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Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg Edit Profile


Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg was a German-born clergyman who organized the scattered Lutheran congregations in America into an independent sect.


Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg was born on September 6, 1711 in Einbech, Germany, into the pious family of a shoemaker who was active in the local Lutheran church.


Mühlenberg attended a classical school and received a firm grounding in Latin. After his father died, a local minister taught him to play the organ, which began a lifelong love of music. Well-connected family friends, recognizing his talents, sent him to the University of Göttingen and then to Halle, the great citadel of German Pietism. At Halle he continued his studies in languages and music, and helped found an orphanage.


Mühlenberg was ordained in 1735 and settled into a church near the estate of Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. His former instructors at Halle convinced him that his calling lay in America. Three forlorn Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania, with neither church buildings nor pastors, had appealed to Halle for assistance; Muhlenberg was to be their answer. Fortunately, he could preach in three languages, English, German, and Dutch. His three congregations were widely scattered, requiring a hundred miles of traveling each week to serve them, and he even discovered a fourth group. He also discovered that two young impostors, pretending to be ministers, had laid claim to two of these congregations.

In a month's time, Mühlenberg had gotten rid of the impostors and had arranged to teach the children for a full week in each of his four parishes by turn, as there was no schoolmaster in any of these settlements. He had also collected members for a fifth congregation in New Jersey. A long and difficult visit to Georgia, another to groups along the Hudson River, and a missionary trip through Maryland filled many months. His reports back to the Pietist center in Halle brought helpers and funds, as many calls for ministers and schoolmasters continued to come in. He built churches and a schoolhouse, arbitrated church quarrels, and restored order in tangled situations.

After 6 years of energetic and imaginative labors, Mühlenberg felt the time had come to unite all the churches he served into a representative body with power to license and install their own preachers and to handle their common problems. With this in mind, he called a synod in 1748 of pastors and representative laymen from each parish. A common liturgy was adopted and reports given of each church and parochial school. Thus the Lutherans of America became a sect independent of Old World control. Meanwhile Mühlenberg had become a permanent resident of America. He died in New Providence (now Trappe) on October 7, 1787.


  • Almost single-handedly Mühlenberg joined the scattered and directionless Lutheran churches and forged them into an American denomination that could effectively serve the flood of German immigrants in the latter part of the eighteenth century.


Mühlenberg was a Pietist to whom religion was a way of life, not belief in a creed.


In 1745 Mühlenberg married Anna Marie Weiser, daughter of Johann Conrad Weiser, an intermediary between colonial governors and the Indians, and had founded a distinguished American family. They had eleven children.

Anna Marie Weiser