Becoming American Conference

Conference Presenters: Click here for schedule.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Opening Welcome and Q&A
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Registration required to gain access to online programming.

Welcome: Ulrike Wiethaus, Professor, Department for the Study of Religions and Conference Co-Convener, Wake Forest University; Dean Franco, Director of the WFU Humanities Institute and Winifred W. Palmer Professor in Literature; Michele Gillespie, Dean of the College and Presidential Endowed Professor of Southern History, Wake Forest University; J. Eric Elliott, Archivist and Conference Co-Convener, Moravian Archives, Winston-Salem; Rev. Virginia Tobiasson, Pastor, Moravian Home Church, Winston-Salem.

Opening Remarks: Grant McAllister, Associate Professor and Levison Faculty Fellow, Department of German and Russian,Wake Forest University, Conference Co-Convener

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Cultural Performance: “The Search for Wachovia”
Discussion to follow Performance
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Welcome: Rogan Kersh, Provost, Wake Forest University
Conference Introduction
: Ulrike Wiethaus, Professor, Department for the Study of Religions and American Ethnic Studies Program, Wake Forest University, Conference Co-Convener
André Minkins, Producer and Director
Laura Semilian, Solo Vocalist
Matthew Tooni (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian), Cherokee Cultural Consultant, Storyteller, Spoken Word Artist
Theatre Students at WFU and WSSU

Click here for Performer Bios.

The cultural performance evening created specifically for the conference, entitled “Search for Wachovia” tells the story of how Moravian influences intertwined with Indigenous and African American histories during the first decades of the Early Republic. The Cherokee cultivated friendly relations with Moravians, engaged in trade and cultural exchange, and sometimes lodged with townspeople. These alliances were put to the test during the Seven Year War, when white settlers perceived Cherokee as a threat to the settlements’ safety. During times of relative peace, Moravians sent missionaries to Cherokee territory with the goal to convert Cherokees. Some wealthy Cherokee families sent their daughters to be educated at Salem Academy.
In contrast, enslaved African Americans made bricks and built the architectural town structures of Salem. As accomplished artisans, craftspeople, traders and workers, their labor shaped the settlement’s fabric. The majority of the enslaved work force was bilingual, speaking both German and English, and was regularly called upon to serve as translators. A segregated congregation was founded in 1822 and became St. Philips Church, one of the oldest black congregations in the United States. Following the Civil War, freedmen established the first school for black children in the county and a neighborhood across Salem Creek called Happy Hill.

Thursday, September 24th

2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
“WALK AND LEARN!” Virtual Tours and Discussion

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2:00-3:00pm: Click here to register!
“Moravians and their Neighbors: The American Indian Context at MESDA”
Sally Gant, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
This behind-the-scenes collection tour and discussion will concentrate on the American Indian context of encounter, response and influence and as revealed in material culture through objects in the collection of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). The focus of the docent-led study will include visual evidence and descriptions of the native peoples encountered by 16th, early 17th-century and 18th-century colonists, explorers and naturalists and will come face-to-face with members of Cherokee and Yamacraw delegations who made the Trans-Atlantic voyage to England in the 18th century. Objects under study will include baskets, ceramics, needlework, paintings, powder horns and other items either crafted by or reflecting the world of the Cherokee, Catawba and other Native American peoples. The “Walk and Learn!” event will conclude with a look at portraits of several important Creek and Cherokee headmen who came to Washington in an effort to negotiate treaties in the decade prior to removal.

3:00-4:00pm: Click here to register!
“Becoming Moravian: Stories of Cultural Exchange and Transformation”  

Andrew Gurstelle, Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University

Before and after “becoming American,” Moravian communities were traveling the world and spreading the gospel. One impact that is often overlooked is how missionary efforts abroad expanded the cultural horizons of the home populations back in Salem, North Carolina. Missionaries collected and sent back hundreds of cultural objects to show their supporters evidence of the diverse communities where they worked. This exhibit displays artifacts collected by missionaries in the Arctic, the Caribbean, and Latin America to tell stories of cultural meetings, exchanges, and transformations.

