Old Salem, NC Established Before Our Country Was Born
Call us nerdy, but when we hear that just a ten minute car ride away awaits an historical town dating back to the 1760’s, we get rather excited! Old Salem, NC would make any history buff giddy. It was established in 1766 by a group from the Protestant Church called Moravians. They migrated to North America from what is now the Czech Republic. Three fourths of the town is original, so it’s no wonder we spent seven hours there before thinking to check the time! Not only is the history there well preserved, its well presented. An All-In-Pass costs $27 and allows you access to more than eighteen buildings. In each building you’ll find craftsmen and women dressed in period clothing performing the duties of the time period. These interpreters are a wealth of knowledge, and greet each visitor warmly. Old Salem was so fascinating and geared towards adults and children alike that I encourage you to visit it for yourself. We learned more in those seven hours than you want me to write, so I’ll share what we found most interesting.
All matters of daily life were regulated by the church. A church council to be specific. This tavern was also owned and operated under church authority. The Moravians knew “strangers” would come to their town to trade, so they wanted to keep an eye on them. Here, they could find room and board, drink, and play games. The church hoped that the strangers would stay here until their business with the town was finished so that their immoral ways wouldn’t influence the citizens.
When George Washington visited Salem this is where he stayed. Though the Moravians kept meticulous documentation about their town, the exact room he slept in was not noted. This was the tavern kitchen. One thing I found fascinating about this room was that nearly all of the contents were made by Moravian craftspeople. They were excellent potters, wood workers, masons, silversmiths, tailors and seamstresses.
By far, the most interesting thing we learned was that the Moravians consulted a bowl call “The Lot” to help them make important descisions. The bowl contained three pieces of rolled up paper. A piece that said YES, a piece that said NO, and a blank piece. They would ask their important question in the presence of the Lot, then choose a piece of paper. The answer received was believed to be the decision of God and not questioned. This struck us as odd because all other aspects of the Moravian culture were very practical and logical. Why would they leave such important decisions up to chance? Also, wouldn’t the decision of God be steady? I could ask the same question of the Lot thirty times and get differing answers.This was the first African church in town. Though the Moravians believed that all were equal upon death, they had a differing opinion during life. The African population outgrew this space and a new church was built off the back corner of the log church. This plot of land where the new church was constructed was a graveyard for Africans and “strangers”. If you came to the town you were considered a stranger because you were not Moravian. If you were a stranger and died in Salem this is where you would be buried. All grave markers were a single stone flat to the ground. All people received the same grave marker to signify their belief that we are all the same in death.
The Single Brothers House is pictured above. If you were an unmarried, Moravian male, as young as fourteen, this is where you lived. Males were allowed to use the space to create and sell the creations of their craft. It operated like an early American mini mall! The church kept close tabs on their flock to keep them on that straight and narrow. No person was ever alone. They lived communally, work communally, and worshiped communally. Yes, the women too had a Single Sisters House that functioned much the same way as the Single Brothers. Some Moravians lives their entire adult life in communal housing because marriage decisions were up to the Lot. It was told that one particular man asked the Lot twelve times to get married and was told NO each time. By the time he was told yes, he was so old that the woman he proposed to said No!