Gravestone of Catharina Neger
Catharina Neger, an enslaved girl who died at the age of 17, is buried in God’s Acre located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Having been born in Wachovia and worked in the Salem area throughout much of her life, Catharina gives us a look into what life was like in the 18th century for someone like her. Additionally, our project provides a deeper understanding of the Moravian Brethren and their beliefs. This research guide provides a deeper understanding of Cathy’s life and the importance of where she was buried and why.
The Life of Catharina Neger
Born in the year 1760, Catharina “Cathy” Neger came into life as an enslaved girl who would be forced to endure an arduous and shackled life. Born as an enslaved person in Wachovia, North Carolina during the mid 18th century, Cathy would never have the opportunity to experience a free, independent life. Since birth, Cathy was introduced to a world of cruelty, oppression, and discrimination. Forced into labor at a young age, Cathy was handed responsibilities no children should bear. Passing away at the age of 17, Cathy had her childhood and freedom stolen from her by her enslavers.
The “Thacker Study-Memoirs with background on African-Americans in Salem,” suggests that Cathy’s parents were named Susy and Caesar. Enslaved people in this area were often provided the surname Neger, which not only dehumanized them, but revoked their right to leave a family legacy. The absence of a last name seems to erase entire families and lineages from history. Similar to her last name, Cathy’s first name varies in nearly every text. Although she was often referred to as “Cathy”, it was not uncommon for an enslaver to call her “Catherina”. Many times, enslavers even spelled her name as “Kathy”. This blatant neglect of Cathy’s name displays how unimportant Cathy truly was to her enslavers.
At the age of eight, Cathy and her mother were sold by their enslavers. This transaction would separate Cathy and her father for the rest of her life. To the best of our knowledge, the pair would never see eachother again. Cathy and her mother were purchased by a group located in Bethabara, known as the Moravian Brethren. The terms of sale were as follows: “both have cost £90. Here now the Question comes up, how one can possibly estimate their worth separately. We think, if we count for the girl £60 and for the mother £30, that will be the best way of estimation” (Thacker). In Bethabara, Cathy and Susy served the Brethren together until 1772. When Cathy was 12 years old, the Brethren moved her to Salem Tavern. Here, Cathy was forced to work in the tavern under the control of Mr. Jacob Meyers. Salem Tavern was a location where visitors would stay and dine while they were in Salem for business. Cathy had many unique experiences while she was working at the Tavern, as she was constantly introduced to new faces from all over the colonies as well as the world. In the tavern, enslaved people had a variety of jobs. Some of these jobs include working as maids, waiters, or field hands. Given Cathy’s age, it is most likely she was involved in cleaning, working in the kitchen, or even gardening. Cathy would serve Mr. Meyers in Salem tavern until her death.
In the year 1777, Cathy became ill and passed away at the age of 17. It is unknown which illness took her life. Cathy was buried in the Single Sisters section within the Moravian cemetery, God’s Acre. For the entirety of her life, Cathy was held in bondage against her will and endured unbearable treatment. The span of Cathy’s life was at a time when the Atlantic Slave Trade was at its peak. The life of Cathy could have been similar to any slave girl in North Carolina during this period. The implications of her life, death, and burial provide an interesting perspective of Moravian culture and how enslaved people, such as Cathy, were involved.
Moravian Burial Practices and the Significance of Cathy’s Burial
The Moravian Church has been around for nearly five centuries and followers have been committed to keeping a strong relationship with their Savior, Jesus Christ. As a sect of Christianity, Moravians believe that they are able to find their way to God through their relationship with Christ and that God is able to find His way to people on Earth through Christ as well. According to The Moravian Church, their relationship with Christ “provides a basis for relationship with each other.” The Moravians claim this as the foundation of an understanding of Moravian identity. The Moravian Brethren, the group of brothers and sisters that Cathy spent most of her life with, trace their roots to early Lutheranism and a desire to “share God’s love in word and deed with people of other cultures and in all the world.” As followers and servants of Christ’s message on Earth, Moravians have committed themselves to upholding the teachings of Christ and putting their faith into action (The Moravian Church in America).
