Religion and Acculturation in the Southern Backcountry
By S. Scott Rohrer
The University of Alabama Press Copyright © 2005 S. Scott Rohrer
All rights reserved.
The Northern Years
The Peddycoards' journey to heart religion began not in a pew but behind a plow. Nathan Peddycoard moved his family to Carrollton Manor, Maryland, in the early 1750s from Prince George's County, where he had run a tavern. Religion, however, did not draw the Peddycoards to Carrollton; land did. Apparently tired of tavern life and a money-losing business, Nathan wanted the chance to farm. Once settled at Carrollton, Nathan and his sons began working the fields on the small tract that he rented from the wealthy Carroll clan of Annapolis. The former tavern keeper grew tobacco—some years, as much as 2,918 pounds—that allowed him to pay his rent and to trade on the transatlantic market. He also grew another highly marketable crop—hemp, the tall asiatic herb whose fiber was used to make rope.
For Nathan, these were good years. Besides tobacco, he grew a trio of grains (wheat, rye, and oats) and built up herds of cattle, sheep, swine, and horses. His family farm prospered, with his estate reaching a modest but respectable value of 111 pounds at his death in 1759. Nathan's focus during the 1750s, not surprisingly, remained firmly on the plow. Members of the Anglican Church, the Peddycoards paid little attention to spiritual matters. Building a successful farm consumed them; religion did not.
The Peddycoards were hardly unique in their indifference to religion. Carrollton Manor was populated by tenants who focused on affairs of the world and not of the Lord. As his death approached, Nathan very likely had no inkling that this was about to all change—and that the agents of this change would be a relatively small, foreign-speaking sect from Saxony, Germany. Invited to preach on the manor by the Carrolls' steward, the Moravians confidently entered this English-speaking world and thus set off a complex chain of events that culminated in the founding of the Hope settlement in North Carolina in 1772.
The encounter between German missionary and English tenant was one rich with irony and significance. That the Moravians were at Carrollton at all says a great deal about the brethrens' dream of reforming Christianity. And that they were so successful says even more about the power of the evangelical message. It was at Carrollton that the "unsaved" were awakened to Jesus Christ, became active in Moravian societies, and began to formulate a close identity with an evangelical religion whose roots were in Germany.
Such encounters between unsaved and missionary were repeated across the North among a diverse group of English- and German-speaking colonists. In all places, the awakened underwent a life-changing new birth that reoriented their lives toward Jesus Christ and the church. For many new members, evangelism became so important to them that they moved several times to be closer to their home congregation. The acculturation process, however, was an incomplete one during the pre-Revolutionary years and was filled with pitfalls. Nearly three hundred members of the society movement—mostly from Carrollton Manor; southeastern Pennsylvania; and Broadbay, Maine—decided to migrate to Wachovia in the 1760s and early 1770s, a migration that led to the founding of Hope, Friedberg, and Friedland. A general dissatisfaction with life in the North helped drive this migration: land prices were rising. And land shortages were becoming more common. But religious factors loomed even larger: several congregations—most notably at Carrollton and at Broadbay—faced severe internal problems. A unique Moravian community, meanwhile, was taking shape in the North Carolina backcountry that served as a beacon to those society members unhappy with their lot in Maryland and the North. Land beckoned, and to the Peddycoards' astonishment, so did God.
Carrollton Manor and the Formation of a Moravian Congregation
For Nathan Peddycoard, deciding to give up his inn may have been the easy part. Deciding where to go was likely harder, given the great range of options in early America at midcentury. To name just two, the fertile Shenandoah ran just to the south and the North Carolina backcountry beyond that, where a two-hundred-acre farm could be had quite cheaply. The Peddycoards, however, chose not to buy land on any of these frontiers but to rent a small tract on a manor owned by a politically unpopular Catholic family. That the Peddycoards made this decision said a great deal about the perceived virtues of Carrollton Manor.
The manor, located in the heart of Monocacy Valley in western Maryland, was part of the substantial Carroll family empire amassed by the founding patriarch, Charles the Settler, who relentlessly accumulated money, slaves, and property after emigrating from Ireland in the late seventeenth century. Charles owned several estates throughout the colony, including Doohoragen Manor at Elk Ridge and Poplar Island on the Chesapeake Bay.
Carrollton Manor was one of the family's largest holdings and one of its most lucrative. It was the Settler's son, Charles of Annapolis, who inherited the manor in the 1730s and who decided to develop the 12,553-acre tract not by deploying slave labor, but by using tenants to farm individual tracts of about one hundred acres. That way, the Carrolls would see their lands developed and improved without the family having to undergo the massive expense that acquiring and maintaining a large slave force involved. Charles recruited tenants from as far away as his native Ireland and from Germany, but he found most of his renters from eastern Maryland. As a recent chronicler of the Carroll family concluded, Charles's strategy proved to be "enormously successful," with the son negotiating nearly two hundred leases and putting more than nineteen thousand acres into production throughout the Carroll holdings.
