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In 1733, a group of Moravians — a Protestant Christian denomination originating in fourteenth-century Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) — moved from Europe to North America seeking freedom from religious persecution. By 1741, they had settled in Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. There, they organized a tight-knit religious community called Bethlehem.

The Moravians had brought with them a strong social organization based on communal living groups called “choirs,” which were organized according to age, gender, and marital status. This use of the word “choir” had nothing to do with singing in church, and instead was used to describe groups of people who ate, studied, and attended religious services together. Children moved away from their parents at a young age and became part of either the Little Boys’ Choir or Little Girls’ Choir. At age 12, they moved to the Older Boys’ or Older Girls’ Choir. At 19, girls moved to the Single Sisters’ Choir, and boys moved to the Single Brethren Choir. When Moravians married, they moved to the Married People’s Choir.

In 1753, a group of twelve single brothers left Bethlehem to establish a settlement in North Carolina. The brothers traveled south on the Great Wagon Road, a colonial thoroughfare that provided the main travel route for northerners who were settling the “backcountry” of Virginia and North Carolina. One of the brothers kept a diary, providing a written account of the journey and the establishment of their new home on a vast tract of North Carolina land they called Wachovia.

The following excerpts from the diary were translated and annotated by Adelaide L. Fries, an archivist and scholar at the Archives of the Moravian Church at Winston-Salem from 1911 to 1949. The Summary of a Report Sent to Bethlehem is from the same source, and was also annotated by Adelaide Fries. Her comments are noted with her initials A.L.F.



October 7–8

At the evening service (”Singstunde“) we were prepared for our journey, received the blessing from our dear Brother, and finally partook together of the “Cup of blessing.” The next morning, that is

Photograph of buildings and trees in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the town the brothers left to begin their new settlement in North Carolina. The building visible through the trees is a tannery that was built in 1761. Image source. About the photograph

Oct. 8, 1753, we rose early and made ready for our start, our dear Br. Christian Seidel holding morning prayer for us. And so with a feeling of blessing and contentment we set out from our beloved Bethlehem, — the Brn. Grube, Jac. Lösch, Feldhausen, Erich Ingepretsen, Petersen, Lunge, Hermanus Lösch, Markli, Pfeil, Beroth, Lischer, Kalberlahn and Joseph Haberland, the last named to accompany us only to the Susquehannah. Our “Chor Jünger” Br. Gottlob, Hoffman, Eberhard, and several other Brethren went with us for a few miles, and when we had taken tender leave of each other we went our way humbly happy over the goodness that the Lamb of God had shown to us poor mortals in His congregation. The Brethren Gottlob and Nathanael followed us in a few hours, and in the evening we met at the Missellimer Mill and remained there over night, — the people were fairly civil in their entertainment of us though hitherto they have refused to let Brethren stop there. On the way we picked up several pieces of our baggage which had been left by our wagon when it stuck fast and had to be unloaded before it could be pulled out.

Oct. 12.

Photograph of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

The Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where the brothers crossed on October 13. Image source. About the photograph

We rose at four and after morning prayers had breakfast at five and set out at six o’clock. Several young men who love the Brethren accompanied us a little way and were pleasant and cheery. We had traveled eight miles when suddenly a thick tree fell across our team, giving us a fright; however, the trunk fell just between the horses so that neither the horses nor the man who rode one of them were hurt, though a bush on the other side of the road was crushed. This was indeed a marked instance of the protection of our Father, and we thanked Him earnestly and besought His continued care. To-day we shot several fawns, partridges and squirrels. In the evening we made our first camp in the forest, one mile from the Susquehannah, by a creek. All busied themselves collecting wood and building a fire. Br. Erich undertook the cooking, and after we had eaten we spread our blankets and lay down to rest. We also considered whether we should not take Father Lösch’s wagon with us, for it was evident that we could hardly make the trip with only our heavily loaded wagon, but as we had not discussed it with Father Lösch we decided that we could not do it. We set our first night-watch, — Br. Nathanael took the first two hours, and was followed by Br. Grube, and he by Br. Lösch, and in the future three or four Brethren will watch each night. At midnight a drunken Irishman came and laid himself by our fire, but did not disturb us. Br. Gottlob hung his hammock between two trees and rested well in it.

Oct. 19.

Photograph of oats bundled in a field.

