Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bearded People: Dunkards in the New River Valley

One of the more interesting groups of 18th century settlers in back country South West Virginia were the Dunkards, a protestant non conformist religious sect with some peculiar traits as described in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker

"6th March. We kept up the Staunton (7) to William Englishes. (8) He lives on a small Branch, and was not much hurt by the Fresh. He has a mill, which is the furtherest back except one lately built by the Sect of People who call themselves of the Brotherhood of Euphrates, and are commonly called the Duncards, who are the upper Inhabitants of the New River, which is about 400 yards wide at this place. They live on the west side, and we were obliged to swim our horses over.(9)The Duncards are an odd set of people, who make it a matter of Religion not to Shave their Beards, ly on beds, or eat flesh, though at present,in the last, they transgress, being constrained to it, they say, by the want of a sufficiency of Grain and Roots, they have not long been seated here. I doubt the plenty and deliciousness of the Venison and Turkeys has contributed not a little to this. The unmarried have no Property but live on a common Stock. They don't baptize either Young or Old, they keep their Sabbath on Saturday, and hold that all men shall be happy hereafter, but first must pass through punishment according to their Sins. They are very hospitable. "

Portrait of the the eccentric Quaker Benjamin Lay of Pennsylvania

(Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery).  For further reading on him, the Fearless Benjamin Lay.

another primary account from a Moravian account read:

"Oct 31. ....Towards evening we met an old man whom Br. [Brother] Nathanael engaged in conversation, and as we passed near hes fence we asked him to sell us some turnips, but he was so good as to make us a present of a nice quantity, and gave an invitation that any of our people passing this way should visit him. He had heard perhaps a hundred lies about the Brethren, - that we were "bearded people," that we enjoined celibacy, etc. - and now learning the truth the old man rejoiced, and took a friendly leave of us. ..." (
Travels in the American Colonies, Diary of a Journey of Moravians from Bethlehem, Pennyslvania, to Bethabara in Wachovia, North Carolina, 1753)

A brief but interesting paper on them and their settlement at "Dunkard's Bottom" (portions of that land was eventually purchased by William Christian and is now under Claytor Lake ) that was commissioned by Appalachian Power titled Dunkards Bottom: Memories on the Virginia Landscape 1745 - 1940 can be found here.

  20th century image showing the ruins of the Dunkard cabin chimneys and foundations with the 19th century Cloyd house at far left and the 1770s home of William Christian at right. From Roger E.Sappington's  The Brethren in Virginia: The History of the Church of the Brethern in Virginia. (The Committee for Brethren History in Virginia, Harrisonburg, VA. 1973).