The Migration to North Carolina


Prior to 1750, only a few counties had been organized along the eastern coast on North Carolina.  However, between 1750 and the start of the Revolutionary War, Germans and Scotch-Irish, both direct immigrants and transplants from northern colonies, settled the central and western areas. 

The ownership of land presented some complicated problems for a potential purchaser.  Although several surveys had been made, there was no general surveyor who recorded what land was vacant and what was taken.  In addition, patents from the Lord Proprietors were not always registered, making land disputes relatively common.  The General Assembly passed an act in 1748 requiring that all property owners should register their patents within one year or lose claim to the land.  The act helped clarify the issue, but many questions of ownership remained unresolved.

The development of the Moravian colonies closely paralleled the growth of North Carolina.  On 29 Nov 1751 the church accepted 100,000 acres of land in present day North Carolina that was offered to Count Zinzendorf by John, Earl of Granville, President of the Privy Council of England.  Zinzendorf had specifically wanted a large block of land so that the brethren could establish their community in the center and yet allow easy trade with the "outsiders."  Trade with non-Moravians was a key to financial success of any new colony.  The large block, however, would provide a buffer from the less than desirable outsiders, allowing the community to protect the children from undesirable influences.  The block also included a navigable river, a part of Muddy Creek, which would aid in trade.

In Aug 1752 Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg with four followers left Bethlehem (PA) on horseback to Granville's land to survey and search for a block of land.  Spangenberg was the leader of the church in the New World.  By Feb 1753 they had selected 98,895 acres from the empty tracts in a largely uninhabited area.  Many of the inhabitants were squatters who did not register their claims because they would have to pay quitrent.  Most of the native Indians had already started moving west to the mountains to escape the encroaching colonists.

Zinzendorf asked that Lord Granville transfer the land in the newly formed Rowan County with 19 separate deeds even though it was more expensive.  If the church fell behind on its payments, it could give up small tracts rather than losing the entire claim.

On 07 August 1753, a price of ,500 sterling plus ,148 annual quitrent was agreed upon and the 19 separate deeds signed.  The area was named after the Austrian estate der Wachau, or Wachovia, which Count Zinzendorf's family owned.  The deed was made out to James Hutton of London, Secretary of the Unitas Fratrum.  Deeding the land to an "Englishman" was to later cause problems for the group after the Revolution.  Moravia also appeared on the deeds as that was the name of the province in Bohemia from which most settlers had come.  Followers then adopted the name "Moravian" since all the legal records included that name.   

The land was covered with forests and vegetation of all varieties which grew well in the rich soil.  After clearing parts, the soil would grow the wheat and other products to support the colony.  Most of the streams and rivers ran too rapidly, or were too shallow, to be used for transportation.  However, they would provide water power for the new community.

Spangenberg warned that the early colonists would require someone to remain constantly current with the laws of the territory, many of which were new to the Moravians.  Failure to record a marriage, birth or burial with the county recorder or clerk of the church resulted in a fine of one shilling per month.  A settler was fined ,10 for allowing non-residents of Carolina to pasture livestock on his land. 

            A fine of ,5 was assessed for killing a deer between 15 Feb and 15 Jul.  Every third year, landowners had to have their land re-surveyed and registered.  Anyone selling or buying goods from a slave without the master's permission was fined ,6 plus three times the value of the goods.  Assisting a run-away slave resulted in the accused serving the master for five years.  A poll tax gathered by the sheriff was collected for all white men and servants, age 16 to 60.  In order to marry, the groom had to go to Clerk of the Court where the bride lived and pay a ,50 bond to assure that nothing should prevent the marriage.  (This requirement proved to be a blessing for family historians.)

Though there was a county, it did not yet have an organized government.  The construction of a jail and courthouse had been authorized, but no site had been selected.  From the beginning, Wachovia was envisioned as a theocracy, with the church controlling most aspects of daily community life.

The first group of ten single men left Bethlehem (PA.) on 08 Oct 1753, arriving 17 November 1753 at the new colony.  They were to establish the agricultural community of Bethabara, or "House of Passage" in Hebrew, which was then to be used to support the construction of Wachovia's Gemeine Ort (a settlement congregation where only church members were allowed to reside)  The settlement was later named Salem, or "peace" in Hebrew.  Bethabara was intended as a settlement colony which would be a "house of passage" during the construction of Salem.

