EGEDE, eg'e-de, HANS.
Early Life (§ 1).
Settlements in Greenland (§ 2).
Interest in Mission to Greenland (§ 3).
Success as a Missionary (§ 4).
Royal Support Withdrawn and Restored (§ 5).
Closing Years (§ 6).
1. Early Life. Norwegian apostle of Greenland; b. at Trondenäs, a village on the island of Senjen (n.w. coast of Norway), Jan. 31, 1686; d. at Stubbekjöbing (58 m. s.w. of Copenhagen) in the island of Falster, Denmark, Nov. 5, 1758. After completing his studies at the University of Copenhagen, he took charge, about the age of twenty-one, of the Lutheran parish of Vaagen, one of the Lofoden Islands, and soon afterward married Gertrude Rask. From his brother-in-law, a whaler of Bergen, he learned that the southwestern part of Greenland was inhabited by heathen, and his interest in them was still further increased by reading old Norse chronicles.
2. Settlements in Greenland. During the tenth century pagan Northmen had migrated from Iceland to Greenland, and had driven back the aborigines, who were called Skrällingen; but about the year 1000 Christianity seems to have taken root among the colonists. About 1348, however, the "black death," raging throughout Europe, severed communication with the kingdom, and the aborigines seized the opportunity to destroy one settlement after another. For some sixty years the Church survived, but the year 1410 marks the cessation of all authentic reports concerning the colony and Church. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the kings of Denmark and Norway sent a series of expeditions to regain the province, which failed, but the enthusiasm awakened in Egede's heart and his hope in a higher goal were destined to win a victory.
3. Interest in Mission to Greenland. Despite the opposition of high and low, as well as of his nearest kin, he became more and more convinced that he was called to go to these poorest of his brethren, but the bishops of Bergen and Trondhjem, before whom he laid his "proposal for the conversion and enlightenment of the Greenlanders," recoiled from the difficulties, and even the missionary college founded at Copenhagen in 1714 gave him faint sympathy. In 1717 he resigned his pastorate, and went, in the autumn of the following year, to Bergen with his wife and four children. There he not only tried to interest friends in his plan of a Greenland mission in connection with commercial enterprises, but also acquired some mechanical and technical knowledge. In the spring of 1719, when peace was made on the conclusion of the northern war, Egede went to Copenhagen to see King Frederick in person. The latter acceded to his plan, but his assistance was ineffectual, and Egede perceived that he himself must assume the entire responsibility. After repeated disappointments he found a few friends in Bergen and elsewhere, who formed with him a "Greenland Society" and contributed a fund which enabled them to buy the ship "Hope." Shortly afterward (1721) the missionary college notified him that the king sanctioned the intended expedition and appointed Egede missionary and leader with a salary of 300 rix-dollars.
4. Success as a Missionary. On May 3, 1721, the little band of forty-six, including Egede's family, left Bergen; on June 12 they came in sight of Statenhuk, the southern point of Greenland; and on July 3, after much peril, they reached a safe haven and promising site for their colony on the western coast. The natives, who thronged around them, but soon timidly disappeared, turned out to be Eskimos, descendants of those who had destroyed the earlier Icelandic colonists. They were very ignorant, and had few religious ideas, while their unorganic language, with no relation to any European tongue, presented a serious obstacle to missionary endeavor. With the help of his children, however, who quickly made friends with the aborigines, Egede gradually mastered their language, into which he soon translated the catechism of Luther. He was indefatigable in visiting his charges, and amid privation and danger he became a Greenlander to the Greenlanders, winning the hearts of even the unfriendly Angekoks (sorcerers). In his first colony of Godthaab ("Good Hope") he paid special attention to the children; and although he was, perhaps, too scrupulous with regard to adults and laid too strict conditions upon them, he gladly baptized boys and girls, provided their parents also welcomed the preaching of the Gospel. His chief obstacle was his own countrymen, who murmured at their hard lot and caused grave scandal to the natives on account of their evil lives, particularly after the government had transported a number of outcasts after his arrival. He was cheered, on the other hand, by the constantly increasing eagerness of the natives to accept Christianity. In 1723 he received the aid of his first colleague, Albert Topp, who had been appointed to establish a second colony, and they were soon joined by two others, as well as by his son Paul and, a little later by his younger son Niels, while a few years afterward a native assistant was added.
5. Royal Support Withdrawn and Restored. In 1727 the Bergen-Greenland company was dissolved, since it was a commercial failure, and after the death of Frederick IV. a second blow befell Egede, when, in 1731, the king commanded that the colony should be entirely abandoned as financially unprofitable. If, however, Egede and others preferred to remain, a year's provisions should be left for them. Egede, who had at last secured a firm footing, willingly yielded to the importunity of the Greenlanders, who would not let him go, and he remained with the few courageous souls who braved privation and danger. At this crisis Count Zinzendorf, who was then at Copenhagen, prevailed upon Christian VI. to renew his support of Egede and to give him a public testimony of acknowledgment in addition to granting him a generous subvention and indorsing his plans for continuing the mission (April 4, 1733). An epidemic of smallpox ravaged the country until June, 1734. The victims numbered 3,000, while in the colony of Godthaab, which contained more than 200 families, all the Greenlanders died with the exception of a boy and a girl. Egede stood as in a desert. His faithful wife succumbed to her almost superhuman efforts and he himself, broken in body and soul determined to entrust the stricken land to the more robust strength of his son Paul and to promote the work of his life henceforth from a more quiet spot.
In 1736 he returned to Copenhagen; became director of a training-school for missionaries to Greenland, and in 1740 superintendent of the mission work there. In 1747 he retired to Stubbekjöbing and henceforth had no official connection with mission work in Greenland, but his interest continued and his son Paul was a noted Greenland scholar and the translator of the New Testament into its language.
Bibliography: The chief sources are Egede's Omständelig Relation, Copenhagen, 1738, and his Diary (in Danish), ed. E. Sundt, Christiania, 1860; A. G. Rudelbach, Christliche Biographien, pp. 371-434, Leipsic, 1850; J. Olaf, in Sonntags Bibliothek, vi. 2, Bielefeld, 1853; E. M. Bliss, Encyclopædia of Missions, i. 332-333, New York, 1891 (2d ed. not so full).