As a group of people in North Carolina devoted to the Word of God and the covenant that they share with Him, the Moravians developed several practices that set them apart from other religions of the time period. Famously, the Moravian Brethren buried their dead in God’s Acre, which is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Brethren understood God’s Acre to be “a field that is sown with the perishable bodies of their loved ones, with whom they will be reunited in spiritual glory on the day of resurrection” (Ferguson 81). Not only did the Moravian Brethren develop a special importance for the land that they buried their people on, they also worked to create a set of practices that they followed in order to determine where each person would be buried. The Moravians took great care to organize their cemeteries in a way that reflected the values they held true in their practices. In the present day, those who visit God’s Acre often ask whether or not people are buried with their families in large plots. While this may have been an easy way for the Moravians to organize their cemetery, they decided to bury their dead in “designated squares with their choirs- groups that prayed, worshiped, and, sometimes in the past, lived together” (Ferguson 82).
Originally, God’s Acre was laid out in a manner that consisted of four squares, each measuring about forty by fifty feet. From here, the Moravians buried their dead in terms of marital status; unmarried individuals were buried in the squares to the east and married or widowed individuals were buried to the west. Within these divisions, subdivisions were also created so that “children were buried in the eastern rows of the western square for unmarried single brothers and sisters” (Ferguson 82). In the squares for married people, widows were buried to the west, while those who were married when they died were buried closer to the east. The reasoning behind this layout for their cemetery was so that when walking from east to west through the graves, one is able to proceed through the stages of life. In other words, the eastern squares of the cemetery include those who died innocently at a young age, while the squares at the west end of the cemetery include those who lived long lives and died at an older age. The reason why the Moravians set up their cemetery in this manner was so that those “with the most life experience are buried to the west while those most innocent are buried to the east, closest to the rising sun, symbolic of the risen Christ, most innocent of all” (Ferguson 82). The Moravian’s commitment to their values of serving Christ and staying true to his teachings is extremely prevalent in their orientation of the God’s Acre. That being said, their decision to place Cathy in the “Single Sisters” section of God’s Acre is something that historians have found fascinating for years.
As an enslaved girl who lived her life without ever officially becoming a member of The Moravian Church, one would have thought that the Brethren would have buried her in a “Strangers’ God’s Acre”; however, this did not happen. Because she was buried in a square with other members of the Church, “the particular placement of her grace provides a glimpse of early Moravian thoughts on race piety, and spatial arrangement” (Ferguson 85). At the time of her burial, Cathy was only the second single woman buried in the Salem congregational God’s Acre. The only woman to precede her was Anna Münster, a single sister who died on August 3rd, 1777, roughly a month and a half before Cathy.