Of these ten, only one had been born in America.  These colonists were selected in part on the diversity of their professions as they would have to be totally self-sufficient.  Their job was to prepare the way for more settlers.  They had to clear some land, plant corn and other crops, purchase cattle, and build shelter.  Eventually they were to start the construction of a Moravian community surrounded by Moravian farms.  Each household was to receive 2,000 acres but had to remain there for five years.  This area would be encircled by non-Moravian investors/settlers who would help protect the community as well as serve as a market for community products.

In order to move to Wachovia, each individual had to be selected.  The elders reviewed qualifications, and if they were agreeable, they then consulted the Lot to learn God's will.  Each new member had to be in good standing and firmly committed to the faith.  The elders had the final decision where new members lived, what they did in the community, who they would marry and other important decisions.  It was important that the new colonist would accept this highly structured life.  Because of the earlier persecutions, it was also important to create a strong Moravian enclave and keep it as isolated as possible from the "foreign" ways.  As with most Moravian communities, non-Moravians were allowed to stay in the tavern away from the center of the village.  The tavern was usually off-limits to members, and was run by a spiritually strong individual or couple in order to resist the outsiders' ways.  Most goods for sale to outsiders were collected in the Gemeine Ort to minimize member contact with outsiders.

These early colonies kept detailed diaries of all aspects of their lives, since they believed that they were creating history.  It was also important to have correct records to facilitate communication between widely dispersed settlements and with the central Church Boards in Europe.  Copies of local records were often sent to other congregations where there were publicly read and also sent to Europe.  The spiritual leader of each community kept a close eye on everyone, making periodic reports.  If one moved from one community to another, a copy of their personal reports went to the new community.

By 1755 there were unmarried 33 men in the village of Bethabara.  After this date, established families and unmarried women were allowed into the community.  Many families left their children in Pennsylvania as children were a economic drain on the colony, and Wachovia was not the safest place for small children.  These new settlers were often skilled craftsmen rather than the rough individuals who originally settle the area.  The church provided members with housing in communal buildings based on age, sex and occupation.  In addition, they received a subsistence wage.  Only members of the Moravian Church were allowed to participate in communal life and burial in the communal cemetery, God's Acre.

A stockade of long stakes surrounded the community.  The back walls of several houses formed parts of the stockade to save building costs.  Because of the danger from hostile Indians, the stockade was often of great importance to community and to members who lived outside the stockade.  In addition, non-Movarian settlers often flooded the town in times of Indian trouble.


The temporary community of Bethabara was shelter while they were build the main community of Salem, which was finally started on 06 Jan 1766 (and established as a thriving town by 1772).  However, Bethabara became so crowded because of its trade and people fleeing the violence in Pennsylvania caused by the French and Indian Wars that a second community Bethania was established 12 Jun 1759 about three miles from Bethabara, with 32 lots and 2,000 acres of land for the community's use.  Eight married couples volunteered, but this was not a large enough group to provide for their own defense from the Cherokee Indian attacks which had become more frequent.  At first they rode back and forth between Bethabara and Bethania, sleeping in Bethabara at night for safety. 


Later, contrary to prevailing tradition, a few selected non-Moravians were allowed to also settle in Bethania to help protect the community.  Many of them eventually became members.

German was the predominate language of the two communities.  The congregation diaries, most services and much daily interaction took place in German.  Many members understood English, but for most, it was a second language.

Bethania was a rural congregation (Landgemeine) while Salem and Bethabara were urban congregations (Stadtgemeine).

Most of the surrounding settlers were subsistence farmers who had to depend on goods imported from England or the northern cities such as New York.  The Moravians found an active market for their pottery, ironware, tinware, tobacco, leather-goods, flour, cloth and furniture.  The community became widely-known for the quality of their goods.  The goods not sold locally were loaded into wagons and taken via rough trails to the coastal cities where they were traded for tea, coffee, glassware, books, iron, steel, and other products not made in the area.

Typical crops of the settlements were beans, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, field and garden peas, rhubarb, turnips, garlic, lettuce, cress, pumpkins, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, horse-radish, watermelons, muskmelons, parsnips, radishes, mustard, peppers, chives, spinach, asparagus, salsify, onions, hops, grapes, currants, flax, hemp, eight kinds of grain, cotton, tobacco, and gourds (Fries, Adelaide, Road to Salem).  Coffee, chocolate, sugar, spices and other exotic goods had to be imported.

