Died 220 years ago did August Gottlieb Spangenberg, one of the stalwarts of the Moravian Church in the 18th century, and a key figure in the church’s expansion into North America. Although there do not appear to be any published editions of his diaries, at least in English, some extracts are available on websites hosted by the University of North Carolina.
Spangenberg was born in 1704 in Klettenberg, now a part of Hohenstein, Thuringia, where his father, Georg Spangenberg, was the pastor and ecclesiastical inspector. Left an orphan at thirteen, Spangenberg attended local school before studying law at the University of Jena. In 1722, he was converted to Pietism, a religious movement emphasising biblical study, morality and Christian living. Thereafter, he switched to studying theology, and took his degree in 1726. From 1728, he was drawn into the circle of Nicolaus Zinzendorf, a bishop of the Moravian Church and an influential social reformer. This led Spangenberg into an acrimonious split with the Pietists, and to a lifelong allegiance to the Moravian creed.
The Moravian Church, or what would become the Moravian Church, had been started by Jan Hus in the late 14th century. He had objected to some Roman Catholic ways and wished to return the church in Bohemia and Moravia to more common practices such as those embraced earlier in time by the Eastern Orthodox church. In particular, Moravians had rejected the idea of indulgences, preferring a doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone; and, in doing so, they had become the first or one of the first forerunners of the Protestant church.
With Zinzendorf, Spangenberg went to America, first to Georgia and then Pennsylvania, to supervise Moravian missionary work. Intending to make Philadelphia the centre of Moravian activity, he founded the North American branch of the church there in 1740, and at Bethlehem, he established a community in which work was done and goods were held communally. He also organised another branch in England, worked again in Germany, and, having been ordained a bishop, returned to North America in 1744. After a further sojourn in Europe, he extended Moravian missionary work to North Carolina.
Following Zinzendorf’s death in 1760, Spangenberg returned to Germany in 1762 to become a member of its governing body. There he stayed, and he devoted the rest of his life to the church. In addition to missionary work, he also drafted what became the accepted statement of Moravian beliefs; he moderated various internal differences; and he maintained friendly relations with the Lutheran Church. He wrote many hymns, as well as a biography of Zinzendorf. He died on 18 September 1792. A little further information is available from Wikipedia and a William Carey University web page.
Some of Spangenberg’s diaries are held by the Archives of the Moravian Church at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but its website provides little information on any holdings. More of his diaries may be in the Moravian archives at Hernhut, Germany. A few extracts - relating to Spangenberg’s activities in North America - have been translated into English and published on the website of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History and on the Documenting the American South website (both hosted by the University of North Carolina). A further NC university website gives some history of the Moravians in North America, and some context for the diary extracts that follow.
12 September 1752
‘Land matters in North Carolina are also in unbelievable confusion, and I do not see how endless law-suits are to be avoided. A man settles on a piece of land and does a good deal of work on it (from the Carolina standpoint), then another comes and drives him out, and who is to definitely settle the matter? There surely should have been a general surveyor from the beginning of the Colony, who should have had a map of the whole territory, and as from time to time land was surveyed, and the special surveyor made his returns, it should have been entered on the map, which would then have shown what land was vacant and what had been taken up. Unfortunately we can neither find nor hear of such a map.
The Patents from the Lords Proprietors should also from the beginning have been registered before passing into other hands, but either that was not done or the records have been lost. This much is sure, My Lord’s Agent cannot now give a Patent without fearing that when the tract is settled another man will come and say “That is my land.” The General Assembly has made an effort to remedy this confusion, and in 1748 passed an Act requiring property owners to bring in their Patents for registration, under £5 penalty for neglect to do this. It was further provided that whoever did not register his Patent within one year from the date of the Act should lose his rights founded upon it. A man who had lost his Patent, through fire or other accident, was permitted to prove undisputed possession for twenty years. Orphans were permitted to register their Patents within one year after attaining their majority; and owners dwelling beyond the sea were allowed five years from the date of the Act to file their claims. When I asked Mr Francis Corbin about a map he told me that he had been doing his best to have one made, and had given orders to the surveyor in each County to make a chart showing the land that had been taken up in his County. The line between Virginia and North Carolina has been run to the Blue Mountains; and the line between the Crown lands and the Granville District in North Carolina is now in hand, and will be run as soon as necessary information is received, though only by the one party, as the Crown commissioners are not assisting. When that is done there will probably be a map of the Granville District, from which one can see where the vacant land lies. Meanwhile there is neither a general surveyor’s map of the Granville District nor of the individual Counties. Therefore we do not know what land is vacant, and can only take for granted the word of the surveyor who says that such and such a piece has already been taken up. Mr Francis Corbin himself does not know, and is still “in the dark.”