Oats, bundled to dry in preparation for being threshed. The brothers stopped frequently to buy hay and oats for their horses, just as modern travelers have to stop for gas. Image source. About the photograph

We rose about six but had not slept much having been disturbed by the smoke. One mile beyond our camping place we stopped to bake bread, and about nine o’clock started on again. Several of the Brn. went ahead two and a half miles to Neuschwanger, a German, who lives half a mile to the left of the road. There is a straight track cut from his house to the main road. The Brn. procured bread and hay and brought it to the main road, where the rest waited with the wagon. On the plantation Br. Haberland unexpectedly met a man who knew him, — a man who some years ago in London carried the love-feast bread to Bloomsbury. The man was very happy, and told the other Brn. that when he saw Br. Haberland it seemed as if he were in heaven. He told us all about himself, and that he had three years still to serve, and he would be most happy to see other of the Brethren. We went five miles further and came to Baumann’s mill, where we bought several bushels of oats, but we had to wait several hours while it was thrashed. Some Germans visited us and we enquired about the way, but they gave us little comfort, saying that beyond Augusti Court House the road was so bad that it was doubtful whether we could travel it. It was five miles from Baumann’s to Justice Funk’s mill, and it was after dark and rather late when we reached there. The outlook was unpromising for a camp for it was pitch dark, and no wood near; but we set up the tent on the mill creek in a pleasant place under a large tree, all went to work to collect wood for the fire, and in a few minutes all was ready. Some people came to see us and wondered much at us. On the way we had lost a sack of oats, so a couple of the Brn. took a lantern and went back and found it. Otherwise we had a good trip to-day; we could plainly see the Blue Mountains on our right. Some high mountains were directly in front of us. Br. Nathanael held the evening service, and then we went to sleep.

Nov. 2.

Photograph of a covered wagon.

As these diary entries illustrate, covered wagon travel presented countless difficulties. Image source. About the photograph

We rose early, having slept little because the smoke troubled us all night. At day-break we crossed the Runoke, which was very low, and not quite so large as the Lecha, but full of slippery stones; and in high water it runs half a mile over the banks. We had much difficulty in getting our sick horses across. A quarter of a mile beyond we came to Evens’ mill, where our road turned to the left and became very narrow. A mile further we came to a steep hill, and the road sloped badly. We soon stuck in a ditch, and were in danger of breaking our axle. In another mile a rather high hill rose before us, and we had to unload half our things and carry them up on our backs, and even then we could hardly get the wagon up. The going down was also steep, we locked two wheels, hung a tree on behind, and all the brethren held back by it; and so we crossed this hill safely. Then we had a mile and a half of good road, and stopped for lunch by a creek. It looked much like rain and there was a large hill before us. We asked a man that we met whether we could get across the hill today and he said “Yes, some one lived on the top, and we could spend the night there.” We believed him and drove to the foot of the hill, crossing a large creek. Then we tried to climb the hill but it was impossible, the hill beging too steep. So we decided to unload and carry the things up the hill. The Brn. Lischer and Pfeil stayed with the wagon, and the rest of us made the ascent. Half way up it began to rain and was hard on us and our horses, but we hoped on the top to find the house of which the man had told us. The time seemed long to us and when we reached the summit neither house nor water was to be found. There was nothing to do but go on down the mountain in the darkness and heavy rain. At last in the valley we found a little creek, having been two and a half hours in crossing the hill. There we made camp as best we might, having much trouble to get a fire, for it was raining heavily and everything was wet. We set up the tent and lay close together on the wet bedding, and rested a little. Toward morning it cleared and was very cold.

Nov. 8.

At daybreak we prepared again for our journey, and carried half our goods to the top of the hill, and even then had much toil and trouble before we got the wagon up, for it was very steep. On the summit we reloaded our goods for the descent. In the valley we crossed a small creek and were scarcely over that when we came to a second hill and had to unload again and carry almost everything to the top, for this was the steepest hill we had yet crossed. We were all glad when we were over it. Going down we locked two wheels, hung a tree on behind, and made the descent safely. People had told us that this hill was most dangerous, and that we would scarcely be able to cross it, for Margan Bryand, the first to travel this way, had to take the wheels off his wagon and carry it piecemeal to the top, and had been three months on the journey from the Shanidore to the Etkin. At the foot of the hill we crossed a large creek with high banks; it runs into Smith’s River close by. We came to a plantation, and the people were kind, and without question showed us the right road, which one mile from here turns to the left, and is less traveled than the one going straight ahead. One mile beyond we came to a rather large creek with such high banks that we hardly knew how to get over it, but with labor and toil we accomplished it safely. We drove two miles further before camping, but the road was very bad, and we stuck fast several times. We set up our tent by a plantation; and today in spite of all our efforts we have advanced only seven miles. It began to rain, and we were all rather damp when we lay down.

