God’s Fields, Landscape, Religion, and Race in Moravian Wachovia, by Leland Ferguson; paperback; 302 pages; published 2013
The Moravian community of Salem, North Carolina, was founded in 1766, and the town – the hub of nearly 100,00 piedmont acres purchased thirteen years before and named “Wachovia” – quickly became the focal point for the church’s colonial presence in the South.
While the brethren preached the unity of all humans under God, a careful analysis of the birth and growth of their Salem settlement reveals that the group gradually embraced the institutions of slavery and racial segregation in opposition to their religious beliefs. Although Salem’s still-active community includes one of the oldest African American congregations in the nation, the evidence contained in God’s Fields reveals that during much of the twentieth century the church’s segregationist past was intentionally concealed.
Leland Ferguson’s work illustrates the cumulative effects of compromising choices regarding Christian fellowship, slavery, and racial segregation. His effort to reconstruct this “secret history” was part of a historical preservation program that helped convince the Moravian Church in North America to formally apologize in 2006 for its participation in slavery and clear a way for racial reconciliation.
The Old Salem Museums & Gardens Hidden Town Project was initiated in December 2016 with a mission: To Research and Reveal the History of People of African descent in Salem. The history is complicated, and the research-based project is focused on identifying people and building their biographies, as well as understanding their lives within the white Moravian world. The voluminous records of the Moravian Archives provide insight and information about people and changes through time.
The Hidden Town Project builds on several decades of work at Old Salem, especially beginning in 1989 with the restoration of St. Philips Moravian Church and the accompanying discovery process through scholarship in the archives and through archaeology. Historian Jon Sensbach, PhD, began his research in the mid-1980s and Archaeologist Leland Ferguson, PhD, began excavation on the graveyards in the early 1990s. We are proud to offer their important publications on our website.