The community of Salem (NC), like those in Bethlehem, Lititz, and Nazareth (PA), were communal societies.  The church owned all the property and businesses.  Most new settlers in Wachovia were part of the Oeconomy.  Members were to deposit their cash into the Oeconomy.  They could keep whatever possessions they had brought with them, however.  In return they received their basic needs from the community stores, including food, clothing, medical care, and shelter, either in dormitory-style housing for the unmarried and widowed or single family homes.

Most shops were owned by the community, but operated by members.  Early Salem had a tavern, general store, mill, pottery, and tannery.  In order to enter a new business, the businessman had to obtain permission the sell the product.  Permission was denied if the sale of the product would interfere with the livelihood of another resident.  Every member expected to make a fair living from his craft, so the numbers of craftsmen per trade were matched to the demand to insure that the craftsman could make a living.  Even for those who produced goods, prices were strictly controlled.  The community resembled a company town, with the board deciding how to use the labor force available.  

A guild system to train apprentices was the main vocational training program.  The seven year apprenticeship in Wachovia guaranteed a very high quality of goods from its craftsmen.

Most communities had a public inn to isolate the outsiders from the members.  Since trade was an important element of the Moravian prosperity, the inn was usually quite busy.  Outsiders could purchase goods from the community establishment which offered a selection of all the goods from the local craftsmen, further limiting contact between outsiders and members.

The community was governed by the Aufseher Collegium [Board of Overseers] who were elected by the adult male members of the church.  At the head of the board was the Deacon, called the "Warden," who oversaw the entire community.  On business of importance, a general meeting of all the adult male members was called.  The board was responsible for regulating craftsmen and trades, overseeing the finances of the congregation, controlling competition, and being watchful of the behavior of members.  No one was allowed to build a house, change occupations, or even have an overnight guest without first having permission.  People were expected to buy nothing outside the community that could be purchased there.  In return strict rules against profiteering were enforced.

The community also provided day school for all children from an early age so that members could pursue their trades and crafts.  The children attended at least five days a week, with schooling in the morning and supervised activities in the afternoon.  Schooling was very important for the Moravians, who also provided schooling for children of outlying districts. 

This tightly controlled community was necessary for the survival in the wilderness.  However, as the area became more developed, the need for such a rigid lifestyle became less necessary and less desirable to the members of the congregation itself.

In 1771, it was decided to divide Rowan County, which contained Wachovia, into three separate counties.  However, the dividing line went through Wachovia, dividing the land into separate counties.  The Moravian leaders objected, and a decision was dragged on until 1773 when new lines were drawn, putting all of Wachovia in Surry County.

In Apr 1772 Salem officially became Wachovia's Gemeine Ort, ending the colonial era of Wachovia.  The majority of the residents of Bethabara moved to the new city.  At the close of the year Salem had 38 married couples, two widows, 43 single men and boys, 22 single women and girls, and 15 children for a total population of 120 people.

Music was important to the church.  The early members at Wachovia were overjoyed when a Single Brethren created a new trumpet from a hollow tree on 23 Feb 1754.  They later added trombones, French horns, violins and flutes.  The organ was also an important addition to the musical choir.

Life in the early colonies was indeed difficult.  A typical household of 1750 might have contained the following:

cross cut saw

2 hand mills

1 pair mill stones

15 sides of tan'd leather

2 water pales

2 piggons

5 iron potts

1 scimer

1 pr of flesh forks

3 pr of pott hooks

2 pr of pott tramels

1 copper tee kittel

1 iron spitt

1 stone butter pott

1 new saddel

2 bridels

6 chyme sasors

1 flax hackel

1 pr of stillard

1 pr sheep shears

1 flack brake

1 weaving loom

1 small ink jug

1 spaid

1 chesel

1 frow

3 old hogsheads

3 old barrels

1 sypering slate

1 large cannue

1 dowling stock and bitt

1 round shave

2 coopers joyners

2 drawing knives

1 pr cooper's compass

1 grubing hoe

2 hilling hoes

2 hectors

1 box iron

12 plates pewter

1 small supe dish

4 flatt dishes


3 stays

4 guns

3 linnen wheels

4 bed steeds

1 coffee mill

1 dozen black chears

3 boasters

3 rugs

3 tabels

3 feather beds

1 pr silver hoe buckels

1 old rackoon hat

1 caster (beaver-skin) hat

2 country cloath vests

2 old awgers

1 branding iron

1 metal sifter

1 whitne coat

1 pr Duroys breeches

3 gallon basons

1 pr warping bars and boxes