“The Collegium talked to Br. Jos. Stauber about his [retaining] a negro slave in his smithy. He was asked to observe the negro regulations sanctioned last year by the Congregation Council. We did not achieve anything, however, since this brother insisted that he does not teach the negro anything of his trade and that he could not be without his assistance.” (Minutes of the Aufseher Collegium, January 5, 1846).
Skilled enslaved craftsmen provided much needed labor in several trades practiced in Salem despite repeated attempts by the Church boards to limit their work to tasks not requiring specialized training. Community members debated the threat of skilled enslaved workers, arguing that enslaved craftsmen competed with white youth for job training and placement. In 1845, at the request of some members of the community, the Collegium considered withdrawing the regulations “since they only exist on paper and are violated in every respect…,” but it ultimately upheld the rule that “Under no pretext is any negro to be employed with any trade in the Salem Community.” (Minutes of the Aufseher Collegium, February 6, 1845; February 21, 1845).
The admonishment of Joseph Stauber suggests that despite his claim that “he does not teach the negro anything of his trade” the enslaved man working in Stauber’s shop was at least a skilled laborer and quite possibly a fully trained craftsman in his own right. Why else would the town leadership have been so anxious about Stauber enslaving him?
Salem artist Daniel Welfare (1796-1841) painted this image of Salem from the North ca. 1835. In the foreground is what we believe to be Stauber’s blacksmith shop. The painting captures an image of the shop before Stauber was encouraged by the Church to replace his log shop with a brick building in 1840. In the doorway of the shop stands a Black man, one of the few portrayals of an African American in Salem in the nineteenth century. Could this be a surviving portrait of the “negro slave” in Stauber’s smithy that so concerned the Church leadership in 1846? How long did Stauber enslave this man? Did Stauber train him in blacksmithing or did he come to Stauber’s shop with skills he learned from another enslaved blacksmith or another enslaver? If the man in the doorway is not the person mentioned in the church records in 1846, did Stauber enslave more than one person in his shop over time?