III. LOTS 94 & 95 AND THE COMMUNITY OF TRUE INSPIRATION
In the early 1700's, protests against the Lutheran Church in Germany culminated in the founding of a breakaway religious group that called themselves the "Community of True Inspiration." 9 What began as protests against the established religion soon became an open rebellion. The Inspirationists soon turned from simple church defiance to civil disobedience causing its members to suffer under heavy tax penalties and physical violence in the hands of the German authorities. To escape persecution, the Inspirationists moved their families to a more liberal area of Germany where they were able to practice their religion in relative calm for the next 100 years.
After time, government persecution once more became prevalent against the Inspirationists. There was no longer a place in Germany where they could practice their religion in peace and be free from government prejudices. It was decided that a group of church leaders, led by Christian Metz, would set off on a trip to America to find religious freedom for their congregation, and a home in which to raise their families.
In the fall of 1842, the religious congregation arrived in America and set about the task of finding land to settle. Land in Ohio was surveyed, but was immediately ruled out because it was fairly well settled. The church leaders then turned their attention to the western region of New York State where they arranged to meet with a land agent in Westfield, N.Y. At the meeting, it was suggested that they view a tract of land on the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation that was about to be opened for settlement.
The leaders set out to view the land and were captivated by the raw power and beauty of the land. The trees stood like " . . . a primeval forest . . . upon pleasantly rolling ground, a dim and solemn place drained by small water courses which flowed through leafy hollows into Buffalo Creek." 10 They discovered rich, virgin soil, which never knew cultivation and could provide the agriculture needs of the community. Water which could power grist or saw mills, provide fish and make boat travel possible was readily available with both Buffalo Creek to the north and Cazenovia Creek to the south of the land tract. Christian Metz and the other leaders were smitten by the beauty of the land. They did, however, continue on to the Chautauqua area of New York to view the land that was also available. What they saw did not adequately impress them, and their thoughts turned to settling the land around Buffalo Creek. They immediately began negotiations in acquiring the land that had captivated them. In November of 1842, the Inspirationists turned to the land company of David A. Ogden and bargained to purchase 5,000 acres of land at ten dollars an acre. 11
In 1843, Christian Metz went to the Buffalo Creek Reservation land and took possession of the home of Chief John Seneca. 12 This was the beginning of the community that the Inspirationists were to call "Ebenezer."
The acquisition of the land did not go as smoothly as the colonists had hoped. Although they believed the land was legally theirs, the Indians continued to harvest the trees and sell the timber to Buffalo merchants. When the settlers complained, the Indian chiefs threatened to have the Inspirationists evicted from the land. The Indians had found a legal loophole in the New York State law that stated it was illegal for " . . . residence on Indian lands by persons other than Indians. Legally the tract was still a Reservation and the law in force." 13
The German immigrants quickly worked out a deal with the Indians for about $900, which guaranteed that the Indians would not bother the colonists for a period of one year. As owners of the land, the Indians put several restrictions on the settlers, limiting them to how much land could be cultivated. The Inspirationists turned to Ogden's Company for help, but their appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The ill-prepared society was left to deal with the Indians themselves. Help came to the Inspirationists in the form of legal counselor Millard Fillmore. His remedy was to have the Ogden Company reappraise the land and pay the amount due as stipulated in the earlier treaty. This, in Fillmore's opinion, would settle the matter. Additional payments were made, and in May 1844, representatives of the Inspirationists, Indians, the Ogden Company, and the U.S. Government, sat down to reach a conclusion. The Washington representative carried a letter that informed the Senecas that they had lost claim to the Buffalo Creek Reservation and " . . . that the Indians must yield up the tracts or they would suffer for not doing so, that resistance to the Government and its laws could only bring ruin upon them, and the stipulations of the treaty must be strictly adhered to." 14
The Indians were not about to leave quietly. They again pursued other legal avenues, with most judgements going against the Seneca's claims. Some Indians, sensing their land had slipped away, moved to other reservations while the more militant Indians remained and resisted the settler's claims.
In August 1844, the War Department notified the Seneca Indians that they no longer owned the land. The militant Indians grabbed their axes and began destroying trees, resulting in several arrests. The Inspirationists, seeking to avoid confrontation and not wanting to jail the Indians, sought a peaceful solution through the tribal chiefs.
Later that month, a council convened, with one of the church elders giving the Indians the history of the Inspirationist movement and the discrimination they had faced in Germany. The Inspirationists assured the Indians that they understood their plight, but wanted to peacefully bring the land claim to a finale. One of the chiefs, speaking on behalf of the Indians, said, " . . . they were not enemies of the colonists, that they had no cause of complaint against them. But just as they bought the land and occupied it according to their faith in their God, so for the Great Spirit had given this land to their forefathers and now were determined to hold it as long as they were able." 15 The chief rebuked the claim of the colonists and told them the Ogden Company had duped them.
