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
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
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
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
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
Congregation" and the "Second
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