In the late spring of 1740, a weary group of Moravian missionaries from Georgia arrived in Pennsylvania as "working guests" of Methodist evangelist George Whitefield, a British cleric conducting his own missionary work in the New World. Sailing to Philadelphia in Whitefield's sloop, The Savannah, the Moravians were looking for a new place to pursue their missionary activities.
In Georgia they had experienced great hostility from neighbors and government officials who looked askance at their pacifism and their friendliness with local Cherokees and enslaved African-Americans.
Whitefield hired the Moravians to construct a school on land he owned in Nazareth, where he intended to educate orphan children of slaves. But the relationship was short lived.
A serious argument with Whitefield over religious doctrine caused the Moravians to leave Nazareth and establish the nearby town of Bethlehem. Ironically, when Whitefield fell on hard times, the prosperous Moravians bought Nazareth from him. The original structure there, still called Whitefield House, served their community through the centuries as a place of worship, a boarding school for Moravian girls, a nursery for the children of missionaries, and as the Moravian Theological Seminary.
Nazareth and Bethlehem had much in common. Both communities operated under a communal economic system that made it economically possible for many Moravians to engage in educational and missionary efforts. Efficient organizers, the Moravians coordinated Bethlehem and its surrounding regions, including Nazareth, into a large unit called the Oeconomy. Craftsmen in Bethlehem supplied the communities with blacksmith services, a tannery, and other related necessities. Nazareth became the "breadbasket," as its farms proved more fruitful than Bethlehem's.
Though their neighbors were often suspicious of this strange band of Germans and downright hostile when the pacifist Moravians refused to bear arms in the colonial war against the Indians and French on the frontier, the Moravians of Nazareth strove to spread their gospel among their Native American, English, and German neighbors. They soon abandoned the effort to bring all German Protestants under their spiritual guidance, but continued to devote a great deal of time and energy to reach the Lenape.
One reason for their success in spreading the gospel among native communities in New York, Ohio, and the Carolinas was their ability to communicate with the Indians in their own languages. Moravian missionaries spent years learning and then translating parts of the Bible in native dialects. "It is not land that we are after," one missionary to New York wrote, "unlike the ministers who travel through wilds occasionally. We came to learn their language and as soon as we were sufficiently advanced we wished to bring them the words of the creator." Missionary David Zeisburger worked with the Delaware in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, converting many to Christianity.
Though the original Moravians who arrived in Nazareth with George Whitefield found their welcome short-lived, their persevering Brothers, Sisters, and descendants built a successful town there. Today, Whitefield's three-and-a-half story limestone building houses the Moravian Historical Society. Open to the public, the Whitefield House contains a large collection of Moravian instruments, textiles and clothing, household goods, Native American artifacts, and paintings by John Valentine Haidt (1700-1780), whose religious canvasses and portraits were used by Moravians as visual aids to their ministry.
Nazareth is the global headquarters for C.F. Martin & Company, which manufactures Martin guitars. Martin guitars are handmade instruments that once were made by artisans who apprenticed for years to learn their trade. Now, Martin Guitars are made largely on an assembly line monitored and assisted by workers, computers, and lasers. Assembly lines at Martin were instituted to lower costs, improve speed of production, and compete with foreign manufacturers, without which efforts it is said that the company would have ceased to survive.
In the 1960's, at least three large cement companies surrounded the Nazareth borough area, Essroc (formally Coplay Cement), Hercules Cement, and Penn-Dixie Cement Companies. The Coplay plant on the southside has undergone company ownership changes through the years (and was also known as the Nazareth Cement Company, among other names). Hundreds of union laborers of the United Gypsum, Lime and Cement Unions worked in each plant around the town from the early 1900's. Every summer, lucky college students were hired for well paying labor jobs as summer help.
Stories of the hard pre-union days at the cement plants are replete with the description of twelve hour days for survival wages, poor working and health conditions, and many dangerous incidents and accidents causing loss of life and or limb without medical plans or benefits to survivors. Since the 1980s, however, the automation of the plants and eventual reselling of them to foreign firms has brought about the loss of most of the high-paying union cement jobs, presenting a blow to the Lehigh Valley economy. The impact on the local economy of these lost cement jobs was intensified by the ultimate closing of neighboring Bethlehem Steel in 2003. In the case of Bethlehem Steel, it was not automation and modernization that downsized the workforce, but failure to modernize the mills, overloaded management, and a laissez-faire management attitude about foreign competition and cheap foreign steel production.