Moravian Artisans in North Carolina: 

A brief study primarily relative to the firearms trade.


In 1920 the North Carolina Historical Commission commenced publication of the Records of the Moravians in North Carolina.  These records were transcribed and edited by Adelaide L. Fries, the Archivist of the Moravian Church in North America, Southern Province.  Because the Moravian Church had always placed a strong reliance upon record-keeping, both in Pennsylvania and North Carolina as well as elsewhere, these records and diaries provide an absolutely invaluable window into the past.  Searching through the volumes compiled by Fries, one can obtain a fairly clear picture of what the Brethren were trying to achieve on their large land tract they named Wachau, or "Wachovia" once anglicized, and how the surroundings influenced the tradesmen working there.  One can also get a very clear picture of how the towns of the Wachovia estate - Bethabara and Salem the two primary villages prior to the Revolution - differed from the Moravian towns of Pennsylvania.  Wachovia was located on the fringes of the settled lands in North Carolina when the first of the Brethren arrived from Pennsylvania in November of 1753.  The first town, Bethabara, was essentially considered a temporary community which was to provide initial shelter, food (via farming) and income (via artisans and trade) while the centrally-located and carefully-planned town of Salem was being organized.

Obviously, within the grand scope of the Records... which Fries compiled, the subject of the gunmakers working in Bethabara and Salem seems a rather mundane and small one indeed.  However, there are genuine pearls of information to be found which directly pertain to locksmith/gunsmith Andreas Betz, his apprentice Joseph Muller, the gun-stocker Johan Valentine Beck and locksmith/gunsmith Johan Jacob Loesch (Jr.).  The records also help to flesh out the  daily lives of the Moravians in North Carolina and provide a detailed backdrop against which the aforementioned tradesmen can be more clearly viewed.  Of course much is still open to question and interpretation, however by utilizing the records as a valuable tool in attempting to answer the questions which arise concerning almost every aspect of work of the early smiths, the interpretations formed thereof can hopefully be less vapid and based not upon multiple layers of speculation but on the voices of the Moravians themselves.

From the first, it was blatantly obvious that the Brethren lacked the raw manpower to accomplish all that they wished in a completely insular manner.  From the Bethabara Diary, October 26, 1755:  "Three men came today,- they are Germans from New River, but now living on the Town Fork.  Two of them undertake to make us 3000 shingles in three weeks, the third will fell and trim 100 trees, the pay to be a pair of shoes each.  During their stay they will be lodged in the strangers' cabin."  (Fries v1, 139)  This reliance upon "strangers," or non-Moravian laborers, was a constant thread which runs throughout the entirety of the records.  In the Diary of Bethabara and Bethania, 1762, the entry for November 21 reads, "Four more outside day-laborers have come to work for us, so that now we have fifteen of them."  (Fries v1, 251)  The Memorabilia of 1756 notes that for that year, the number of "Strangers staying over night" was 360, and although this figure (Fries v1,157) does not represent laborers only - many of these overnight guests were simply travelers or those utilizing the services of the blacksmith - it does illustrate that by a very early date there was a considerable amount of traffic through Bethabara.

It would appear that the smithy was a highly successful enterprise from the start; Johanna Miller Lewis reached this conclusion in regards to the first blacksmith, George Schmidt (Lewis 79), and Fries' transcription of the Records... provides ample evidence of this.  As early as May 20, 1755, the Diary of the Brethren and Sisters on the Wachau states that "Five strangers were here today, two for work at our smithy.  They had shot a deer, of which they only cared for the skin, so they offered us the meat, which we took."  (Fries v1, 129)  Again on July 22:  "A so-called Dunkard or Bearded Man came to the smithy.  He has just come from the New River with his entire family...When his work at the smithy was finished he went back to his people on the Town Fork."  (Fries v1, 133/34)  It is also evident that locksmith Andreas Betz [he having traveled to from Bethlehem with Schmidt in 1754] was working alongside George Schmidt in the blacksmith shop, as on November 11 of 1755 when Schmidt left on a trip, "Br. Betz took charge of the smithy, Br. Georg Schmid having left."  (Fries v1, 148)

