Just imagine the Carolina Colony in 1753. In England, Bishop Spangenberg, Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians had purchased around 100,000 acres of land in the backwoods of the colony from Lord Granville, one of the Eight Lords Proprietors of the English Colony. On this land settlements would be built. First, there was Bethabara, then Bethania, then Salem in 1766.
Salem was to become the core village for the Moravians with a good water supply and safe lands. A village would become a reality. There are many things I could write about in the development of the Salem community, but my assignment is to write thoughts on Education.
At Home Church I volunteer as a church interpreter. We open our doors to the thousands of visitors to Old Salem. In my comments I often say that wherever the Moravians went they took the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they took education. That is exactly what they did in their Salem Village, where a Boys’ School and a Girls’ School were begun.
It was important and necessary for the community to have a literate population. The girls learned domestic skills and the boys learned a trade, both groups also learned to read, write and do math. To the Moravians it was essential to become educated because you would be able to read and become well-versed in the Holy Scriptures. Records tell us how Sunday Schools were held.
I made a trip to the Southern Province Archives to discuss this topic with our archivist, Richard Starbuck. He shared information from documents pointing to these Sunday Schools. There were schools with African Americans until the law said that children of slaves could not be taught. There were Native American girls who attended Salem Academy. There was connection with the community through education. I want to go back to the Archives and actually study some of these people who ventured out to teach.
The education culture that developed with the founding of Salem by the Moravians continues to exist. Salem Academy and College continues to live as a liberal arts institution. It is one of the longest existing girls’ school in the United States dating back to 1772. Several years ago Salem began a Continuing Education department where people from the community receive degrees improving their work status. Salem College is alive and well and it has created an environment for the whole community to strive for excellence in education. We have the expectation for learning opportunities for all. A major university (Wake Forest) and an arts school (University of North Carolina School of the Arts) chose to come to Winston-Salem. A predominately African American university (Winston-Salem State University) resides in our city. The activities at these institutions enhance the lives of all of us.
Some of our churches are in partnerships with local public schools. Volunteers work as tutors, library clerks, test proctors, etc. One youth group donated several thousand books to the school so that every child could have a book or two to take home as their very own. Food projects also help the schools. This is living education: passing on to the next generation the necessity of knowledge, but also the joy of it.
Most of us cannot imagine not being educated. It is our way of life and a freeing of it. But we cannot shirk our responsibility to the next generation. During a school year thousands of students visit the Village of Salem and Bethabara. There are no better places to study life in Colonial America. They also learn about “these Moravians” who came from Europe bringing their belief in Jesus Christ, outstanding music, survival in the backwoods…and education!
Mallie Beroth Graham is a member of Home Moravian Church, a retired public school teacher of 37 years, and a former Director of Christian Education.