Hidden Town Project










The Initiative 

Old Salem Museums & Gardens has begun a groundbreaking initiative called the Hidden Town Project to research and reveal the history of a community of enslaved and free Africans and African Americans who once lived in Salem, North CarolinaOur first effort has been to transform a room above the Tavern kitchen into the “Room of Mediation & Reflection on the Enslaved in the Town of Salem, NC”.

These histories involve the complicated use of slavery and enslaved people to build the town and their contribution to the mercantile prosperity of Salem. The Hidden Town Project will track the effects and legacy of enslaved people from the inception of Salem itself in 1766 through the Jim Crow Era and into the 21st Century.

Although of great debate within the Moravian community, the practice of slavery slowly increased, even against the town’s regulations. At its height, there were approximately 16o enslaved men, women, and children in Salem. Some lived in their owner’s homes while others lived in about 40 slave dwellings in town. Following the Civil War, freedmen established the first school for black children in the county and established a neighborhood across Salem Creek, now called “Happy Hill.”

Through continued research, Old Salem, Inc. is dedicated to reveal the history of a hidden town of African enslaved and freedman people living in Salem—where they lived, worked, and who they were as human beings.

Goals of the project:

  1. To locate the sites of dwelling places of enslaved people throughout the entire historic district
  2. To archaeologically investigate the sites.
  3. To fully integrate the narrative of the enslaved into the visitor experience.
  4. To connect with descendants of the Salem enslaved population and form an Advisory Committee to help direct future efforts at Old Salem.
  5. to interpret through contemporary art forms, salon discussions and public gatherings.


Please visit the St. Philips African American Heritage Center or any other interpreted site within the district to learn more about this history and the hidden town project. If you would like to get involved in the hidden town project, please contact us at Hiddentown@OldSalem.org.


















Related Links

Hidden In History: Old Salem’s Hidden Town:  Old Salem’s new Hidden Town Project explores the untold story of free and enslaved African-Americans living in Salem.

The Chronicle: Old Salem’s enslaved and free Africans come to light

The Chronicle: Slaves and freemen lived in shadows of Salem


Click here for information on a free lecture Hidden Town Project Lecture September 13, 2018 – Interpreting Difficult History at James Madison’s Montpelier.