Season 1, Episode 2
Interviewing Staff of Historic Bethabara Park
The Director of Historic Bethabara Park, Samantha Smith, and the Education Director, Diana Overbey, join Casey and Maizie to discuss more on the customs and traditions of the Moravians. Samantha and Diana tell us why it’s important to discuss the Moravian history of the Winston-Salem area, tell stories from Bethabara where some customs and traditions were not followed, and the connections to the Winston-Salem Moravian Congregation that Historic Bethabara Park holds today.
Announcer: James Landolf
Transcript for Interviewing Staff of Historic Bethabara Park
Announcer: This is Moravian Mornings. A podcast discussing the history surrounding the Moravians who settled in Wachovia.
Casey: Good morning, good morning everyone. I know it might not be morning for you, but it definitely is for us, but if it’s evening, or afternoon, or even if it’s nighttime, I hope your day going well or was well. Last week, Maizie and I discussed some Moravian customs and traditions. This week we thought it would be beneficial to actually speak with some of the staff of Historic Bethabara Park. Diana is the Education Director, and she has been with the park for 13 years. During the recording of this episode, Samantha was the Director of Historic Bethabara Park, but she is now currently the Director of Community Engagement and Digital Learning at Old Salem.
Casey: Diana and Samantha, would you both explain your duties at the park?
Diana: Sure, so I’m Diana, and I’m in charge of the educational programming at the park, which means that I create and plan things like school tours and summer programs, as well as training and educating our guide staff who give tours at the site. I also handle a lot of the day-to-day operations of the park, like making sure the visitor center is staffed and also scheduling guided tours for both kids and adults.
Samantha: And, I’m Samantha Smith. I’m the Executive Director of Historic Bethabara Park. My job basically entails everything that Diana doesn’t do. My job is basically everything that doesn’t fall into those categories, so that could be anything from collaborating with local colleges and universities, with historians and archeologists to do projects. I also direct the community garden here. I work with the maintenance team to make sure everything is always looking good in the park and that the buildings are well-kept. I also help develop some of the special events that we do and different educational programming that is not for school-age children.
Maizie: Why don’t you tell our listeners why you think it’s important to discuss the Moravian history surrounding the area?
Samantha: That’s a really great question. I think, especially, if you’re from Winston-Salem, or even the Piedmont of North Carolina, understanding that early Moravian story is the really the early American story in this region, and there’s just so much that happened at Bethabara, Bethania, Salem, all of the, what they call the Moravian towns that, I think, it sheds a lot of light on major events that happened here in early American and the early Republic. Especially, people if they’re interested in the French and Indian World or the American Revolution. Because the Moravians were such great record keepers, they have a very interesting perspective and pretty thorough records of some of these events that you typically wouldn’t get that perspective from.
Diana: And not only that, you know, the Moravians were neutral. They were Pacifists in the 18th Century, so that means when they’re talking about the American Revolution, or the Regulator Movement, or the French and Indian War, they’re not really taking sides. That means that they have both sides coming through their towns and taking supplies and things, but they’re interacting with both sides of conflict in all of those particular situations too.
Samantha: That’s exactly right. It’s as close to an unbiased argument – that doesn’t exist – unbiased historical record, but at least it’s a different perspective of a group that’s not participating actively and openly on either side, which is pretty rare in the historical record. I also just want to say that the Moravians by themselves, even if were not thinking about these larger events, but their story in and of themselves is just fascinating, especially the wonderful craftsmen and artisans that came from Bethabara, Salem. North Carolina pottery tradition, which is such a huge deal in North Carolina, that cultural, traditional, artisanal craft. It really originated in a large way at Bethabara, as did brewing and distilling, which have become so important in North Carolina culture of today, so looking at Bethabara, and Salem, and Bethania, these early settlements, it’s a great way to kind of go back in time and then trace how we got here today with these important cultural traditions from our state.
Casey: Pottery is definitely one of the more well-known trades of the Moravians. Another thing that really stands out to everyone that knows about the Moravians is their choir system and how they lived in these groups that were essentially their spiritual family. Each group had a Choir Helper that was over the leadership of that choir. Being a Choir Helper seems to be a large responsibility within the church. How were Choir Helpers chosen?
