Today it takes only a few hours to drive across North Carolina from east to west. In the 1750s, the same route was a gruelling trek. On this day, September 10, 1752 (new calendar),* an expedition of Moravian men under the leadership of August Gottlieb Spangenberg set off from Edenton, North Carolina. They headed west at the invitation of John Carteret, the Earl of Granville, proprietor to much of the colony.
Spangenberg was a good choice as leader. Born in Prussia, he came under the influence of Count von Zinzendorf, the dedicated leader of the Moravians. (Moravians were exiled Protestants from what is now Czechoslovakia.) Spangenberg did not join the Moravians at once, but when he was dismissed from the theological faculty at the University of Halle because of his religious views, he united with the small evangelical group. Zinzendorf sent him to America where he negotiated land in Georgia for Moravians who expected to be expelled from Germany. Spangenberg founded several other Moravian settlements and eventually became the American bishop for his sect.
The Moravian reputation for sober hard work was well-known to Carteret. He felt that if he could point to a flourishing community of these godly folk on his land, he could attract more settlers. Although the first English settlement in the New World had been at Roanoke, North Carolina, the state lagged behind others in development owing to mismanagement, high taxes and the economic rivalry of neighboring Virginia. John Carteret's offer to the Moravians aimed to improve matters.
But December saw the Moravians lost in the mountains. Eventually, they recovered their bearings and selected the best land they could find. They bought 99,000 acres in what is now Forsyth County. Spangenberg named the area Wachau after a valley in Austria.
Having staked out their land, the Moravians settled it the next year, sending a team of fifteen unmarried men to the region. Among these men were represented all of the essential professions and skills of the day: minister, surgeon, shoemaker, cooper (barrel maker), seive-maker, business manager, carpenter and so forth. One secret of Moravian success was their practicality.
The little band created their first settlement at a place they named Bethabara. They cut two and a half miles of road, cleared land, planted crops, made furniture, imported livestock, constructed an oven for baking, built homes, and even opened a mill. Within six years, there were seventy Moravians living at Bethabara.
The little town's palisade served as a fort during the French and Indian War. After the war ended in 1760, the Moravians planted the cities of Bethania and Salem.
America's Moravians under Spangenberg were deeply concerned with mission work among the Native Americans. In fact, Spangenberg even wrote a lengthy pamphlet on missions. His philosophy of missions could be summed up in a few excerpts from that pamphlet. "In our labour among the heathen, we will particularly endeavor, that they become converted to Christ Jesus with all their heart." And, "To comprise the whole briefly together, the labors of the brethren among the heathen aim at this, that they might be enabled to say of a truth: 'Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.'"
*Note: Under American reckoning, the date would still have been August 30. On September 2, 1752, Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar and September 14 followed September 2 in North Carolina. However, Protestant Germans had adopted the Gregorian calendar 52 years earlier. This story uses their reckoning.
- Old Salem. (www.oldsalem.org/about/carolina.htm)
- Reichel, Levin Theodore. The Moravians in North Carolina. Salem, North Carolina: O. A. Keehln; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1857.
- Spangenberg, August Gottlieb. An account of the Manner in Which the Protestant Church of the Initas Fratrum, or United Brethren, Preach the Gospel and Carry on Their Misisons among the Heathen. http://www.mun.ca/rels/morav/texts/spangacc/spangacc.html.
- Thorp, Daniel B. The Moravian community in colonial North Carolina. Knoxville : University of Tennessee Press, c1989.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles on Spangenberg and the Moravians.
Last updated June, 2007