Historical Markers
Nazareth Historical Marker
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Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
PA 191 (East Center Street) opposite North Pine Street at Whitefield House, Nazareth

Dedication Date:
November 18, 1966

Behind the Marker

Town scene
A view of Nazareth, PA, from an original sketch by Jacobsen, by Rufus Grider,...
In the late spring of 1740, a weary group of Moravian missionaries from Georgia arrived in Pennsylvania as "working guests" of Methodist evangelist George Whitefield, a British cleric conducting his own missionary work in the New World. Sailing to Philadelphia in Whitefield's sloop, The Savannah, the Moravians were looking for a new place to pursue their missionary activities.

In Georgia they had experienced great hostility from neighbors and government officials who looked askance at their pacifism and their friendliness with local Cherokees and enslaved African-Americans.
Town sketch
A View of Nazareth, PA., by Nicholas Garrison c. 1761
Whitefield hired the Moravians to construct a school on land he owned in Nazareth, where he intended to educate orphan children of slaves. But the relationship was short lived.

A serious argument with Whitefield over religious doctrine caused the Moravians to leave Nazareth and establish the nearby town of Bethlehem. Ironically, when Whitefield fell on hard times, the prosperous Moravians bought Nazareth from him. The original structure there, still called Whitefield House, served their community through the centuries as a place of worship, a boarding school for Moravian girls, a nursery for the children of missionaries, and as the Moravian Theological Seminary. 
Cartoon showing Rev. George Whitefield standing on a three-legged stool, and preaching in the open air, an imp pouring inspiration through a clyster-pipe into his ear, a grotesque Fame, being a female evil-spirit, listens to his discourse with an ear-trumpet, and repeats it in an ordinary trumpet, the Devil clutches gold from under his stool, etc.
"Dr. Squintum's Exaltation or the Reformation," a cartoon satirizing the preaching...

Nazareth and Bethlehem had much in common. Both communities operated under a communal economic system that made it economically possible for many Moravians to engage in educational and missionary efforts. Efficient organizers, the Moravians coordinated Bethlehem and its surrounding regions, including Nazareth, into a large unit called the Oeconomy. Craftsmen in Bethlehem supplied the communities with blacksmith services, a tannery, and other related necessities. Nazareth became the "breadbasket," as its farms proved more fruitful than Bethlehem's.
Oil on canvas painting of Zinzendorf als Lehrer der Völker, preaching to congregation.   Here Zinzendorf is receiving the light of God.
Zinzendorf als Lehrer der, by Johann Valentin Haidt, circa 1747.

Though their neighbors were often suspicious of this strange band of Germans and downright hostile when the pacifist Moravians refused to bear arms in the colonial war against the Indians and French on the frontier, the Moravians of Nazareth strove to spread their gospel among their Native American, English, and German neighbors. They soon abandoned the effort to bring all German Protestants under their spiritual guidance, but continued to devote a great deal of time and energy to reach the Lenape.

One reason for their success in spreading the gospel among native communities in New York, Ohio, and the Carolinas was their ability to communicate with the Indians in their own languages. Moravian missionaries spent years learning and then translating parts of the Bible in native dialects. "It is not land that we are after," one missionary to New York wrote, "unlike the ministers who travel through wilds occasionally. We came to learn their language and as soon as we were sufficiently advanced we wished to bring them the words of the creator." Missionary markerDavid Zeisburger worked with the Delaware in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, converting many to Christianity.

Though the original Moravians who arrived in Nazareth with George Whitefield found their welcome short-lived, their persevering Brothers, Sisters, and descendants built a successful town there. Today, Whitefield's three-and-a-half story limestone building houses the Moravian Historical Society. Open to the public, the Whitefield House contains a large collection of Moravian instruments, textiles and clothing, household goods, Native American artifacts, and paintings by John Valentine Haidt (1700-1780), whose religious canvasses and portraits were used by Moravians as visual aids to their ministry.
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