north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     The history of Moravians in America begins in 1735 when a settlement was established at Savannah, Georgia. For a few years, the Moravian settlers were missionaries to the Indians living in the area but the community did not thrive. The first permanent Moravian colony was founded at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1741. In 1752, a surveying party led by Bishop August Spangenberg traveled south down the Great Wagon Road in search of a large tract of available land suitable for farming. They selected a 100,000-acre tract of land in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. On November 17, 1753, fifteen Moravian men from Pennsylvania arrived in present-day Forsyth County on the land they called Wachau (or Wachovia). Bethabara was the first community built in Wachovia. Bethabara means “House of Passage,” which was appropriate as Bethabara was intended to be a temporary settlement.

     By the end of 1756, the settlers had built a church, gristmill, saw mill, tannery, pottery, distillery, and other crafts shops. The gristmill was the largest and most important in the backcountry of North Carolina. People traveled from as far as sixty miles away to trade at the mill at Bethabara. To protect themselves from threats during the French and Indian War, the people fortified the colony with palisades. In 1758, over 200 settlers, Moravian and non-Moravian alike, took refuge at Bethabara to escape the violence. The fort also served as a haven during Cherokee attacks of 1760. During the War of the Regulation, Governor Tryon’s army defeated the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance. Tryon’s army camped in Bethabara for a week after their victory. Bethabara also provided a strategic supply and camping area during the Revolutionary War.

     In 1766, the Moravians began building a town called Salem in the center of the Wachovia Tract. By 1772, most essential buildings had been built and industries transferred to the new town. Subsequently, Bethabara’s population dropped from 104 to fifty-four. The Moravians continued to operate the mill at its Bethabara location until they sold it in 1814. As Bethabara dwindled from a central town to farmland, it came to be called Old Town. Today visitors can visit Historic Bethabara Park to get a glimpse of what this early community looked like. The park includes two of the community’s original buildings, excavated structural foundations, and reconstructed palisades.


References:
Historic Bethabara Park Website: http://www.bethabarapark.org/moravian.htm
Blackwell Robinson, The North Carolina Guide (1955)
William S. Powell, North Carolina Gazetteer (1968)

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Bethabara

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