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Fingerprints on Bricks

Having historic structures still available to the public to feel and touch is extremely enlightening. Every person has a story, yes, but all we have left of people are photos and memorabilia. One cannot go see George Washington or Benjamin Franklin because they are dead. What one can see however are the places that they called home. Going to Mount Vernon or Benjamin Franklin’s house helps people understand and feel the essence of their histories and understand them. The details of a person's house tell a great deal about their personality and how they interacted with others and understand their decisions that formed them.


It is interesting to learn about great patriots and people at the forefront of history, but it is just as important to learn about the people that made America at the time function. There will always be people leading that will appear in the history books, but there has been little consideration of normal everyday people centuries ago. Even more so, the study of slaves and their pasts have been wildly overlooked by the hsitory books and view slavery more as a statisic rather than realizing the fact that these people had lives and histories that deserve to be studied. Old Salem, a microcosm of what life was like so long ago gives people a glimpse into everyday life from both slaves and common people. In modern times we forget how special and masterful structure building is. Through modern technology and tools, building a structure is not marveled upon, it is expected. Today, one might praise an architect or a designer for the masterpiece of a structure, not the builder. In studying old buildings and structures around the world today, it is often overlooked how immense and difficult it was to actually build the structures in the first place. Because of modern luxuries, it is overlooked how skillful and artists one had to be for one to become a Brickmason, or a builder. Being a brick mason was such a skillful and difficult job.    


Between 1756 and 1766, a brick mason in North Carolina would make one dollar, or six shillings a day. A pretty high paying job, the average wage in America in 1760 was roughly nine shillings a week, much lower than the six shillings per day earned by brick masons. It is important to understand the salary of a brick mason to realize just how vital a brick mason was to a city or town like Old Salem. Looking up the definition of Brickmason, it is defined as a person who uses “bricks, concrete blocks, structural tiles, and natural and man-made stones to build walkways, fences, walls, patios, buildings and other structures.” Back when there were no construction companies, international shipping companies, machines, or modern technology, a brickmason and an architect were all a town had for building structures and basically building the town itself. Finding the Brickmason of a town connects all the town’s residents, even slaves. In towns such as Old Salem, the brick mason's stories help uncover the truth and lives of slaves and unified the community of Old Salem as a whole.


Frederick William Marshall, a resident of Old Salem, was an extremely important person in designing and creating Wachovia and Old Salem as it is known today. He was the chief administrator of the Wachovia settlements in North Carolina and was an architect and brickmason. Marshall was born February 5th 1721 in Stolpen, Upper Lusatia, Germany in 1721. A true and Loyal Moravian, Marshall dedicated his life to spreading the teachings of the Moravian church. His talent as being a tradesmen and a loyal follower of Moravian teachings, Marshall was an expert at looking at the material interests of the Moravians and finding places and settlements that would benefit the Moravians economically and spiritually. In 1761 Marshall was made Senior Civilis, a Moravian minister ranking as a bishop, and in 1763 he was charged with oversight of the material interests of the Moravians’ Wachovia tract in North Carolina with special attention to creation of the town of Salem. Marshall actually chose the site of Salem in late 1764. The Moravians had dubbed Salem the center of trade in Wachovia. Marshall’s high rank in the Moravian Church and his efforts and success in establishing Old-Salem were accompanied with his skills as an architect. Marshall was a thinker and a creator and built the structures still standing in Old Salem today.


Marshall had a grand vision for Salem, and accomplished his goal of achieving his vision. “This town is not designed for farmers but for those with trades.” The purpose of Salem, he wrote, was to be “more like a family where the religious and material condition of each person is known in detail, This must be considered in deciding the form of the town plan.” A man named Johann Gottlob Krause, a brickmason and Moravian was brought in to make Marshall’s vision a reality. He became the master mason and built the first and major brick buildings in Salem. He created coveted buildings in Salem such as the Home Moravian Church and the Salem tavern. Born in Bethabara in 1760 and orphaned at age two, Krause was adopted by the master potter of Salem, Gottfried Aust. Krause used unique techniques as a mason in order for him to achieve mastery in Salem. Because of his adopted father being the master potter of Salem, Krause had a very interesting and specific set of skills that set him apart from the other mason’s in Salem.


Krause’s claim to master mason was brought by his work on the Salem Tavern. He was originally trained to be a stonemason, but it was decided that his set of skills were applicable for being a Brick Mason as well. The Salem Tavern was the first two story all brick building in Salem, a massive undertaking for Krause. The Bricks and the laying style Krause used set him apart from the other masons. His bricks were oversized, measuring 12 inches long, 5½ inches wide, and 3 inches high. The oversized bricks required two hands to set in place, realizing that the fingerprints on the bricks at the museum were likely made by Krause setting the bricks himself. Instead of using a single standard-sized brick and breaking some of them to form the closers required to even out a course of brick, Krause molded different sized bricks to meet specific needs. Only four days after the completion of the Tavern, Krause was made master mason of the town of Salem.

