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Christian Thomas Benzien

Haidt, John Valentine
Place Made:
London Great Britain
Date Made:
oil on canvas
LOA 14; WOA 12
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Bust length portrait of Christian Thomas Benzien; the portrait is painted in oil on linen. Benzien wears a curled white wig and a white cravat beneath a dark waistcoat. The stretcher is made of European Spruce.

HISTORY: In 1744, Christian Thomas Benzien (1715-1757) married Anna Maria Neisser (1724-1783) (Acc. 399.2) and in 1754 they immigrated to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, from Germany via New York. Among the fellow immigrants on their ship was the Moravian artist, John Valentine Haidt. Christian Thomas Benzien was a Moravian minister and one of Count von Zinzendorf’s trusted advisors. In 1755, Benzien came to North Carolina. He arrived in Bethabara on April 28, visited the town of Salisbury and Captain Nathaniel Gist on the Dan River, and on September 1 departed on a political mission to North Carolina’s colonial capital of New Bern. There he met with Governor Arthur Dobbs and Attorney General Robert Jones, and together they negotiated the establishment of Wachovia as a separate Anglican Parish, to be known as Dobbs Parish, which allowed the Moravians certain rights and privileges in the Anglican colony. He returned from New Bern on September 1, and on September 21 he departed Bethabara for his return voyage through Virginia and Maryland to Bethlehem.

The couple had two who came permanently to Salem. Their daugher, Anna Benigna Benzien (1751-1818), arrived in 1790 and led an active life as a member of the Single Sisters Choir and as a teacher in the Salem Girls Boarding School. Their son, Christian Lewis Benzien (1753-1811), came in 1781 as a teacher, served as an assitant to Frederick William Marshall, and became a prominent spiritual and political leader in Salem.

ARTIST: John Valentine Haidt (1700-1780) was a Moravian artist and evangelist, born in Danzig, Germany, on October 4, 1700. As the son of a goldsmith, John Valentine learned that trade initially from his father, Andreas Haidt, a goldsmith for Emperor Frederick I. He later attended the Royal Academy in Berlin before traveling and studying painting in Venice, Rome, Paris, and London. When he was forty years of age he joined the Moravian church. In 1754 he immigrated to America, was ordained a minister of the church, and began to preach in Pennsylvania even as he continued to paint. Although Haidt painted portraits and is known to have painted landscapes, his religious paintings are among the earliest of that genre created in the American colonies. Recent research suggests that American-born painter, Benjamin West (1738-1820), studied with Haidt when Haidt was preaching in Philadelphia in 1754-55. West told a friend that a “Mr. Hide (Haidt), a German, gave him instruction.”

Haidt died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, January, 18, 1780. In his memoir he wrote, “I hardly need to mention that I have painted, because almost all of the congregations have some of my work, which the dear Savior also let be a blessing to many a heart.”

PROVENANCE: The portraits were given to Old Salem by Emma Ormsby Griffith (Mrs. Charles Griffith), her sister Anna Ormsby Rights Efird (Mrs. L.J. Efird), and their brother Robert Ormsby. They portraits probably descended from Christian Thomas and Anna Maria Benzien to their grandson, Wilhelm Ludwig Benzien (1797- ca. 1840) who married Christina Schneider(1799-1863), to their daughter Francisca Louisa Benzien (1827-1891) who married James Fischer (1818-1874), to their daughter Harriet Elfreda Fisher (1857-1940) who married William Ormsby 1844-1918), to their children Emma, Anna, and Robert.