As bleak as the future looked to the colonists, their plight apparently appealed to the Indian's sense of fair play. An Indian delegate appeared before the church elders and agreed to abandon the reservation. True to their word, by the end of 1846, the last of the Indians left, turning over the Buffalo Creek Reservation to the Community of True Inspiration.
With the land now firmly in hand, the settlers turned to developing their community. Lands were cultivated, crops planted, and trees cut to produce timber needed for their homes and businesses.
In a letter to his father in Germany, one of the colonists Joseph Prestele, wrote: "According to the plans, three communities were to be built, namely Ober Ebenezer, Nieder Ebenezer, and Mittel Ebenezer,
which will be the largest because most of the land had been cleared and cultivated and it has the best location on a little stream." 16 In 1846 the community was incorporated, not as a social or business organization, but as the Village of Ebenezer. The Inspirationists, or "Ebenezer Society" as they became known, operated under its own constitution and by-laws. The only reason for the incorporation " . . . was to obtain for the society their right to have its own local government, backed by the authority of New York State." 17
A permanent home was erected in Middle Ebenezer, on Lot 94, which became the home of William Moershel, Sr., a trustee for the Ebenezer Society. Mr. Moershel remained in this home until his death in 1862. Another structure built on Lot 94 was a washhouse that appears to have been built for community use. There may also have been a few isolated cabins on Lots 94 and 95 that were used by woodsmen who worked as loggers.
In August of 1843, an infant from the Ebenezer Society, aged one year and seven months old, died. The baby's body was laid to rest in a spot on Lot 94 near Buffalo Creek, which would serve as a cemetery for the Ebenezers. The Middle Ebenezer cemetery was approximately one acre in size and would eventually contain the remains of over 160 members of the Ebenezer Society, as well as a few non-members. Mr. Moershel, Sr., whose home was on the same parcel of land, was interred in this cemetery upon his death in 1862. The general appearance of the cemetery was unkempt, surrounded by basic board fences. The grass was allowed to grow and no other plants were added. The graves were marked with wooden markers; probably pine planks, about 1 ½ to 2 feet by about 1 foot in size. Stamped or carved on the grave marker were the decedent's name, age, and date of death. When the Ebenezer Society abandoned the graveyard all of the cemetery markers eventually disappeared. Other residents within the community carted away the markers to use for " . . . sidewalk slabs, pier foundations under a porch, chicken coops, etc." 18 People of note buried in the cemetery included Christian Metz's two sisters, and Carl Ludwig Mayer, Elder and chief business agent for the Society. The last burial by the Ebenezers in this cemetery was performed in November 1863.
The Ebenezer Society built a dam on the north side of Buffalo Creek and then built two millraces 19 on Lots 94 and 95, which diverted water around the parcel of land, thus making most of Lot 94 an island. These millraces, which were excavated by hand by the Ebenezers, formed a pond where logs were gathered before being sent west under Union Road to a sawmill further down Buffalo Creek. The millraces furnished the hydraulic power not only for the sawmill, but also for the grist mill and tannery operated by the Society.
Ten years and after the establishment of the community in Ebenezer, the Inspirationists again felt the resentment of their neighbors who eyed their lands for more commercial development. There was also trouble from within the society, as dissatisfied former Congregationalists, who had left the Church, brought grievances against the Society. In 1851, Ebenezer was incorporated into the Town of West Seneca, losing its independence from its neighbors and the Society began to realize that if they were to survive, they would need to seek a more remote and unsettled area.
Once again, Christian Metz and fellow church leaders, headed west to seek out new lands for settlement. After first feeling unwelcome in Kansas, they found a parcel of land along the Iowa River in the state of Iowa. The Society purchased the land and named their new community "Amana." In July 1855, the first wagons began to roll out of Ebenezer, headed west to what would become the new home of the Inpirationists.
The land that the Society was leaving behind was having a difficult time attracting a buyer. Money was scarce and the country was immersed in the throes of the great Civil War. To make it more attractive to buyers, the land was sub-divided and sold off in smaller lots, until the land was no longer controlled by the Society. "Coming as strangers from an old and cultural fatherland to settle in a wilderness, they transformed it into a lovely and productive home within the span of ten years." 20 Nine years after the first settler headed west to Amana, the last of the Community of True Inspirationists left their homes, having left an indelible mark on the history of not only West Seneca, but all of Western New York as well. Lots 94 and 95 had played a significant role in the short history of the Ebenezer Society, but would contribute to the enrichment of the residents of West Seneca.