Nov. 17.

Photograph of a stone memorial to the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina.

This stone memorial was created in 1806 to mark the site of the Wachovia settlement. Image source. About the photograph

We rose early having had a cold night; it looked much like snow. Some of the Brethren went ahead with axes and grubbing hoes to clear the road and cut down the steep banks of the creeks. One mile from Altem’s we crossed Down Forck Creek, and came to the new road leading across our land to the Etkin. On the right hand side of the creek is a plantation, and the people gave us two sacks of pumpkins and offered us a wagon-full more free of charge. Two miles from our land we crossed Buffler Creek. One mile from our land we stopped for the noon rest. The Brn. Gottlob and Nathanael had gone ahead to the next plantation, which adjoins our land, and the people presented them with a couple of bushels of turnips. At last, at half past twelve, we reached the boundary of our land, whereat we all rejoiced; and there we were met and tenderly welcomed by Br. Gottlob and Br. Nathanael. It touched us, and we thanked our Saviour that He had so graciously led us hither, and had helped us through all the hard places, for no matter how dangerous it looked, nor how little we saw how we could win through, everything always went better than seemed possible. We wished that the dear ones in Bethlehem, now gathered in the Sabbath Lovefeast, could know that we, in less than six weeks, had safely reached our land. We drove three miles further on the new road, then turned to the left and cut a way for two and a half miles to the little house that the Brethren found yesterday. We reached it in the evening and at once took possession of it, finding it large enough that we could all lie down around the walls. We at once made preparation for a little Lovefeast, and rejoiced heartily with one another. Br. Gottlob began the singing with the little verse; —

We hold arrival Lovefeast here,
In Carolina land,
A company of Brethren true,
A little Pilgrim-Band,
Called by the Lord to be of those
Who through the whole world go,
To bear Him witness everywhere,
And nought but Jesus know.

The texts for the day were strikingly appropriate; — “I know where thou dwellest,” — even in a desert place. “Be ye of the same mind one with another.” While we held our Lovefeast the wolves howled loudly, but all was well with us, and our hearts were full of thanksgiving to the Saviour Who had so graciously guided and led us. Then we laid ourselves down to rest, and Br. Gottlob hung his hammock above our heads.

Comments

Br. Christian Seidel

Christian Seidel was a Moravian missionary to the Indians. (A.L.F.)

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"Chor Jünger"

Superintendent or Leader of the Choir, — i.e. the Choir of unmarried men, “Choir” being a division of the congregation, not a group of singers. (A.L.F.)

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love-feast bread

The lovefeast is a traditional Moravian religious service that includes singing, a talk, and the sharing of a simple meal. Its purpose is to strengthen the ties of goodwill and harmony among all people. Most early lovefeasts in colonial America consisted of bread and water, but modern lovefeasts commonly serve sweet buns and coffee.

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serve

Probably three of the five years which the man was bound to serve in return for payment of his passage from England to America. (A.L.F.)

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Augusti Court House

Now Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia. (A.L.F.)

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The going down was also steep, we locked two wheels, hung a tree on behind, and all the brethren held back by it; and so we crossed this hill safely.

The brothers locked two wheels, meaning they prevented them from rolling somehow — possibly by tying them together — so that the wagon wouldn’t get away from them on the steep hill. Hung a tree on behind probably means that they tied the trunk of a tree to the wagon to give themselves something to hold onto as they made their way down the hill.

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Etkin

Yadkin River. (A.L.F.)

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Down Forck

Town Fork. (A.L.F.)

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Sabbath Lovefeast

The Moravians of that day often set apart Saturday afternoon as a preparation for Sunday, — hence “Sabbath” and the Lovefeast. (A.L.F.)

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the little house that the Brethren found yesterday. We reached it in the evening and at once took possession of it, finding it large enough that we could all lie down around the walls

On the site of this house, in Bethabara, or Old Town, a monument was erected in 1806 bearing the inscription: Wachovia settlement, begun the 17th November, 1753. (A.L.F.)

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