Egede, Hans

Egede, Hans an eminent Danish missionary, called the "apostle of Greenland," was born at Harstadt, Norway (which at that time belonged to Denmark), January 31, 1686, and became pastor at Drontheim in 1707. Here he conceived the project of a mission to Greenland, having derived from a history of Norway the impression that formerly there had been Christians in Greenland, where now there were only heathens. "Egede, after receiving some suggestions to this effect from a friend in Bergen, became so enthusiastic on the subject that he wrote to the bishops of Bergen and Drontheim in 1710, proposing an expedition to convert the Greenlanders; and on its striking him that such a recommendation would come with an ill grace from one who did not offer to undertake it himself, he made the offer, supposing, however, as he himself tells us, that as it was war-time, and the expedition would require some money, the proposal would not be accepted. He received in reply a strange letter from the bishop of Drontheim, Krog, in which the prelate suggested that 'Greenland was undoubtedly a part of America, and could not be very far from Cuba and Hispaniola, where there was found such abundance of gold;' concluding that it was very likely that those who went to Greenland would bring home 'incredible riches.' Egede had made this offer, very oddly, without acquainting his wife; and as soon as she became aware of it, by the receipt of the bishop's letters, she, with her mother and his mother, assailed Egede with such strong remonstrances, that he says in his own account, he was quite conquered, and repulsed his folly with a promise to remain in the land which 'God had placed him in"' (Eng. Cyclop.). Soon after, his wife, however, gave her consent. In 1717 he threw up his benefice at Vaagen, and went with his family to Bergen, endeavoring to found a company to trade with Greenland. The merchants did not receive this project favorably, and Egede determined to lay his plans before the king at Copenhagen. "Frederick IV of Denmark, who had already, in 1714, founded a college for the propagation of the Gospel, sent Egede back to Bergen with his approbation; a company was formed, to which Egede put down his name for the first subscription of 300 dollars, and finally, on May 3, 1721, a ship called 'Haabet,' or 'The Hope,' set sail for Greenland, with forty-six souls on board, including Egede and his family. On the 3d of July, after a dangerous voyage, they set foot on shore at Baalsrevier, on the western coast, and were, on the whole, hospitably received by the natives. The very appearance of the Greenlanders at once put a negative on the supposition that they were descended from the Northmen, and their language, which it was now the missionary's business to learn, was found to be entirely of a different kind, being, in fact, nearly related to that spoken by the Esquimaux of Labrador. The climate and the soil were both harsher and ruder than the Norwegians had expected, and the only circumstance that was in their favor was the character of the inhabitants, which, though at first excessively phlegmatic, so as to give the idea that their feelings had been frozen, was neither cruel, nor, as was found by further experience, unadapted to receive religious impressions. For some years the mission had a hard battle for life. The settlers, unable to obtain sufficient food by fishing and the chase, were entirely dependent on the supply of provisions sent them by annual store-ships from Denmark, and when this supply was delayed, were reduced to short rations and the dread of starvation. On one occasion even Egede's courage gave way, and he had made up his mind to abandon the mission and return to Europe unless the provisions arrived within fourteen days. His wife alone opposed the resolution, and refused to pack up, persisting in predicting that the store-ship would arrive in time; and, ere the time had elapsed, the ships, which had missed the coast, found their way, and brought tidings that, rather than give up the attempt to Christianize Greenland, the king had ordered a lottery in favor of it, and, on the lottery's failing, had imposed a special tax on Denmark and Norway under the name of the Greenland Assessment. In 1727 the Blergen company for trading with Greenland was dissolved, from the losses it had sustained, and the Danish government then resolved on founding a colony in Greenland, and sent in 1728 a ship of war, with a body of soldiers under the command of a Major Paars. The soldiers grew mutinous when they saw to what a country they had been sent, and Egede found his life in more danger from his countrymen than it had ever been from the natives. The death of king, Frederick IV, in 1731, occasioned a change of affairs. The new king, Christian IV, determined to break up the colony and recall all his subjects from Greenland, with the exception of such as chose to remain of their own free-will, to whom he gave directions that provisions were to be allowed for one year, but that they were to be led to expect no further supply. Egede had then been ten years in Greenland, and his labors were beginning to bear fruit. His eldest son Paul, who was a boy of twelve when they landed, had been of much assistance in learning the language and in other ways; his wife and the younger children had aided greatly in producing a favorable effect on the natives, who had seen no Europeans before except the crews of the Dutch trading vessels. The angekoks, or conjurors, who might almost be called the priests of the native religion, had been awed, some into respect and others into silence by the mildness and active benevolence of the foreign angekok; the natives had seen with wonder the interest he took in their welfare, and, if they refused to believe the new doctrines themselves, had not forbidden them to their children, of whom Egede had a hundred and fifty baptized. The elder Greenlanders, when Egede told them of the efficacy of prayer, asked him to pray that there should be no winter; and when he spoke of the torment of fire, said they should prefer it to frost. Egede, confirmed by his wife, resolved to remain, and this resolution greatly increased his influence over the Greenlanders, who knew that it could only proceed from zeal in their behalf. The king of Denmark, unable to resist his constancy, sent another year's provision beyond what he had promised, and finally, in 1733, announced that he had changed his mind, and determined to devote a yearly sum to the Greenland mission. A dreadful trial was approaching. The Greenland children, of whom some had occasionally been sent to Denmark, almost all died of the small-pox. Two of them were returning home from Copenhagen in the vessel which came in 1733one of them died on the voyage, the other brought the disorder to Greenland, and the mortality was dreadful.

