Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Independence by Intoxication

The brewing of Beer and distilling of Brandy is not a subject easily thought of as a thriving part of the repertoire of our once theocratic ruled Moravian town of Salem. In today’s “Bible Belt” brewing, distilling of alcoholic beverages and religion don’t fit well in the same thought. Not so in the 1700’s. This was not the “Bible Belt” and the Moravian’s can’t be compared to today’s pious religious folk we might be acquainted with. On thing I have learned about many pious Moravians, even today, they can hold their liquor. That is another story. The Salem Single Brothers Brewery and Distillery opened in 1774. There were similar operations in Bethabara. Their fame for quality brewing and distilling spread throughout the Carolina backwoods and beyond.

The pious Moravian’s of Salem choose to remain publicly neutral during the Revolutionary War. Some might think of them as not willing to fight. Such is not the case. The Moravian’s were forced to walk a narrow line because of their relationship with the British concerning their land. It was a complicated relationship. Many individual Moravians participated in the war, including many of my ancestors. The truth is that Traugott Bagge, Salem’s leading merchant of the church owned store, was actively involved on the Patriot side practically serving as a purchasing agent for the Continental Army. The village of Bethania was a little more openly patriotic than Salem and Bethabara. These contradictions led to be accusations, looting and damages from both sides. The Moravians never knew from day to day who might appear in the town, friend or foe, and what demands, reasonable or unreasonable might be thrust upon them. Although receipts for aid supplied to the patriot cause could be used later to pay taxes, lightening the costs of food, lodging and other supplies, they worried for the safety of their homes and their children.

The superiority of the Moravians brewing and distilling achievements were a well known draw and very popular among visitors and travelers. Salem’s reputation in the art of good drink spread rapidly and reached British General Lord Cornwallis who managed to make the area of Salem an important part of his chase to destroy the patriot army following the battle of Kings Mountain. Amazingly when he should have been traveling North East to cut General Greene off at river crossings instead he chose to travel East through the supply (beer and brandy) rich Moravian settlements.

Earlier in August of 1780, Bethabara, with only 42 adults in residence, had been overrun by three hundred Virginia militia men, who camped in the town for three weeks. After the battle of Kings Mountain in October, where loyalist troops were defeated by the over-the-mountain men using Indian fighting tactics and more accurate long rifles, Bethabara hosted five hundred prisoners for nineteen days. Some of the prisoners were sent to Salem. Prisoners in both towns were guarded by members of my family, who were not Moravian, per their military pension records.

At one point about a dozen of General Greene’s men rode into town, they “lived at discretion in the town,” the Salem Diary complained. They got drunk at the tavern and threatened the lives and homes of several brothers and sisters, including Brother Bagge, twice holding a pistol to his breast.

General Nathaniel Greene
On the evening of February 4th 1781 the Continental Army’s General Nathaniel Greene and his troops marched through Salem and received supplies. Greene then moved on to Guilford Courthouse arriving on the 6th where others joined them. A few days later Lord Cornwallis and his British army, in pursuit of General Greene, arrived in the area of Salem and wanted supplies for their troops as well. The Moravians provided the British with brandy, oxen and bread, but unfortunately the troops also looted the areas stores and homes.

Lord Cornwallis and his British army of about 3,000 men took over the area around the village of Bethania. Many troops camped on Fredrich Muller’s farm. Cornwallis’ actions seemed to be a warning to Bethania for their more vocal support of the American cause than most Moravian communities. As cold rain fell, the soldiers butchered more than 60 head of cattle, plus sheep, chickens and geese. As they prepared their meals in the different quarters they had taken over, they purposely tracked in mud from the unpaved streets. As darkness set in,100 gallons of whiskey and 300 hundred pounds of bread, sent from Bethabara, added to their meals.

Many of the soldiers must have been drunk later in the evening when someone decided that the Moravians ought to drink to the health of good King George. The men at first refused and were threatened with swords. They then took the bottle, tipped it up, letting it gurgle, but not swallowing any of the brandy. Cornwallis spent the night at a home in Bethania. Much property was destroyed and they held the minister as hostage until all the best horses could be delivered. Cornwallis ordered 20 fresh horses were to be ready at 6 A.M. the next morning. The Moravians tried to explain that they could not supply so many horses. The army left finally with 17 horses, six of which had been freshly stolen from the British army itself.

Lord Cronwallis
Leaving the area, Lord Cornwallis and his army marched through Salem. Apparently, Cornwallis socialized with leaders of the community including Bagge who had recently returned from a visit to Europe. On their rampage they haled ninety barrels or so of Salem’s best brew off toward their impending confrontation with Greene at Guilford Courthouse.

Several days later, nearly five hundred cavalry troops camped in Salem, throwing the town into chaos. As well as unruly soldiers, there were civilian families of men, women, and children who had placed themselves under “protection” of the British army. British soldiers stole from the store and from residences, even snatching the wash off the clothesline at one home

On March 15th 1781 Generals Greene and Cornwallis met at the Battle of Guiford Court House (in present day Greensboro named after General Greene). This battle is considered to be one of the hardest-fought of the entire war; “I never saw such fighting,” Cornwallis later declared, “since God made me.” The Earl displayed his courage and tenacity as a combat commander (at one point, he ordered the artillery to shell the lines his own men were fighting in) but also his deficiencies as a strategist. Could it have been the effect Moravian brewing and distilling? Although the British troops held the field at the end of the battle, their casualties at the hands of the numerically superior American Army were crippling. Following this "Pyrrhic (costly) victory", Cornwallis chose to move to the Virginia coastline to get reinforcements and to allow the Royal Navy to protect his battered army. This decision eventually resulted in Cornwallis's defeat at Yorktown, Virginia later in 1781. The Patriots' victory there guaranteed American independence.

Was it the long rifles of the Quaker “Pacifists,” recently settled in Guilford or the intoxicating brew of the “neutral” pious Moravian brethren leading to the British poor performance at Guilford Court House in the last great decisive battle of the South?

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