What did the Moravian settlers find when they first came to Hope? Fortunately, many of the early pioneers wrote full accounts of the wonders of early Indiana.

One of these was an energetic churchman and naturalist who is still revered among scientists, the Rev. Lewis David von Schweinitz. His description of early Indiana shows the astonishing fertility of the land, as well as the careless ways of those who thought its riches were endless.

The adventurous von Schweinitz was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1780. His family was as close as Moravians come to Moravian royalty, as his mother was the granddaughter of the famous re-founder of the Moravian Church, Count Zinzendorf. The Church still had close ties to Germany, so von Schweinitz went to Saxony for his further education. There he was ordained into the Moravian ministry, published a treatise on fungi in Latin, and was awarded a PhD.

Back home in Bethlehem in 1830, von Schweinitz was one of the church officials who advanced $200 to Martin Hauser to found a Moravian settlement in the wilderness of Indiana. Von Schweinitz himself then paid a visit to the new settlement in 1831, and kept an evocative journal of his trip.

The initial part of the journey, the boat down the Ohio River to Madison, was easy, but von Schweinitz was then forced to struggle through the dense wilderness up to Bartholomew County. A trip that takes a swift 90 minutes now was then an ordeal of huge proportions. Von Schweinitz described the terrible roads:

“The almost endless corduroy road was constantly interrupted by immense holes into which our wagon many times jolted down a foot and a half from the hard road, so that the horses sank to their bellies in mud. Often they were in such a condition that it was impossible to get through at all. We then turned unhesitatingly into the most dense wood with tangled underbrush and after a long, roundabout way, during which the skill of our driver in winding his way between big, dense trees and fallen tree trunks could not be admired too much.

"We came back to the road scarcely one hundred paces from where we had entered it. The same thing happened when fallen trees, often four or five feet in diameter, lay clear across the road. Needless to say, under such circumstances we progressed very slowly.”

The sheer size of the trees in the virgin wilderness is astounding to contemplate. Von Schweinitz wrote:

“In these parts, all this work of clearing is particularly difficult, because of the beeches and sugar-maple trees, which, together with the tulip trees, by far the largest of all, are the most numerous. We often saw in one place many tulip trees with trunks straight as an arrow, eighty or more feet in height and five or six feet in diameter. They are exceedingly hard to kill and usually keep putting forth leaves, though smaller ones, for two years.”

The settlers were so eager to clear land for farming that they destroyed the trees wholesale — trees that might have served to build houses for generations of settlers. Once he had arrived at the settlement, Von Schweinitz reported:

“We enjoyed for a while the most interesting and remarkable night view from the house, in the midst of the half-cleared ten acres, out into the high impenetrable woods surrounding it. The woods were illuminated by twenty-five or thirty burning log-heaps, built of cut timber from four or five acres of lowland, which Brother Hauser had planted with corn this spring. The logs continued to burn incessantly the first week.”

The sheer wastefulness of burning enough logs to fuel twenty-five log-heaps that burned for a week — how valuable that wood would be now! But the vanquishers of the forest did suffer one consequence of venturing into the wilderness. Von Schweinitz noted: “The multitude of mosquitos, particularly in the low places, is inconceivable. They flew into our eyes by thousands ...”

Von Schweinitz also found the Hausers living in startlingly crude conditions, but that’s a topic for another day. Meanwhile, his journal is called The Journey of Lewis David von Schweinitz to Goshen, Bartholomew County, in 1831 and can be read free online at https://archive.org/details/journeyoflewisda85schw.

Von Schweinitz’s birthplace in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is now a National Historic Monument, the Gemeinhaus-Lewis David de Schweinitz Residence.