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Hidden Collections

The Moravian Community in the New World: The First 100 Years

Congregational Library

Founded in 1751 to hold books essential to building a New World settlement.

Finding Aids

Personal Papers, Records of Businesses and Organizations, Maps and Architectural Drawings.

About the Project

Lehigh University, in partnership with the Moravian Archives, was awarded a $90,000 grant under the Council on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program funded by the Mellon Foundation. This two-year collaborative project, "The Moravian Community in the New World: The First 100 Years," processed collections documenting the material culture, religious values and cultural diversity of the Moravian community of Bethlehem from its founding in 1741 until the opening of the community to non-Moravians in 1844 and the subsequent incorporation of Bethlehem in 1851. Work on the project commenced in March 2010, and was completed in April 2012.
Moravians represent an important religious group in the 18th century transatlantic world. During its first 100 years Bethlehem was a successful exclusive Moravian community, although it was by no means isolated. It was an active, multi-cultural regional center for trade and industry, interacting with Europe and the Caribbean. Through its original purpose as a mission base in the New World to its social, political and economic evolution, Bethlehem's history is intertwined with the history of a colony, a state and a nation.
Moravians were known for their meticulous record-keeping. Because of the control of the church over every aspect of life within Bethlehem, matters were recorded in order to be reported to leadership that in other communities went unrecorded. Moravians had a strong sense of the historical relevance of their accomplishments, and ensured that their records reflecting the multi-faceted life of this transatlantic community in its interaction with other cultures were preserved for posterity. For this project, which concentrates on the first 100 years of the existence of Bethlehem as an exclusively Moravian community, record groups that reflect different aspects of life were chosen.
This project made accessible: Personal Papers (papers of artists, tradesmen, missionaries, and sailors), along with Business Records (ledgers and inventories detailing operations of grist and saw mills, tailors and weavers; dye works; soap factory; taverns; tannery; and lumberyards); the Congregational Library (founded 1751 to hold books essential to building a New World settlement; the whereabouts of the Bethlehem congregational library were long unknown); Maps and Architectural Drawings (hand-drawn maps and drawings of buildings constructed in the Lehigh Valley, often the earliest documentation of European settlement; the maps related to the missions among the American Indians provide topographical information about areas not yet affected by European colonization; the material provides information on how a transatlantic movement viewed and documented the environment in which they operated).
In all, over fifteen Lehigh students from a wide range of academic disciplines contributed to this project. For selected students’ perspectives on the project, please visit the project blog: