New insights into the “Christian German Agricultural and Benevolent Society of Ora et Labora,” or simply Ora Labora (pray and work), are coming to light through Hamilton College’s acquisition of a rare manuscript recently added to its Communal Societies Collection. The 1862 communal settlement was on property adjoining Wild Fowl Bay in Huron County, Michigan. The community identified itself as culturally German and religiously Christian, with a Methodist twist; a benevolent society; and economically agrarian, organized as a joint-stock company.
The manuscript letter book contains the correspondence of Emil Gottlieb Baur (1831-1894), the inspiration behind Ora Labora and one of its founding members, for the years 1885 and into 1889. Since the colony disbanded in 1868, about twenty years earlier, why is it of interest for communal history and research? The answer is simple: Ora Labora’s debts took longer to die than its physical existence. During the years between 1868 and 1895, when the debt was retired, Baur not only became the land sales agent of the Harmony Society but he continued to visit and correspond with Harmony Society trustees. The relationship between the Harmony Society (1805-1905) and the Ora Labora colony (1862-1868), which officially began in 1862 and ended in 1895, is a story of personal friendships as well as a revealing glimpse into communal financial relationships.
American Communal Societies Quarterly
Available for download on Saturday, April 01, 2023