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Remembering the Removal: Contemporary Cherokee Perspectives on the Trail of Tears

Panelists:  Matthew Tooni and the Hon. Jack Baker
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Registration required to gain access to online programming.

Conference Introduction: Ulrike Wiethaus,Professor, Department for the Study of Religions and American Ethnic Studies Program, Wake Forest University, Conference Co-Convener
Panelist Introductions and Moderator: Nora Doyle, Chair, Department of History & Political Science and
Recipient of the Mary Kelley Prize (2019) from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Salem College

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The forced removal of the Cherokee nation from its homelands, including a large number of enslaved men, women, and children, was first conceived as US policy with the signing of the Compact of 1802 by the United States and Georgia. It gained new force with the election of Andrew Jackson as US president, and resulted in the unlawful relocation of over 16, 000 Cherokee and up to 2,000 enslaved with a great loss of life, health, and livelihood. Cherokee citizens and their leaders tenaciously fought the relocation policies for over three decades to protect their homelands with the tools of political diplomacy. The long Cherokee struggle to avert forced relocation constitutes a powerful but little known movement of non-violent resistance that invites comparison with Mahatma Gandhi’s model of Ahimsa and Martin Luther King’s teachings of nonviolent social change.

This session will offer a window into Cherokee communal efforts to heal a historic trauma that is still palpable today. The annual Remember the Removal bike ride, presented in an award-winning video produced by the Cherokee Nation, teaches young Cherokee men and women about their history, their ancestors, and the significance of historical remembrance for the future.

We are honored to host the Hon. Jack Baker, President of the National Trail of Tears Association, and Matthew Tooni, cultural educator and spoken word artist, who will offer comments on the “Trail Where They Cried” from a Cherokee perspective.

We are dedicating this event to the memory of T.J. Holland, who devoted his life to preserving Cherokee culture for generations to come.

Friday, September 25th

WALK AND LEARN! Virtual Tours and Discussion

Registration required to gain access to online programming.

2:00-3:00pm: Click here to register!
“New Insights into the Hidden Town Project”
Martha Hartley, Hidden Town Project/Old Salem Museum & Gardens
Old Salem, Inc. was at the forefront of presenting African American history with the retrieval of the St. Philips complex — including major archival, archaeological, and architectural investigation — and its opening to the public in 2003. A new initiative seeks to further that work through additional research and more broadly revealing the history of enslaved and free Africans and African Americans in Salem. “Hidden Town” describes the absence of people of African descent in the landscape and memory of what is called Old Salem today. Jim Crow laws segregated neighborhoods, and museum activity since 1950 and the relocation of the St. Philips congregation in 1952 further erased that presence. The Hidden Town Project goals include researching the enslaved, archaeological examination, integrating stories into the visitor experience, presenting public events, and connecting with descendants. This program will share a historical overview and a visit to places of meaning in the Hidden Town story.

3:00-4:00pm: Click here to register!
“What is American about American Art?”
Allison Slaby, Reynolda House Museum of American Art
Since the colonial era, American art has been enlivened and at times upended by international crosscurrents and cultural exchange. Fully a quarter of the artists represented in Reynolda House’s collection immigrated to the country, and many others studied abroad. It has often been asked, “What is American about American art”? This tour explores crosscurrent American art highlights of the fine art collection, the historic house, and the temporary exhibition of “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light”. The latter is relevant to the tour theme, since American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany drew inspiration from global cultures, especially the Near East, and applied it to religious as well as secular American settings.

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Online Keynote Lecture: “Black People-White God: Moravianism and the ‘Cultural Purification’ of the Afro-Caribbean in Antigua and Tobago”
Keynote Speaker: Rev. Dr. Winelle Kirton-Roberts (click here for bio)
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Registration required to gain access to online programming.

