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House of Passage

by Nathan Smith  


Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith

Year in Medical School: 3rd

Place of Birth:
Charleston, SC

Where You Grew Up:
Winston Salem, NC

College Attended: 
Bob Jones University

Major in College:

Goals (Medical School and Beyond):
Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Pesonal Philosophy on Life and/or Medicine:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. - James 1:27

 Favorite Quote:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worht of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. - Philippians 3:7-8 



Moravian churches dot the town of Winston-Salem as frequently as sheep and cattle fill the town’s country farms. But who exactly are the Moravians? Why does Wake Forest Baptist (notably not Moravian) Hospital crown its head every Christmas with that strangely shaped star? What does this small protestant denomination have to do with Winston Salem?

Moravians are the spiritual descendants of the 14th century Czech priest, Jan Hus. John, as the English later spelled his name, was burned at the stake for his stand against indulgences and various other spiritual corruptions he observed in the Roman Catholic Church. Forty-two years later, followers of his teachings founded a church body consecrated to following Jesus Christ, committed to telling others the Christian Gospel, and characterized by dedicated service to others. After the ups and downs of history, notably the protestant reformation in the 1600s, the movement had been both exalted and abased in its numbers and popularity. In 1722, a low period of the denomination’s history, a few exiles from Moravia (part of the modern day Czech Republic) and Bohemia found refuge on the estate of Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a nobleman of Saxony.  They established a small village on his estate and five years later they exhibited their service-oriented theology by sending out their first missionaries.  In time they sent missionaries around the globe.

In 1749 the British Parliament recognized the Moravian church as “an ancient Protestant Episcopal Church” which opened the political doorway for the denomination to pursue settlements in North America. English noblemen were eager for honest and diligent laymen and women to work their land in the new world, and the establishment of Moravian settlements in America began.

Historians often attribute the movement of Moravians to North America to three factors.  First, their focus on missions led them to send their sons and daughters across the globe, which included taking the Gospel message to Native Americans and settlers of the New World.  Second, a key component of their belief was to fulfill the spiritual command “to love their neighbors as themselves” by service to others.  Finally, the memory of persecutions they had suffered in various European states had left painful scars, and a fresh start in a new land seemed promising.

In the mid 1700s, one of those settlements began after the Earl of Granville offered 100,000 acres of his land in the Carolinas to the Moravians. With prompting from Count Zinzendorf, the Moravians were inclined to accept the terms, and soon sent men from their thriving settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to spy out the land.  In fall of 1752 Gottlieb Spangenberg, a Moravian bishop, and a small party of men set out to survey the land for a possible location for the new settlement. The long journey was beset with wrong turns, fevers, and bad winter weather.  They were originally discouraged by what they considered poor land in most of the Western Carolinas, until they arrived at what we now call Winston-Salem.

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Spangenberg recorded in his journal that “everybody who knows the country says that this is the only place where we could find so much good land together, and decidedly the best land yet vacant. Our impression is the same.”

Spangenberg returned to Bethlehem in February and soon sailed to England with the maps and information about the land now called “Wachovia,” a name which came from a plot of land owned by the Zinzendorf family. The deeds for the land were signed in London on August 7, 1753.  Two months later twelve single brethren (as the men of the Moravian church were often called) selected for their abilities and strengths suited to pioneer a settlement left Bethlehem.

On Saturday, November 17, they arrived in Wachovia and settled in to a small shack built by previous travellers.  They held a simple lovefeast to give thanks for the safe conclusion of their journey, and to ask God’s blessing for the future as they began the founding of Bethabara (which means “House of Passage” in Hebrew). The Moravian devotional texts assigned for the day was most appropriate for weary young men far from home, prone to loneliness and conflict: “I know where thou dwellest” (Revelation 2:13) and “Be of one mind.” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

The crude cabin was a tight fit for the 12 brethren, and winter was soon upon them.  They endured the snow, ice and cold that characterizes the winters of the region.  They felled trees to be formed into the tools needed for the settlers who would come a mere two years later. Fields were cleared for the planting and fences erected to preserve the crops from grazing wildlife.

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The livestock brought from Pennsylvania would not fare well without shelter, so a stable was erected to provide safety and security for their animal assets.

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The skills that the Moravian brethren brought to the area quickly became widely known.  The services of their physician and surgeon, Hans Kalberlahn, were soon sought by other settlers. Their tailor, Hans Petersen, also found work outside of Moravian brethren.  And soon the skills of other brethren were being used by both locals and travelers, bringing money, food, and local trade to the new settlement.  The frequency of guests became so great that building a guest house became a necessity.

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They also built bigger accommodations for themselves, and began construction on houses for the Moravian families that were to come two years later.

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Yet still the questions go unanswered. Why the Baptist hospital in the Moravian city, and the unusual star at Christmas time?  Those questions will be answered in the Summer Issue of OASIS.

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The Moravian brethren that first came to what is today Winston Salem were chosen for their abilities and for being single. The church authorities deemed single men better suited to devote their full attention to the work of preparing for the arrival of those who would settle the area.  During the two years the men lived and worked together they formed strong bonds of friendship and mutual love and admiration.  While they all pulled together to the work at hand, most of them had specific skills.


• Bernhard Grube (37) was the head of the expedition, and the group’s spiritual leader. 

• Jacob Loesch (31) managed the business affairs with the surrounding colonies. 

• Hans Kalberlahn (31) was physician and surgeon. 

• Friedrich Pfeil (42) was a shoemaker and nurse. 

• Erich Ingebretsen (31) was the head mill-wright and carpenter. 

• Heinrich Feldhausen (38) was shoemaker, carpenter, and farmer.   

• Jacob Lung (40) was a gardener and launderer, and skilled with animals.

• Hans Petersen (28) was a tailor and wood cutter. 

• Johannes Beroth (28) was a farmer. 

• Chistopher Merkly (39) was a baker and cook as well as a farmer.

• Hermann Loesch (27) had been part of the initial scouting party and was a miller.

• Johannes Lischer (33) was a laborer and was designated the group’s messenger.

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Last Updated: 11-01-2012
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