One would assume that there must have been a dire necessity for gunsmithing work almost immediately, not necessarily in terms of commerce but simply in order to maintain the firearms of the Brethren themselves; while the Moravians professed strong objection to the use of arms in war, they had no qualms whatsoever against utilizing them as tools for survival.  From the Bethabara Diary of June 11, 1764:  "As Br. Holder went for the cows today he shot three young bears, their mother, and a deer, more than he has ever shot at one time before."  (Fries v1, 288)  Johanna Miller Lewis states in Artisans in the North Carolina Backcountry that Jacob Loesch (Sr.) wrote a letter to Bethlehem in 1758 requesting permission to establish a gunsmith shop in Bethabara, and permission to do so was received later that same year.  (Lewis 40)  It would appear, however, that someone in Bethabara was operating as a gunsmith prior to that time, as the Diary on December 15, 1756 reads as follows:  "A bear hunter brought his gun to our gun-smith.  He complained that neither he nor his companions had seen a single bear, all the hunters say the same this year."  (Fries v1, 173)  While the gunsmith is not mentioned by name, locksmith Andreas Betz was the only man present who was possessive of some degree of skill within the realm of gun repair.  Exactly what Betz was capable of doing is not known, however one must recall the 1757 entry in the Bethlehem ledger of the Locksmith and Gunstocker (quoted elsewhere) whereby Abraham Steiner purchased a gun from the Bethlehem shop to send to his son in Wachovia; this would seem to suggest that perhaps Betz was a repairman and not capable of constructing a complete firearm.

Another characteristic of the early settlement was the need for every man present, regardless of trade, to assist in a huge workload of varied tasks.  Lewis recounts an incident drawn from the Records... whereby George Schmidt, the blacksmith, fell off a roof while shingling it and dislocated his leg in 1754.  (Lewis 79)  In the Bethabara Diary on June 14, 1755, the diarist states, "We put all the brethren to work making bedsteads, and completed as many as we need, that is twenty-three."  (Fries v1, 132)  It would appear, in fact, that during the earliest period of the settlement ca. 1753-60, the men selected to populate the Wachovia tract were selected primarily to provide a somewhat varied skill-set in order to provide for the needs of the Brethren in the building of the town first and foremost.  There is ample evidence to be found within the Records... to indicate that there were multiple wagons traveling back and forth between Bethlehem and Bethabara each year carrying additional settlers and supplies; being as the well-established lock and gunstocker's shop in Bethlehem could readily supply new guns, and being as a number of the Brethren who initially traveled to Carolina obviously took firearms with them, the need for someone in Wachovia who could actually stock new rifles and muskets was probably very slight.  It is likely that the 1758 request to provide Betz with his own gunsmith shop (separate from the smithy) indicates an increased need for repair work, possibly amongst the arms off the Brethren themselves but also very likely amongst the increasing number of 'strangers' utilizing the services of the Moravian tradesmen.  Whether or not anyone else was working upon guns with Betz during this early period is unknown but it is not likely as I could find no mention of it in the records.  Also whether anyone - including Betz - was capable of stocking a new gun in Wachovia is unknown, although there may be evidence yet to be found in any ledgers preserved in Salem.  It would seem probable that one of the woodworking artisans may have accomplished the task should the occasion have warranted it - probably Betz himself likewise - and in fact there is an interesting comment to be found within a touching diary-type letter which was written in Bethabara by Rev. John Jacob Fries on May 30, 1754:  "I made the top of a Table for myself, and 31st cut wood for feet on the Table.  They shall be Lyons Claws; is not that too much?  One day I am a Joiner, the next a Carver; what could I not learn if I was not too old?"  (Fries v2, 531)