Diana: Well, I can answer that, because I just looked into the instructions for the Moravian choir helpers. There is actually a really great book by Katherine Faull. It’s called Speaking to Body and Soul that actually has all of those instructions translated into English, and they’re really interesting. According to this book, and this is coming from the actual instructions themselves that were given in 1785 and 1786, Single Sisters were chosen “who possessed gifts and grace and who were known to their peers so that those peers felt confident in confiding in them.” There is an interesting bit of information in the instructions for the married people’s choirs. Apparently, a husband and a wife were chosen to be the choir helper of the married women’s choir and the choir helper of the married men’s choir, and it talks about how the woman, the female married choir helper, “takes it upon herself to give advice in serious situations without the knowledge of her husband or even conceals things that concern not only a married sister, but also her husband, and hides this from her husband.” If she did something like that, basically she would lose her role as choir helper, and her husband would be fired at the same time, so it’s kind of funny, because I think you basically needed two things to be a great choir helper according to the church: you had to be someone that other people trusted enough to confide in, but you also had to be a person who would be willing to tell church authorities if what the person told you raised alarms of any kind.
Samantha: But, I’m going to tell the church everything you say.
Diana: Yeah, pretty much. Like, you can tell me, but then I’m also going to tell other people.
Maizie: So, in addition to the choir system in our last episode, we also talked about the Lot and some of the uses that the Moravian church used it for. Are there any particular uses of the Lot that stand out to you?
Samantha: I definitely have one. I think, probably the most significant use of the Lot is when the church elders had to consult it to determine whether or not they should purchase Johannes/Johann Samuel, who was an enslaved man that the Moravians were renting in town. According to the records, which are of course coming from the Moravians themselves, it says “he expressed a desire to know the Savior, and he wished to be purchased by the Church so he can stay.” That’s of course according to the diaries written by the Moravians, but the church listened to his request, and they consulted the Lot, and the yes slip was drawn. It just fascinates me that it happened in that way, because what if the no slip was drawn? To me, it seems like that one act and one decision completely changed the course of history. So, I think, especially in that case, that is probably the most significant and impactful use of the Lot to me. What about you, Diana?
Diana: Yeah, I totally agree with that, and that’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I’ve always wondered if, you know, they had drawn that no instead of the yes, if it would have prevented slavery from occurring in the Moravian towns or if it would have delayed it. I wonder if, as time went on, and American’s ideologies, or Southern American ideologies, encroached further and further into the town, if they would have been like “let’s ask the Lot again about this.” That’s one thing I have wondered about related to that particular question. Another one that just blows my mind when I think about it is that the Lot for many, many years determined who you married, so basically the Lot was determining who married who, and who had children, and who, you know, basically the Lot has played a major role in the genetics of the descendants of the Moravians from the 18th Century. It’s kind of weird to think about because if a man proposed to a certain Single Sister and then the Lot said no, then he picked a different woman, and if he had picked the first woman then the genetic line would have been completely different, which to me is just kind of mind blowing.
Casey: Going off when Diana mentioned the lot being asked in the cases of marriage, there was a process for a Single Brother to go through in order to be seen as ready to be marry in Moravian society with this process essentially ending with the lot being asked. Are there any instances of the lot not being used in the case of a marriage proposal? Maybe the Single Brother received a no answer from the lot and the couple decided to marry anyway, ignoring the lot. If there are any cases, what happened to the couple?
Samantha: I have one from Salem, Diana. I don’t know if I have one from Bethabara. Do you have a Bethabara example?
Diana: I have the Salem example, because it happened so very very rarely that my example is also from Salem.
Samantha: Is it Dr. Vierling?
Diana: No, it’s not.
Samantha: Oh, ok.
Diana: Do you want me to go first, Samantha?
Samantha: Yeah, go for it.
