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Henry Melchior Muhlenberg
Henry Muhlenberg.jpg
Engraving of the Rev. Henry M. Muhlenberg
Born September 6, 1711
Died October 7, 1787 in Trappe, Pennsylvania
Church Pennsylvania Ministerium
Education University of Halle
Title Patriarch of the Lutheran church in America
Children see Muhlenberg Family
P christianity.svg Christianity Portal

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (an anglicanization of Heinrich Melchior M√ľhlenberg) (September 6, 1711 ‚Äď October 7, 1787), was a German Lutheran pastor sent to North America as a missionary.

Muhlenberg was integral to the founding of the first Lutheran church body or denomination, in North America and is considered to be the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Muhlenberg's family had a significant impact on colonial life in North America. In addition to Henry Muhlenberg's role in the Lutheran church, his children became pastors, military officers, and politicians.



Muhlenberg was born at Einbeck, to Nicolaus Melchoir Muhlenberg and Anna Maria Kleinschmid in the German state of Hanover. He graduated from the Georg-August University of Göttingen in 1738. He went on to become a teacher at Halle (Saale), where he also studied theology under Gotthilf Francke at the University of Halle. He entered the ministry in Germany. He served as assistant minister and director of the orphanage at Grosshennersdorf from 1739 to 1741.[1]

Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania

Exterior of the Old Trappe Church founded by Henry Muhlenberg

The Lutheran churches in Pennsylvania had largely been founded by lay ministers. These ministers were less than effective in keeping Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf from winning over a number of converts to the Moravian Church. They then sought formally trained clergy. In 1742, Muhlenberg answered that call by immigrating to Philadelphia in response to an official request sent in 1732 by Pennsylvania Lutherans. He arrived unheralded, and took charge of the congregation at Providence (Augustus Lutheran Church), in what is now Trappe, Pennsylvania, but he served as leader of a series of congregations from Maryland to New York. He also worked to secure control over a number of pastors of dubious character and began the task of starting new congregations among the settlers of the region.[1] In 1748 he called together The Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the first permanent Lutheran synod in America. He helped to prepare a uniform liturgy that same year, and also put together basic tenets for an ecclesiastical constitution which most of the churches adopted in 1761. Also, much of the work for a hymnal published by the Ministerium in 1786 was his own.

Muhlenberg frequently traveled beyond the three congregations assigned to him. He traveled from New York to Georgia over the course of his forty-five years of active ministry. During this time, he ministered not only to the German language populations he was assigned to, but to colonists from the Netherlands and Britain as well, in their native languages.[1] The respect many of his colleagues held for him often caused them to request his assistance in arbitrating disputes between Lutherans, or in some cases with other religious groups. He also worked to recruit new ministers from Europe and to develop a greater number of ministers from the local population. He was eventually forced by poor health into more limited activity and retirement. He eventually died at his home in Trappe, Pennsylvania.


Muhlenberg married Anna Maria Weiser, the daughter of Conrad Weiser, in 1745. The couple had eleven children, and in so doing founded the Muhlenberg Family dynasty. Of their children three of his sons entered the ministry yet became prominent in other fields as well. Muhlenberg himself was very loyal to the House of Hanover, and worked to stay neutral during the American Revolution. One of his sons, though, Peter became a Major General in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and then entered Congress. Frederick served as the first Speaker of the House in the U. S. Congress. Henry Jr. became pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church at Oldwick, New Jersey. Henry Ernst was an early American scientist, and the first president of Franklin (now Franklin & Marshall) College. Several of Henry and Maria's daughters also deserve mention. Elisabeth was married to General Francis Swaine, and Sarah to Congressman Mathias Richards. Eve married Emmanuel Shulze, and their son John Andrew Schulze became Governor of Pennsylvania.

Interior of the Old Trappe Church



  1. ^ a b c Bowden, Henry Warner. Dictionary of American Religious Biography. Westport, CT:Greenwood Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8371-8906-3.

Other sources

  • Mann, William J. Life and Times of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (Philadelphia: G.W. Frederick. 1888)
  • Wolf, Edmund Jacob. The Lutherans in America; a story of struggle, progress, influence and marvelous growth. (New York: J.A. Hill. 1889)
  • Frick, William K. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America. (Lutheran Publication Society. 1902)

Additional reading

External links



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