Timothy Vogler (1806-1896) was one of seven children of Salem’s gunsmith and blacksmith, Christoph Vogler. Due to Christoph’s failing health, he employed the labor of an African American man, who was a skilled blacksmith by trade. “Br. Christ. Vogler has employed a Negro who is a blacksmith by trade and is carrying on this trade in Christ. Vogler’s shop. Christ. Vogler now has the plan to have his son Tim. learn this smith trade from the mentioned Negro. It is a mistake that he did not give any notice to the Collegium when he rented this Negro. He also is acting agaisnt the resolution taken some years ago in the Community Council about not employing Negroes in our trades.” (Auf Coll January 10, 1825) “…He has rented the Negro for a year to carry on the handicraft of blacksmith, and the Negro is already busy with the work. Vogler’s son is to learn the trade from him. This is directly contrary to the rules made by Congregation Council in February, 1820, when Council instructed the Aufseher Collegium and the Aeltesten Conference to see that the rules were observed. Br. Vogler hope that an exception may be made in his case, since he has done it on order that his son may learn the trade of blacksmith, and he himself is too feable to teach him.” (EC Janury 12, 1825).
For nearly a year this African American worked as a blacksmith and helped instruct Timothy in this skilled trade. Eventually, because of Church ordinances restricting the usage of non-Moravian and African American labor, Christoph was forced to terminate his employment.
LABEL NOTES: This pair of andirons in the collection of Old Salem Museums & Gardens has wonderful stories to tell. We have traditionally focused on the owner and probable maker of these, Salem blacksmith and gunsmith, Timothy Vogler (1806-1896). Timothy was the youngest son of gunsmith, Christoph Vogler. The andirons are relatively straightforward in style. Made from wrought iron, they feature simple round finials that top slightly shaped plinths into which are mortised iron bars or shanks to support logs in a fireplace. The andirons are stunning in their simplicity. Andirons had a very important role to play in the successful building and maintenance of a fire in a fireplace. Once the fire was lit, however, the andirons would have become “small things forgotten”: objects taken for granted because they functioned as they were supposed to.
Traditionally objects made by Salem artisans, curators have focused on the physical characteristics of the objects, their construction, and the life histories and special skills of the makers. But these andirons beg the question: who taught Timothy Vogler the blacksmithing skills he needed to successfully transform iron in to functional and aesthetically pleasing objects?
Timothy Vogler was the youngest son of Salem gunsmith and blacksmith Christoph Vogler and his wife Anna Johanna. Blacksmithing is difficult work that requires a lot of strength and endurance. By the time Timothy was old enough to learn the trade, Christoph Vogler was experiencing some health problems and considered himself “ too feeble to teach him.” (Aufseher Collegium Minutes, Salem, January 12, 1825). Who would you want to train your son in a trade? You would probably seek out the most accomplished individual you could find to impart the knowledge and skills needed to successfully train and supervise him.
In 1825, Christoph Vogler “employed a Negro who is a blacksmith by trade and is carrying on this trade in [his] shop. Christ. Vogler now has the plan to have his son Tim. learn this smith trade from the mentioned Negro.” (Aufseher Collegium Minutes, Salem, January 10, 1825). “Employed” is a misnomer here because later records indicate that Christoph rented this enslaved African American for a year from the man’s enslaver. The blacksmith was not “employed” in the traditional sense of being paid money for his labor.
The Church leadership objected to Christoph’s Vogler’s enslaving this blacksmith because he did so without the permission of Church boards which went against the rules governing slavery enacted by Church boards in 1820. The Church also objected to enslaving skilled artisans, fearing that enslaved artisans might take jobs away from white community members. Christoph Vogler was repeatedly admonished to send the enslaved blacksmith away, but he turned a deaf ear to the demands of Church leadership until nearly 5 months after they raised their first objection. Clearly, Christoph valued the skills of this man and the training he was able to impart to 19-year-old Timothy. Perhaps by May 1825 when Christoph ultimately yielded to the pressure of Church leadership to send the blacksmith away, he felt the artisan had taught Timothy enough of the skills he would need to be successful in the trade.
With additional research, we hope to uncover more about the enslaved blacksmith leased by Christoph Vogler to teach his youngest son the trade of blacksmithing. What was his name? Where was his home? Did he leave his family to come to Salem? Where did he live while working for Vogler? Where did he go after Christoph dismissed him? How did he feel about training the son of a white artisan?
Objects tell stories. It is our job to uncover the forgotten or unexplored stories the objects in our collection have to tell us. When we reinterpret objects like these andirons, we give them the opportunity to tell stories about marginalized artisans whose contributions have been ignored or discounted in the past. An enslaved artisan had the skill and knowledge to transform rods of iron into objects of utility and beauty, and he taught Timothy Vogler to do the same. (HistoryNerd Alert Facebook July 2020).