Diana: Ok. Alright, so there is one really interesting story out of Salem from 1803, where a Single Brother proposed to a Single Sister in secret, asking her to wait to marry him when he was able to support her, and she said yes. This was going against all the rules, because a Single Brother is supposed to go through his Choir Helper and say that he was ready to get married, and he and the Choir Helper were going to have this discussion about ok “are you ready to get married?” “Yeah you are.” “Ok.” The Choir Helper would then go consult with the Single Sister’s Choir Helper, and they would find a good match and then they would take it to the Lot. Basically, he skipped all of those steps and went straight to the woman he was interested in and asked her. It came to light because a different Single Brother wanted to marry this Single Sister, and she had to admit she was already betrothed to someone else.
Casey: This is juicy.
Diana: Basically, they were told by Church Elders that they had to break off their proposal and show an appropriate amount of remorse for breaking the rules. If they did they, they could stay part of the Moravian congregation; however, one of them was going to be moved to a different congregation, probably up in Pennsylvania, because they didn’t want to have any chance of them seeing each other again.
Casey: It sounds essentially like a timeout.
Diana: Yeah, it does. It does. Basically, the couple were like “no, we’re not doing that.” So the church basically said “ok, we won’t stand in the way of you getting married, but pack up your things, because you’re leaving the congregation now. You’re no longer part of the Moravian church.” So, they left. They left Salem, and I assume they went off on their own, got married, and continued living their lives. I do not know the names of either of these people, because they are just listed in initials in the Records.
Maizie: I knew there had to be like a Moravian version of Romeo and Juliet.
Samantha: That is definitely a Moravian Romeo and Juliet. That’s such a cool story. Mine is also from Salem, and I’m not sure if this is exactly what plays into this. Mine kind of is related, but not quite. There might be more examples of this, but I do know that in Salem, Dr. Vierling, who is an eligible bachelor, the church went to him and said “hey, it’s time for you to get married.” There was another very eligible bachelorette, Martha Mitch, in town, and the church came to him and said “you know, we think Martha Mitch might be a good match for you. What do you think?” Dr. Vierling said “No. Not interested,” so the church was like “Okay.” The church did listen to him saying that he wasn’t interested in her, and so, he presented another woman that he was interested in, to the church. When they drew the Lot, yes was drawn, and so he married that woman. A few years went by, and sadly that woman actually died. He was eligible to be married again, and the second time around, he ended up marrying Martha Mitch. The Lot was used, but I just thought it was a good example of how the Lot didn’t always mean that the church got to say “You and this person. Yes or no?” “Yes.” “Ok, you’re married.” You did still have a little bit of a say in the decision of who you would potentially be marrying. Diana, that was the same in Bethabara, right?
Diana: Yeah, it would have been the same in Bethabara, and Casey to answer your other question, If the couple wanted to get married and the no slip was drawn, they could still get married but just like what happened in that other example, they would have to leave the church in order to get married. The church was ok with that. They kind of parted on amiable terms, but it was just like, according to the Lord’s will, you guys aren’t supposed to get married, so we can’t endorse that, but you know, if you want to leave our community and do that, you can. That was basically the way that usually worked. It was very rare though that any of those examples really happened, because, basically, the way that Moravians thought was “Ok, I’m going to do what the church asks of me, and if they are asking me if I want to marry this Single Brother, I’m going to think about this. I can say no, but it seems like this might be the best thing for me to do, so yes, I’ll marry this person.” It didn’t happen all that frequently, but they do make really interesting stories.
Samantha: Yeah, that was really interesting, Diana.
Casey: That is insane that they would kick these couples out of the church and send one of them to a different congregation.
Diana: If they had shown remorse and also did not get married, they could stay in the church, but they were also going to be completely separated, or they could get married, but if they got married, they had to leave the church. Those were, like, the two options they were given.
Maizie: As we discussed a little bit in episode one, a lot of these weddings were celebrated with a Lovefeast. We sort of went into detail about some instances in which lovefeasts would be held. Could you all describe a little bit about the modern lovefeasts that take place at Bethabara?
