Season 1, Episode 11

Healthcare in Wachovia

By Casey Landolf and Maizie Plumley

On this week’s episode of Moravian Mornings, from herbs and treatment to interesting medical cases, join Maizie and Casey as they discuss aspects of healthcare within early Wachovia.



Casey Landolf

Maizie Plumley


Announcer/Reader 1: James Landolf

Reader 2: Seth Payne

Reader 3: Maggie Pelta-Pauls

Researched by

Casey Landolf

Maizie Plumley



Transcript for Healthcare in Wachovia


Announcer: This is Moravian Mornings. A podcast discussing the history surrounding the Moravians who settled in Wachovia.


Maizie: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of Moravian Mornings. For this week’s episode, we are going to be discussing some of the aspects of healthcare in early Wachovia. Also, this is our next-to-last episode for our first season, so thank you all so much for joining us! Alright, grab your coffee, and let’s get started.



Casey: In our ninth episode, we briefly mentioned Bethabara’s first doctor, but since we’re discussing the healthcare of Wachovia, we think it would be a good idea to discuss more about him. Dr. Kalberlahn was selected to be one of the first fifteen Single Brothers to travel down to North Carolina from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and help establish Bethabara. He would not just serve as a doctor, he would serve in a number of different medical roles; he served as the physician (medical doctor), the surgeon[1], the dentist, and the pharmacist[2]. Along with treating the Moravians, the doctor also treated anyone living near the area, becoming known as an angel of mercy.[3] Since he was the only doctor in the area, he often sent letters recommending specific treatments[4] and traveled up to 80 miles to treat his patients.[5] 

Patients who were able to visit the Moravian town for care stayed in the Stranger’s Cabin[6], and later, once it was created, the Sick Room.[7] Some of Kalberlahn’s patients actually traveled up to 100 miles to see him.[8] Within the Oeconomy system, medical care was covered for the Moravians.[9] Regarding payment for non-Moravians, called Strangers, payment would often be in the form of a trade, with the Moravians receiving things such as corn, salt, cows, and calves.[10] During the Typhus outbreak in 1759, Bethabara’s first doctor was tortured by the fact that he could not help his fellow Moravians. Adelaide Fries in the first volume of her work, the Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Vol I, provides detail compiled from Dr. Kalberlahn’s memoir.


Reader 3: “And Dr. Kalberlahn, worn from his long journey, spent with watching, grieving for his friends, was tortured with an agony of helplessness such as he had never known before. Scorching tears burst from his eyes as he fell on his knees before the Lord, praying, praying, praying for knowledge how to aid these dearly beloved Brethren who never yet had looked to him in vain.”[11]


Casey: Kalberlahn unfortunately catches Typhus himself and dies from it.[12] Obviously this whole situation is sad, but what makes it even worse is that the doctor passed away one day before his one year wedding anniversary.[13] He would be the sixth person to be buried in God’s Acre at Bethabara. While we’re on the topic of God’s Acre, let’s give a little bit more of an in-depth explanation of the Moravian’s cemetery and their burial practices.

Moravians often place their graveyards on hills. This placement was symbolic in a few ways. One of them being related to the New Testament, especially to Jesus’ crucifixion on Calvary.[14] Moravians had two different types of graveyards; their congregational graveyard and their graveyard for Strangers, those not a part of the church – I don’t think we’ve touched on this, but the Moravians called anyone who was not a Moravian, a Stranger. In the early years of Bethabara, Moravians in the town did also bury the enslaved Moravians in their congregational God’s Acre alongside white Moravians. In Moravian God’s Acres, such as the one found in Bethabara, the graves were separated into their choirs, so they were buried based on their sex, age, and marital status.[15] This means they were not buried with their families.

The graveyard at Bethabara is separated into four blocks, males being buried in the two southern blocks and females being buried in the two northern blocks. Of these spaces, Christian Reuter, who mapped out Wachovia God’s Acres from 1759 to 1775,[16] planned the two eastern blocks for children.[17] Interestingly, for burial in the Strangers’ God’s Acre at Bethabara, a modified pattern was followed. Those who had died were still buried based by sex and age, but they were not separated by marital status.[18] Now that I’ve talked some about early Wachovia’s healthcare, Bethabara’s first doctor, and given a little more of an explanation of the Moravians’ God’s Acre, let’s talk about treatment.


