October 22 history blog post: One of a series of short essays to provide the cultural, political and geographical context for the 1766 travelers.
Salem Academy and College proudly traces its roots to the eighteen females (twelve of whom were teenagers!) who immigrated to Carolina from Pennsylvania in October of 1766. From among this group came the first teacher at the school, along with others who worked there in the years to come.
It was important to the new community and part of the overall plan to have all choirs in place at Bethabara. This they did by planning and organizing a series of migrations which, one after another systematically provided all components of the community. Earlier in 1766, the Elders Conference had requested the administration in Bethlehem to send several girls to form the beginning of the Older Girls Choir in Bethabara, and, on October 2 of that year, they headed south.
How in the world did this group make the 500-mile trek through the wilderness? Those females exhibited great faith, resolve, and courage. And they had some help…
We learn from the journal of one of the travelers, 16-year-old Salome Meurer, that there were at least eleven men who played various roles in assisting on this journey from Bethlehem to Bethabara. They served as leader of the group, wagon drivers, horse handlers, escorts, river crossing enablers, and generally as protectors of the girls. We owe them a mention and our thanks when we tell our story.
According to Salome Meurer’s journal, Richard Utley, along with his wife Sarah (Sally), was the leader of the group. At one point, Salome tells us, “…he needed quite a while to get rid of three drunk Irishmen.” Utley, born in England, was an English-and German-speaking minister, serving in Maryland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania before migrating to Wachovia where he continued his profession, primarily as a traveling preacher. He is buried in God’s Acre in Salem.
Salome also mentions Brother Holder and describes him as a last second “escort” to the group. That was fortunate because he saved them from unwanted attention from six men, paddled the group across the Rappahannock River, and ”quickly made an oar and paddled toward us in the canoe” as the girls’ raft headed “toward a large cliff.”
Ernst and Marcs Kiefer were the wagon drivers and tended to their nine horses on the Northern section of the route, while Heinrich and Johannes Shore did the same on the Southern section.
We glean from Salome that Brother Etwein was a very well-liked companion, accompanying the group for the first few days. He “entertained us all with all sorts of charming discourses.” Brother Johannes Etwein spent the majority of his life as a missionary and was a bishop in the Church of the Brethren. He died in Bethlehem, PA in 1802.
Jacob Blum saved the group from a drunk the very first night (a common theme here) and helped with a river crossing in Carolina. The traveling party encountered at least two enslaved men, working on the river ferries in Virginia.
Daniel Schnepf, William Grabs, and “Graf” met the group at different times along the route.
The group encountered quite a bit of rain on the journey, and the ”Brothers warmed up some rum and pitched the tents” on occasion.
What a great example of the collaboration of the sexes that was required not simply on this journey but for all times to the present in this highly successful Moravian story.
Jim Manning, Husband of 1973 Salem Academy Alumna
“Women on the Trail in Colonial America: A Travel Journal of German Moravians Migrating from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 1766,” Pennsylvania History, Vol. 61, No. 2, April 1994 by Aaron S. Fogleman