Christopher Demuth: From Single Brother to Celebrated Snuffmaker

Diane Wenger

Christopher Demuth (1740-1818), whose parents had emigrated from Eastern Europe as Moravian missionaries, grew up in the Moravian town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Although he acquired valuable carpentry skills and business knowledge as a Moravian single brother, for various reasons Demuth grew discontented in Bethlehem. He yearned to be his own master and manage his own business rather than being paid a daily wage, and his frequent complaints resulted in church leaders expelling him. He subsequently relocated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an inland town with extensive trade connections and an active business community, and there he took up a new trade--snuff making. The business he built in Lancaster was highly successful, and Demuth’s descendants continued to operate the tobacco shop for the next two centuries.  (It closed in 2010). Using primary sources including Demuth’s ledger (1797-1816), diaries and correspondence in the Moravian archives, local and Federal tax records and period advertisements, this paper analyzes factors that led to Demuth’s success and the longevity of his business and discusses the importance of tobacco to the economy and society of Early America.