Treatment – bloodletting, herbs, (Medicinal Garden 1756), balancing the humors

Maizie: One of the common treatments used during this time in Bethabara was bleeding or bloodletting, a treatment used in Humoral Medicine. Humoral Medicine was developed from the ancient Greek theory of the four body humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm, which determined health and disease. A perfect balance of these humors meant perfect health; therefore, when an individual in Bethabara fell ill or received an injury,[19] in order to get the humors back into balance, doctors would use bloodletting. Even with careful consideration, however, this treatment would often weaken the patient further. Moravian records from Bethabara in 1763 detail the use of bloodletting when a rabid dog was present in the area.


Reader 2: “May 9, 1763: Today the evil one tried to disturb our minds, for our finest and best mare, which came in from the woods yesterday, went mad, bit at everything, and raged around until she died. Fourteen days ago there was a mad dog here, and we suppose it bit the mare. During the next days we had to kill several of our dogs also.”


“May 17, 1763:  As a matter of precaution most of the Brethren and sisters were bled. At present all are well except the doctor, who has a mild fever.”[20]


Maizie: Records also discuss the use of medicinal herbs for treating illnesses in Bethabara. In 1763, during the month of May, it is recorded that a survey of native herbs was conducted, “with an eye to their medicinal value, and several useful ones were found.” The records lists some of these herbs and their uses: “’Squasweed’ for rheumatism, ‘Milk-weed’ for pleurisy, ‘Indian Physic’ for preventing fevers, ‘Robert Plantin’ a valuable antidote, and also ‘Snake Root,’ and much ‘Holly.’”[21]

Doctor Kalberlahn laid out the first European Medicinal Garden ever planted in America in October of 1756 in Bethabara. Because of meticulous archaeology and research using historic illustrations and maps, the medicinal garden still remains intact today. The plants in this garden were commonly used to treat anything from headaches and stomachaches to intestinal worms in the 18th century. If we look at a map of the 1756 Medical Garden, like traditional botanic or physic gardens in Europe, it was laid out in ancient geometric patterns.

Christian Reuter records the species of plants in the medicinal garden within land register lists. In 1760 he lists 28 species, a 1761 plan lists 61 species, and a 1764 survey includes four more. According to Flora Ann L Bynum in the Journal of Garden History in 1996, the medical garden served Wachovia for about 20 years, supplying medicines to Moravians and surrounding inhabitants, as it is recorded in 1775 that a new tavern for Bethabara was built on part of the site of the medicinal garden, indicating that the medical garden was no longer needed in Bethabara.[22]


Casey: I found some really interesting stuff in the Records. Did you find anything interesting when researching for this episode?


Interesting Cases

Maizie: I found two interesting cases of treatment within the records. During Dr. Kalberlahn’s time as a surgeon in Bethabara he actually removed a bone splinter from a man named George Muller’s skull. Muller was brought to Bethabara on February 12, 1755 in great pain and of “weak mind.” Another surgeon had treated him previously, without success, so on February 13, Dr. Kalberlahn operated and removed the bone splinter and continued to monitor Muller for several days. Muller ended up staying a month and went home on March 24th when he was as recovered as possible


Reader 1: “February 12, 1755, Toward evening a man named Georg Muller arrived. Some weeks ago he asked to be allowed to come here for treatment, or that Br. Kalberlahn would come to him; neither request could then be granted, but now he was brought by two friends, who remained overnight. Three months or more ago the man was struck on the head with an axe by someone who wanted to kill him. A surgeon treated the wound, and it seemed to heal, but has opened again, his mind is weak and he suffers much pain.”


“February 13: Br. Kalberlahn operated on the injured man, and removed a splinter of bone from the skull; he has also agreed to keep him under his care for several days here.”


“February 19: A man came yesterday to take away our patient, but he did not want to go, so the man returned without him, and we will try to further whether he can be helped. He does not trouble us, being as obedient as a child.”[23]


Maizie: Starting a new settlement brought dangers which could result in the injury of a Moravian. One such example is notable for not just highlighting this danger but also showing Kalberlahn’s dedication to his fellow Moravians and his profession. In January 1754, only a little over a month and a half after establishing the new settlement of Bethabara, some of the Single Brothers were chopping trees down to build a new building. A tree branch struck one of the Brothers on the head, knocking him unconscious.