Trade in Wachovia seemed to grow quickly.  The concept which was eventually to be put into place in regards to the plan for Salem [once constructed] was of a centrally located town which was to be populated by artisans; these artisans would provide for the Brethren's needs and thus avoid a reliance upon outside craftspeople, while at the same time drawing consumers to the town and thus providing a source of income for the church.  A store and tavern were very in fact quickly established at Bethabara to provide immediate, initial income.  Furthermore, the first three volumes of the Records... are packed full of entries spanning the 1753-1779 period which detail numerous wagon trips to Charlestown [Charleston, South Carolina], Pine Tree Store [according to Fries:  "Pine Tree Store was probably in Lancaster County, South Carolina, not far from the North Carolina line."  (Fries 299)  The town of Camden, SC was formerly known as Pinetree Hill.] and the Cape Fear River [Bethabara Diary Nov. 23, 1759:  "The purchase of a piece of land for a storehouse on a piece of land at Springhill on Cape Fear River has been undertaken for us..."  (Fries 214)] as well as Petersburg, Cross Creek [Fayetteville, NC] and Wilmington.  Most of this trade revolved around deer skins, some possibly obtained by Moravian hunters but most apparently purchased in raw form of outside hunters and processed by the Moravian leather-dresser and tanner.  John Jacob Fries' diary (see above) noted:  "I spoke with Br. Losch, and told him that I did esteem hunting as unprofitable, and that I would seek to put an end to it till a Br. comes from Pensilvania who does not do it by way of amusement but as his Business."  (Fries v2, 531)  Other staples such as butter, soap and salt were traded and sold likewise.  Meanwhile, wagons continued to repeatedly make the trip between Bethlehem and Wachovia throughout this period as well, and in addition to the Brethren themselves, the early 1760s saw a dramatic increase in the number of people (non-Moravians) who passed through the Wachovia tract. 

Frederic William Marshall, who in 1763 had been appointed Oeconomus [essentially an administrator of the Oeconomy, or business affairs] of Wachovia, wrote from Bethlehem on February 1, 1764: 


"The settlement of the Tract and its Lots is a difficult proposition, but I must say this:  the migrations of men are like the movement of a flock of sheep, where one goes the flock follows, without knowing why.  In 1762 a crowd of people from the Jerseys and some from the settlement beyond the Lechah [Lehigh River] moved to Yorktown and Virginia.  In 1763 the stream turned and many settled beyond the Lechah and across the Blue Mountains [long ridge along the 'upper townships' of Northampton and Berks Counties in PA], as if that were the delectable land, until the war broke out, although the best pieces had already been taken.  So last year also many men moved to North Carolina." 

(Fries v1, 294) 


It would appear that hunting - by accomplished hunters - was a profitable activity on the Carolina frontier by the early 1760s, as the Bethabara Diary in February of 1765 noted that "Again today many people came to the store with skins for sale.  Br. Gammern will soon be at a loss how to pay for them in cash, even though the people always spend a good deal of their money at once in the store."  (Fries v1, 300)  These dealings with strangers would appear to have been quite beneficial to the Brethren, for they were not only able to buy skins which they could process and resell at a profit or trade to advantage [March 15, 1765:  "Five wagons set out for Charlestown, loaded with 9400 lbs. deer-skins."  (Fries v1, 301)], but additionally they then turned around and sold products of the store to the same strangers, thus reaping the very money they has previously paid for the skins.' 

As the years went by the fluid volume of people continued to grow, some passing and some electing to lease land upon the Wachovia tract; from the Wachovia Memorabilia of 1769, it was noted that "From Pennsylvania, Maryland and Broad Bay 48 have come to settle in Wachovia."  (Fries v1, 386)  From the memorabilia of 1770:  "Nine more families have come from Broad Bay to Wachovia; also one family from Pennsylvania; about 50 persons in all...  Our numbers were increased this year by four Brethren from Europe..."  (Fries v1, 398)  In the Bethabara Diary of 1770, on May 31:  "Eight families from Pennsylvania, 42 souls, with three wagons, stopped for several hours in our Tavern, then went on to the Catawba River"  (Fries v1, 413); on September 20, "A Col. Donaldson, of Virginia, and his party, spent the night here.  He has been ordered to take a present, worth L2500 Sterling, to the Indians in South Carolina, according to Treaty..." (Fries v1, 415); on September 21, "There were unusually many strangers in our town today, especially a number who do not wish to be under the law, and are moving to Holston River."  (Fries v1, 415)

