Chapter 16 The Moravian Easter Morning Services from 1772–1822: Easter and the Birth of American-Moravian Identity

In: Moravian Americans and their Neighbors, 1772-1822
Grant Profant McAllister
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Every Easter early in the morning, hundreds of visitors gather in Old Salem to participate in the sunrise service. Since 1772, Moravians living in Salem have continued this tradition that started in Herrnhut in 1732. However, visitors or “foreigners” as the Moravians referred to them, did not always attend the early morning procession to God’s Acre. Outsider participation started slowly, but grew quickly until eventually in 1804, “thousands” are said to have participated. Additionally, white Europeans were not the only attendees. Enslaved as well as free African Americans often attended the services in great number.

This essay analyzes the peculiar development of this iconic Moravian ritual that initially started internally within the community, but which quickly expanded outward, accommodating outsiders through structural and linguistic changes, including the racial segregation of visitors and participants. The result of these gradual changes was the rise of a uniquely American ritual that reflected the preferences, needs, and customs of not only Moravians, but also the various ethnic and linguistic groups and cultures residing in Wachovia between 1772 and 1822.

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