Pastors, Commissaries, Diplomats: Agency and Migration Networks in the Early Modern Period

Confessional migrations, especially Protestant ones, are a defining characteristic of the early modern period.1 Well-known examples include the Huguenots and the Vaudois in the 1690s, the Palatines in 1708, and the Salzburgers in the 1730s. Most of these migrations were structured by networks involving migrants, diplomats, agents, states, and institutions; and just as importantly, money flows, publications, and escape routes. Overall, these migration networks can be seen as power constellations in which diplomats, agents, institutions and state actors were interconnected and influenced each other. But in spite of the plethora of research on early modern confessional migration, the diplomats and agents who acted as intermediaries in these contexts have not yet been thoroughly analysed.2 These intermediaries could be not only diplomats and agents, but also pastors or even migrants themselves. My Ph.D. project therefore aims to fill this void. It focuses on intermediaries and how they were incorporated into migration networks. In addition I analyse what agency intermediaries gained through their involvement in these networks, and probe how they used it for their own advantage and the advancement of their career. The analysis can also show how institutions, migrants, and governmental actors influence and make use of these intermediaries.

As a case study, I focus on the Salzburgers who were forced to leave the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg in 1731 due to their Protestant belief. Many of them emigrated to Prussia, as Frederick William I issued a patent of invitation for the Salzburgers in 1732. However, some Salzburgers also went to Georgia in North America via England. This was possible because of strong connections between parts of the Holy Roman Empire and Britain.3 This smaller migration to Georgia was organised by institutions and individuals who shaped the Pietist movement in Germany and a Protestant philanthropic movement in England. They included the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) with its secretary Henry Newman, the Trustees of Georgia, the German Royal Lutheran Chapel in London with the pastor Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen, and the Halle orphanage with Gotthilf August Francke.4 They also co-operated with Samuel Urlsperger and other Pietists in Augsburg, as well as Johann von Reck, the Hanoverian–British deputy at the Reichstag in Regensburg. These individuals and institutions formed the Salzburger migration network. To better understand this network, I focus primarily on intermediaries, their agency, how it developed, and how it was used as a part of power. The intermediaries were commissaries and pastors who accompanied the migrants on their way to Georgia. They were very mobile within their network and kept in touch with the different institutions by letter. In the context of the Salzburger migration I concentrate on four commissaries—Philipp Georg Friedrich von Reck, Jean Vat, Johann Friedrich Vigera, and Johann Gottfried von Müllern—and two pastors, Johann Martin Boltzius and Israel Christian Gronau.

Portrait of Samuel Urlsperger (1685-1772) from c.1750.

To gain a deeper insight into the English institutions and how the intermediaries were incorporated into the Salzburg migration network, I undertook research in the UK with the support of a GHIL scholarship in the summer of 2021. I was particularly interested in sources on the SPCK and the Trustees of Georgia. The special collections of Cambridge University Library contain a multitude of SPCK documents connected with the Salzburg migration to Georgia. Most of them were produced in the 1730s and 1740s to plan and support the migration process. I was able to find new information about the German pastors Boltzius and Gronau and the commissaries von Reck and Vat, including how they were connected and what influenced them in the migration network. The minute books and the letter books of the SPCK and the Trustees of Georgia show how these intermediaries were selected and how the SPCK and the Pietist movement in Germany defined their role. This enables me to analyse their role and their agency in the network as a whole. Likewise, the lists of outgoing and incoming letters showed how the correspondence network between the SPCK, the German Lutheran Chapel, the Halle orphanage, and Samuel Urlsperger worked and how the intermediaries were incorporated into this network. The sources also shed some light on the tasks of these intermediaries and how they used their agency in the network, especially in conflicts and for their own benefit.