Simple settlers were not the only people passing though Bethabara (and subsequently Salem as that town began to take shape).  Non-Moravian artisans were also passing through these congregation towns, some to destinations unknown as well as some seeking work.  The Diary of Bethabara and Bethania on September 15, 1762, noted:  "Michael Marr, a journeyman potter, born in Coburg, came here to work."  (Fries v1, 250)  It is likely that a strong demand for the wares of the Brethren as well as a shortage of labor amongst them eased the typical restrictions [certainly more strongly-enforced in Pennsylvania] upon 'strangers' actually working in the shops with the craftsmen.  These strangers would have continued to have been housed separately, out of the homes of the Brethren, however.  In Bethabara, a cabin was specifically constructed to house these outsiders [see above entry of October 26] and was utilized for that purpose until 1766, at which point it was converted into the shop of the gun-stock maker Valentine Beck.  [see "Map of Bethabara," Fries v1.  This cabin was located immediately adjacent to the 'Strangers' Store.' ]  This acceptance and reliance upon day-laborers as well as various outside journeymen or other craftspeople is a relatively common theme throughout the records of Bethabara and Salem from the earliest years of the Brethren on the Wachovia tract right through the remainder of the 18th century.  One particularly interesting man was discussed by the Collegium in February, 1783: 


"A single man, Immanuel Dresen, who has worked for two years in Salem, would like to become a resident.  He was born Feb. 2, 1754, on the Rhine, was brought up a Catholic, and leaned from his father the trade of a silver-smith.  He also worked as a watch-maker.  For a year and a quarter he was with the Capucins on trial but did not take the vows.  He worked at his trade at Neuwied in Maestricht, then in France.  From there he went to Spain as attendant to a gentleman, was seized as a soldier and taken to Africa, deserted with twenty-five other men and took ship for Lisbon, where he delivered himself to a Captain of a ship bound for Philadelphia, and served to pay his transportation.  He went to Long Island in the American service; then served with the English, and was captured with Tarleton's Corps at the Cowpens.  Being in great need, he went into retirement, working first at Friedland, then here." 

(Fries v4, 1847) 


Dresen was subsequently (April, 1784) granted the permission he sought, however by the following January (1785) the Brethren had become quite disenchanted with him as the Salem Diary notes that "The single Emmanuel Dresen was informed by the Aufseher Collegium that he could no longer stay here.  His conduct has not at all agreed with the declarations he made a year ago when he received permission to become a resident."  (Fries v5, 2072)  One has to wonder what impact upon the Moravian artisans such transient individuals must have effected.     

It is certainly likely, based upon the large body of surviving work, that the Moravian artisans quickly developed a wide reputation for fine products.  It can be safely said that the strong demand placed upon the artisans of Bethabara and Salem was due in part to this good reputation, and in part due to the scarcity of such artisans within this frontier region for much of the 1750-1790 period.  Particular attention has been hitherto focused upon the pottery, the first master potter being Gottfried Aust who had been European-trained and moved to Bethabara from Bethlehem in 1755.  (Bivins 36)  This is probably due to the fact that during the period covered by the first three volumes of Fries' work, 1753-1779, Aust's pottery was enormously popular and in-demand, and made an equally enormous amount of money for the congregation.  Thus, there are frequent mentions of this pottery throughout the Bethabara and Salem Diaries.  [Two excellent books further detailing this work, and that of his successors, were written by John Bivins:   Moravian Decorative Arts in North Carolina and The Moravian Potters in North Carolina.]  On a number of occasions, it was clearly sales of Aust's pottery which were drawing enormous numbers of strangers to Bethabara and subsequently Salem.  From the Bethabara Diary on May 21, 1770:  "There was an unusual concourse of visitors, some coming 60 or 80 miles, to buy milk crocks and pans in our pottery.  They bought the entire stock, not one piece was left..."  (Fries v1, 412)  This was not an isolated occurence but rather occurred on a fairly regular basis, on many instances the strangers nearly coming to blows in their desire to get pieces of earthenware before it was all sold.

