Moravian Immigration

October 9 history blog post: One of a series of short essays to provide the cultural, political and geographical context for the 1766 travelers.

Many immigrants came to America without community connections, hoping to take advantage of the “land of opportunity” where acreage was abundant and cheap. But if they lacked financial means, arriving in America could mean a long financial struggle. Passage alone may have required using all of one’s savings; many arrived on American soil penniless. If they had no way to pay for their passage, and no one to provide financial assistance upon arrival, they might have no choice but to become indentured servants. Wealthy residents could “purchase” a newly arrived immigrant — i.e., pay their debts for passage — in exchange for a number of years of servitude to work off the debt. The term of service might be four, five or even seven years.

Moravian migration to America was planned and financed from the top down. The church leadership would determine where additional people were needed in America, then they asked for volunteers. They screened the volunteers and used the Lot to make final decisions. The screening process included determining what skills the applicant could contribute to the well-being of the community. Those who were selected generally traveled in a group on the same ship and were met by Moravians upon arrival in America. From the port, they would travel together to their designated community (for example, Bethlehem), staying with other Moravians along the way. Once they arrived, they would be welcomed and would enter into the appropriate choir, or living group.

Because of the careful planning and financing, Moravians were able to avoid the pitfalls of indentured servitude and personal debt that plagued so many other immigrants.

Virginia S. Hart A’75


Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775