The Moravians in the New World


In 1732 the first Moravian missionaries traveled to St. Thomas in the West Indies.  Later missions were established in Greenland, South America, South and West Africa, India, the Near East, Russia, and the Indians of North America.

The Moravians were a part of a growing number of religious groups seeking freedom of worship.  The Dunkards, Mennonites, Moravians, Schwenkfelders were all lumped together under the title of "plain people."

From the trustees of Georgia, Count Zinzendorf obtained a grant of 500 acres of land on the Ogeeche River while Spangenberg received a grant of 50 acres, forming part of the present day site of Savannah.  The first Moravian immigrant to come to America was George Boehnisch, who arrived in Sep 1734 with the Schwenkfelders to Pennsylvania.  In March of the next year ten Moravians arrived aboard the ship Two Brothers in Savannah, GA.  John Wesley lived here in the new colony for two years until his return to England.  Their day began at 5 a.m. with worship followed by breakfast.  They regathered at noon for their meal followed by the study of a passage of scripture.  Each evening at 8:00 a Singstunde was held, with consisted primarily of singing and meditation.       

However in 1737 the Spaniards of Florida tried to expel the English Colonists from Georgia.  Georgia was the frontier between the English colonies to the north and Spanish Florida.  The colonists of Georgia and the English crown called upon them to take up arms against the Spaniards, which the Moravians refused since they had declared in London "that they neither could nor would bear arms on any consideration."  Most of the colonists, including the Moravians, were shipped back to England. The ten remaining Moravians returned to Philadelphia, PA. in the sloop of George Whitefield, an evangelist and friend of John Wesley.

In Apr 1740 Whitefield invited them to settle on 5,000 acres on the forks of the Delaware (presently Northampton County) that he had purchased to start a school for blacks.  They arrived on 30 May 1740.  They were to help with the building of the school.  By Nov, Whitefield was angered because he could not convince the settlers to accept the doctrine of predestination.  Whitefield asked them to leave immediately, but later allowed them to stay the winter.  After laying the foundations for the school, Whitefield suffered financial losses, so he sold the tract to the Peter Boehler and the Moravians in 1741.  The new community of Nazareth was to be the "Patriarch's Community," with mostly farmers who labored for the church and common treasury.  

On 30 Nov 1741 Count Zinzendorf, his daughter, and six other followers arrived in New York.  They continued to Philadelphia where they purchased 500 acres of land in the present Northampton Co., PA. ten miles south of Whitefield's land.  The settlers started building a second new settlement of Bethlehem.  On Christmas Eve 1741 Zinzendorf selected Bethlehem and Nazareth as the new names for both of these early Pennsylvania settlements.  

The settlement had three characteristics: 1.) mission work among the Indians  2.) ministering to the spiritual and educational needs of the Indians and white settlers, especially Germans who had no local spiritual leaders 3.) a community based on common labor for the common good.  In return for the fruits of this labor, each member would receive food, clothing, shelter and spiritual guidance.

Bethlehem was the "Pilgrim Congregation" with mostly ministers, missionaries, and ministerial students as it was to be the center for the mission to convert the Indians, which proved successful.  When the Indians led by Pontiac swept into eastern Pennsylvania, burning and killing, the Indians converted by the Moravians were the only ones who did not join the revolt. 

A settler in both of these colonies lived in close quarters in a frugal manner, giving up individual rights.  These and later colonies were "closed" with the land and businesses owned and controlled by the church.  The church was communal in nature, with everyone living, working, and eating together.  Profits from the community provided money for the missions. 

On 25 Jun 1742, Bethlehem was converted to a church settlement because of the number of new settlers arriving in America.  Nazareth was primarily an agricultural community while Bethlehem was a commercial center.

            Back in Europe, the "First Sea Congregation" and the "Second Sea Congregation" were organized to settle the new lands.  The "First Sea Congregation" arrived in Philadelphia on 07 Jul 1742.  They were settled in Bethlehem and Nazareth.  The church provided ships, with most of the crew being Moravian in order to spare the travelers from dangerous influences during the long sea voyage.  The church had four ships, Catherine, Little, Strength, and Hope. 

The demand for colonists in Pennsylvania was growing, so Captain Nicholas Garrison was sent to New York to oversee the construction of a new ship.  Jan Van Deventer was contracted to build the hull, make and set the masts and rig the ship.  The rigging, cables, and anchors were to be purchased in England.  On 29 May 1748 at 11 a.m., the ship was christened as the Irene and launched.  In honor of the event, Bishop Spangenberg gave the builder's wife a new gown.  On 08 Sep 1748 the ship left on its maiden voyage to Amsterdam.  During the nine years that the Irene was owned by the church, she crossed the Atlantic 24 times, sailing between New York and England or Holland with one trip to Greenland.  The ship always landed in New York rather than Philadelphia, which would have actually been closer, because the captain was from New York and could more easily obtain freight to pay for the return trip to Europe.  On 20 Nov 1857 Irene sail for her 14th voyage.  She was captured by French privateers on 30 Nov 1757.  On the way to Louisburg, French Canada, the crew ran the ship aground and she sank.  The French crew was unfamiliar with the ship.

In 1762, the community of Bethlehem was reorganized, dissolving the communal economy.  Each family had to support itself.  Married members, who had previously lived with their respective choir group rather than their spouse, were reunited and their children were returned to the care of the family.