December 17, 2010

Bethania, NC, History, and the Making of Legends

Legends grow on antiques the way moss grows on trees. As a family heirloom is passed from one generation to the next, its history takes on added flourishes. A spinning wheel made in 1820 becomes the spinning wheel brought over on the Mayflower. A bed of 1840 becomes a bed George Washington slept in. Here in Bethania, we have a house proudly displayed as the “The Cornwallis House” because the General made the home into his headquarters during a brief stay in Bethania as he was preparing to head south and escape from General Greene’s American troops. 

The English did indeed encamp throughout Bethania; both inside homes, backyards as we know then today. In fact everywhere in Bethania, including outlying fields – the town's residents fed the enemies; watered them, and admonished more then 3000 soldiers to behave themselves --- or else. (the stills would run dry and the bad boy would spend time in the tavern cellar on the corner of today’s Loesch/Lash and Main Street, a dank and dark place which often substituted for a jail. 

One of my favorite Bethania stories is that of the young Captain, George Hauser who happened to be in the tavern one night at the same time Tory troops were. Hauser's father, whose name also happened to be George was the tavern’s proprietor. The Hauser family settled in North Carolina along the Yadkin River in the 1740s. They were friends, even inter-married with Squire Boone and the Morgan Bryant families. By the early 1750s, North Carolina was still a predominately wild and untamed frontier. Religious beliefs as well as British control of the land ignited flames of uprising. The Moravians, although the oldest protestant religion in the world, were a small religious sect even by today's standards, yet this religious sect held great power - in establishing religious order and in monetary support from English peers who were of high birth right and welded power. The Hauser family held different beliefs even though their joining the Moravians meant they were to become conscientious objectors – meaning they did not bear arms. Of course the Hauser family did, as did the other original non-Moravian families who became part of the experimental Bethania settlement did.

Young George Hauser was a peer and friend of Daniel Boone. Then there was a man by the name of Matthew Brookes, a man with connections and wealth, and who played a bold roll in establishing American freedom.

Why Daniel Boone became famous and George Hauser never did, is beyond me, except for the often misspelled last name of Hauser, and the added influence of religious beliefs which is too lengthy to document in this post.

On one early 1780’s evening, in the middle of America's struggle to become loyal to a republic of their own, or to remain loyal to the English King; Bethania was a pivotal place to both opposing forces. In fact, Bethania's beginnings and story is often humorous; a comedy of errors, and a reflection on “Whose Side Were We On, Anyway?”

Imagine the enemy entering a town from the main road while the opposing forces leave the town from the same road in the opposite direction. A bugle sounds and the troops from both sides regroup so that the opposing force can re-enter.

Now imagine that lifelong friends who are on opposing forces live in the same town - are neighbors, having grown up with all the familiarities life allows in a close-knit society. The men re-group at the tavern, a sacred and neutral place – supposedly.

Young George though was instructed to toast “to the health of the king” or in German, “Zur Hölle mit dem König.”

Young George did, combining his German language with English and in actuality, said – “To Hell with the King.” In German, the words should have been, Für die Gesundheit des Königs” Both cheers and shouts of anger erupted from the smoke-filled tavern and swords were drawn. Men in red coats and white powdered wigs jumped from tables, over-turned chairs, and converged in mass upon young George.

But young George had many friends, brothers, uncles, and nephews who were family (which is why Bethania was also called Hausertown and these men rose from their seats in unison.

George Hauser Sr’s (young George’s father) holding a long rifle in his arms, directly aimed between the British field Captain’s eyes and said, “Ihnen, Sir, sind ein toter Mann, Sterben, bitte.” Meaning, “You are a dead man.”

George Hauser Senior was not an American and even technically, nor was his son although young George was born here.

If one thinks about the implications of both men and women who were not born in America, yet through hard work and discovery, have played pivotal rules in society and moving History forward . . . amen.

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