Not to be confused with the Wachovia Corporation, the land area of Wachovia (for which the former North Carolina bank took its name) was the place where Moravians from Pennsylvania settled in the eighteenth century. Wachovia is the Latin version of the Austrian estate known as Wachau, and this was the place where early Moravians stayed while they endured persecution in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Moravians who migrated to the New World from Europe stayed at Nicholas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf’s estate Der Wachau, and they named their settlement Wachovia (present-day Winston-Salem, North Carolina) to remember the Zinzendorf family and the beautiful land they once inhabited.
Also known as the Unity of Brethren, the Moravian church had its roots in Eastern Europe. Jan Hus founded the church based on a reliance on faith, pragmatic beliefs, and outspokenness in their presentation of Christianity. In 1415, the Catholic Church sentenced Hus to death because his teachings were considered heretical. However, his ideas lived on and churches spread throughout Europe, particularly Bohemia and Moravia (today the Czech Republic). Count Zinzendorf was sympathetic to the Moravians and he offered them domicile at his Der Wachau estate in Saxony in the early 1700s. Eventually, the Moravians grew to great numbers despite Catholic persecution. Many chose to spread their faith to the New World.
The migrating Moravians organized communities in the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth in Pennsylvania. The small towns flourished and the Moravians based their entire communal system on the needs of others and their Christian faith. Yet, the colony of Pennsylvania was not the only place to house the thriving Moravian colonists, for a substantial tract of land in North Carolina was soon purchased for the spread of the Unity of Brethren.
John Carteret, Earl of Granville owned a significant portion of land in the royal colony of North Carolina. In 1729, Carteret turned down the king’s offer to sell out his tract, and Count Zinzendorf soon discovered that Carteret sought to sell tracts to new colonists. After relaying the news to the Moravians, the church in Pennsylvania reveled the idea of settling an area “a large piece of land where they might work and worship in peace, with the Crown and the church providing security from oppression” (Powell, p. 1171). The Moravians purchased nearly 100,000 acres of Carteret’s tract, and a surveying party traveled to eastern North Carolina to establish the land’s borders.
Bishop August Spangenberg (1704-1792) led an expedition through the wilderness of North Carolina to placate the future Moravian colony. The trip lasted for several months and after several setbacks the surveying group found the land they were looking for in present-day Forsyth County. At the sight of the many rivers, valleys, and rolling hills, Spangenberg proclaimed, “The land on which we are now encamped seems to me to have been reserved by the Lord for the Brethren” (Wachovia Tract source).
After the survey had completed their duty it was Spangenberg who advocated that the name of the new Moravian colony be Wachau, in remembrance of the Zinzendorf estate and his hospitality. In the middle 1700s, Moravians started to settle the land in Wachau or Wachovia. By the formation of Forsyth County and the surrounding area in the 1850s, the Wachau term started to disappear from the local vernacular. Today, most North Carolinians may remember the term from the Wachovia Corporation which was recently bought by the San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Company.
“Wachovia.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Wachovia Tract.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed January 19, 2011).