St. Philip's is an important landmark of the Winston-Salem community. This historic church is a unique historical artifact that allows Winston-Salem to touch base with its African-American community and their experiences from times of slavery. St. Philips was first built through slave labor in 1823. Initially, individual slave ownership was outlawed in the town of Salem, therefore all slaves who lived in Salem were owned by the church. As a result, the entity (the church) that the slaves built was not only the entity that owned them, but also where they would worship.  This congregation continues to be the only African American Moravian congregation in the United States. Furthermore, it is not only the single African American Moravian church, but is one of the oldest African American church congregations of all denominations in the United States. It is also the oldest African American congregation in all of North Carolina. Its age only adds to the significance of the church and its history.


Originally built by slaves using wooden logs, the church would not be reconstructed in brick until about 40 years later. Yet again,  the slaves used handmade brick and mortar that they built themselves to lay the foundation and reconstructed their house of worship using their own effort and labor to have a permanent, longstanding place of worship. On December 15, 1861, the brick church was consecrated. Although they used their own brick to build the church, the white townspeople also had them building more brick and roof tiles for their own community and buildings. The records of the Moravians in North Carolina documented 80,000 bricks and 12,000 roof tiles being built over the course of a year, through slave labor. The church continued to grow in number of attendees as negroes began to rise in number in Salem. Slaves continued to work with craftsmen, in the town, or on plantations and would attend their Sunday services at St. Philips. In addition, black children would attend sunday school and play with marbles outside of the church. The church represented a safe gathering place for the negroe community of Winston-Salem. By their own hands, brick by brick, the slaves had created a beautiful project through which we can connect to them today.


St. Philips was not well received by the white community in Salem. The brick church was called many derogatory names by the townspeople of Salem. However, the slaves of Salem would soon be liberated and left to their own devices with their church. The tides were turning in the Civil War and it became apparent that it was a losing fight for the southern secessionists. A month after the emancipation proclamation, the slaves gathered inside the African Moravian Church on May 21, 1865 where a chaplain with the 10th Ohio Cavalry Volunteers preached a sermon to nearly 200 blacks in Salem. The chaplain told the worshippers that President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had set them free and that they would have greater responsibilities as free people and encouraged them to be industrious, honest and pious. It was not until December 20, 1914,  when Bishop Edward Rondthaler bestowed upon the Southern Province’s only African-American congregation the name of St. Philips Moravian Church.


The story of St. Philips Moravian Church provides a key connection for the African American history of Winston-Salem. African Americans were forced to work under severe duress as slaves in this time period and found solace solely in their worship and were only allowed to do so in their simple log cabin that sufficed as a church. They would eventually create and consecrate their own church built by bricks they made by hand that still stand today. St. Philips has become an interesting artifact left behind that exemplifies their work and spreads the stories of African American slaves in Winston-Salem.


Brick making is a technique that North Carolina adopted from northern colonies such as Jamestown, Virginia in the 1660s. This was around the time when settlers began to move out to the coasts. With a plethora of clay and oyster shells, people began to form cuboids and use them to construct buildings, houses, and paths. In 1711, the colonial government brick surveyor, John Lawson, wrote: "good bricks and tiles are made and several sorts of useful Earths as Boles, Fuller's-Earth, Oakers and Tobacco-pipe Clay [are found] in great plenty." Bricks were used for construction all in a multitude of North Carolina counties. Furr explains the brick making process “Early methods of making bricks by hand involved packing locally found clay into dampened cedar wood mold boxes, the insides of which were sanded to give the brick texture and releasing qualities. Radical changes in brick making occurred in the last half of the nineteenth century with the development of extrusion machines using "star" cutters to end-cut brick. These cutters could cut through small sticks and stones often found in alluvial clays. Auger extrusion machines replaced the hand-mold or pressed-brick methods that had been used almost universally for thousands of years.”  


Constructed in 1785 and expanded in 1819, The Single Sisters' House is one of the many buildings built by slaves. Researchers have found the fingerprints of fugitive slaves in the bricks that make up this building. The Single Sisters' House is recognized for its historical importance in the United States as it is the longest-standing building that continues to be dedicated to educating women. It was established in 1772 by Moravians and it is the oldest establishment built for the education of women in the United States.


The Single Sisters' House was built in a time where the idea of education for women was considered excessively progressive. Back in 1766 sixteen Pennsylvanian women settled in North Carolina. All sixteen of them were single and belonged to the Moravian community. They built their own house, a 16,000 square foot building known as The Single Sisters' House, in Salem, North Carolina, and finally moved in on April 5, 1786. In this building, they gathered teachers and female students. Subjects such as mathematics, science, and geography, music, drawing, and needlework were taught to the young ladies. As stated on the Salem College website, “The Single Sisters, the unmarried women of the Moravian community, operated the school for many years as one of their successful entrepreneurial enterprises. The building is a lasting reminder of the value of equal education and opportunity for women.” 


