Bethlehem And The Moravians

The Lehigh River flows out of the Alleghenies through a deep and tortuous valley which rends the mountain ridges until it strikes against the South Mountain range, here called the Durham Hills, and then turns northeast along its base to the Delaware. At this bend the Saucon Creek comes in from the south and the Monocacy Creek from the north, and here, twelve miles from Easton, is Bethlehem. This manufacturing town of twenty thousand population is one of the noted places of the Lehigh Valley. A large part of the lowlands along the river are occupied by the extensive works of the Bethlehem Steel Company, where the big guns, armor and crank-shafts are made for the navy, while on the slopes of the South Mountain are the noble buildings of the Lehigh University, the munificent benefaction of Asa Packer, supporting four hundred students of the technical studies developing mining and railways. On the hill slopes of the northern river bank is the original Moravian town, oddly built of bricks and stone, with a steep slate roof on nearly every house. It was one of the earliest and the most important of the settlements in America of the refugee followers of John Huss, the ” Congregation of the United Brethren,” and for a century was under its absolute government. In the winter of 1740 the first trees were cut down that formed the log hut which was the first house on this part of the Lehigh. Count Zinzendorf, their leader, arrived from Moravia, with his young daughter Benigna, before the second house was built, and celebrated with the settlers the Christmas Eve of 1741. They had called the place Bethlehem, ” the house upon the Lehigh,” but it is related that towards midnight on this occasion Zinzendorf, becoming deeply moved, seized a blazing torch and earnestly sang .a German hymn :

“Not Jerusalem—lowly Bethlehem ‘ Twas that gave us Christ to save us.”

Thus the young settlement got its name. Receiving large accessions by immigration, it soon grew into activity, and outstripping Easton, became the commercial depot of the Upper Delaware and the Lehigh, sending missionaries among the Indians, and during the Revolution was a busy manufacturing town. For the first thirty years it was a pure ” commune, the church elders regulating the labor of all the people, and afterwards, until 1844, the church council of the ” Congregation ” ruled everything, this exclusive system being then abandoned. Proceeding up a winding highway from the river, the old ” Moravian Sun Inn ” is passed, the building, dating from 1758, being modernized; and mounting the higher hill above the Main Street, the visitor soon gets into the heart of the original Moravian Colony, among the ancient and spacious hip-roofed, slate-covered stone houses, with their ponderous gables. Though dwelling in communism, the Moravians strictly separated the sexes in house, street, church and graveyard, taking good care of the lone females, whether maidens or widows. Here are the ” Widows’ House ” and the “Single Sisters’ House,” quaintly attractive with their broad oaken stairways, diminutive windows, stout furniture and sun-dials, tiled and flagged pavements, low ceilings, steep roofs and odd gables. The ” Sisters’ House ” was built in 1742. The ” Congregation House ” and ” Theological Seminary ” are also here; and, best known of all, the Moravian “Young Ladies’ Seminary,” an extensive and widely celebrated institution, dating from 1749, whose educational methods are those founded by the noted John Amos Commenius, who flourished in the seventeenth century, and whose life-size portrait bust is sacredly preserved in the school, as is also the old sun-dial of 1748 on the southern front of one of the buildings.

The Moravian Church, a large square building, fronts the Main Street, and here are held the great festivals at Christmas and Easter which bring many visitors to Bethlehem. Its most interesting adjunct is the ” Dead House ” alongside, a small pointed gothic steep-roofed building, which is used whenever a member dies. The public announcement of the death is made at sunrise from the church cupola by the “trombone choir,” who go up there and vigorously blow their horns, one standing facing each of the four points of the compass. The funeral services are held in the church, but the corpse is not taken there, it being deposited in the “Dead House,” and guarded by the pallbearers during the ceremony. This ended, a procession solemnly marches farther up the hill, led by the trombones, playing a dirge, escorting the corpse and mourners to the ancient graveyard. Here are the graves of the faithful, resting beneath grand old trees, all the men on one side of the central path and the women on the other. There are no monuments or family lots, but the graves stretch across the cemetery in long rows, each row being completed before another is begun, the latest corpse, without reference to relationship, being laid alongside the last interred, so that the row of graves shows the chronological succession of the deaths. All are treated alike, the dead bishop resting alongside the humblest- of the flock, a small square stone being laid upon each flattened grave, marked with name and date of birth and death, and usually a number. Only one person—a woman—has any sign of distinction above the others in this unique cemetery. She was Deaconess Juliana Nitschman, wife of Bishop John Nitschman, who died in 1751, greatly beloved by the Congregation, and was honored by being given a special grave in the path in the centre of the yard, between the men and the women. There are some fifty graves of Indian converts in the early days, among them ” Tschoop of the Mohicans,” whom Cooper, the novelist, has immortalized, the brave and eloquent father of his hero Uncas. The record of the conversion of the famous King Teedyuscung is kept in the Moravian Congregation, and his exploits are frequently described in their annals. He lived on the meadow land down by the river, having gone there in 1730 from near Trenton, where he was born about 1700, and in 1742 he released the lands at Bethlehem to the Moravians. He was impressed by the persuasions of the preachers, and after a long probation, in 1750 was baptized under the name of Gideon. Bishop Cammerhoff, on March 12th, made an entry which, translated, reads, “To-day I baptized Tatius Kundt, the chief among sinners.” He was made Grand Sachem of the Lenni Lenapes in 1754, but he backslid from the Church, and joined in the pillage and massacre of the Colonial wars. He became dissipated, but was afterwards reconciled to the whites and removed to Wyoming, where the Iroquois in 1763 made a raid, and finding him in a drunken stupor in his wigwam, they set fire to it and he was burnt to death.

During the Revolution the Moravians were of great use to the army, conducting hospitals at Bethlehem and providing supplies. In 1778 the ” Single Sisters” made and presented to Count Pulaski a finely embroidered silk banner, afterwards carried by his regiment, and preserved by the Maryland Historical Society. Longfellow has beautifully enshrined this memory in his ” Hymn of the Moravian Nuns ” at its consecration :

“When the dying flame of day Through the chancel shot its ray, Far the glimmering tapers shed Faint light on the cowled head, And the censer burning swung Where before the altar hung That proud banner, which, with prayer, Had been consecrated there ; And the nuns’ sweet hymn was heard the while Sung low in the dim mysterious aisle

“Take thy banner. May it wave Proudly o’er the good and brave, When the battle’s distant wail Breaks the Sabbath of our vale ; When the clarion’s music thrills To the heart of these lone hills ; When the spear in conflict shakes, And the strong lance, quivering, breaks.’ “