The Touchstone of the African American Experience in Winston-Salem
Enslaved African Americans lived in Salem from the early years of its founding in 1766. Eventually, there were brick makers, potters, blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters, road builders, domestic workers, teamsters, and farmers, both Africans and African Americans, living and working in and around the church town.
Several African Americans converted to Christianity and were baptized into the Moravian Church. As congregation members, they were treated with considerably more respect, though their condition of bonded servitude was not altered. Like whites, they were addressed as “Brother” or “Sister.” Slave marriages were not legally recognized in the South, but they gained a certain sanction in Moravian communities. To the Moravians, the marriage of enslaved African Americans helped create stable families and played a role in social control, since marriage tended to root bondsmen to their homes and thereby help prevent their running away.
Most enslaved residents spoke German as well as English, and some gained literacy in one or both languages. Some African American children attended Moravian schools with European American children. Enslaved Moravians were hardly full equals in church, but there they could find protection denied most other enslaved African Americans. Salem’s biracial community gradually collapsed in the early 19th century as white Moravians began to absorb the segregationist sentiment spreading across the new republic.
African or Negro Moravian Church or “Log Church”
Built in 1823, this church was the only known structure in the immediate area constructed specifically as a place of worship for people of African descent, enslaved and free. The white Female Missionary Society of the Moravian Church in Salem financed the project, and African Americans provided the labor to build the church. During the mid-19th century, worship at the African American log church was a major event. Following the Civil War, the former church building served briefly as a freedman’s hospital and was later converted into a residence. The building was taken down in the early 20th century. Reconstructed in 1999, the Log Church houses multimedia exhibits designed by Warren Parker of Brooklyn, N.Y., meeting space, hands-on children’s activities, and African American genealogical research tools.
St. Philips Brick Church
When the African Log Church became too small, a larger brick church was built in 1861. Named St. Philips in 1914, it is the oldest standing African American church in North Carolina. From its pulpit, freedom was announced on May 21, 1865, by a Union Army cavalry chaplain. In 1867, led by Freedmen, Alexander Vogler and Lewis Hege, members of the African Moravian congregation played a key role in the establishment of the first schoolhouse for African-American children in Forsyth County and one of the first in North Carolina. There was a strong sense of benevolence within the church, and such activities as making clothes and collecting supplies for the foreign missions, caring for the old and sick, and supporting a nearby home for African American orphans were commonplace. Church programs included revivals, prayer meetings, lectures, stereopticon (magic lantern) shows, church suppers, and Sunday picnics. The last service was held in the church in 1952. The congregation moved out of Salem to be in an African American neighborhood and worships today in north Winston-Salem.
Salem Academy and College
The Moravians opened a school for local girls in 1772, making it one of the oldest schools for females in the United States. When the school was opened to outsiders in 1803, it quickly became a well-known center for female education and attracted young ladies from throughout the South. The first African American student, Anna Maria Samuel, daughter of North Carolina’s first baptized African Moravian, Johann Samuel, was admitted in 1785. She lived on a farm near Salem. The school did not regularly educate African American girls and nothing is known about other students who were African American.
Vierling House and Davy House
A number of enslaved African Americans were rented to work as housekeepers in the home of Dr. Vierling, the town’s physician. He actually took enslaved “Penny” in 1807 as payment for a debt. After the death of Dr. Vierling, church administrators lived in the doctor’s house and had a small house built for the gardener, Davey, to the rear of the main house.
Today, only the foundation of The Davey House, home of Davey (later christened Christian David) remains. Davey was one of the African Americans in the 1820s to greet the formation of a separate Moravian church for African American worship with enthusiasm. He later became the church sexton.
The tavern was owned by the church, and of all the industries and businesses in Salem, it relied most heavily on the labor of African Americans. The Tavern was known to have enslaved persons, including a family, working and living in it, particularly during 1791 when its most famous guest, George Washington, spent two nights in Salem. African American served as cooks, prepared meals for guests and cleaned their rooms, waited tables and tended animals. Some African-Americans had the ability to speak both German and English were depended to communicate with travelers.
