A Center of Commerce and Trade

Moravian Origins | North Carolina: A New Home | A Center of Commerce and Trade | The First Sisters | Bethabara’s Enslaved | Moravians at War

Historic-Bethabara-Park-our-history-commerce-feature“Bethabara is intended for nothing other than a Unity plantation.”-Spangenberg to the Brothers and Sisters in Wachovia, Oct 18, 1757.

From the beginning, Bethabara was intended to be a center of commerce and trade. Unlike other Moravian settlements established to missionize Native Americans, Bethabara’s sole purpose was to make money for the Moravian Church.

Industries flourished as Bethabara’s customer base expanded from a 20-mile radius to a 60-mile radius between 1754-1755. Despite the increased income, the Brethren still spent over half of their profits on food, unable to produce enough corn and wheat to sustain their growing population.

Wachovia finally cleared a profit in 1758 of £55, approximately $8,000 in today’s currency. The Moravians recognized that to become truly profitable, they had to find a place in the Trans-Atlantic Market. In 1757, Bethabara began experimenting with potential profitable exports. They grew grapes to make wine, cultivated olive groves, raised silk worms, ground flour, toasted zwieback (crackers), baked ship’s bread, and dabbled in raising cattle. Olives and silkworms failed due largely to the climate, while the other ventures did not generate enough profit.

Throughout 1759, the Brethren made money from travelers visiting various businesses in town: the tavern, apothecary, cobbler, miller, cooper, tailor, tannery, blacksmith, distillery, pottery, bakery, and gunsmith.

On February 9, 1756, two fur traders from Virginia stopped in Bethabara with six horses loaded down with deerskins. The traders, seeking lodgings and food, were likely on their way to Charleston, a center of the deerskin trade in the 18th century. The Moravians recognized the profitability of acting as middlemen in the trade. Deerskins were a valuable commodity in the Trans-Atlantic Market. Once the community became self-sustaining in the 1760s, profits went toward deerskins rather than food.

In January of that year, Charleston merchant Colonel Henry Laurens visited Bethabara, extending a business offer that encouraged Moravians to bring deerskin hides to trade in the South Carolina port city. They soon had an abundance to load on their wagons, as the end of the Cherokee War allowed hunters living in western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia to safely hunt deer in large numbers and sell their hides for profit.

In the 18 months leading up to February 1763, Bethabara had exported nearly nine thousand pounds of deerskins to Charleston. Wachovia accounted for approximately 6% of Charleston’s annual deerskin export to England until 1769. Between 1770 and 1775, that rose to a yearly average of 9%. Charleston’s average annual export prior to 1775 exceeded 300,000 pounds of hides.  In 1771, hides with the hair still on them were worth 2 shillings per pound, while dressed deerskins would fetch 3 shillings, 5 pence per pound. Wachovia traded £1,150 worth of deerskin that year alone.

Bethabara’s Trades

Apothecary: 1753. Dr. Kalberlahn used this space to make medicine. He treated patients as far away as Cross Creek, modern day Fayetteville, in exchange for food, labor, and money.

Tailor: 1753. Originally intended to make clothing for the Brethren, strangers (non-Moravians) began placing orders in 1755.

Cobbler: 1753. The cobbler made shoes for the Brethren at first, but quickly began selling to strangers.

Tannery: 1754. The tannery was used to make leather for shoes, breeches, and other goods for the Brethren, as well as tanning hides for customers.

Cooper: 1755. The cooper made barrels and utensils out of wood, often using steam.

Blacksmith: 1755. The blacksmith made and repaired tools such as axes, shovels, hoes, and picks, as well as hardware like hinges and door latches.

Mill: 1755. The gristmill was used for grinding grain. A sawmill, bark mill, oil press, and flax breaker were added over the next three years.
Brewery/Distillery: 1756. The distiller produced beer, wine, and whiskey for the tavern, as well as medicinal brandy.
Pottery: 1756. Moravian redware pottery was highly sought after and sold as far away as Charleston.

Tavern: 1756. In addition to purchasing meals, beer, wine, and whiskey, patrons could also rent a spot in a bed overnight. Note that patrons reserved a spot in a bed, not their own bed, or their own room.

Store: 1759. The store was the principle place the Brethren did business with non-Moravians. In addition to goods produced by the Brethren, the store also sold imported goods such as glassware, pewterware, tinware, blankets, linen, wool, hats, buttons, watches, buckles, silk scarves, medicine, coffee, rice, tea, sugar, and gunpowder.]