Research at Historic Bethabara Park


By 1950 the two-hundred-year-old colonial community had evolved into a nineteenth-century village and finally into a few rural stores and Victorian homes, surrounded by cornfields. The original structures had been pushed into their stone cellars and covered for more field space. As part of a restoration story resembling that at Colonial Williamsburg, where the local minister interested John D. Rockefeller in saving the historic town and served as his real estate agent to purchase and preserve properties and structures, Edwin Stockton, a Moravian church official, interested Charles Babcock, Sr., a Winston-Salem businessman and philanthropist, in purchasing and preserving the site of colonial Bethabara. Stockton went on to serve as Babcock's real estate agent. During the 1950s most of the historic area was purchased. In 1953, the Bethabara Moravian church congregation, still located in the 1788 Gemeinhaus (church) built a new sanctuary for a larger congregation. This marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of the settlement in 1753.

In the 1960s Stockton and Babcock added a third person to their team, North Carolina state archaeologist Stanley South. Using the copious Moravian written records and period maps of Bethabara, South uncovered 27 archaeological features between 1963 and 1966 and revealed a colonial settlement site of national importance. Adding to the national importance of Bethabara as an archeological site, South, in the process of his excavation, evolved and formulated the protocols for the practice and profession of American historic archaeology.

South’s investigation uncovered such main structures as a French and Indian war defensive palisade (1756-63), the first Gemeinhaus or church (1756), Congregation Store (1759), Single Brothers House (1754), Pottery Shop (1755), Sleep Hall (pre-1759), Blacksmith’s House (1755), Tailor Shop (1756), new Tavern and well (1775), Apothecary Shop (1763), Doctor’s Laboratory (1759), as well as four wells built between 1763 and 1807. In addition, South found the Hans Wagoner cabin location (ca. 1752), used by the original eleven settlers as a base while they constructed their first rough wilderness settlement. South’s most important excavation in 1966 took place at the Christ - Krause pottery waster dump. Then he noted that the Rudolph Christ ceramics are “now quite well-known as the best pottery in America during the 18th century.”

South’s excavations have been followed through the years with other important archaeological investigations done in cooperation with the North Carolina division of archaeology and with the Wake Forest University Archaeological laboratory.

Excavations in 1973 and 1974 at the 1782 Potter’s House, in conjunction with its restoration, uncovered a pottery kiln, the only Moravian earthenware kiln excavated in this country, and one of the few central European kilns ever investigated. These excavations confirmed Bethabara to be the longest continuous pottery tradition, master to journeyman to apprentice, extending from the 1750s to the 1850s, in American history.

In 1985 the 1759 and 1769 Stranger’s and the Dobb’s Parrish graveyards were investigated, as was the important 1754 Bethabara Mill Site. Very limited archaeological investigations uncovered rock foundations of the complex along the mill creek. This mill may well have been the largest industrial complex in the backcountry of the 1750s in either North or South Carolina. Many of the original mill structure timbers have since been recovered and preserved.

In 1985, 1988, and 1989 North Carolina archaeologist John Clauser excavated the upland Gardens, the only known, well-documented colonial community gardens in America. The excavations revealed fence postholes, outlining the gardens and marking gates, paths and the grape arbor. These excavations have been incorporated in the present reconstruction of the community and medical gardens, based upon the detailed colonial garden maps.

Finally, a recent series of excavations by the Wake Forest Archaeology Laboratory, which is a partner with Historic Bethabara, have revealed information about the fencing at the 1759 Stranger’s Graveyard and the location of the 1754 Single Brother’s Sleeping Hall. Along with the Moravian maps, these form the basis for the reconstruction of the first settlement, the route of the early colonial road system connecting the main settlement to the Bethabara Mill and the location of the 1758 refugee cabins, built to become the north wall of the Bethabara Mill fort. The mill and mill fort complex are among the most important archaeological sites remaining to be excavated and interpreted on the 100,000 - acre Wachovia Tract.

In order to minimize site damage, Historic Bethabara has initiated experiments with remote sensing at possible archaeological sites. This was completed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the Wake Forest Archaeological Laboratory. In subsequent summer field schools, co-sponsored by the Laboratory and Winston-Salem State University, sites at the palisade fort and the Bethabara mill fort refuge cabins have been tested.

Previous digs

Beginning Excavation

Preparing for a dig at Historic Bethabara Park

Ground-penetrating radar demonstration

Students uing radar at Historic Bethabara Park

Using radar equipment

Students using radar for detecting artifacts at Historic Bethabara Park

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