Friday, February 26, 2010

Moravians: First Carbon Settlement 1746

Today I hope to give a quick overview of the first settlement of Carbon County. Though I could go on and on here today, (ask any 5th grader at Lehighton Middle school for my propensity to do just that) the rest of this fascinating story will be touched upon in the future.
Most people are familiar with the notion of how many of our ancestors, the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England, the Quakers of Philadelphia with William Penn and Roman Catholics with Lord Baltimore, came to escape the persecution of church-states back in Europe.

(Photo: Earliest known sketch of the settlement by a man named Garrison c. 1749, discovered at Zinzendorf's Herrnhut estate.)
Same can be said of the Moravians. Though not persecuted by the Lutherans, they separated themselves from the other protestant faiths of Germany. They were an industrious, family-based faith that went forth as missionaries. Many sought sanctuary on the estate of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf of Saxony and in time, were drawn to the New World to spread their message.
Count Zinzendorf and his followers first started a settlement in Georgia in 1735 and by 1741, more in Pennsylvania. They established the settlement of Nazareth and later Bethlehem along the course of the Lehigh River, so named becuase of their arrival there on Christmas Eve. The Moravians were also musically talented, a legacy that lasts to this day as evidenced in the Bach Choir, Music Fest and Martin Guitar.
Zinzendorf left no grass grow beneath his feet and out into the back country he explored in search of Native souls to save, establishing friendly relations with those he met. One night settling down after dark, he awoke to find himself surrounded by rattlesnakes, and was able to arise unscathed. Zinzendorf used this anecdote as proof of the providence of God’s work he was carrying out.
Eventually, he found himself halfway between the Lehigh Gap (modern day boundary of Lehigh and Carbon County) and Mauch Chunk Gorge (modern day center and county seat of Carbon County) and what is today modern day Lehighton. This would become the new mission, an outpost of love and peace to accept heathens to the Christian faith. The name they chose: ‘Gnadenhutten’ meaning ‘tents of grace’ or ‘huts of mercy.’
The settlement began, in 1746, at the confluence of the Mahoning Creek and the Lehigh River, reaching up the hillside to what is today Bridge Street from Fourth to Seventh Streets.

(Photo: 1907 view of South Fourth St, nothing in view here remained from the original settlement.)

The Moravians and Natives are said to have worked side by side, clearing the tangled brush that still grows there today. After their permanent dwellings were established, work began on common buildings such as a meeting house, a grist mill, and as necessity began to warrant, a tiny graveyard to the rear.
The Moravians knew the success of the settlement and their outreach depended on their own self-sufficiency and diligent work. But they were not immune to the problems of many settlements, namely the spread of the deadly Small Pox that was particularly virulent to the Native population. This would be a harbinger of things to come.

(Photo: Burial site from the Massacre as it looks today.)

The Walking Purchase, a swindle by Thomas Penn in 1737, was another dark cloud that loomed over Gnadenhutten, a storm that took nearly twenty years to unleash itself in the Gnadenhutten Massacre of November 24th, 1754. This within the larger storm of the French and Indian War which brought Ben Franklin to the area to build forts for settler protection. All these and other interesting sidebars will be saved for future posts.
I hope I have entertained and informed you today. Enjoy.


  1. This is a beautifully wrought piece, giving us the interesting historical foundations of a gorgeous area in our state! (even though I had to read quickly over the part where Zinzendorf was surrounded by rattlers...shudder);) Looking forward to more.

  2. These pictures are lovely! The place sounds wonderful. I love your blog :)