On a rainy Saturday in April, more than 800 people visited the Northern Province Moravian Archives in Bethlehem to get a glimpse at how the Moravian community in Pennsylvania came into being.
For “Deed Day”—on April 2, 2016—archivists put the original deed for the land purchased for the Moravian settlement on display for one day only, 275 years to the day of its signing in 1741. This was the first time the deed was on public display.
An important purchase
With the deed, Moravians purchased a 500-acre tract along the Monocacy Creek and Lehigh River from William Allen, who later founded Allentown, Pennsylvania. But the Moravians, who were not able to purchase the land on their own because of their citizenship, relied instead on Henry Antes to purchase the land for them.
According to the Archives, Antes paid 400 pounds in Pennsylvania currency for the land situated on the “Menakasie Creek and West Branch of Delaware River” (an early name for the Lehigh). Because the Moravian Church was not recognized as a legal entity at the time, the Moravians needed a naturalized citizen of Pennsylvania to purchase the land. Antes, who would later join the Moravian Church, was the right person to do this. In order to ensure the land would not pass on to Antes’s heirs after his death, a separate agreement between Antes and the Moravians was drawn up.
The deed was written in English on animal skin parchment measuring 16 x 24 to help ensure it would last a long time. There was a small hole in the parchment, which the deed clerk wrote around. The document still includes the signatures and lacquer seals of sellers William and Margaret Allen.
An interested crowd
Archives’ staff estimate more then 800 people came through to view the exhibit and deed on Deed Day, likely the largest gathering at the Archives in its history. Visitors began arriving at 9 a.m. and a steady stream continued throughout the day. The event was sponsored by Thomas and JoAnne Riddle and Valley National Financial Advisors.
A trombone choir welcomed visitors to the Archives, while staff, board members and volunteers directed the large crowd through the exhibit. The day also featured musical performances sponsored by the Moravian Music Foundation. Commemorative prints, archives merchandise, books and other items were on sale during the free event, helping to raise funds for the Archives.
Given its fragility and importance to the history of the Moravians and the city of Bethlehem, the deed is normally kept in the vault at the Northern Province Moravian Archives and only brought out for research. During Deed Day, the star attraction was protected in a glass case, with volunteers describing the document and answering questions. It was safely returned to the vault at the end of the event.
The Deed Day presentation was part of a new Archives exhibit called “Building Bethlehem,” that explains how the settlement—and city of Bethlehem—came to be. The exhibit features some of the earliest building plans, drawings, and maps showing the development of Bethlehem during the colonial period. The drawings are combined with artifacts, paintings and nineteenth-century photographs of the buildings. While the deed has returned to the vault, the exhibit features several displays that showcase the document and explain interesting information about the piece.
The exhibit, part of the 275th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of Bethlehem, is open through June 2017. n
From the June 2016 Moravian Magazine