At a young age, Cathy “begged to attend the Lovefeast'”; however, she was never able to do so because she was never accepted as an official member of the Church (Fries 758). The minister who was charged with celebrating Cathy’s funeral wrote: “Until [Cathy] became deeply sick, she had not been especially interested in salvation, but finally she became deeply concerned about it, and received the visits and the conversations of the Sisters as a great favor; before her end the Saviour showed her grace, and took her to Himself as a poor redeemed sinner” (Ferguson 86). This provides proof that Cathy had in fact been posthumously converted to Christianity and the Moravians' decision to bury her in their God’s Acre suggested that she had been accepted into her faith. The one discrepancy in Cathy’s burial that remained was whether or not they would place her directly next to Münster or not. In their normal practice, the Moravians would have buried Cathy directly next to Münster due to the fact that she was the next person to die after her; however this did not happen. Instead, Cathy was buried further away from Münster in “a position that isolated her from the rest of Salem’s single sisters for more than thirty-five years” (Ferguson 85). This later came to be known as a “transient segregation,” a type of segregation that Moravians hoped would not be apparent as the cemetery continued to fill up over the next several decades. The reason for the Moravians burying Cathy where they did was a matter of compromise. It is likely that the Brethren felt that Cathy would have been rejected by the non-Moravians in Wachovia’s Strangers’ God’s Acres in either Bethabara or Salem. Additionally, having not been an official member of The Moravian Church during her life, Cathy was not an appropriate candidate for the Moravian’s congregational God’s Acre, especially if she was going to be buried next to Münster, a devoted and well-respected member of the Church. As a result, “their solution, as it appears, was a compromise in piety” (Ferguson 88). While early Moravians did not have any “reservations about burying blacks in their God’s Acres” it is clear that they did not want to associate certain members of their Church with those who did not look like them (Ferguson 88). The result of this was a compromise that the Moravians hoped would later be forgotten so that visitors to the cemetery in the future would be able to see all those buried there as being equal in God’s eyes and in theirs.
The reason why Cathy’s burial and gravestone are so important is because it gives us a better understanding of the history of the Moravian Brethren and how Cathy was treated by them. As an enslaved girl, Cathy was not treated fairly throughout much of her life. At the time of her death, she was converted to Christianity and somewhat accepted by the Moravian Brethren. Having been buried in the Single Sisters section of God’s Acre, Cathy was able to claim her place in Moravian history. Today, visitors are able to see how the Moravians set up their cemetery and are able to appreciate how Cathy’s placement is important, not only for the Moravians, but for her legacy as well. While Cathy lived her entire life as an enslaved person and unfortunately died at a young age, she was afforded a peaceful place of rest so that her spirit could live on in hopes of one day inspiring future generations to learn from our past and be better in our future.
God’s Acre and Our Experience
The gravestone of Cathy is located in God’s Acre in the town of Old Salem. In Salem, there are many old and run-down looking buildings still around from the time of Cathy. Through the town, there is the massive gravesite that makes up thousands of those who lived in Old Salem.
In the vast graveyard, Cathy’s grave is in square 02i, row 02, and grave 11. This is known as the square of single sister’s which is composed of just female children. During the time of her burial, this was the time Old Salem started to desegregate the location of the gravestones between the enslaved and other citizens of Old Salem. Therefore, Cathy’s square is a mix between enslaved girls and other Moravian of Old Salem. Despite knowing the exact location of her gravestone, it is difficult to find. This has to do with the lack of writing that is on many of the gravestones and the weathering away through the years. The lack of writing was a value throughout the Moravian culture known as the Democracy of Death. This means once people have passed away, they are equal in one. This is the reason most gravestones in God’s Acre simply have their name and the date in which they passed. This is very ironic because of the way Cathy was treated as an enslaved girl. They believed everyone was equal in death, however, they put a price tag on her name which is not only immoral, but clear evidence she was treated with inequality and in a dehumanizing manner. Even with these values that they had, there were still many gravestones that were plain without any name. Deeper in the graveyard, there are rows of infant babies that have passed away without ever reaching the age of one. This is important to understand the real troubles of human survival around the time in which Cathy had been alive. Cathy was able to live until the age of seventeen, which is still tragically young, however, it was a striking and emotional moment when there were rows of those who weren’t able to live minutes of their lives. The image here shows one of the gravestones in which is labeled, “Infant Daughter Rights: Oct 30, 1929- Oct. 30 1929.” .
Cathy’s grave is a grim sighting with her name barely etched into the gravestone and no flowers or decorative memorabilia around her gravestone. In many modern gravesites, there are flowers or decorations that loved ones put there to keep their legacy in mind and to pay respect. Here, there was none. Knowing this, it is time of sorrow and sadness as her life was treated as property instead of the deserved value she wanted and should have gotten. Going through this experience, emotions run high with many of the realizations that come about, however, it is powerful to endure the experience to not only pay respect, but to have the opportunity to get a better understanding of Old Salem and Cathy.