Welcome: TBA
Conference Introduction: J. Eric Elliott, Moravian Archives, Conference Co-Convener
Introduction of Keynote Speaker: Cynthia Villagomez, Professor, WSSU Department of History, Politics and Social Justice
Q&A Moderator: James Blackwell, WSSU Department of History, Politics and Social Justice

3.1 million Africans were forcibly shipped to the British owned colonies in the Caribbean between 1662-1807 and enslaved by plantation owners. For close to 100 years, the enslaved Africans practiced their religious and cultural expressions that survived the Middle Passage, without religious judgement. While Christianity was well-established in the Caribbean by the eighteenth century, the Moravians were the first missionaries to have believed that the African “soul” was worthy of conversion. The evangelical Protestant work of the Moravians began in Antigua, an island colonized only by the British, in 1756. Thirty years later, in 1786, the Moravian mission was started in Tobago, an island that changed Colonial hands thirty-three times among the Spanish, Dutch, Latvian, French and British.
The success of Moravian evangelization in the Caribbean was measured by the de-Africanizing of the Afro-Caribbean converts. However, Black people in the Caribbean have perpetually struggled to embrace an identity that reconciled the Christian faith of the European White God with their African ancestral roots. Arguably, the Moravian in Tobago has more readily embraced and incorporated more African-ness in their Christian faith and practice than the Moravian in Antigua.


Saturday, September 26th

Panel Discussion: “Becoming American: Moravians and their Neighbors, 1772-1822”
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Registration required to gain access to online programming.

Welcome: Phil Archer, Betsy Main Babcock Director of Program and Interpretation, RHMAA 
Conference Introduction: Grant McAllister, Associate Professor and Levison Faculty Fellow, Department of German and Russian,Wake Forest University, Conference Co-Convener
Introductory Lecture, Panel Moderator, and Closing Remarks: Jon Sensbach, Professor, Department of History, University of Florida
Panelists: The panelists will represent four conference working groups of scholars.

Click here for the full Conference Paper Titles!

Working Group Topic: “Religion, Gender, and Economics”
Members of the Working Group: Craig Atwood, Grant McAllister, Jake Ruddiman, Larry E. Tise, and C. Riddick Weber

Working Group Topic: “Arts, Artisans, and Architecture”
Members of the Working Group: David Bergstone, David Blum, Stewart Carter, and Geoff Hughes

Working Group Topic: “New Insights from the Moravian Archives”
Members of the Working Group: J. Eric Elliott, Paul Peucker, and Thomas McCullough

Working Group Topic: “African American and American Indian Relationships”
Members of the Working Group: Martha Hartley, Andre Minkins, Rowena McClinton, Charles Rodenbaugh, Ulrike Wiethaus

The years 1772 – 1822 encompass fifty years of Moravian-influenced change in Wachovia. During this pivotal time, a dynamic exchange of cultural, religious, and social practices between Moravians and their neighbors—Indigenous, African, and European—engendered a new national character peculiar to Wachovia. The panelists will examine the various modes in which this exchange took place that came to define the cosmopolitan Moravian-American character in North Carolina. Special focus will be placed on African American and Indigenous relationships with Moravians; arts, artisans, and architecture; religion, gender, and economics; and new findings from Moravian archival holdings.

11:30 am to 1:00 pm
Online Keynote Lecture: “‘In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; and in all Things, Love’: Tracing Identity in the 18th century Moravian Lebenslauf (Spiritual Memoir)”
Keynote Presenter: Katherine Mary Faull (click here for bio)
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Introduction and Moderator: Grant McAllister, Associate Professor and Levison Faculty Fellow, Department of German and Russian,Wake Forest University, Conference Co-Convener

The Moravian memoir (Lebenslauf) presents us with a genre of life writing that seems to promise an authentic record of an individual’s life. An examination of collections of memoirs, however, reveals telling differences between the various ethnic and cultural groups that made up Colonial and early American congregations. Drawing on the North American corpora, written in German and English by European descended, African-descended and Native American congregation members can we detect common patterns of recorded life experience? In what ways do these documents reveal fundamental differences in the self-professed motto of the Moravian Church? To what extent is the memoir an essential document of Moravian unity? Using both traditional and computational methods of reading, this lecture draws on the digitized and manuscript collections of the Moravian Archives in both Europe and North America (