In addition to the journeyman Michael Marr, mentioned above, it would appear that the Moravian artisans were very much willing to entertain other such craftsmen and learn from them aspects of the trade which might render a better or more desirable product.  An excellent example of this awareness of changing winds in the outside world again relates to potter Aust, this time in 1773 following Aust's move to Salem.  From the Salem Diary in December, the following entry is taken:  "The wagons returned from Charlestown today.  With them came...a potter, William Allen, who asks for work, and would like to stay with the Moravians.  Br. Aust will give him a trial."  (Fries v2, 762)  As will be clarified, this particular entry mistakes the man's name as was subsequently corrected in the Minutes of the Aufseher Collegium [a supervisory board of elders which addressed the financial dealings of the congregation] on December 8, 1773:


"There was a discussion concerning a journeyman potter, by the name of Ellis, who arrived today from Charlestown, coming of his own accord.  He had been in Pine Tree, and was on his way to Charlestown, when he met Br. Bagge, and asked if he might not come here, and was told he might do as he liked, but no promise of work could be given; that would have to be arranged with Br. Aust.  He understands how to glaze and burn Queens Ware, so the Collegium approves Br. Aust's suggestion, which is, that a kiln, suitable for burning such ware, be built on the lot occupied by Br. Ludwig Meinung, which adjoins Aust's, where the man can work under supervision.  He shall receive food and clothing, and a douceur for his work, and we will learn all we can from him about glazing, of which Br. Aust already has some knowledge.  It should be noted that two and a half years ago Br. Aust learned something of the art of making this ware from a traveling potter, though he had not tried to draw it from him; and that Ellis should now come of his own accord makes us think that the Almighty means that this art should be established here." 

(Fries v2, 775) 


This matter was further noted by Oeconomus Marshall's biannual report to the UEC of December 1773: 


"It looks as though it would soon be necessary to make the English Queensware or Tortoise-shell, that is, a fine pottery resembling porcelain; the former is lighter than straw color, and the latter is mottled, like a tortoise shell.  The matter began with a gentleman who was traveling through, and who would have liked to stay with us; we gave him lodging for some days, and some clothing, and in return he told Br. Aust how the work was done, and gave him the receipts, which he knew because he had been the superintendent of a factory which made such pottery.  Recently, with the wagons from Charlestown, there came a young man who had worked in that same factory.  He came without invitation or encouragement, and has asked for work here.  He looks promising, and we can use him, so we have given him permission to stay, though only on the same terms as other day-laborers, who can be dismissed at any time.  A special kiln is being built, but only a small one, and we will see how it goes; for some time our pottery has been turning out a good product not very different from Queensware." 

(Fries v2, 762-63)


It would appear that Ellis worked with Aust for approximately five months, teaching him as it were, and left Salem sometime in early May as recorded in the Salem Diary at some point between May 5 and 14, 1774:  "The potter from Pinetree made a burning of Queensware, and one of stoneware, so that the process is now fairly understood here.  As all the vessels had to be made by hand on the potter's bench, instead of with instruments on a potter's wheel, they were not delicate enough for porcelain, but they will serve as a side-line for our pottery, and can be further developed.  The good man found our town too narrow for him, so for the present has bid us a friendly farewell."  (Fries v2, 817)