Carrollton Manor was plenty enticing to the Peddycoards and others despite the supposed drawbacks of renting. With its fertile and well-watered lands, the manor was ideal for the planting of grains and tobacco. One contemporary praised the county's "good clay soil" that gave "an excellent account of the seed entrusted to it." The manor's land itself was neither flat nor hilly but gently rolling. The manor, which encompassed twenty square miles, ran along the Monocacy River south to the Potomac River, where it spread out in opposite directions in a shape that resembled an inverted [??].
The Peddycoards were English, as were most of Carrollton's inhabitants of two hundred people. The manor, in fact, constituted an English-speaking enclave in the populous German county of Frederick. In the years before 1773, German speakers constituted less than 10 percent of the manor's population, whereas the county itself was about 50 percent German. German speakers flocked to Frederick County from southeastern Pennsylvania in the 1730s because of the land deals offered by Maryland's proprietor Charles Calvert and the growing scarcity of land in Pennsylvania and because of the rising prices that accompanied this shortage. By 1755, the county had grown into the third largest in the province, with a population of 13,969.
Most Carrollton tenants, including the Peddycoards, were Anglicans, but a recent historian of the manor found none of their names on the All Saints Parish register. Other faiths did little better. The Quaker community north of the manor had stagnated, and few tenants—possibly as few as two—were Friends. Most of the tenants who affiliated with the Moravians later recalled having spent childhoods in a religious wilderness. Mary Padget, for one, told a church chronicler that, as a child, "she did not get the least learning or any instruction in the Christian faith ... but had grown up in the greatest ignorance and stupidity." Such was the religious milieu that the Moravians encountered as they entered the area in 1758: an ethnically diverse population of German and English speakers who had had little or no exposure to evangelical religion. Culturally, the area was a complex mix between the Chesapeake, with its slave-oriented tobacco plantations, and the grain-based family farms of Pennsylvania. Carrollton reflected both environments. The Peddycoards, quite typically, owned a slave, grew tobacco, and cultivated several grains on a family farm of about one hundred acres.
The Peddycoards had never heard of the Moravians when the brethren first began appearing at the manor and in Frederick County in the late 1750s. That they got to hear the brethren preach at all on the manor was largely due to the efforts of one man—the Carrolls' longtime steward at Carrollton, Joseph Johnson. Johnson's job was straightforward: to oversee the manor for the Carrolls. He collected rents and enforced the leases, among other things. It was a job that Johnson performed fairly capably, holding the post until his death in 1781. At his passing, Charles Carroll, son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, praised his old steward as an "honest man," although he added that Johnson was "too indolent and indulgent to the tenants, at our expense." Johnson, unlike the Peddycoards, had been exposed to evangelical religion. Raised in England, he was "awakened" there, according to a Moravian account of the manor congregation's founding, but "afterwards lost this received Grace by being enamored with this World." Like the Peddycoards, Johnson had been raised Anglican but was no longer active in that church. Johnson became "stirred up again by reading Mr. [George] Whitefield's evangelical sermons" and began to worry anew about the salvation of his family and servants. Unsure what to do, the steward talked with a member of the congregation that the Moravians had founded in northern Frederick County that became known as Graceham. Johnson informed George Gump, who lived about three miles from his house, of his worries for himself and for others, and he asked the brethren to send missionaries to the manor. He also later offered the use of his house for preaching. The Moravians accepted the invitation to come preach. But because the pastor at Graceham, J. M. Zahn, spoke only German, they first had to find English-speaking missionaries who could successfully converse with Carrollton's tenants. Bethlehem found no shortage of candidates, sending in these early years more than ten missionaries, including Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg, Richard Utley (who would later pastor to the fledgling Hope congregation in North Carolina), and the ubiquitous George Soelle (who would later pastor to the congregations in Maine and in Friedland). In 1762, the Provincial Synod in Bethlehem assigned Francis Boehler to visit the manor about once a month, a task he performed for the next four years. As the Moravians' popularity grew, Bethlehem agreed to grant a formal congregation to the manor in 1766 and to send Joseph Powell and his wife to minister full time to its members.
