No Spirit of 1776 in Moravian City

By Jason Eberhart (Globe Times Staff Writer)

It was a muggy Thursday afternoon when delegates in the second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in the Philadelphia State House July 4, 1776.

Already the news of independence had swept up and down the coast, and colonists in cities and towns flocked to hear readings of the documents in public places.

In Philadelphia church bells rang day and night that week.

In Easton, crowds gathered at Northampton County Courthouse answered the reading with three boisterous huzzas.

The new nation gleefully celebrated the launching of its liberation from England, but in Bethlehem news of the declaration fell on solemn ears.

That spring the nearly 600 Moravians in this tight religious community had considered the impending drive for independence premature. They voted with conservatives , who, were blocking a revolution provincial assembly in Pennsylvania.

Moravians were pacifists. Their men 16 to 50 choosing to pay fines rather than join the Northampton County Malitia during the war. They refused to bare arms, except in defense, and would not swear allegiance to either side, considering oath a form of blasphemy.

Besides the crown had been good to them in allowing freedom to worship and the Moravians had many close friends and relatives in England.

But their neutrality was costly. For its reluctance to fight, Bethlehem was dubbed "The Tory Nest" and Continental soldiers were to have said, "It ought to be burned down."

In what was a vast Northampton County, stretching as far north as New York State and as far west as Williamsport. The imminent revolution divided town from town, family from family and brother from brother. It had been said , the county of 8,000 to 10,000 was evenly split, but patriots, or Whigs as they were called , clearly had the upper hand.

Establishing the Committee of Observation in Easton in 1774, Whigs granted all the necessary authority to carry out the revolutionary cause and suppress their opposition in the county. They raised a malitia and secured the weapons to arm it.

They helped Easton iron industrialist George Taylor to election in the second Continental Congress were he had the fortune of signing the Declaration Aug.2nd when the document was engrossed in parchment. Elected after July 4th, Taylor had no part in drafting the Declaration, and his political career end shortly thereafter.

By July 1776, "Those who were hailed before the committee for refusing to give up their arms or for speaking disrespectfully of the revolutionary movement either had to recant, go to jail or pay heavy fines." local historian E. Gordan Alterfer wrote in 1953.

Moravians in Bethlehem were necessarily quiet with their dissatisfaction with the revolutionary cause, Bishop Nathanael Seidel exhorted their patience, and speaking German, lead their prayers for peace in nightly worship in the church.

There the Moravians worshipped with song and the musical accompaniment of violins, violas, clarinets, flutes and an organ. Benjamin Franklin noted that men worshipped in separate services from women, the latter cutting their hair short and covering their heads with starched white caps and transparent veils.

When Count Francesco dal Verme of Spain visited here after the war, he wrote, "With such uniformity of headdress it is no more possible to make great distinction among them than a regiment of soldiers."

He added, Moravian women " Lead a sedentary solitary restricted life, an unhappy brief life."

Faith was the Moravians salvation. They would suffer humiliation that summer, as on July 23rd when malitia Col. Kichline arrived from Easton to disarm the settlement, leaving so few guns that "there would not even be one about so much as to kill a mad dog." a Moravian diary recorded

County military officers intercepted a wagon bound for Bethlehem a week earlier under the suspicion it hauled ammunition for the loyalist cause. The wagon only hauled flour.

Waves of troop movements, bands of British Prisoners, scores of wounded and others great and obscure were to pass through the valley in 1776 and during the seven-year war.

The Moravians would greet them warmly, giving them lodging wherever there was room. Soldiers sometimes asked that sermon be preached for their benefit, many infantry men thought the service might be .heir last

One traveler the winter of 1777 was John Adams who wrote his wife Abigail that Mr. Johnson's Sun Inn "was the best inn that I ever saw." Bethlehem fascinated Adams. He wrote: "When we first came in sight of the Town, we found a country better cultivated and more agreeably diversified with Prospects of Orchards and Fields, Groves and Meadows, Hills and Valleys, than any We had seen."

He noted that the industrious Moravians had established thriving commerce in Bethlehem, adding, Christian Love is their professed Object, but it is said they love Money and make their public Institutions subservient to the gradifications of that passion."

They have carried the mechanical arts to greater perfection here than in any place which I have seen." Adams wrote.

At the time of the revolution Moravians were superb craftsmen, as told by Hessian Baroness von Riedesel. She observed "There were good carpenters, cabinetmakers, steel workers and very good blacksmiths."

July 4, 1776 Moravians craftsmen wanted just to go about their business, but in the years that followed they found that the War for Independence would not leave them alone.