One of our favorite topics of Michigan Upper Thumb history is the famous German Religious Colony of Ora et Labora.
This colony was located north of Bay Port. It operated from 1862 to 1867. It’s a saga of city-living immigrants making an earnest attempt to create a utopian society in the Michigan Thumb wilderness. It’s a fascinating topic, and it is one in which I’ve created many posts over the years.
The Story of Ora et Labora Year by Year
Select Translated Letters from Ora Labora – Fortunately, letters to and from Emir Bar to his elders in the Economy Colony were kept. They give a glimpse of the life of the colony in the 1860s. In addition, we have select letters that were translated from the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library.
Ora et Labora – A Little Colony In the Wilderness – Part I – Ora Labora is known as the “Christian German Agricultural and Benevolent Society of Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work). Parishioners could combine work with prayer and live according to the Methodist Church Discipline. Founded in 1861 on Michigan’s Wild Fowl Bay, the colony disappeared in 1867
Ora et Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Part II – The second part of the Ora Labora story outlines the summer of 1863. The building is rapid and progresses exciting in Michigan’s north. But the looming effect of the Civil War is about to impact this fledgling German religious colony’s effort to bring their culture and traditions to the Great Lakes wilderness.
Ora et Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Part III – The third part of the Ora Labora story brings us to 1864. The rapid growth of the colony was costly, and the society needs funds to grow. It was time for drastic measures. The raging war in the south was turning in the North’s favor. The colony was on borrowed time until the draft took effect. The effects were devastating.
Ora et Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Part IV – The fourth segment of the Ora et Labora story starts during Christmas 1864. The Colony’s funds and provisions are low, and its leader Emil Baur is begging his benefactors for loans to make it through the winter. However, with the war in its closing days, the colonist is hopeful that a risky new venture will be profitable.
Ora et Labora – The Final Days Of The Colony 1866 – Part V – Segment five outlines Ora Labora’s final viable year as a religious colony in the wilderness of the upper thumb of Michigan was 1866. We reveal the final desperate attempts to keep it going.
Our final installment of the Ora Labora legacy will take us beyond 1866 after the civil war. Again, the colony finds itself stumbling toward ruin, and its members look for something or someone to blame. The colony’s direction is arguably the most critical for the next century of the thumb region.
Other Supporting Stories
Collection Of Ora Labora Letters Discovered In Ohio – Archives of Michigan is now in possession of a collection of Ora Labora letters written in English and Old German by Emil and Bertha Baur and other family members. They were found in Cincinnati in 1974 and sent to the Historical Society of Michigan in 2018. They are in the process of being prepared for availability online.
Emil Baur Provided Relief To The Indians Residing At Ora Labora After The 1871 Great Fire. In October of 1871, a great forest fire swept across much of the Thumb region, including the section of Michigan that included the lands of the former colony of Ora Labora. The colony was in the process of being disbanded, and the lands were sold off, but large holdings remained, including some cabins and buildings. The colony’s benefactor and primary landowner, the Harmony Society, immediately sent $200 for distribution among the needy.
Plans Underway For Cabins From Ora Labora Colony To Be Restored – The Pigeon Historical Society relocated and restored two cabins originally located in the 1800s German religious colony called Ora Labora.