For a worldwide organization engaged in missionary work to Christians and non- Christians alike, Carrollton Manor represented but one more opportunity to spread the word of Jesus' saving grace. The prospect of ministering to an English-speaking population was not at all troublesome to the German-based brethren. Instead, it was appealing, because they viewed the manor as a religiously apathetic place that needed some stirring up. By establishing a congregation at Carrollton, the Moravians believed they would be shining "a Light in a dark place, that thousands by Her light may See and joy in Her, and with Her find Shelter, Covert [Comfort], and Refuge in Jesus's Wounds." The Reverend Powell viewed his mission in similar terms. In 1770, after four years of careful work on the manor, he described his congregation as a "Candle on a Hill" that was drawing the unconverted to the Savior by setting an example for others to emulate and by providing a place where the unconverted could learn how to be saved.
The arrival of these German-speaking evangelists on the English manor aroused intense curiosity and, in time, some hostility. Nathan Peddycoard's oldest son, William Barton Peddycoard, was the first in his family to go hear the brethren preach. Curiosity, he recounted years later to a church chronicler, drew him to a sermon given by a missionary from the Moravian Gemeine at Lititz, Pennsylvania. William had never heard of the brethren up until then. The missionary, a Brother Sydrich, preached from John 1:9–12 on the true light. With little exposure to organized religion, William found the missionary's message intriguing, although it stirred up a host of conflicting emotions in him, ranging from excitement over the prospect of achieving eternal salvation to fear that he would be unable to actually achieve a new birth: "The discourse made a great impression on my heart, yet I did not understand all the phrases." The concept of a "true light" especially puzzled him. But William's curiosity was so aroused that he returned to hear more about his lost state and how he could escape it by turning to Jesus. The Moravians had entered William's life at a critical juncture. His father had died in 1759, and he had recently completed military service in the backcountry during the French and Indian War. As the oldest son, William was now considered the head of the family and had to help his mother raise his two siblings. Possibly because of these stresses, William "frequented their meetings incessantly" and found much comfort there: the Moravian message, he said, "became a balsam and nourishment for my heart ... in good and bad days."
On a small manor with a weak church structure, the Moravians rapidly became a force with their radical message that all true followers of the Savior could achieve salvation. During these first few weeks on the manor, Powell held the meetings at the house of a tenant named Zimmerman, where he and his wife were staying. Interested hearers crammed the front room, and Powell marveled at the diversity of attendees—Baptists, Anglicans, Catholics, and Reformed Germans. "This was a very extraordinary meeting, far exceeding last week—the power of God truly attending the Gospel word," Powell recorded in his diary of one such gathering. Powell traveled throughout the valley, both inside and outside of the manor, and he held meetings wherever inhabitants expressed an interest in hearing him preach. One such meeting occurred in late August 1766. A large crowd was in town for court, and someone sent word that these visitors would like to hear Powell preach. He obliged. The Moravian pastor arrived promptly at the house of Noodley Masters along the Potomac, about twelve miles from his residence on the manor. The crowd was so large that Powell had to move the meeting outdoors. His host set up a "table under a large Tree in the field under which they sat close together on the grass entirely filling the shade." From a rustic pulpit by the tree, Powell preached from 2 Kings 5–13 on God's judgment of Ahaziah. By September, Powell believed that he was making good progress: "One perceives a moving and awakening by Some, by others love and good will desiring to be better acquainted with us." Within a few years, the Moravians had become the most successful church on the manor, persuading about one-fifth of all tenants to become converts.
To aid the building of the congregation, Powell tried to make the Moravian presence felt in tangible ways by getting involved in tenants' daily lives. He helped neighbors raise barns, build houses, and husk corn. He regularly crisscrossed the manor, visiting members and nonmembers alike, offering advice or lending a sympathetic ear to the troubled. For Powell, an important goal took shape: building a meetinghouse that would enable the congregation to function properly while allowing his wife and him to live in some basic comfort. His original accommodations, at the Zimmermans, were distressingly cramped: eighteen persons occupied the house. Taking pity on the Powells' domestic situation, congregation member Matthew Markland offered the pastor and his wife the use of their new house, an offer that the Powells readily accepted despite its poor location. Congregation members donated furniture for the couple, and in August 1766, the Powells moved in with help from Markland. In their new accommodations, they had more room but still faced a major drawback. Markland's house was relatively isolated, or as Powell noted: "Our aboade [sic] now not lying so convenient for the people as hithertofore." Ironically, the Powells now lived among the tiny German-speaking population on the manor. Powell promptly introduced himself to his new neighbors, but in a further irony, none expressed an interest in participating in the German-based Moravian movement, "all as yet seeming satisfied with thare [sic] Religion." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Hope's Promise by S. Scott Rohrer. Copyright © 2005 S. Scott Rohrer. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.