In February of 1772, Cathy came from Bethabara and worked at the Salem Tavern under the first tavern keeper: Jacob Meyers. As you can see in the Bill of Sale for Cathy’s family, they were sold by Peter Copland to the Wachovia Diaconie (under the instruction of Jacob Meyers).
The Wachovia Diaconie built ten buildings in Salem which included the tavern as a place for accommodation for outsiders to provide necessary networking between strangers and the Moravians. The tavern, which is opposite God’s Acre, was a two-story half timbered building located on 800 S. Main St. in Old Salem. The tavern sat on a high stuccoed stone foundation, it had a double attic, vaulted cellar rooms for liquor and was somewhat elevated above the street. The reasoning for the elevation above the street, lack of first floor windows and the setting of the tavern well south of the square in Bethabara “attest to the anxiety the Moravians felt toward outside non-Moravian ways which could influence the Brethren” (Hartley/Boxley, 1997, ‘Salem Survey’). The Brethren built the tavern on the edge of the early town to physically distance themselves from outsider influence such as the Brethren and any outside influences. In particular, the Brethren did not want Moravians to pass by and see diners and drinkers inside. Reason for this is that they did not want members of their community to become contaminated by mixing with strangers and they felt that the tavern was a “non-Moravian place beyond the limits of their consecrated town” (Ferguson, 72). The tavern was built for outsiders to stay in when they had business with the Brethren or when they came to participate in Moravain religious activities. According to Albright and Horton who studied the history of properties in Old Salem, the tavern was a “self-sufficient complex, which originally included the land of 21 building lots and contained numerous outbuildings and support structures, including at various times, woodshed, smokehouse, shed for visitor’s horses, horse stable, cow stable” and other things like a pigpen, well and necessities.
Object biography by Tara Adarkar, Euan Cairns, Erica Fealtman, Campbell Mcentire. Spring 2021.
“Cathy’s first name varies in nearly every text. Although she was often referred to as 'Cathy,' it was not uncommon for an enslaver to call her 'Catherina.' Many times, enslavers even spelled her name as 'Kathy.' This blatant neglect of Cathy’s name displays how unimportant Cathy truly was to her enslavers.”
Research Guide Structure
1. The Life of Catharina Neger
2. Moravian Burial Practices and the Significance of Cathy’s Burial
3. God’s Acre and Our Experience
4. Salem Tavern
What is a Moravian Lovefeast?
Warmth, compassion, hospitality, sharing, nourishment, inspiration, and most of all, love. These are the words that describe Lovefeast, a traditional celebration of common values practiced by the Moravians in Winston-Salem, North Carolina since 1753.
Lovefeast celebrations can occur at any point throughout the year as a way to strengthen the bonds and the spirit of harmony, goodwill, and congeniality, and even to forgive past disputes (by openly choosing to love one another). But in Winston-Salem, annual Christmas Lovefeasts are by far the most memorable.
Typically, the Lovefeast service involves listening to music from an organ or choir, singing hymns together that reinforce love and harmony, and occasionally lighting a candle to spread the light of God. The feast portion involves sharing the traditional sweet breads, often called Lovefeast Buns, with coffee or even beer.
You can read about local Lovefeasts here.
Ferguson, Leland G. God’s Fields : Landscape, Religion, and Race in Moravian Wachovia. University Press of Florida, 2011.
Fries, Adelaide L. Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume II: 1752-1775. Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton Print. Co. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/recordsofthemora02frie.
Sensbach, Jon F. A Separate Canaan : the Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763-1840. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Thacker, T. “Thacker Study-Memoirs with Background on African-Americans in Salem.” Index of Information on African-Americans , 1993.
The Moravian Church in America. Who Are Moravians? Moravian Church In America. https://www.moravian.org/2018/07/who-are-moravians/.