A History of Bethania, North Carolina

Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg led a party to survey a 100,000 acre tract of land in North Carolina, which came to be known as Wachau after an Austrian estate of Count Zinzendorf. The name, later anglicized to Wachovia, became the center of growth for the church in that region. Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem (now Winston-Salem) were the first Moravian settlements in North Carolina beginning in the 1750s.

The first settlers arrived in November of 1753, a group of eleven single men selected to provide the necessary skills for establishing a new community. Four others accompanied them on the journey but returned to Pennsylvania soon after. Additional settlers arrived beginning in 1754 and 1755, including the first women. The first community established was Bethabara, initially a stockaded fort protecting the neighboring farms. Never much more than a farming community in the early days, it is now within the city limits of Winston-Salem, on the northwest side of the city center.

In 1759, the site was selected for a second village, Bethania, about three miles northwest of Bethabara. The first houses were built in the summer of that year, just before an epidemic of typhus broke out that killed ten of the settlers. Bethania had its own church, still an active congregation, and supported the surrounding farms with basic goods and services. Families particularly associated with Bethania in the early days include Binkley, Conrad, Grabs, Hauser, Spainhour, Strub, Transou, and Volck.

Bethania Moravian Church - Today

Bethania has the distinction of being the first planned community of Wachovia, not to take anything away from Bethabara, the first settlement. It was in the midst of the French and Indian War when Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenburg arrived in Wachovia complete with orders to begin a new community and a name for it: Bethania. On June 12, 1759, he and others rode out to Black Walnut Bottom three miles northwest of Bethabara, and chose a site for the new town. Eight Moravian families were selected to move to the new community, and because they expressed such a love for the Moravian Church, eight families of war refugees living at the Bethabara mill were permitted to settle in Bethania also. Before leaving Wachovia for the last time, Dr. Spangenberg formally organized the Bethania congregation on April 13,1760.

On learning that Spangenberg had allowed "strangers" - non-Moravians - to move into Wachovia's first planned town, Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the unquestioned leader of the Moravian Church, pitched a furious tantrum - and died.

Perhaps because of its mixture of Moravians and newcomers, Bethania has always been a congregation of, shall we say, dynamic ferment.

In 1771 a large two-story Gemien House was consecrated to replace the hastily-erected 1760 building. By 1790, Bethania had 215 members. A large brick church was erected and consecrated in 1809 (it burned in 1942 but was rebuilt). In 1822, Bethanians began buying the land on which their houses sat (35 years before Salem began doing the same thing). A fire company was formed, a militia company was organized (before Salem), an academy was opened. Why, in 1839 some citizens got the town incorporated (evidently, though, they never acted upon it).

Most important for the Moravian Church as a whole, the Bethania congregation has been very active in outreach. Bethania A.M.E, Olivet, Mizpah, King, and Rural Hall all trace their heritage to the Bethania church "family" and Bethania has been especially strong in mission endeavor, with the World Mission Shop being only one token of its service.

Bethania Moravian Church is located in the center of the village of Bethania northwest of Winston-Salem, NC, which is the county seat for Forsyth County. It is a Protestant church called by Christ to serve Him by living and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.

During the Revolutionary War, Bethania was known by most simply as the Moravian Town, but by others as "Hausertown," due to the presence of a family by the name of Hauser. Later historians seem to want to assign the name "the Moravian Town" to Bethabara. Which is correct is beyond this Author's ability to decide.
Bethania was granted a US Post Office on January 1, 1795, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Jacob Sash. It has been in continuous operation ever since.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved