The religious denomination known today as the Church of the Brethren began in Germany in 1708 as the German Baptist Brethren, or more simply, Brethren. Religious persecution brought many Brethren to the colonies, with early congregations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Like the Moravians from the same areas, the Brethren moved to North Carolina to take advantage of the available land.
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The epithet of Dunkers for this group appears to have developed from their form of full-immersion baptism. The German word for baptism by immersion is “tunken” and those who practiced it were “Tunkers”. With the Moravians also calling themselves Brethren, outsiders tended to refer to the German Baptist Brethren as Tunkers. An early history of Baptists in the colonies (1772) describes Tunker Baptists. Eventually in America the German “T” became a “D” and thus the Brethren became known as Dunkers. Due to their own lack of recordkeeping and their proximity to the Moravians, who also went by the name Brethren, members of the German Baptist Brethren were recorded in early accounts as Dunkers or Dunkards to differentiate them from their neighbors.
Morgan Edwards’s 1772 study of the Baptists described three Tunker Baptist congregations in North Carolina. The geographical information about the Tunkers, or Brethren, is vague. This can be attributed, at least partly, to the early Brethren’s tendencies to congregate in member’s homes rather than in meeting houses, as they would later call their churches. While there were men identified in Moravian records as Dunkers in 1752, the first evidence of an ordained minister in the colony participating in a Brethren baptism dates to 1775.
The congregation that grew out of the group at that baptism was the Fraternity Church of the Brethren near the Middle Fork of Muddy Creek in what is now Forsyth County. Isaac Faw (Pfau) is considered to be the congregation’s earliest leader, having assumed complete responsibility for the settlement by 1810. That the congregation, now known as the Fraternity Church of the Brethren, is still active today is attributed in part to Faw’s direction.
Morgan Edwards, Materials towards a History of the Baptists in the Provinces of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (1772)
Roger E. Sappington, “Dunker Beginnings in North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1969): 214-238
Roger E. Sappington, “Two Eighteenth Century Dunker Congregations in North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1970): 176-204
Fraternity Church of the Brethren website: http://www.cob-net.org/church/fraternity/
Fraternity Church of the Brethren