THE FIRST SABBATH SCHOOL.
“THERE is good reason for thinking that the first Sabbath-school in this country, if not in the world, was established at Ephrata, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. Of this school Rev. Edwin W. Rice writes to the Sunday School World as follows :
Among the earliest Saturday Sabbath-schools of this country, that at Ephrata, Pa., has long held a prominent place. The late Mr. Pardee, in his Sabbath-school Index, mentions it as “the first Sabbath- school of which we have any authentic, definite and detailed account, extending over a period of a quarter of a century.” This statement might lead some to suppose that there is quite a full history of the school now to be found. But it is not clearly known in what year the school was organized, precisely how it was conducted, nor whether it continued uninterruptedly from its organization to its final discontinuance, after the battle of Brandywine, when the building in which it was held was given up for an army hospital.
The Sabbath-school was first proposed and commenced by Ludwig Hacker (Hoecker), or ” Brother Obed,” as he was familiarly called. He was the teacher of a secular school established at Ephrata, under the direction of the German Seventh-Day Baptists, a denomination which separated from the Dunkers, or German Baptists, in 1728, under Conrad Beissel, who adopted the observance of the seventh, instead of the first day of the week, as the Christian Sabbath.
Beissel and many of his associates were men of education, and they established, at a very early period, a secular school, which soon gained such an honorable reputation that many young men from Philadelphia and Baltimore were sent there to be educated. Ludwig Hacker came to Ephrata, in 1739, as a teacher of this school.
Some time after his arrival, probably in 1740, he projected and commenced a school in the afternoons of their Sabbaths, “to give instruction to the indigent children, who were kept from regular school by employments which their necessities obliged them to be engaged at during the “week, as well as to give religious instruction to those of better circumstances.”
Of the success of this school Dr. Fahnestock, writing in 1835, says : ” It flourished for many years, and was attended with some remarkable circumstances. It produced an anxious inquiry among the juvenile population who attended the school, which increased and grew into what is termed a revival of religion. The scholars of the Sabbath-school met together everyday, before and after common school hours, to pray and exhort one another, under the superintendence of one of the brethren. The excitement ran into excess, and betrayed a zeal not according to knowledge, which induced Friedsam [Beissel] to discourage an enterprise which had been commenced, and was partly under way, viz : to erect a house for its especial use, to be called ” Succoth.” The building was, however, completed some time after the year 1749. It was located upon the brow of the lull, some distance from, and overlooking the chapel and other buildings of the society. It is believed to have been built in the same general style, and of materials similar to the “Sisters’ House,” the small ” Chapel,” and the ” Brothers’ House,” which are still standing, and are still occupied by a few of the surviving members of this religious colony.
The buildings are singular, and of very peculiar architecture, the outside of the walls having been covered with shingles or clapboards. It must be remembered that Beissel and his religious followers adopted a conventical mode of life in 1732, and also the dress of the White Friars, giving monastic names to their members, as Friedsam to Biessel. They commended celibacy, and the holding of the property in common, but did not make either compulsory; they did not approve of paying ministers any salary, and their order of worship was very simple. The society at Ephrata owned a farm, and were offered five thousand acres of land by William Penn, but declined the gift, fearing that the possession of so much property by them might create a worldly spirit.”
By Pennsylvania. Dept. of Public Instruction, Pennsylvania.
Dept. of Common Schools, Pennsylvania State Education Association
Published by Pennsylvania State Education Association, 1875
Item notes: v. 24
Original from Harvard University
Digitized 5 May 2007