John Christopher Hartwick

John Christopher Hartwick's WillJohn Christopher Hartwick was born in Germany in 1714 and educated as a Lutheran minister at the University of Halle. He arrived in America in 1746 to serve as a missionary for the German settlers. He was a very eccentric man with a rigid personality and little tolerance of people's vices. He frequently required his parishioners to sign a covenant that "they would forswear shooting, horse-racing, boozing, and dancing."

He moved from parish to parish up and down the East Coast and was never very successful in finding a congregation that was willing to submit to his strict dictates. However, this only confirmed Hartwick's belief that American society needed to be reformed by regulating settlement patterns and enforcing a disciplined code for each community.

Utopian communities were very popular in the 18th century and Hartwick envisioned a community dedicated to the principles of pious living. To this end he made numerous land deals and eventually was successful in obtaining the majority of a 24,000-acre patent from the Mohawk Indians in Otsego County, New York. Hartwick never spent much time on his property, and he commissioned his neighboring landowner, Judge William Cooper, to lease his land to suitable, Christian settlers for the establishment of this "New Jerusalem." Cooper, however, being a wise businessman, ignored Hartwick's stipulations, and leased property to whoever could afford it. Much to Hartwick's dismay, the people who settled on his property were not in the least interested in abiding by the dictates of his utopian ideals.

In many ways, idealistic, scholarly John Christopher Hartwick was a man ahead of his time. In the spring of 1764 he wrote an article vehemently protesting the death penalty for theft on the grounds that such a punishment was contrary to divine law, an opinion which did not set well with 18th century city officials. He also envisioned government-run educational institutions. He opposed the exclusiveness of private schools, then the primary means of higher education, and in his will stipulated that the Seminary was to be public.

Hartwick died in 1796, disappointed at not having fulfilled his dream for a New Jerusalem or having established a public school, but he did leave complete instructions in his will for the founding and organization of a seminary. Although he complicated matters by designating Jesus Christ as his heir, the executors of the will were able to overcome this and other thorny legal problems. Jeremiah vanRensselaer and Frederick Muhlenberg, both prominent in colonial political and religious circles, were dedicated to honoring Hartwick's intentions. They persuaded Dr. John Christopher Kunze, Hartwick's choice and arguably the leading Lutheran theologian of the day, to become director of the Seminary and to teach theology at his home in New York City. Meanwhile, Rev. Anthony Braun taught sciences and languages at Albany and Rev. John Frederick Ernst taught elementary school on the Hartwick Patent. All three were supported by interest on the endowment that Hartwick had established as the result of William Cooper's land deals.