Old Salem Blog

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  • On housing Freedmen after the Civil War:

    Board of Trustees, Salem Congregation, Sept. 8, 1868:

    “…the claims of a common humanity, not to say Christian duty towards fellow human beings, … would demand that we extend a helping hand to them in enabling them to provide suitable home for themselves and families in their new situation, and not to leave them, as is unfortunately the case in too many instances, at the mercy of individuals who ask rents for dwelling far beyond their ability to pay.”

    Source: C. Daniel Crews, Neither Slave nor Free: Moravians, Slavery, and the Church that Endures,1998 p.38


  • Striking Archaeological Gold in Old Salem

    Images of the newly discovered archaeological site in the yard of the Boys’ School from the Winston-Salem Journal


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    A surprising find

    As part of our Boys’ School Restoration Project, grading began on the area behind the school building where an out building and an outdoor classroom will be reconstructed. During the grading, a gold dollar from 1851 was found by a Frank L. Blum Construction Company employee, who alerted the Old Salem Archaeology Department. During the ensuing excavation, a historic privy shaft was discovered that is providing interesting archaeological information. So far, we’ve uncovered bottles (including one for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which was sold from 1849 until the early 1900s), slate pencils, animal bones, coins, and more. The items most likely date from the mid-19th century.


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    Wesley Washington Fries

    Wash Fries was born in Salem and enslaved to Wilhelm Fries. He was baptized August 5, 1845 at the African Moravian Church. Fries worked in the F. & H Fries Woolen Mill in Salem.


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    David Drake

    This jug was made by David Drake, one of the many slaves who worked on the pottery plantations of Edgefield County, South Carolina. Dave was first owned by Abner Landrum (1780-1859), who has been credited with establishing the first pottery, Pottersville, in the Edgefield district during the 1810s.

    Of the nearly 3000 enslaved craftsmen who have been identified by Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Dave is the only one whose work we can positively identify. Despite laws prohibiting literacy among slaves, Dave was taught to read and write. His pots–more than 150 signed examples are known–testify to both his literacy and his skill as an artist. Once freed at the end of the Civil War, he adopted the more formal appellation “David” and the last name “Drake,” after one of his earliest owners.

    See more at: http://mesda.org/item/collections/jug/21266/…

    Experience yourself: http://www.oldsalem.org/…/…/african-american-heritage-tours/


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    The Moravian brethren operated their own brickyard in town but found it cheaper to hire outside brickmakers than to designate one of their own in that capacity. Often, these brickmakers were enslaved African Americans who lived nearby. The 1,000 bricks listed in church records as being made by “Sam” in 1803 probably were used to build the original Market-Fire House. In 1786, enslaved (Peter) Oliver was appointed one of those to carry water in case of fire. It is interesting to note that some of the bricks used in the restoration of Old Salem in the 1950s were made by a well-known African American, George Black, who continued to make bricks in the traditional fashion all his working life.


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    One hundred years saw remarkable change in the Moravians’ attitude toward war. During the Revolutionary War, the pacifist Moravians remained officially neutral and even asked the gunsmith in Salem to change trades during the war years so the town would not be seen as approving violence to end conflict. By the beginning of the Civil War, the great grandchildren of Salem’s founders identified as Southerners (and in some cases, Northerners) and openly took political sides. While many Moravians were still pacifists and only participated in non-violent activities of the war effort as medics or band members, for example, others took up arms and faced each other across the battlefield on the front lines.


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    During the 1770s and 1780s, three African Americans, all enslaved, were members of the Single Brothers choir and either lived in the Brothers House, or at least participated in choir activities. Likewise, during the 1790s, at least one Single Sister who was African American lived across the Square in the Single Sisters choir house. The Single Sister was Anna Maria Samuel, daughter of Johann Samuel. The three Single Brothers were Jacob, who worked at the Tavern; Abraham, a tanner; and (Peter) Oliver, a potter.  Abraham was born in West Africa where he was a member of the Mandingo Nation. Peter Oliver pumped the organ there.


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    Built in 1823, the Log Church was the only known structure in the immediate area constructed specifically as a place of worship for people of African descent, enslaved and free. The white Female Missionary Society financed the project and African Americans provided the labor to build the church.  During the mid 19th century, worship at the African American log church was a major event. Following the Civil War the church served briefly as a freedman’s hospital and was later converted into a residence.  Reconstructed in 1999, the Log Church houses a multimedia exhibits designed by Warren Parker of Brooklyn, N.Y., meeting space, hands-on children’s activities, and African American genealogical research tools.

    (Pictured: Reconstructed Log Church)


  • Carolina Insider: St. Philips Moravian Church

    From WXLV ABC 45’s Carolina Insider: A segment about St. Philips African Moravian Church in Old Salem, the oldest standing African American church in North Carolina, which still features the original pews where the end of slavery was announced by a Union cavalry chaplain in 1865.


On May 31, 1791, President George Washington arrived in Salem for a two-night stay. He requested music during his evening meal. #PresidentsDay

Painting: George Washington (1732-1799) by Frederick Kemmelmeyer. Courtesy of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts

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Love Old Salem and want to spend more time in the historic district? We are currently seeking volunteers to work half-day shifts (Tuesday through Sunday) in the Doctor’s House-which opening this spring-and in the Dianne H. Furr Moravian Decorative Arts Gallery located in the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts

Volunteers will work as greeters and medical-exhibit interpreters in the 1802 Dr. Samuel Benjamin Vierling House, which has been renamed the Doctor’s House. During the past two years, the house has been restored and will reopen to visitors in March. Applicants must pass a criminal background check and be able to climb steps. No costume is required, and training will provided. Previous experience in medicine, science or teaching fields would be helpful.

Volunteers will greet visitors, give them an introduction to the gallery, and answer questions. The gallery houses the largest exhibit of Moravian decorative arts in a gallery setting in the country.

For more information and to apply, contact Tyler Cox at tcox@oldsalem.org or (336) 721-7364.

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The Town of Salem

Experience early American history in the unique Moravian settlement of Salem. Original structures, gardens, tours, artifacts, hands-on workshops, fun family events and shopping.


Stroll through award-winning restorations that create a landscape reminiscent of early Salem where utility, practicality and beauty united. Tours, workshops and plants for your garden.


View history through objects and material culture. Tour a wide range of early southern artistry, craftsmanship and stories found in the world class collection of decorative arts from the early American South, 1660-1860.

Old Salem Museums and Gardens, 600 S. Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101 Phone: 336-721-7300 | visitwinstonsalem.com