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Last Updated 05/24/00

Foreword to Records of the Moravians
in North Carolina


Records of the Moravians in North Carolina , published in eleven volumes by the North Carolina Historical Commission from 1922 to 1969, is a rich mine of information about the colony and state. The series spans the years 1752 to 1879, and the documents appearing in it are from the voluminous archives of the Moravian Church in America, Southern Province, in Winston-Salem. The material deals with the life of the churches established in the Wachovia Tract, and also with the wider secular world in which the church existed. It is from the latter that most of the selections in the Out-of-Print Bookshelf are drawn.

In the following, the annotation and other matter provided by Adelaide L. Fries (editor of the first seven volumes) are enclosed within brackets. The extract is from Volume I, pp. 11-69.


[The history of the Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church, should never be studied as a thing apart, for always its members have been citizens of some great nation of the earth, influencing and being influenced by the events of their day and generation. John Hus, the hero and martyr of Bohemia, did not stand alone in the XVth Century struggle for pure religion. In his own land he was preceded by at least three less known men, and across the continent “he Morning Star of the Reformation” had begun his translation of the Gospels into the common speech nine years before Hus was born.

How much or how little the Bohemian Hus was influenced by the English Wyclif will never be known,—their homes were farther apart than men of the present day can realize,—but both Wyclif and Hus lived in a world gory with the blood of battle, scourged by pestilence, bitter with strife between those who claimed to be the leaders of the Church of God. Wyclif was twenty-two when the battle Crécy was fought, as the English kings began their century-long attempt to gain the throne of France; he was twenty-four when the Black Plague terrified men as war had never done, and led at least some of them to question the relation of man to his Creator; and in the same year in which the Plague swept England Charles IV of Bohemia established the University of Prague.

It was only sixty-nine years from the battle of Crécy to that of Agincourt, but within that period the Swiss Confederacy took shape; Wyclif finished his translation of the Bible, and passed to his reward; the English language, which Wyclif incidentally had done much to formulate, became the medium for Chaucer’s poetic expression; John Hus was born, labored, and passed to his fiery end; and rival popes thundered anathemas and excommunications at one another from Rome and Avignon.

And in the condition of the Church as revealed in that last sentence lies the whole reason, humanly speaking, for the existence of the Moravian Church. John Hus was bred a Roman Catholic, and taught to pay all reverence to its priesthood and decrees; he rejoiced in the commanding position then held by Bohemia, whose king was also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and therefore head of all the German States; he eagerly availed himself of the opportunities offered by the University of Prague, then thronged by students from all central Europe, and himself became a professor there. Then he took orders, and saw Church affairs from the inside,—and his eyes were opened to the faithlessness of popes and priests to practically all the laws and doctrines laid down in Holy Writ. He pled and preached, he argued and denounced, he begged his Church to return to its early simplicity and faith and love, but all in vain. His enemies could not meet his challenge to prove him wrong by the Bible, but they could and did imprison him, excommunicate him, and send him heavenward by way of the stake.

But as they had failed to make Hus recant, even so his enemies failed to end his influence. Hus never tried to gain a hearing at the point of the sword, but Bohemia, wild with indignation at the violation of the ‘safe conduct’ under which Hus had gone to the Council at Constance, flew to arms, and while the Hussite Wars were probably as much political as religious, a little was gained in the way of reform.

And some there were in whose heart the message of Hus had taken deeper root, and to them it was given to found a Church along the lines that he had indicated. Like Hus these men cared much less for dogma than for doing; they wanted a creed that agreed with the doctrines set forth in the Bible, but they wanted much more to have their lives measure up to the ideal set before them in the Scriptures. At first they had no thought of separation from the Roman Church; but when the existence of their organization and their religious independence came to depend upon securing for themselves a ministry of acknowledged standing, they took the necessary steps, and in 1467 secured episcopal consecration for three of the priests who had joined their company. Then came persecution; then success; and by the end of the sixteenth century the Unitas Fratrum was the leading Protestant Church in Bohemia, and through the Unity’s schools Bohemia had become the best educated country in Europe.

But the tide turned, and in November, 1620, the Protestants of Bohemia were utterly defeated in battle by the Romanists. It is proof of the leading position occupied by the Brethren that when the storm of vengeance had spent itself, and terms of a sort were made with other divisions of the vanquished, the Unity was utterly denied consideration, and in Bohemia was practically annihilated. It persisted for a while in Poland and Moravia, but there, too, relentless persecution ultimately crushed organization, though traditions of the Unitas Fratrum were cherished in secret, and were committed as precious heirlooms to children and children’s children, the “Hidden Seed” of the Unity of Brethren.

In the eighteenth century there again arose a Unitas Fratrum from this “Hidden Seed.” Descendants of the Ancient Unity emigrated, in 1722, from Moravia to Saxony, settling on the estates of Count Zinzendorf, a pious young Lutheran nobleman, and there, in 1727, the Unitas Fratrum was reorganized, even to its ministry, the episcopate having been carefully maintained even when there seemed no human possibility of the renewal of the Unity of Brethren.

The Unitas Fratrum of the eighteenth century was therefore heir to the traditions of Hus and the early Brethren, with their insistence on the need for practical religion, vital in the everyday life of everyday men, women, and children; and to this was added the spirit of warm-hearted, whole-souled devotion, poured out upon them by Count Zinzendorf, who, after careful study, threw himself unreservedly into their cause, becoming their generous patron and much-loved leader. “I have but one passion, and that is Christ,” said Zinzendorf; and the Moravians—as they were often called from the birthplace of the emigrants of 1722—kept pace with him in fervent devotion, and in the giving of themselves to the service of their Brethren and of the world. “Service” was the keynote of their lives, and they had the unusual clearness of vision to see that needed service was important service, and that the man who made the shoes and the man who wore them to some distant mission field together served the cause of the Lord.