            Here, then, is a clear example of what is erroneousy believed not to have happened within both the Moravian congregational towns in Pennsylvania and North Carolina as well as many other 'backcountry' or frontier settlements.  Bivins had investigated the matter in regards to this particular incident and noted that "The introduction of the more technical aspects of this delicate ware came at the hands of William Ellis, a journeyman potter from the Staffordshire orbit in England.  Arriving in Wachovia in 1773, Ellis had left the ill-fated pottery of John Bartlam in Charleston, South Carolina, where an attempt had been made to establish the production of fine earthenware in America."  (Bivins 37)  Generally, many think that there was a very large time lag between the introduction of new creative and decorative forms in Europe and their adoption by American artisans, but this is not an accurate view of the matter.  Most American artisans did tend to work much more conservatively or in a less-refined 'folk' style in comparison with their European counterparts, however the continuous movement of people - as has been illustrated herein - rendered the world quite a small one indeed.

Returning to the realm of firearms, given the large number of outsiders whom the Brethren encountered on almost a daily basis, it is somewhat silly to think that the varied artisans were not well-aware of what was happening within the sphere of their trades elsewhere in the colonies.  Certainly the continuous migration of settlers from Pennsylvania, a good portion of them assuredly armed, must have moved more than people-only from one place to another; surely no inconsiderable number of rifles made the journey likewise.  A particularly interesting visitor arrived in Bethabara on August 25, 1765:  "Later a chaise came in, bringing Friedrich, Wilhelm, and Henrich Antes, of Pennsylvania, brothers of Sr. Reuter."  (Fries v1, 308)  The diary notes that the Antes' visited for two weeks, leaving "well-satisfied" on September 5.  At this point in time William Antes was visiting Bethabara while Andreas Betz and his apprentice Joseph Muller were working as gun-smiths and Valentine Beck was working as gun-stocker.  Speculation could of course run rampant as to what may or may not have occurred during this visit, however one has to suspect that at the very least Antes may have spoken with fellow artisans Betz, Muller and Beck, possibly discussing work or stylistic trends popular in Pennsylvania and vice-versa.  Unfortunately no cameras were present.

As has been previously discussed, Betz departed Bethabara in 1767:  "A certain man, whom we have endured with patience for some years, has moved away of his own accord and he himself must bear the responsibility of ceasing to live amongst God's people."  (Fries v1, 350)  This left Beck and Muller working in Bethabara, Beck with his own gun-stocker's shop and Muller working in the gun-smith's shop.  It is possible they themselves might have had an outsider or two working with them periodically, or possibly another of the Brethren.  After Beck had moved to Salem in 1772, the Minutes of the Aufseher Collegium note on June 10:  "Inquiry was made as to whether the Single Brother Christ might work again for Br. Aust, as Br. Beck has not enough work in his gun-stock business?  Br. Beck may hire him to Br. Aust, just as he has often had to hire day-laborers."  (Fries v2, 700)  This seems to indicate that Peter Christ (see elsewhere) had at some point previous worked for Aust [Peter's brother Rudolph Christ was Aust's apprentice] and probably had only been temporarily working with Beck.  Meanwhile that same year, Muller (following a move to Salem?  Bivins noted on page 2 that "By April 1772, Salem was ready for occupancy, and a large group moved there from Bethabara, leaving this first settlement a small rural community."] received some help of his own as the Collegium noted on October 19, "In Br. Petersen's absence Br. Merkly announced the arrival of two Single Brethren from Pennsylvania...Br. Klotz is a sickle and nail smith.  For the present he will find work with the gun-smith..."  (Fries v2, 705)  It would appear that by 1773 at least, if not sooner, the trades relative to firearms were somewhat fragmented into separate shops in Salem:  gunstocker Beck worked in his own shop in Salem, blacksmith George Schmidt operated a very considerable smithy which according to Bivins had "two fires" or two forges (Bivins 65), the locksmith Niels Lund apparently had his own shop [Aeltesten Conferenz, March 16, 1773:  "This morning the Aufseher Collegium was informed by Br. Bonn that in the locksmith's shop he heard various reports..."  (Fries v2, 766)] and Muller - prior to his departure in 1774 - was operating as "gun-smith" although it is not clear whether he worked within a specific shop of his own, or in either the smithy or locksmith shop.