Moravian Settlements

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Moravian Settlements

MORAVIAN SETTLEMENTS. Count Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf (1700–1760) helped revive the evangelical sect of Protestants called Moravians after giving a group of them refuge on his Saxon estate in 1722. He looked to the New World as a place where the Moravians could escape persecution and exercise their missionary zeal. Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704–1792) reached Georgia in 1735 with a few Swiss colonists, and thirty other Moravians later followed. In 1741 the Moravians established Nazareth and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as a communistic society. That year Count Zinzendorf arrived in America with hopes of uniting all German Protestants in Pennsylvania. Despite many Protestants' suspicious attitude toward his pacifist and generous theology, which included an opposition to slavery, Zinzendorf exerted an important influence on ecclesiastical affairs in the colonies. His daughter Benigna organized what would become the Moravian College in Bethlehem.

As Zinzendorf left, Spangenberg, the newly appointed bishop of the North American Moravians, returned. In 1749 he was removed from his office in disputes over church politics but, because of mismanagement by his successor, was reinstated in 1751. He led a party of Bethlehem Moravians south to find a new home, and in August 1753 they purchased 100,000 acres from Lord Granville in North Carolina, where they established what was known as the Wachovia: the towns of Betharaba (Dutch Fort), Bethania, Friedberg, Friedland, Hope, and Salem. The latter is now part of Winston-Salem. Spangenberg's new settlements were organized under a plan of family life, as opposed to communistic labor, and became the Moravian center of the South. The North Carolina Moravian towns were trade centers that served much of the South. They suffered from robberies by highwayman during the war.

As a result of immigration, the Moravian population of Pennsylvania swelled to 2,500 people by 1775. The Moravians were more active than any other religious body in conducting missionary work among the Indians, enjoying particular success among the Mahicans and Delawares, hundreds of whom converted to Christianity. Their converts were given special protection by the government of Pennsylvania, which promised their security from attacks by both white settlers and non-Christian Indians, though that status did not save them from attacks by frontier militia during the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution.

As pacifists, the Moravians generally attempted to avoid the American Revolution, though many served in non-combatant roles with the Patriot side. In December 1776 George Washington appropriated the Brothers' House (the residence for single men) in the Bethlehem community for use as a military hospital. By the time the hospital was moved from this site in April 1778, more than 1,000 Continental soldiers were treated, with many Moravians offering their services. The Moravians worked hard to protect Christian Indians from the war's violence, with mixed results. A few missionaries, most famously David Zeisberger, served as translators and even intelligence agents for the Patriots. Like the Quakers, the Moravians were persecuted for their pacifism. Finding greater security in isolation, the Moravians withdrew further into their communities at Bethlehem and Salem, as the Revolution put a halt to many of their missionary activities.

SEE ALSO Gnadenhutten Massacre, Ohio; Zeisberger, David.

                     revised by Michael Bellesiles