By this time the world had greatly changed. North America had been discovered and partly colonized; Mexico and Peru had drawn many an eager adventurer and seeker after gold. Spain had risen and fallen; France had massacred her Huguenots; England had been ruled by Queen Elizabeth, and had seen the brilliant soldiers, sailors, statesmen, writers, who surrounded her. North Central Europe was divided into numerous Marks, Duchies, and Kingdoms, with Prussia coming into a position of leadership. Savonarola, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and many another had taken their share in the struggle for Biblical religion, and the right of the Protestants to worship God as they saw fit could not longer be denied. The University of Halle had become the center of the so-called Pietistic movement, and there were many in Saxony and adjoining provinces who could appreciate the doctrines of the Unitas Fratrum, and not a few eagerly sought admission into their company.

But even in Saxony there were those who could not bear to see the success of others, and, as the Unitas Fratrum grew in numbers and influence, opposition increased, and for a while it looked as though the Moravians, and those who joined them, would be forced to seek another home. Influenced partly by this, and partly by their interest in the heathen, Zinzendorf and the Moravians secured from the Trustees of the Colony of Georgia a grant of land, including two lots in the town of Savannah.

The settlement in Savannah, 1735-1740, is interesting from three points of view: (1) the community of labor and finance, whereby the Moravian colonists, in these five years, supported themselves and repaid the money borrowed to cover the expenses of the journey thither; (2) their missionary labors among the neighboring Indians and an attempt to reach the negroes of South Carolina; (3) the association of the Brethren with John Wesley, and his co-workers, with its influence on the life of the great Methodist, and on the work of the Moravians in England. The mission to the Indians was interrupted by the war between England and Spain, for Georgia was the frontier between the English Colonies and Spanish Florida, and when hostilities began the Indians became restless and left the region where the mission had been started. The war also drove the Moravians from Savannah, for, like the Quakers, the Brethren of that day were conscientiously opposed to bearing arms, while the other residents of the town refused to allow them the exemption from military service promised by the Trustees of Georgia. It was hard to leave the property just freed from debt, but rather than be false to their faith they went, reaching Pennsylvania in time to help with the beginnings there.

The early settlement in Pennsylvania also had three characteristics of interest: (1) the wide-spread mission work among the Indians; (2) the home-mission work among the white settlers of the Colony; and again (3) the common labor for the common good that made these enterprises possible. Once more difficulties arose from misunderstandings on the part of the people among whom they lived; but these troubles passed, this settlement became permanent, and the Brethren won the reputation of being desirable settlers.

This good name led John, Lord Carteret, Earl Granville, to suggest that the Brethren buy from him such land as they desired in North Carolina, and there begin another settlement. The leaders were considering the establishment of another center, which should be free from the interferences that were annoying them in Pennsylvania, and after considering several proposals they decided to accept that of Lord Granville, and to purchase from him one hundred thousand acres in North Carolina.

In the fall of 1752, therefore, Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg, then stationed in Bethlehem, Pa., went to North Carolina to look over the Granville territory and select the land. The Granville property was part of the large grant made in 1663 by Charles II to eight English Lords, “the Lords Proprietors of Carolina.” In 1728 the heirs to seven of the eight equal undivided shares decided to sell their interests to the Crown, but Lord Carteret, later Earl Granville, preferred to retain his, and in 1744 it was laid off for him, the northern boundary being Virginia, the southern a line which still divides Moore, Montgomery, Stanly, and Cabarrus counties from Randolph, Davidson, Rowan, and Iredell, the eastern the Atlantic Ocean, and the western indefinite, nominally the confines of the continent. Granville, like the Crown, maintained his land-offices in Carolina, and sold for a stipulated amount down, and an annual quit-rent. The Wachovia Tract, selected by Bishop Spangenberg and purchased by the Unitas Fratrum, contained 98,985 acres, cost £500 sterling down, and an annual quit-rent of £148 9s, 2 ½d.

The colonists who came to Wachovia in November, 1753, were selected, in part at least, with a view to their trades and professions, so that, conjointly, they were well fitted to establish a settlement in the heart of the wilderness, and make it a center of service to neighbors for eighty miles around. The original plan was to place the Brethren on contiguous farms, where the raising of crops and cattle would furnish the means of a livelihood—the “patriarchal plan” Spangenberg called it—but after seeing the country he advised against this, and in favor of the community of effort which has been so successful in Georgia and Pennsylvania. Therefore, in addition (1) to service of their neighbors, the first colonists in Wachovia were instructed (2) to establish a town where the Moravian ideals of Christian living might be practically realized. Their plan (3) to preach the Gospel to the Indians failed of fulfillment, largely because of the war in which the Red Men were driven westward beyond their reach; but in later years a mission among the Cherokees of Georgia was conducted from Salem.

The Moravian Brethren had a habit of keeping careful daily records—partly, perhaps, an inheritance from the scholarly days of the ancient Unitas Fratrum, but more because of the strong desire for correct information about, and constant communication between, the widely scattered portions of the Unity. Copies of the Wachovia records were sent to Bethlehem, Pa., and to the central Church Boards in Germany, but the originals were kept at home, and are now in the Salem Archives. They afford wonderfully interesting material for a study of events, conditions, the habits of life and thought, of bygone days, and from them the following pages are drawn. When not otherwise indicated, they are translated from the original German.]

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