Samantha: Yeah, I’d be happy to, so something that’s really important to Historic Bethabara Park is the connection that we have to the modern congregation at Bethabara Moravian Church, who can trace their connection all the way back to the original congregation that settled Bethabara, which is really special. They actually didn’t leave it until, oh shoot, was it 1953, Diana?
Samantha: Yeah, ok. Pretty much from 1788 to 1953, the Bethabara Moravian Church congregation worshipped there, and now they’re just down the road. We think it’s important that we still partner with them and connect with them since they’re a major stakeholder. Christmas is a good time to do that, because the Moravians really went hard for Christmas. They had what were called lovefeasts, which were kind of – it varied through time. It changed. – When I say they went it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that decked out in Christmas decorations. That’s not what I mean. It’s more like, it was a very special time of community bonding, sharing, and love. The lovefeasts that we do today, we basically welcome back the congregation to come into the original Gemeinhaus to do a traditional lovefeast where people share the buns and the coffee, and there’s a sermon and singing, lots of singing. We try to make it as traditional as possible, so that it can be kind of a reminder of the types of lovefeasts that would have happened in the Gemeinhaus over time. Even from the beginning, the lovefeasts was comprised of sharing a simple meal together, praying together, singing together, so the traditional pillars of what a lovefeast is has really survived all this time. It’s gotten, probably changed over time a bit, but being able to experience a lovefeast like that in that space is really meaningful and impactful. I think it’s a really significant event for the Park and the congregation to be able to kind of share that history together in that space. Yes, it is a religious service, but I would say that most of the people who go to the event and attend it do so, so they can also experience the historical aspect of being in that historical, sacred space and experiencing an event that would have taken place there 200 years before. It’s a really cool event.
Casey: We know that the Moravians really had a different perspective on women’s roles in their communities. Based on norms at the time when Bethabara was established, many women were denied the chance to receive a formal education. Why did the Moravians choose to educate their women?
Diana: That’s a good question, because most women during that time period were not usually getting an education, or not much of one anyway, especially not things like reading or writing, which is what the Moravians were teaching young girls that were growing up in the Moravian church. Basically, the Moravians believed everyone was spiritual equal before the eyes of God. In order to get to know God, you needed to be able to read the scripture, so that’s why both girls and boys learned how to read and write. Education was always extremely important to the Moravians, and they also taught both boys and girls music, which was another important aspect of Moravian life and church services. They were usually taught how to read music and how to play some instruments and that kind of thing as well. Basically, it was like there was a spiritual reason for it. It was a way to be able to participate more in their services, both musically and also by getting to know the scripture.
Samantha: Yeah, exactly. I would also add that it was important for women to be educated almost also because the Moravians were so separatists, by having men kind of worship together, women worship together. I think it was important for them to have women leaders within the church. Diana, would you say?
Samantha: I think that also plays into needing to educate women, so that they could lead that separate sect of women in the Moravian community, because they wished to be more separate in their services.
Maizie: So, just going off of that, could you take a little bit more positions that women were able to hold in Moravian society that maybe weren’t seen as acceptable for women to hold outside of Moravian communities?
Samantha: I think they were mostly within the church. I think the highest-level position a woman could achieve was a deaconess. Is that right, Diana?
Diana: Yeah, it was up until, well at one point, they were allowed to become priestesses, but after Zinzendorf, Count Zinzendorf who was a major contributor to the Moravian ideology and everything, he believed that women could become priestesses. After he died, there was kind of some changes that were made and one of them was that women couldn’t be priestesses anymore. I think women could still be deaconesses though, but I think they had to be married. Did they have to be married to a man who was a minister in order to be a deaconess, Samantha?
Samantha: That sounds right. I think later on that was the case. I know that the deaconess we talk about at Bethabara, I keep blanking on her name, I’m pretty sure she was married to a deacon.
Diana: Oh yeah, Christina Henrick.
Samantha: That’s it. Christina Henrick.
