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I THINK, in some letter I sent you since I left Bethlehem, I promised you a more particular account of that curious and remarkable town. When we first came in sight of the town we found a country better cultivated and more agreeably diversified with prospects of orchards and fields, groves and meadows, hills and valleys, than any we had seen. When we came into the town, we were directed to a public house, kept by a Mr. Johnson, which, I think, was the best inn I ever saw. It belongs, it seems, to the society, is furnished at their expense, and is kept for their profit or at their loss. Here you might find every accommodation that you could wish for your self, your servants and horses, and at no extravagant rates neither.
The town is regularly laid out, the streets straight and at right angles, like those in Philadelphia. It stands upon an eminence, and has a fine large brook flowing on one end of it, and the Lehigh, a branch of the Delaware, on the other. Between the town and the Lehigh are beautiful public gardens. They have carried the mechanical arts to greater perfection here than in any place which I have seen. They have a set of pumps which go by water, which force the water up through leaden pipes from the river to the top of the hill, near a hundred feet, and to the top of a little building in the shape of a pyramid or obelisk, which stands upon the top of the hill, and is twenty or thirty feet high. From this fountain, water is conveyed in pipes to every part of the town. Upon the river they have a fine set of mills. The best grist mills and bolting mills that are any where to be found. The best fulling mills, an oil mill, a mill to grind bark for the lanyard, a dying house where all colors are died, machines for shearing cloth, &c.
There are three public institutions here of a very remarkable nature. One, a society of the young men, another of the young women, and a third of the widows. There is a large building divided into many apartments, where the young men reside by themselves and carry on their several trades. They pay a rent to the society for their rooms and they pay for their board and what they earn is their own. There is another large building appropriated in the same manner to the young women. There is a governess a little like the lady abbess in some other institutions, who has the superintendence of the whole, and they have elders. Each apartment has a number of young women who are vastly industrious, some spinning, some weaving, others employed in all the most curious works in linen, wool, cotton, silver and gold, silk and velvet. This institution displeased me much. Their dress was uniform and clean, but Very inelegant. Their rooms were kept extremely warm with Dutch stoves : and the heat, the want of fresh air and exercise relaxed the poor girls in such a manner as must, I think, destroy their health. Their countenances were languid and pale.
The society of widows is very similar. Industry and economy are remarkable in all these institutions. They showed us their church, which is hung with pictures of our Saviour, from his birth to his death, resurrection and ascension. It is done with very strong colors and very violent passions, but not in a very elegant taste. The painter, who is still living in Bethlehem, hut very old, has formerly been in Italy, the school of painting. They have a very good organ in their church, of their own make. They have a public building on purpose for the reception of the dead, to which the corpse is carried as soon as it expires, where it lies until the time of sepulture.
Christian love is their professed object, but it is said they love money and make their public institutions subservient to the gratification of that passion. They suffer no lawsuits with one another, and as few as possible with other men. It is said that they now profess to be against war. They have a custom peculiar respecting courtship and marriage. The elders pick out pairs to be coupled together, who have no opportunity of conversing together, more than once or twice, before the knot is tied. The youth of the two sexes have very little conversation with one another before marriage.
Mr. Hassey, a very agreeable, sensible gentleman, who showed us the curiosities of the place, told me, upon inquiry, that they profess the Augsburg confession of faith, are Lutherans rather than Calvinists, distinguish between bishops and presbyters, but have no idea of the necessity of the uninterrupted succession, are very liberal and candid in their notions in opposition to bigotry, and live in charity with all denominations.
- John Adams
- Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume I, 1841