If you have an ancestor who was living in the Piedmont area of North Carolina during the 18th century, you can rest assure, your ancestor associated with the Moravians or was a member of the Moravian church. This religious group traveled from Pennsylvania in 1753 and purchased 100,000 acres of land in North Carolina. Their first settlement was established in Bethabara in the year of 1754. By 1759, Bethania had been established near the Great Wagon Road which allowed travelers to stop at the small village and trade goods, spend the night and make new acquaintances. During these years, the French and Indian War was creating turmoil in the area. Many families sought refuge within the barriers of Bethabara and Bethania during this time. Other communities were Salem in 1766, Friedberg, organized in 1773, Friedland in 1780 and Hope in 1780.
The Moravians were industrious, hard working and eager to share their religious beliefs with anyone who was willing to listen. All of the settlements were equipped with several businesses that traded various goods needed by the settlers. There were potters, blacksmiths, tailors, wheelwrights, bakers, taverns and doctors. The Moravians used The Great Wagon Road during the 18th century to travel back and forth to Pennsylvania and transport several items back to the Carolina settlements. They would also travel south to Fayetteville and Charleston, South Carolina. Gottlieb Kramer(Cromer), son of Adam Kramer worked for his father, a tailor by trade, and he would also transport goods back and forth via wagon. The settlers depended on the Moravians just as the Moravians depended on the early settlers. Together, they populated and grew the surrounding areas into large towns and communities.
The Moravians had strict rules in order to join their churches and become a member. Majority of the early settlers did not wish to join, but they needed the Moravians to purchase their crops or trade for needed supplies. The settlers also needed the Moravian doctors to attend to the sick which at times included not only the family members but the livestock as well. The Moravian settlements were the center of 18th century living in North Carolina.
The records of the Moravians portray life during this time vividly and with great detail. The Moravian Archives Southern Province located in Winston-Salem, NC houses thousands upon thousands of records, diaries and journals dating back to 1753. These records contain data on all citizens living in the area and has proven to be a vital asset within my own personal genealogy research. The primary language among the settlements at the beginning was German, but as the years went by, English was spoken everywhere but during church services by the end of the 18th century. So, some of the records may be in old German dialect, but are searchable through the catalog database. The National Moravian Archives are located in Bethlehem, PA and hold all records pertaining to the Moravian church located in the northern region. The online website guides you through the process of researching their vast amount of records. The Moravian Historical Society is affiliated with the Northern Province Archives and together work hard on preserving the history of the Moravian beliefs and customs.
“Felix Motsinger with a wagon full of turnips to trade. Allotted sugar.” Entry dated January 15th, 1773. The above is a translation from the tavern ledger book of Salem. Another entry: “Mary Hensen arrived from South Carolina wishing to join the brethern. She is an orphan and has nowhere else to turn.” Entry dated spring of 1783. I later located a reference to the same Mary Hensen that she was allowed to become a member of the church. Mary married and moved away from Bethania and lived her remaining days in the Meadows area of Stokes County. These are actual documents that I have collected through the years from the archives. Felix Motsinger was not a member of the church, but he was active within the Moravian settlements. According to the catalog, Felix was documented over 20 times in various journals and documents. This is a prime example of how the Moravians documented their daily activities. Without this vital information, many details of our ancestor’s lives would be forever lost.
The original Wachovia tract pictured earlier, portrays the exact location of the land purchase. In present day, the north line lies within the heart of Rural Hall, the south borders present day Forsyth County line with the east ending at Walkertown and the west ending at Muddy Creek in Clemmons. If you can trace your ancestor to the surrounding area, chances are the Moravian Archives has information pertaining to them.
During the year of 1756, Indian uprisings occurred all throughout the area and many families living near Bethabara took refuge in the settlement. These families were living west of the Muddy Creek and north into present day Stokes and Surry counties. A typhus epidemic occurred during the summer of 1759 and killed many settlers all throughout the area. Moravian ministers were summoned often to conduct funerals and assist in burying the dead. There were also families located south and to the east in present day Guilford county. The majority traveled the Warrior’s Path from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia. Nearly every settler stopped at Bethabara between the years of 1755 to 1759. When Bethania came into existence, Bethabara became a small rural farming community. Bethania was located right on the path of the Great Wagon Road, present day Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem and allowed settlers to stock up on supplies, spend the night and gather local news before heading to their destinations.
Friedberg is located in the northern section of Davidson County. The majority of these members arrived from Broadbay, Maine and were German descent. Friedland is located in Winston-Salem, just south of present day I-40 and High Point Road. Hope is located just east of the Yadkin River near present day Clemmons.
According to the Moravian diaries, no settlers were documented along the Yadkin River prior to 1752. That is not to say that no settlers can be found living in the Yadkin area during the time before 1752. The Moravians noted no settlers when traveling through the area in search for your desired property. Indian parties hunted these grounds and some of their artifacts can still be found today. Settlers who were not members of the Moravian church and settled west of the Wachovia tract are as follows. William Johnson-1757-600 acres, Evan Ellis-1758-651 acres, George McKnight-1762-611 acres, these names were among the largest tracts at that time. Other surnames were Long, Phillips, Matzinger, Teague, Rothrock, Kerner, Tesh, Weavil, Bodenhamer, Green, Collett, Iams, Dean, Crews, Dorsett, Braun, Valentine, Waggoner, Smith and Reid. These settlers arrived prior to 1770.
The Moravian history of North Carolina affected our ancestor’s daily lives, whether it was trading crops for supplies, seeking medical assistance with the sick or requesting a sermon in someone’s house. The Moravians influenced the culture and the population of the area. Their presence enticed others to follow and settle in North Carolina. By early 19th century, many of the original Moravian customs were abolished such as allowing the church to determine who marries and what job you would have in the community. But, many of the original customs still exist today. For instance, all married women are buried along side of each other as well as married men are buried near other married men. Small boys with small boys and single men buried with other single men. Many Easter Sunrise Services were newsworthy due to the turnout by so many people during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Old Salem, of Winston-Salem offers tours in the 18th century village and the smell of fresh baked bread fills the streets from Winkler Bakery.
As a researcher of genealogy, I am so thankful for the precise record keeping of the 18th century Moravian church. They preserved our history with such vivid detail that it brings the past to the future. Don’t limit yourself on your search, visit the areas of your ancestors and contact local churches. You never know, you just might locate the missing link from your family tree. As always, Thank You all so much for your support and I wish you well on your research. Enjoy your journey!!
Categories: American Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania
Thank you so much for such an interesting and very helpful article.
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How can the records be accessed, Felix Motsinger, in the above article is my direct ancestor?
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Mark, you will have to make an appointment with the Southern Moravian Archives located in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, NC.