Moravians jailed for helping slaves

Slave owners on St. Thomas (in the Virgin Islands) were suspicious of Moravians who settled as missionaries. Because the Moravians preached to congregations of hundreds of slaves and taught their own slaves to read and write, they feared the missionaries would stir rebellion. Consequently they sought to shut down their work. When Frederic Martin married a couple without first having his ordination countersigned by island authorities, those authorities warned the missionaries they were under close observation. The team was falsely implicated in a robbery. The Moravians would not testify under oath and that became the governor’s pretext to jail them.

Governor Moth threw Friedrich Martin and his co-workers Matthäus Freundlich and his wife Rebecca Shelly Freundlich (a former slave) into prison. Moth released Martin after four weeks because Martin became desperately ill. However he held the other two for over fifteen weeks. By then they were almost dead with starvation and were saved only because Count von Zinzendorf, head of the Moravians, visited the island, learned of their situation, and demanded their release.