Traversing Virginia

October 6 history blog post: One of a series of short essays to provide the cultural, political and geographical context for the 1766 travelers.

In “Women on the Trail in Colonial America: A Travel Journal of German Moravians Migrating from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 1766” (aka Salome Meurer’s journal), Aaron S. Fogleman notes Salome’s negative view of Virginia. Certainly it was a difficult journey for a young girl through alien territory with no opportunity to stay with fellow Moravians along the way, as they had done in Pennsylvania and Maryland. However, the fear was more deep-seated.

In the 18th century, the Moravians in Pennsylvania sent missionaries throughout the colonies to preach the gospel. They traveled from home to home, preaching to landowners and their families and to larger groups of neighbors when possible. Settlers were usually receptive, especially since they rarely saw ministers in the wilderness. Through one of the diaries kept by these missionaries in 1749, we learn that there was some mistrust of Moravians in the backcountry of Virginia. “My dear people, we hear much evil of you. Again a book has reached us in which many bad things are told about you,” says one woman whose house they visited. The book she referenced may have been “A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey, Containing the Occasion of His Coming Among the Herrnhuters or Moravians, His Observations on Their…Impious Doctrines and Fantastical Practices.”

Others turned the Moravians away, refusing to provide food or shelter for a night. In another instance, they learned that the local Lutheran minister had warned his parishioners to “be on guard against” Moravians. “We had soon an opportunity of seeing how bitter the people are towards us,” the diary notes. At yet another house, the missionaries asked if they could preach, and the owner replied, “Not for fifty pounds.” He, too, had been warned by a Lutheran minister “not to permit himself to be led astray.”

The source of this enmity may be Count Zinzendorf’s attempt in 1742 to establish himself as head of the Lutheran church. Zinzendorf, as leader of the Moravians, had aspired to unite all Protestant denominations into a religious confederation. Clearly, the Lutherans did not plan to cooperate.

This distrust was not the case everywhere, and the 1749 diary notes many instances where the Moravians were greeted warmly and were able to preach and minister to the inhabitants of backcountry Virginia.

When the 1766 party reached North Carolina at last, Salome wrote: “We crossed into Carolina for the first time and rejoiced that our dear Saviour brought us so happily through Virginia. The people in Carolina are no doubt very different and much better than in Virginia. In the evening we were very happy and blissful.”

Virginia S. Hart A’75


Moravian Diaries of Travels Through Virginia,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XI, No. 2, October 1903

Aaron S. Fogleman, “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

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