From September 1733, to June 1734, the contagion raged to a degree that threatened to depopulate Greenland. When the trading-agents afterwards went oven the country, they found every dwelling-house empty for thirty leagues to the north of the Danish colony, and the same devastation was said to have extended still farther south: the number of the dead was computed at 3000. That winter in Greenland offered a combination of horrors which could seldom be equaled, but they were met with admirable constancy by Egede and his indefatigable wife. The same ship that brought the small-pox had brought the assistance of some Moravian missionaries. In the year 1734 his son Paul Egede returned from Copenhagen, whither he had been sent to study, and the elder Egede, finding his health begin to fail, applied for leave to return home. The permission reached him in 1735, but his return was delayed from the illness of his wife, who longed to see her native land again, but was denied that gratification, dying finally in Greenland on the 21st of December, 1735, at the age of 62. Egede carried her coffin with him to Denmark, and she was buried in Copenhagen, where she was followed to the grave by the whole of the clergy of the city. A seminary for the Greenland mission was established there in 1740, and Egede was appointed superintendent, with the title of bishop. In the same year he preferred a memorial for an expedition to be sent out to discover the lost 'eastern colony' of the old Norwegians, and offered to accompany it in person, but the proposal was not adopted. In 1747 Egede retired from his office at Copenhagen, and spent most of the remainder of his life at the house of his daughter Christine, who was married to a clergyman of the island of Falster. While he was at Copenhagen he had married a second wife, who accompanied him to Falster, but before his last illness he expressed his wish that he should be buried by the side of his first wife at Copenhagen, and said that if they would not promise to carry this wish into effect, he would go to Copenhagen to die there. He died at Falster on the 5th of November, 1758" (Eng. Cyclop.). He wrote two books on the history of his life's labors. The first was, Relation angaaende den Gronlandske Missions Begyndelse og forsattelse (Copenh. 1738; German, Hamb. 1748). It is rich in materials, but dry in style. Its chief recommendation is its sincerity. The reader is disposed to give entire confidence to the missionary, who not only tells him that on one occasion he labored earnestly in his vocation, but that on another he occupied himself for days in the study of alchemy; who not only speaks of the ardor of his faith at times, but tells us that at others he was seized with a hatred of his task and of religion altogether. Den gamle Gronlands nye Perlustration (Copenh. 1741-4) was translated into French (1763), and into English in 1745, under the title of A Description of Greenland. The translation was reprinted in 1818. It comprises his observations on the geography and natural history of Greenland, and the manners of its inhabitants. See English Cyclopaedia, s.v.; Herzog, Real-Encykl. 3:659; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 15:702; Brauer, Beitrag zur Gesch. den Heidenbekehrung (part 3:1839); Rudelbach, Christl. Biogr. (part 6).

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