Abraham (Formerly Sambo)
Joiner and Carpenter
Born: c. 1730
Died: April 7, 1797
Sambo was born around 1730 in the Mandinka nation in West Africa, a location near the modern day nations of Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Liberia. The son of the tribal elder, Sambo’s life prior to enslavement was active. The Mandinka were a subsistence farming people who relied on peanuts, rice, millet, and maize for their livelihood. Men often worked in varied positions including woodworkers, metalworkers, and builders within the village dichotomy.
He went to war like others in the frequent hostilities in the local tribes. In one of these wars he was wounded severely in the head and face and was taken prisoner. He was sent back to his father with mutilated ears, an sign of insult among the Mandinka people. His father immediately declared another war in an effort to avenge his son’s disfigurement. Despite his condition, Sambo went to war again. This time he was taken prisoner and sold to European slave traders.
His journey to America was likely one of misery and despair. He was brought to the West Indies and sold on a French Island where he worked for several years before being brought to Virginia. He was bought by an H. Lyons, who in turn sold him to the Moravians in the name of Brother Herbst in 1771.
The Moravians were different from many white southern American people. The records show that black and white Moravians lived, worked, and worshiped together in close quarters during the early days of Salem, North Carolina.
Most Mandinka people were historically Muslim, or an amalgamation of Muslim and traditional religions. This is curious, as it is not mentioned in the Moravian texts; merely a mentioning of his conversion to the brotherhood is mentioned. Africans sometimes converted to Christianity in the Moravian town of Salem. When Sambo converted he was allowed to take a Christian name, Abraham. When they did they were treated with more respect, and referred to as “brother” or “sister” in community texts. However, their slave status remained unchanged.
Most of the enslaved residents spoke German or English as well as their native tongues. This included a minor level of literacy promoted through religion. While not viewed as an equal, Abraham often found himself privy to some added protections and sentiments than slaves outside the Salem community outright, including the right to become literate.
Abraham was owned by the Community Diaconate through Brother Herbst, and was allowed to be used by residents upon request. Most of his days were spent aiding Brother Herbst at the tannery in Salem. The records do not mention much; he was a slave and not thought worth mention in many tasks outside of church success and marriage. It can be surmised that he may have been used on many of the buildings constructed during his lifetime as a day laborer or equivalent.
A few mentions do exist however of his work. It seems he was put to work in the fields of carpentry and joinery, another slave, Sam, was used in masonry tasks. Abraham’s first project was aiding in the work on the Single Brothers Workshop. The next mention of Abraham is working on the T. Bagge Merchant Shop, and the Salem Tavern.
However it is never mentioned if he was retrained in the early German traditions of the Moravians, or was allowed to incorporate some of his African building knowledge into these projects.
On July 30th 1785, Abraham was allowed to marry Sarah who worked in the tavern.
He passed away on April 7th 1797 and was buried in God’s Acre in Salem. He is the only African slave to be buried at this location in Salem.