His suggestion is that we go to the “Back of the Colony,” that is west to the Blue Mountains, taking a surveyor, and that perhaps there we can find a suitable tract of land that has not hitherto been surveyed. We will see.’
13 September 1752
‘If, as I hope, we settle in North Carolina, it will be very important that from the beginning we have some one who will pay particular attention to the laws of the land, for from the law book I see that there are many rules and laws of which our Brethren would not think. For example: If any one living within three miles of a public ferry takes a man, horse, or cow across the stream, receiving payment therefor, he must pay £5 for each man or animal so set across.
A man must have his marriage, or the birth of a child, or the burial of a member of his family registered by the Recorder, if there is no Clerk of the Church in the County; and he is fined one shilling, to be paid to the Recorder, for each month that he delays registration.
A man is fined £10 if he gives permission to a non-resident of Carolina to pasture cattle, horses or hogs on his land.
Any man who buys land from the Indians, without special permission from the Governor and Council, loses the land, and is fined £20.
Every third year a land-owner must have a certain person follow the bounds of his property, renew the marks, and register the same.
There is a penalty of £5 for killing deer between Feb. 15th and July 15th.
All marriages must be performed by a minister of the Church of England, or by a Justice of the Peace. If there is a minister of the Church of England in the Parish a Justice of the Peace cannot marry a couple without paying a fine of £5. To marry without a License, or without the Publication of the Bans three times, entails a penalty of £50.
A man wishing to marry must go to the Clerk of the County in which the woman lives and give a bond of £50 that there is nothing to prevent the marriage; then he takes the Clerk’s certificate to a Justice of the Peace, and he issues the License. The fees are 20sh. for the Governor, 5sh. for the Clerk, 5sh. for the Justice, and 10sh. for the Minister. If the Bans are published there is no charge for a License. If the marriage is not performed by the minister in the Parish where the woman lives he must still be offered the fee.
A man marrying a negress, indian, mulatto, or any one of mixed blood, is fined £50; the minister or justice performing the ceremony must also pay £50.
When the County Court appoints a man as Constable he must qualify within 10 days or pay a fine of 50 shillings.
If a man finds strange cattle in his cow-pen he must advertise their marks on the Church door or at the Court House of the County in which his cow-pen lies, or pay a fine of 20sh.
A man using weights and measures in business must have them marked and sealed according to the standard of the Court. Failure to do this entails a fine of £10, even though they are correct.
The man using a steelyard in trade must have it tested every year, and get a certificate, or pay a fine of 20s.
No Christian, brought into this land, can be a bond-servant, even though he has made a written agreement to that effect with some one.
Who buys from or sells to a slave, without permission of the slave’s master, shall lose three times the value of the article bought or sold, and pay a fine of £6.
Whoever gives assistance to a slave who is trying to run away shall serve the slave’s master five years as penalty.
A man who owns no land but hunts in the woods and shoots a deer shall forfeit his gun and pay £5, unless he can show a certificate from two Justices that the preceding year he had planted and cultivated at least 5,000 hills of corn in the County where he is hunting.
Each house-holder, overseer, etc., whether summoned or not, must appear before a Justice each year before the 1st of May and give in an accurate list of the names and ages of all persons subject to tax, white or black, free or slave. Failure to do this entails a fine of 40s. with 20s. additional for each month’s delay.
There are other similar laws, not unreasonable, but if they are not known they might easily be broken. Here, as in all English countries, there are good laws that are not kept, but the Brethren can not act in that way.’