Reader 2: “The Brethren began to fell trees for logs for our new house. Brother Petersen was badly hurt as he and Brother Beroth cut down a tree. As the tree fell, a branch caught in another tree, then struck Brother Petersen on the head, making an ugly wound and throwing him to the ground. The Brethren ran to his assistance but found him senseless and they feared he was dead. One ran to the cabin with news, and everybody, including Brother Kalberlahn hurried thither.”[24]


Maizie: Only a day before this accident, Dr. Kalberlahn had scalded his foot, and it’s noted that though this injury caused the doctor great pain, he still came rushing to treat his Brother. This is another example in which the treatment of bloodletting was utilized.


Reader 1: “Brother Kalberlahn bled him, and he soon recovered his senses, then we carried him home and Brother Kalberlahn bound up the wound. We all pitied Brother Petersen, and Brother Kalberlahn again suffered great pain in his foot, and so there were two patients in our little cabin.”[25]


Casey: Could you imagine being hit on the head with a large branch, being knocked unconscious, and then someone uses bloodletting. No thanks.


Maizie: Yeah I don’t understand it.



Casey: It’s interesting to think of how they treated illnesses and injuries back then as well as just thinking about how they handled situations like the cases you just discussed. I can kind of imagine having to walk, maybe not rush, on a scalded foot, especially when you just heard the news that someone you really care about has been injured. What I can’t imagine is being wounded on the head and then having to have the treatment of bloodletting follow such an injury. Thanks Maizie for sharing those cases. That was absolutely wild. Thank you everyone for joining us for this episode of Moravian Mornings. Our next episode, we will be joined again by Dr. Michele Williams of Historic Bethania. She has a Ph.D. in Paleoethnobotany, so I think our next discussion will definitely be interesting.


Announcer: This has been an episode of Moravian Mornings, a Historic Bethabara Park podcast. If you have any questions or would like our hosts to discuss certain topics, please email us at or message us on our Instagram page, also titled Moravian Mornings. Thanks for listening. Auf Wiedersehen.



[1] Ed. Adelaide Fries, Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume I:1752-1771 (Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton Print Company, 1922), 73.

[2] Ibid., 102.

[3] Ibid., 218.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Ibid., 128.

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] Ibid., 171.

[8] Ibid.,173,

[9] Daniel Thorpe, The Moravian Community in Colonial North Carolina: Pluralism on the Southern Frontier (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 41.

[10] Ed. Adelaide Fries, Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume I,131.

[11] Ibid., 221.

[12] Ibid., 212.

[13] Ibid., 218, 212.

[14] Leland Ferguson, God’s Fields: Landscape, Religion, and Race in Moravian Wachovia (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011), 124.

[15] Ibid., 27.

[16] Ibid.,108.

[17] Ibid.,113.

[18] Ibid.,113-114.

[19] Humoralism, Encyclopaedia Iranica,

[20] Ed. Adelaide Fries, Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume I, 246.

[21] Ibid., 236-237.

[22] Bynum, Flora Ann. “Old World Gardens in the New World: the Gardens of the Moravian Settlement of Bethabara in North Carolina,” The Journal of Garden History 16, (1996), 81.

[23] Ed. Adelaide Fries, Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume I, 124-125.

[24] Ibid., 90-91.

[25] Ibid., 91.



Bynum, Flora. “Old World Gardens in the New World: the Gardens of the Moravian Settlement of Bethabara in North Carolina, 1753-72.” The Journal of Garden History 16:2 (1996): 70–86.


Ferguson, Leland. God’s Fields: Landscape, Religion, and Race in Moravian Wachovia. 1st ed. Cultural Heritage Studies. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011.


“Encyclopædia Iranica.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, 0AD.


Fries, Adelaide, ed. Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume I: 1752-1771. Vol. I. Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton Print Company, 1922.


Thorpe, Daniel. The Moravian Community in Colonial North Carolina: Pluralism on the Southern Frontier. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1989.


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