On October 8, 1732 a Dutch sailing vessel slipped out of the Copenhagen harbor. Its destination—the Danish West Indies. On board were the first two Moravian missionaries. It was the beginning of an era.

In that year George Washington was born and 36-year-old James Oglethorpe succeeded in receiving a grant to establish the colony of Georgia—named for another George. In Philadelphia, the State House—later to be called Independence Hall—was rising in red-brick dignity. And Benjamin Franklin was wondering how people would like his first edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

Across the ocean, the future home of Great Britain’s prime ministers, No. 10 Downing Street, was under construction, London’s Covent Garden Opera House was opened and patrons founded the Acadamie of Ancient Music. Giving promise of the wonderful music in store for Europe—and the world—of the 18th Century, Franz Joseph Haydn was born in a village near Vienna. Bach and Handel’s music was attracting the attention of those affluent enough or high-born enough to attend the concerts.

Across Europe, the people and their rulers were breathing a sigh of relief after the bloody 17th Century. A general peace prevailed and not one of the “enlightened despots”—not Emperor Charles VI or Louis XV or Prussia’s Frederick William I—held anything like universal sway. The hierarchical feudal society descended from the Middle Ages was now in its “final phase.” Nobles, like the clergy, remained the two privileged classes, but a rising middle class often held the decisive purse strings. Nations and states were developing interests in the New World and tending to their domestic problems.

As the Columbia History of the World notes, “No monarch tried seriously to impose religious unity ...

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