Lesson Plan

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: A Moravian Settlement in Colonial America

Moravian chapel buildings in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 4 2 Standard 1A: The student understands how diverse immigrants affected the formation of European colonies.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How does a religious community shape their environment to reflect shared assumptions, values, and beliefs?


1. To investigate the early history of the Moravians;
2. To explain why the Moravians founded the community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania;
3. To examine the life ways of the Moravian community in the 18th century in the New World;
4. To compare and contrast the types of structures in 18th-century Bethlehem with those located in their own community.


Time Period: Mid-to-late 18th century
Topics: The lesson could be used in units on the American colonial period and the role of religious groups and missionaries in the country's expansion. It also could be used in a World History course in a unit on the Reformation.


Casting their eyes toward the rich, arable lands of Pennsylvania, members of the Moravian community purchased a 500 acre tract of land north of Philadelphia in 1741. There, along the Lehigh River, they organized and built the communal society of Bethlehem, which became the base location for all Moravian missionary activity in North America. In 1780, an observer wrote: 

"The first time I visited Bethlehem...[when] issuing out of the woods at the close of the evening in the month of May, [ I ] found myself on a beautiful extensive plain, with the vast eastern branch of the Delaware on the right, richly interspersed with wooded islands, and at the distance of a mile in front the town of Bethlehem, rearing its large stone edifices out of a forest, situated on a majestic, but gradually rising eminence, the background formed the setting sun. So novel and unexpected a transition filled the mind with a thousand singular and sublime ideas and made an impression on me never to be effaced."

¹Remarks made by Grieve, the translator of the Marquis de Chastellux, Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782.

Lesson Hook/Preview

The Protestant group known as Moravians originated in the 15th century in Bohemia and Moravia (both in present-day Czech Republic) as the Unitas Fratrum, which means "Unity of Brethren." Members of the Unitas Fratrum followed the teachings of the Bohemian reformer, Jan Hus. They took the name "Moravians" in the early 18th century as a reference to the group's place of origin. Moravians were among the many religious groups that migrated to colonial America in search of social and economic opportunity and the chance to spread their religious beliefs.

In 1741, the Moravians settled along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, a colony known for its rich natural resources and its extraordinary toleration of religious ideas. Pennsylvania became host to a heterogeneous population of many ethnic groups who spoke different languages and had different social and religious practices. By the 1750s, several hundred Moravians lived in Bethlehem. In an effort to Christianize American Indians and Africans in North America, they eventually established 32 mission towns. Bethlehem, however, remained the seat of the Moravian community as well as the industrial center.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.


heterogeneous population

Additional Resources

The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem
The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem's website describes the historic sites in the Central Bethlehem Historic District and provides tour information and a calendar of events for special exhibits and guest activities.

The Moravian Church in America
This website contains links to home pages for regional Moravian church provinces in America. It also provides the Moravian Church's covenant for Christian living and a brief summary of the missionary activities and programs sponsored by the church today.

Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area
Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area is a unit of the National Park System. This page of the park's website describes the village of Pilgerruh (Pilgrim's Rest), a temporary Moravian mission village founded in 1786. Pilgerruh was the first settlement built by Europeans in the Cuyahoga Valley.

Library of Congress
Search the digital collections for historical resources on "Moravians." Included on the Web site is the 1859 publication, Sketches of Moravian Life and Character, which offers a general view of the history, life, character, and religious and educational institutions of the Moravians.

National Park Service Travel Itinerary
Explore the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, featuring historic places in and near eastern Pennsylvania's canal and coal region. Included in the 46 historic places featured in this itinerary are the Moravian Sun Inn and the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works.

Contact Information

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Last updated: March 12, 2020