Articles

THE BETHABARA PIPES

 

In AD 1457, a group of German speaking European Hussites formed the very first Protestant denomination (that was 60 years before the Lutheran Church was started) and who called themselves the Unity of Brethren.  That was a time period when there was much conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the non-Catholic assemblies throughout the continent.  The Brethren worshipers were persecuted by the established Catholic Church and because of that, they were also reviled by the local populations who did not want to associate with them.  So they drifted around Europe for many years while trying to find a safe place to call home until in 1722 a kindly nobleman, the Count of Zinzendorf, allowed the Brethren to settle on his land in the German region of Saxony.  The people, who were already living on this land, had originated in Czech state of Moravia, so the newer arrivals were also thought to be from that region and were called Moravians which is the name most of the world uses for this religious denomination today.  In 1735 a group of these Brethren immigrated to the colony of Georgia in North America to do missionary work among the Indians.  Not liking that region, these people moved to Pennsylvania in 1742 and established themselves in the town of Bethlehem.  Even though they apparently were satisfied in this Quaker dominated colony, these Moravians still wanted their own land.   So in 1750, the denomination purchased almost one hundred thousand acres in central North Carolina from Lord Granville and they named it Wachau or (in English) Wachovia in honor of the land owned by Count Zinzendorf near the
 Danube River in Germany.  In November of 1753 a small group of twelve unmarried Moravian men traveled to their new Wachovia land and settled in an abandoned cabin.  They called their new home Bethabara which translates as “house of passage” in Hebrew meaning that they were only planning to be in this place for a short period of time before moving to a more permanent town site.  During the next few years more Moravians traveled from Pennsylvania to Wachovia and some of them were experienced crafts persons.  One of these craftsmen was named Gottfried Aust who had arrived in our country from Germany early in 1754.  He worked for a short period of time as a potter in Bethlehem before migrating south to Bethabara where he arrived in November of 1755.  Aust immediately began building a ceramics workshop and firing oven and in April 1756, he fired his first kiln of ceramics.  Church records show that he made small smoking pipes using brass molds brought from Europe or Pennsylvania, as well as pottery cups, plates and bowls to be used in the households in his new community.  Thus began the longest unbroken record of pottery production in North America and the beginning of molded clay smoking implements being made by Euro/Americans with the Bethabara pipes.

 

 

There is confusion among historians as to exactly when clay pipes were first molded in Bethabara with some claiming they were manufactured as early as 1753 and others stating they were only made after Aust arrived with his pipe molds.  Whatever the exact starting time for pipe molding, we do know that the citizens of Bethabara began building their new home, Salem, in 1760 and Aust, along with many Moravians, moved there in 1763.  This means that the Bethabara pipes were made for perhaps but probably no more than ten years.  Aust recorded that he dug “common or ordinary” clay from the banks of a small creek that ran through Bethabara and used that clay to press-mold pipes as well as various forms of utilitarian earthenware plates and cups. The pipes were of only two configurations – one being with plain fluted stems and bowls and the other with bowls modeled as effigies of Indian heads and they were all reed stem pipes meaning that the stems were short and required a hollow reed to be inserted in the stem for them to be smoked.  It is believed, today, that the effigy pipes were used for trading with the local Catawba and Cherokee Indians for corn and deer skins while the fluted pipes were mostly used by the Euro-Americans for smoking tobacco.  Church records show that the Moravians did trade extensively with the local natives as well as preform missionary work with them.  It is unknown just how many of these pipes were molded in Bethabara but it was probably a few thousand which might seem like a goodly number but considering how easily these were broken, it is a wonder that any exist today.  And few do exist today.  Gottfried Aust, and other ceramists who came after him, made pipes in Salem until the mid-nineteenth century but they were slightly different than the Bethabara types.  Most of the pipes made in Bethabara are tan to brown and most are not glazed while many of the Salem pipes are tan-red in color and are glazed.  These Moravian pipe makers, while in Salem, may have made tens of thousands of clay pipes that were sold and traded throughout the east coast colonies.  After the Moravians ceased molding clay pipes, a pipe making factory was opened in the town of Pamplin in Appomattox County, Virginia in 1878 and they boasted that in the later part of that century they made and sold a million clay pipes every month.  That would have certainly been many more than the Moravians ever made with their simple press-molds.  The Pamplin pipes, which are relatively common today, are usually a dark red or grey color, are normally glazed and are considerably smaller than the Moravian pipes.

 

Intact Bethabara press-molded ceramic pipes are rare today.  Many people probably have never heard of them and most that have ever seen any, have probably only viewed them in museum settings.  There is the possibility that the potters at Bethabara made thousands of these clay pipes but most of those were probably broken and destroyed during the last two hundred and fifty years.  Today if you are lucky enough to discover an intact one in an antique shop, in someone’s collection or even on an old Indian village site, hold it, examine it and marvel at the simplistic beauty and extreme rarity of the Bethabara pipes.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Albright, F. P.                                                                         1958

            “Clay Pipe Making at Salem, North Carolina”, THE CHRONICLE OF THE EARLY AMERICAN

            INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION, Vol. XI, No. 2

Ayto, Eric G.                                                                           1994

            CLAY TOBACCO PIPES

Bivins, John Jr.                                                                                  1972

            THE MORAVIAN POTTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA

Hamilton, H. W. & Jean T. Hamilton                                             1972

            “Clay Pipes of Pamplin”, THE MISSIOURI ARCHAEOLOGIST, Vol. 34, No.1-2

Hume, Ivor Noel                                                                   1969

            A GUIDE TO ARTIFACTS OF COLONIAL AMERICA

South, Stanley                                                                                  1965

            “The Ceramic Forms at the Potter Gottfried Aust at Bethabara, North Carolina”,

            THE CONFERENCE ON HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY PAPERS

Walker, Ian C.                                                                                   1975

            “The American Stub-Stemmed Clay Tobacco Pipe: A Survey of its Origins, Manufacture

            And Distribution”,  THE CONFEERENCE ON HISTORIC SITE ARCHAEOLOGY PAPERS, Vol. 9