to Canada’s Maritime provinces to unearth more information on the life of the late Rev. Christopher Frederick Triebner. Elliott asked the members of the Georgia Salzburger Society on hand for Saturday’s Landing Day event to set their clocks back to October 1779 “in honor of daylight savings time,” when Triebner was the leader of the Ebenezer congregation.

Elliott said Triebner was called “the evil preacher” who let the British in the gates, put their horses in the church and tear up the pews.

“He’s got a bad reputation and is not a very well-known character,” Elliott said.

A loyalist, Triebner and his family fled to Savannah in late 1781, after Yorktown fell to Colonial forces.

“The writing is on the wall,” Elliott said.

Hostilities, even after Yorktown’s fall, continued. Savannah fell under the control of Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne, and loyalists there feared for their lives, Elliott said. A total of 28 families left Ebenezer, never to return.

“A lot of the Revolutionary War (in Georgia) was a guerrilla war,” Elliott said. “So you had to sing the song of whoever was in charge at the time or you might get killed.”

Some wound up in St. Augustine, Fla., which in 1785 was a British colony. Others head to the Bahamas and others ended up in Nova Scotia. On a research trip to the Bahamas, Elliott noted the first thing his wife Rita does is look through the local phone book.

“It’s a long list of funny-sounding names,” he said.

But a look through deeds and plats revealed only one deed to a Salzburger-sounding name on Cat Island.

Triebner eventually left the Bahamas for London in 1786. After establishing a church in Spitafields, he settled in Hull, England, in 1799, preaching to whalers of German Lutheran origin.

During this time, Triebner was supported still by the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, which backed the original Ebenezer settlement. While Triebner wrote frequently and entered into theological arguments with other clergymen, his writings had little detail about his days at Ebenezer. The SPCK’s annual report always contained a short item about Ebenezer, Elliott said, until the late 1780s.

What is known about Triebner is he remained loyal to the British crown, particularly King George III, and was adamantly opposed to the French Revolution.

He died in December 1815, with his son writing the SPCK to inform the group of his father’s passing.

“He had a whole ‘nother life after he left Ebenezer,” Elliott said.

One of Triebner’s sons returned to Georgia and married a daughter of the late Gov. John Adam Treutlen, who was at the forefront of the independence movement in Georgia until his death at the hands of British loyalists.

Rev. Donald Hanberry also said the GSS is working on the Bergmann book project, turning the letters written by Rev. Ernst Bergmann, who was pastor for the Ebenezer residents from 1786-1824.

“I think it’s an important project,” Hanberry said. “We think we’re going to learn something about politics, the culture and about the history of the United States of America. It will cover a period of time we don’t have a lot of information about.”

Much like the letters of pastor Johann Martin Boltzius, Bergmann’s letters must be transcribed from old German into modern German before being translated into English.

Barbara Rahn Scott also said the Loest Research Library at the Salzburger Museum “is truly a treasure. The collections we have collected make it a one-stop shop. Nowhere else can you find all the materials in one place like you can in our little library.”

David Harris and Claudia Christensen also discussed the efforts to promote and entice tourism of the historic Ebenezer site, including the visitebenezer.com Web site.

“This is a living history site,” Harris said.

Repairs and updates also will be done to the Salzburger house at the site.

Christoph Sanders, the German consul general based in Atlanta, also spoke on the connection between the two countries.

“The work you are doing here helps build German-American relationships. The understanding we have helps the trans-Atlantic alliance we have,” he said. “We are facing a strategic threat we haven’t seen in 20 years. With the invasion of the Ukraine, this brings back to mind the longstanding alliance we have in NATO. When we stand firm, we can overcome a challenge like this as well.”

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