Diana: She and her husband were part of the first group of married couples that came down, and they were also, in addition to being like the minister and minister’s wife, they were the choir helpers too. He dealt with the married men, and she dealt with the married women a well. I recently did a lot of research about Anna Johnna Kraus. She was the first child born in Bethabara. She became an acolyte. She never married. She was always a Single Sister. She rose up into the Single Sister’s Choir. She became an acolyte, which is a person that helps administer the Holy Communion, and she also became a member of the Helper Conference, which is one of the governing boards that made decisions about what happened to residents in Wachovia, Bethabara, Bethania, Salem, all the towns in Wachovia, and she never married but was able to take on those larger roles within the church, because of, you know, I think she sort of was a modern Moravian. She wasn’t going around accepting secret proposals from men.
Maizie: So, just to sort of round out this interview, we wanted to know what are some of the most interesting Moravian stories from Bethabara that you learned during your time working here?
Samantha: I got one that’s definitely my favorite, probably because I really appreciate the power of material culture along with stories. I think my favorite story here is related to when the congregation moved from the old Gemeinhaus to the new Gemeinhaus. There’s a really detailed, wonderful diary entry for that event. One of the really cool details of it is that the minister when they decided to start the procession from the old to the new, he took the lantern down from the old Gemeinhaus, and while it was still lit, he walked to the new one with the whole congregation kind of trailing behind him, following him into the new church. When he arrived into the new Gemeinhaus, he hung the lantern on the wall, and I like to tell myself that it’s been hanging there just like that ever since. It’s just a really nice, kind of romantic story that goes behind an object that you probably wouldn’t even really notice if you go in the Gemeinhaus. It’s not the first artifact that really hits you in the face. There are a lot of other things in there that would really grab your attention, but I think just knowing the story behind it gives it so much meaning. Every time I walk into the Gemeinhaus, I get a little chill.
Diana: I don’t know. I have a lot of them. I’ve learned so much since I started working at Bethabara. I knew a lot about Salem before but not as much about Bethabara. Just learning about how much adversity they faced when they were first here. Within just a few years of getting here, they faced the French and Indian War. They faced the Typhus outbreak that killed ten people. There’s a lot of hardship, but there was also so much joy and celebration that you always see in the Records that just makes me think that they were able to get through because of their faith. One of the stories that I really loved is in 1755, the first married people came down to North Carolina from Bethlehem. The Single Brothers, who had been alone in Bethabara since 1753, awaited their arrival. When they heard them coming, the married people started playing musical instruments, and the Single Brothers climbed up to the top of the Single Brothers’ House – The brand-new Single Brothers’ House that had just been built, three stories tall. They were up on the roof playing trumpets and trombones and things, welcoming the married couples as they came into sight. They all saw each other, and they just were overjoyed, and hugging, and welcoming each other, and sharing news from Bethlehem, the family members and stuff that were back home. There’s so much hardship that you can find in the Records, but there’s so much joy in there as well.
Casey: Their community sounds so warm and welcoming.
Diana: I think there was a reason why there was so many people that were attracted to the Moravian faith. I think it provides a community, a warmth, and a spiritual family as well.
Samantha: John Wesley was so inspired by the Moravians and their faith, when he aboard that ship that was very likely going to sink. The Moravians onboard were singing and joyous and happy and they were like “we’re going to die and meet God!” He was like “What are these guys drinking? Cause that’s faith.” The Moravians inspired him to kind of create Methodism as we know it, so that’s just another interesting facet of the Moravian faith.
Casey: I guess that would make me feel better if I going down in a ship and everyone around me is like “we’re going to have a party and meet God, and it is going to be great, so don’t panic.”
Maizie: We’re going down swinging.
Casey: Thank you both so much for joining us for our first interview of the series. It was so great to speak with both of you and learn more about the Moravians.
Diana: Thanks for having us.
Maizie: I think those last two stories were the perfect way to round out this interview. They were very uplifting and happy.
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 Moravianmornings@gmail.com or message us on our Instagram page, also titled Moravian Mornings. Thanks for listening. Auf Wiedersehen.
 Katherine Faull, Speaking to the Body and Soul, 91.
On my Way to Work by Lobo Loco (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)