African American Graveyard
The graveyard was called by several names in the Moravian records, including “Negro God’s Acre” before use of it was discontinued in 1859. Numerous archaeological excavations in the graveyard have located lost graves; however, no attempt has ever been made to violate the actual graves. Burial practices appear to have included Native African burial customs, as items such as broken pottery shards, scissors, broken mirrors, chalk, etc. were found on top of some of the graves. Many of the gravestones associated with the burial ground were re-discovered under the church in the mid-1990s. Ten of the gravestones are used in the Log Church to tell some of the diverse stories of those enslaved in and around Salem.
Single Brothers House
During the 1770s and 1780s, three African Americans, all enslaved, were members of the Single Brothers choir and lived in the Single Brothers House, or at least participated in choir activities. Likewise, during the 1790s, at least one Single Sister who was African American lived across the Square in the Single Sisters choir house. The Single Sister was Anna Maria Samuel, daughter of Johann Samuel. The three Single Brothers were Jacob, who worked at the Tavern; Peter Oliver, a potter, who also pumped the church organ and Abraham, a tanner. Abraham was born in West Africa where he was a member of the Mandingo Nation.
The Moravian brethren operated their own brickyard in town but found it cheaper to hire outside brick makers than to designate one of their own in that capacity. Often, these brick makers were enslaved African Americans who lived nearby. The 1,000 bricks listed in church records as being made by “Sam” in 1803 probably were used to build the original Market-Fire House. In 1786, enslaved (Peter) Oliver was appointed one of those to carry water in case of fire. It is interesting to note that some of the bricks used in the restoration of Old Salem in the 1950s were made by a well-known African American, George Black, who continued to make bricks in the traditional fashion all his working life.
T. Bagge: Merchant
Today the home of one of Old Salem’s museum stores, this building originally served as the church-owned store and home of the storekeeper and his family. Br. Traugott Bagge was Salem’s first storekeeper and served the town during the turbulent Revolutionary War years. Br. Bagge purchased many of the first slaves for the church.
By the time the Vogler Family began living in this house in 1819, changes were taking place in the relationship between Salem’s European Americans and African Americans, changes that began to undermine the biracial tolerance that had existed in the 18th century. The Vogler family was quite influential with the enslaved population in and around Salem. In John Vogler’s household in the 1850s was a young enslaved woman named Bethy. After her baptism at the African church in 1851, Bethy became a baptism sponsor for more than a dozen enslaved children before she left the church in 1865. Elias Vogler, John Vogler’s only son, was superintendent of the Sunday school at the African Moravian church from 1866 until 1871. He was also influential in the establishment of “Liberia,” or Happy Hill, the first planned neighborhood for African Americans in Winston-Salem.
The Zevely Inn
Dr. Augustus T. Zevely was a nephew of Rev. Gottlieb Shober of Salem. Gottlieb Shober owned one of the first enterprises in Salem, a paper mill that he started in the late 1700s. Many of the workers at the paper mill, located on the western side of the Salem Town lot were Native Africans. Several of these Africans openly resisted attempts by the Moravians to Christianize them. One German pastor of the African congregation wrote of being told in quite colorful language what was though of such attempts. Several of the Africans at the paper mill, eventually ended up in the Zevely household in their old age.
The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) offers a wide range of southern artistry and craftsmanship from the 1670s through the early nineteenth century, which includes works by enslaved and free persons of color. MESDA currently exhibits work by Thomas Day, a free black and skilled furniture craftsman and entrepreneur; exhibit rooms from the Blair Pollock House where enslaved Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, lived; paintings by Joshua Johnson, the first African American professional portraitist known of in American art history; and pottery by Dave the Potter, an extraordinary poet and potter from South Carolina. MESDA has an online exhibit entitled, “Black and White all Mix’d Together: The Hidden Legacy of Enslaved Craftsmen.”
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St. Philips African American Complex in Old Salem
913 South Church Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
* All Photos courtesy of St. Philips Of Old Salem – All Rights Reserved