Hidden Town Project
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 Carolina. Our 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:
- To locate the sites of dwelling places of enslaved people throughout the entire historic district
- To archaeologically investigate the sites.
- To fully integrate the narrative of the enslaved into the visitor experience.
- To connect with descendants of the Salem enslaved population and form an Advisory Committee to help direct future efforts at Old Salem.
- 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.
Most recently the division has been focused on the Hidden Town Project and the ways that Old Salem can better tell the story of the enslaved in the town of Salem. The information on this page reflects the most up to date research on this project.
Research Update August 6, 2018 (mbh 8-1-18)
Research Files have been created for the following 10 lots:
- Girls Boarding School (Lot 14)
- Single Sisters House (Lot 15)
- Traugott Leinbach — Traugott Leinbach House (Lot 22)
- Jacob Reich — Ebert-Reich House (Lot 24)
- Inspector’s House (Lot 29)
- Adam Butner — Butner House and Hat Shop (Lot 32)
- Edward Belo — Belo House (Lot 35,36)
- John Christian Blum and son Levi Blum — Blum House (Lot 67)
- George Voltz — Volz House (Lot 96)
- Timothy Vogler — Vogler House and Gunshop (Lot 98)
Number of slaves in Salem and source (extracted from mapping exercise):
1790 — 8 enslaved held by Wachovia Administration (Jon Sensbach)
1810 — approx. 20 enslaved (Federal Census for Stokes County — includes paper mill)
1830 — approx. 80 enslaved (Federal Census for Stokes County — includes outlying farms)
1840 — approx. 50 enslaved (Federal Census for Stokes County — includes outlying farms / note: drop in number partly due to 25 slaves manumitted and sent to Liberia during 1830s)
1850 — approx. 100 enslaved (Federal Census for Forsyth County — includes outlying farms and industry)
1860 — approx. 160 enslaved (Federal Census for Forsyth County — includes outlying farms and industry; if exclude farms but keep Fries mill, total is ~136)
Slave Dwellings identified:
The research files are being created to address this question. There is speculation only at this point. The 1860 Federal Census for Forsyth County Slave Schedule included the enumeration of “slave house” by owner (approximately 35-40 slave houses counted in Salem). What is counted as a “slave house” by the census taker may likely have been a building with another primary use (wash house, kitchen, etc.). Here is the current speculation:
- Girls Boarding School (Lot 14). Depending on time period, enslaved may have lived in Inspectors house, then later perhaps in the ca. 1815 Wash House behind the boarding school, and/or perhaps in the boarding school building.
- Single Sisters House (Lot 15). Enslaved Single Sister Anna Maria Samuel lived in the Single Sisters House beginning in 1793; a kitchen (ca. 1790?) at the rear of the house may have housed enslaved and free Black workers during ante-bellum period.
- Traugott Leinbach — Traugott Leinbach House (Lot 22). The 1827 wash house may have served as slave dwelling. [slave house enumerated in 1860 Slave Schedule]
- Jacob Reich — Ebert-Reich House (Lot 24). The 1815 coppersmith shop may have housed enslaved or the semi-detached kitchen that may have been an earlier wash house from 1843. [slave house enumerated in 1860 Slave Schedule]
- Inspector’s House (Lot 29). Early enslaved probably lived in the house, after 1823 perhaps enslaved lived in the 1811 “extra living building” located west of the house which converted to a laundry in 1823 (it had housed a widow who worked at the Boys School). There were several other outbuildings on the lot.
- Adam Butner — Butner House and Hat Shop (Lot 32). If the outbuilding with chimney at the rear of the yard was built by 1830, it likely housed enslaved.
- Edward Belo — Belo House (Lot 35,36). Enslaved could have lived on 3rd floor of house with other workers. Detached dwelling east of the main house may have been for enslaved. Also brick kitchen against the east wall of the main house could have housed enslaved. [slave house enumerated in1860 Slave Schedule]
- John Christian Blum and son Levi Blum — Blum House (Lot 67). Early enslaved likely lived in the house, and by 1823 likely lived in the detached kitchen built that year. [slave house enumerated in 1860 Slave Schedule]
- George Voltz — Volz House (Lot 96). Enslaved likely lived in the gunshops on the lot. First gunshop built in 1822, second shop with addition in 1831, which also housed Voltz family after 1854. [slave house enumerated in 1860 Slave Schedule]
- Timothy Vogler — Vogler House and Gunshop (Lot 98). A detached frame building with chimney east of the main house may have served as a slave house. [slave house enumerated in 1860 Slave Schedule]