First Triad Brewery, Carnal Desire Discovered

In April, I wrote about two of Winston-Salem’s first breweries: the Schlitz/Stroh production facility off U.S. 52 and the Single Brothers brewery/distillery in Old Salem. At the time, historians thought the Single Brothers outfit, in operation from 1774 to 1813, was the first brewery in the Triad.

But they were wrong.

Turns out, the Moravian outpost in Bethabara housed a brewery/distillery that was built nearly 20 years before the one in Old Salem. But what’s really interesting is that the original brewer/distiller, Brother Henrich Feldhausen, fell into some kinda unredeemable sin that got him kicked out of the Bethabara Moravian community, and they sent him packing to Pennsylvania.

Feldhausen was a (probably strapping) thirty-something hunter, tanner, carpenter, cooper, turner, shoe-maker, sieve-maker, mill-wright, and farmer. (Try adding that to your resume!) He worked the tannery with one Jacob Pfeil. He’d been brewer/distiller for six years when they made him leave in 1762. According to the Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Vol. I:

“June 17. H. Feldhausen left today with many tears. He has put our brewery and distillery into the best of order, but yielded to carnal desires and fell into all kinds of sin and shame, so that we could no longer keep him here.”

I know some moralists out there may think, “Well, he was working with alcohol. Of course he’d run into sin and shame!” But carnal desire can happen to the best of us. I asked Jason Melius, archivist at Historic Bethabara Park, what he thought about the exact nature of the sin.

“Feldhausen was sent to Bethlehem [Pennsylvania] because of the trouble he got into,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any further information, and I’m not comfortable speculating.”

But that’s not all. Melius continued, “The Moravians were very weary of ‘evil’ influences. Part of the reason they purchased such a huge tract of land was to create a buffer between themselves and non-Moravians (Strangers). They saw outsiders as a potential threat to the community’s spiritual health. Bethabara, being such a small community on the frontier, was thought to be in a precarious situation. They took measures which they felt would protect the spiritual well-being of the community. Strangers were only supposed to interact with specially selected individuals in the town. The refugees were sent to live at Bethabara’s mill fort, which was about 3/4 mile from the center of Bethabara. When a Moravian showed signs of being spiritually corrupt in Bethabara, they wanted to send them back to the larger communities in Pennsylvania so the rest of the community would not be ‘infected,’ as the Moravians termed it.”

In fact, the whiskey and brandy was sold to non-Moravians through the on-site tavern and store. Now, I’m no modest historian, so I will speculate. Did Brother Feldhausen get involved with a non-Moravian? Did he fall in love with fellow tanner Jacob Pfeil or someone else in the community? Considering the scant evidence in the Moravians’ records (those tight-lipped bastards), and the fact that outside newspapers were either non-existent or didn’t keep records of Moravians’ goings-on, we’ll probably never know.

Still, you can see the old brewery/distillery (circa 1803 — the original burned down in 1802; now there’s some sin and shame) in Historic Bethabara Park during special events, including the annual Highland Games in May and the Apple Fest in September. Read more about the brewery/distillery’s history here.

The 1803 Herman Buttner Distillery. Credit: Jason Melius, Historic Bethabara Park.



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