The other sources relevant for my research were documents from the Trustees of Georgia, the founders of the colony. These sources are held by the National Archives in London. Here I was interested in the journals and minutes of the trustees, the outgoing letters from their secretary, and the incoming letters from Georgia in the 1730s and 1740s. The trustees were the link between Georgia and London, forwarding letters and transferring money. My work also focused on the communication network and the contacts between the trustees, the SPCK, and the German Pietists. Some trustees were also members of the SPCK, making communication between these organisations very easy. The trustees, as owners of the colony and the land, searched for emigrants and organised their journey from Augsburg via Rotterdam to Georgia in cooperation with the SPCK. Instructions and the route of the journey were drafted by the SPCK, the trustees and Samuel Urlspurger, before being given to the commissary in Augsburg. Emigrants travelled on foot and by wagon, and later by ship, to London, where they were met by members of the SPCK:

2. Mr Wilson reported that Mr. Butjenter and he according to the orders of the Society went on board the Chandois Sloop last Thursday and found the 22. Saltzburgers and 25 Austrians under the conduct of Mr. Von Reck to the No. of 47 Men, Women and Children all in tolerable health. An Empty house was taken from them at Redriff Stairs large enough to hold them altogether and they were ashore that Evening, viz. on Thursday Evening to the said House.5

But the Trustees were not only involved in drafting the instructions for the intermediaries; they had an interest in influencing the intermediaries—especially the commissaries—and used them as agents to recruit other emigrants to Georgia in addition to the Salzburgers as shown by this letter to von Reck:

The last time you was at the Board of Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia, You undertook to engage a certain Number of German Protestant Servants for the use of the Trust, and then received a Copy of Instructions for the said Purpose. The Trustees are now desirous of knowing whether You have done anything since in relation thereto, and what you have done. Your answer by the first Opportunity will very much oblige.6

The Trustees established one former commissary as a secretary for the Salzburgers in Georgia. Payments to commissaries and pastors were also partly handled by the Trustees. Further, the documents show that the intermediaries changed in the late 1730s: the two commissaries were dismissed and the pastor Boltzius became the main caretaker of the Salzburgers in Georgia.

Covid-19 and Brexit-related regulations notwithstanding, my research was very successful. The British sources complement the German documents from the archives in Halle (Saale), Augsburg, and Herrnhut very well, and clarify the picture of the Salzburg migration and the role of the intermediaries in this network. The sources show how ecclesiastical and secular actors worked together to form the Salzburger migration network and how pastors and commissaries were involved. They reveal how the intermediaries influenced the network and how they used their personal stake in the network to develop their own careers, or how they were removed by the main actors of the network. The configurations of migration networks and the role of intermediaries as both auxiliaries in the network and as actors in their own right in these networks become clearer and more vivid. Overall, the focus on intermediaries, their role, and their actions also opens up a new perspective on early modern and contemporary migrations.


The featured image shows the title page of An Extract of the Journals of Mr. Commissary von Reck who Conducted the First Transport of Saltzburgers to Georgia: And of the Reverend Mr. Bolzius, One of Their Ministers (Salzburg, 1734). Photograph in the public domain, provided by the Internet Archive.



  1. Alexander Schunka, ‘Glaubensflucht als Migrationsoption: Konfessionell motivierte Migrationen in der Frühen Neuzeit’, Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 56/10 (2005), 547–64. []
  2. Matthias Asche, ‘Christliche Caritas, konfessionelles Kalkül und politische Propaganda: Emigrantennetzwerke, Flüchtlingskommissare und ihre Bedeutung für Logistik und Raumordnung in Alteuropa und im Alten Reich des ausgehenden 17. Jahrhunderts—ein Problemaufriß’, in Joachim Bahlcke, Rainer Leng, and Peter Scholz (eds.), Migration als soziale Herausforderung: Historische Formen solidarischen Handelns von der Antike bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart 2011). []
  3. See e.g. Andrew C. Thompson, Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest, 1688–1756 (Woodbridge, 2006); Holger Zaunstöck, Andreas Gestrich, and Thomas Müller-Bahlke (eds.), London und das Hallesche Waisenhaus: Eine Kommunikationsgeschichte im 18. Jahrhundert (Halle, 2014). []
  4. Alexander Pyrges, ‘Religion in the Atlantic World: The Ebenezer Communication Network, 1732–1828’, in Jonathan Strom, Hartmut Lehmann, and James Van Horn Melton (eds.), Pietism in Germany and North America 1680–1820 (Farnham, 2009), 51–67. []
  5. Cambridge University Library, SPCK A1/16, Minutes, 27 Sept. 1735. []
  6. TNA, CO 5/667, Letters from the Trustees for establishing the Colony, Martyn to Reck, 25 Feb. 1737, p. 13. []

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Katharina Breidenbach

She is a researcher at the Chair for Gender History at Jena University, where she studies the networks of mediators of Protestant migration movements in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

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