Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Moravian Town of Salem, North Carolina

1784 Salem Tavern for the hosting of "strangers"

Arrive in Old Salem, and you know from the Colonial Germanic architecture and living history museum operating alongside a fully accredited university that you’re someplace special. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll learn that the Moravian roots of Salem—part of the modern city of Winston-Salem—make it unique among North Carolina towns.

In 1753, Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg purchased just short of 99,000 acres in the forks of Muddy Creek for the Moravian Church.

Originally known as Unity of the Brethren, the church had been in existence since a Bohemian priest, John Huss, was burned at stake in 1415 for challenging the authority and ethics of the Catholic Church. The Hussite churches were scattered, persecuted, and eventually influenced by Pietism. Bishop John Amos Comenius called the faithful “the hidden seed.” Eventually these people found refuge on the Saxon estate of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, where they practiced communal living. In 1727, a revival sparked the fire of the most comprehensive Protestant mission effort to date. The Moravians established settlements in Pennsylvania, which in turn led to those in North Carolina.
Earliest timbered houses in Salem

The first settlers arrived in the stockade fort of Bethabara in 1753. Residents soon expanded from the fort and outlying farms to a new town, Bethania. In 1765, the location for Salem was chosen. Salem became the seat of church government for the North Carolina settlements and a center for trade and industry in the Southeast.

By the establishment of Salem, Moravians no longer separated all residents into choirs—communal living arranged by age, marital status, and gender—but still provided dorms for single adult men and women. The system offered independence and employment. Children attended boys’ and girls’ schools. The boarding school for girls soon drew scholars from across the Southeast, while the town’s advanced, log-bored plumbing drew George Washington for a 1791 visit. Major decisions were prayed over by the elders, then taken before the lot—a system of drawing a paper that said “yes,” “no,” or blank for “wait”—out of a bowl or tube. Members considered the lot process representative of the will of God as evidenced in Numbers 33 and Acts 1. 

Single Sisters' House
You can learn more in Old Salem: The Official Guidebook, by Penelope Niven.

Can you imagine living in Old Salem? Keep an eye out for my upcoming novel, The Witness Tree, about a marriage of convenience in that very town that leads to an adventure in the Cherokee Nation. It will be published by LPC’s Smitten imprint in September 2019.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s the managing editor for Smitten Romance of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:

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  1. Very interesting! Thanks for the post!

  2. This sounds so interesting. One of my ancestors,Dudley McMillion, is said to have been one of the founding members of Mt. Bethal Moravian Church in Cana Va. Good luck with your upcoming novel!

  3. I didn't read as much about their settlements or how they spread into VA. Interesting! And thank you. I am looking forward to the novel's release.

  4. Love the photo with the Great Wheel! It's similar to mine. :)

  5. Interesting. Thank you for sharing.