Johann Christian Erhardt

This plaque was unveiled at Makkovik on September 18, 1971 by Brother E. Wilson of the Moravian Church in England.
1971 marked the bicentennial of the Moravian Church in Labrador.
This plaque reads:
In Memory of J. Christian Erhardt, Captain Madgeson, C. Hamilton, Boatswain Roberts, and Seamen Losen, Elick and Nowell of the vessel "Hope".
They gave their lives for the saviour in the first attempt to christianize the native people of Labrador. In September 1752.
"It is a good work and no one will lose anything by it."
- J.C. Erhardt.

Moravian Beginnings

Johann Christian Erhardt (1718-1752), a German mariner on the Moravian missionary vessel Irene, visited Greenland twice in the 1740's. He became convinced that the Inuit of North America were related to the ones he had met in New Herrnhut, Greenland, and in 1750 suggested an exploratory voyage to the Inuit of British North America.

The suggested trip became a reality in 1752, when Erhardt undertook a trade and exploratory mission among the Inuit of Labrador together with four missionaries: Georg Wenzeslaus Golkowsky (1725-1813), Johann Christian Krumm (1719-1759), Matthaus Kunz (1722-1774), and Christian Friedrich Post (1715-1785). Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian leader, gave his blessing but insisted on a separation of mission and trade, with Erhardt as trade agent in charge of the business venture. After a difficult voyage through ice and fog, the Hope anchored in a harbour that Erhardt named Nisbet Harbour in honour of their proprietor Claud Nisbet.

Here the missionaries, Erhardt, and some of the ship's crew built a log house near a small stream and named it Hoffnungsthal, the Valley of Hope. The future Moravian community of Hopedale would be named in its honour. The house was 22 feet long and 16 feet wide, with a living room, kitchen, storeroom, and loft. In the middle was a large stone chimney. The missionaries covered the roof with local juniper bark, glazed the windows, and painted them red. Around the house they even planted a garden with turnips, cabbage, peas, and beans.

Erhardt explored the area, climbing the highest mountains and hiking to a nearby freshwater lake and along a river that flowed from the lake into the neighbouring saltwater bight. On August 14 he observed prophetically that the best settlers for the region would be people from Norway or Sweden, who knew how to work the land. In the nineteenth century, the Norwegian settler Torsten (Kverna) Andersen would become the first permanent European settler of the area.

After supplying the missionaries with goods for a year's stay, Erhardt went further north with the ship on a trade mission when he and six others, who left the ship to trade with the Inuit, disappeared. The missionaries at once abandoned their stay, to assist the remaining ship's crew in returning the vessel to England. Only the body of one of the men who had been lost was recovered the subsequent year.

Jens Haven, a Danish carpenter and Moravian missionary to Greenland, kept Erhardt's dream alive. He undertook exploratory voyages for a permanent settlement in 1764, 1765, and 1770. Haven and his wife Mary pioneered missions in Nain (1771), Okak (1776), and Hopedale (1782). On an exploration journey in 1775 for a southern settlement, Jens Haven and two other missionaries, led by Inuit guides, rediscovered the ruins of the first mission house of 1752, which had been destroyed in a fire and explosion. In 2000, the map drawn by Haven and his companions on their 1775 trip helped in locating the foundation of the first mission house.

We would like to thank Dr. Hans Rollmann, Professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland, for the above text, which is also found on historical panels at the White Elephant Museum.