Unruly Sisters: Moravian Women, Dissent, and the 18th Century North Carolina Piedmont

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Virginia Tech

This thesis is about how Moravian women in the community of Salem, North Carolina, challenged the policies of the church in order to gain more autonomy in the late 18th century. Settling into the Piedmont, these women encountered excessive materialism and a widely accepted racial hierarchy, which challenged the simple life of the Moravian community. I argue that although historians of Moravians have explored the dissent in the Salem community, they have not considered the desires of Moravian women and how their environment shaped them. Moravian Elders struggled to keep their congregation in line and were greatly concerned with the conduct of women. Young women running away with outsider men reflected poorly on their patriarchal control. Married women who conducted their households in a way that contradicted the guidance of the Elders, seemed to threaten the future of their community by corrupting the youth. Despite the efforts of the Elders to contain dissent, they were sometimes pushed to adjust their policies.

Using the disciplinary records of the Elders, memoirs, the Single Sisters Diary, and various documents from the congregation, I examine the experiences and actions of Moravian women prior to their arrival in Salem and shortly after, the dissent and desires of Single Sisters, and how Married Sisters navigated the rules of the Brethren to run their own households. Despite the attempts of the Elders to curb disobedient behavior, many women were successful. Moreover, the disobedience of Moravian women exemplifies how women were involved in changing the Moravian church and the development of the Piedmont culture by challenging the policies of the church and seeking opportunities for freedom.

Moravians, American Religion, 18th Century, North Carolina, Women's History