Similarly, a group of single Moravian men established The Single Brothers' House. They inhabited and worked at the building that is located on the corner of S. Main and Academy Streets. This building was used as a “craft shops, distillery, brewery, and slaughterhouse comprised a manufacturing enterprise unlike anything found in the Carolina backcountry.” Boys associated with this establishment were dubbed the “Choir”. When boys turned fourteen they were expected to leave their families and live in The Single Brothers House where they were expected to take up their profession. Boys were obliged to learn to be craftsmen. This took seven years to master. Once they had finished the seven-year period they earned the title of being a “journeyman”. Men were to remain in the house to practice craftsmanship. Once they were married they would leave and begin pursuing business.


Designed by Fredric William Marshall, the Administrator of Wachovia, The Single Brothers' House was built in two parts. The construction of the first half of the building began in 1768 making it “first institutional building in Salem.” Christian Triebel, master carpenter, worked alongside Melchoir Rasp, master mason, to administer the construction process until 1769 when the construction process was completed.


Sixteen years later, the construction of the second half of the building went into effect. The year-long process was foreseen by the mason Johann Gottlob Krause. Krause implemented “Flemish bond brick pattern, with glazed header detail that was to become a trademark of late 18th and early 19th century Salem construction.” The finished building included “a meeting hall, dining room, sleeping hall, prayer hall, and kitchen in the southern half. The upper story sleeping hall of the original building was converted to four smaller rooms and a central hall, and the former saal (a room to hold worship services) turned into two smaller rooms and a central hall. Plans for the restoration of The Single Brothers House began in 1961 under Old Salem, Inc. By 1964 the restoration was complete. The Single Brothers' House is now the Old Salem Museums and Gardens and also has offices for the Old Salem organization.


The Moravians took great pride in the construction and planning of Salem. Moravians valued positioning of the buildings in the village over stylistics. As the development of the village improved, so did the building materials and techniques. Building materials developed from wood and mud structures to sturdy brick foundations. Moravian architecture also shifted from German influence to Britianish style of architecture. These structures were built primarily by slaves, because slave labor was virtually free and efficient. In the 1760’s members in the Old Salem community began recruiting slave labor as there was a growing need to expand and develop the city. Most of the slaves were owned by the Moravian church and sub contracted out to specific projects throughout the city. The slaves were then used to build and develop a few of the most important buildings for the Salem economy and community.


One of the most economically important establishments for the Old Salem community was the Salem Tavern. It was built in 1771 and located to the southern end of the town. The structure's positioning made it, “the only main public building not built in the square.” The tavern was built on the outskirts of Salem, because Moravians did not want outsiders or “strangers” to have a negative influence on the youth. The tavern was originally constructed out of a combination of wood and mud due to a lack of building resources.¹¹ Unfortunately, in 1784 the tavern burned to the ground in a horrifically destructive fire. The tavern was then miraculously rebuilt and this time was constructed entirely out of  redirected brick from the construction of the Single Sister’s House in Salem. This made for Salem’s first completely brick establishment. It was a two and a half story structure that included space to cook, sleep, socialize, and conduct business.


However, the main purpose for the tavern was to serve as an area where people can barter. The tavern became an essential part of the Salem economy, because a large percentage of the community were artisans. One research paper stated that, “The local artisans were the central characters in the economic life of the town during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,” when describing the presence of artisans in the Salem community. Since there was a large presence of artisans in the village, trade became a valuable business practice for them.


Furthermore, the tavern was also beneficial to individuals living in the surrounding regions, because it allowed them access to the artisan goods of Salem craftsmen. “Those who came to Salem to trade frequently needed a place of refreshment. The tavern was, therefore, a primary point of contact between Moravians and the outside world.” This provided the village with a path to communicate and conduct business with the surrounding communities. By trading with members outside of their immediate community, the tavern both increased the wealth of the community through trading and an increase in spread of knowledge through socialization with others. Furthermore, the economic profits that the tavern generated were saved in a public account, which was uncommon because “most craft shops in Salem were privately owned and operated.” The advantage of the Salem Tavern investing their profits into a public account  “essentially guaranteed that a willing workman could meet his financial responsibilities to family and community, and that the community as a whole could finance the expenses of a missionary enterprise.”¹⁴ This system the tavern adopted economically stimulated and provided security for the Salem community.


Another benefit the tavern provided for the Salem community was that it allowed for an increase in the spread of information. Since the tavern became a trading destination for outsiders, Salem residents now had the opportunity to communicate with members from different geographic regions. The tavern drew in outsiders from various geographical regions for trading purposes, but the tavern did also have guests visit for non business reasons. In fact, Salem became such a popular destination that President George Washington stayed for two nights in 1791. The increase in popularity and traffic in Salem allowed news to spread faster and members from the Salem community to learn new agricultural and architectural techniques. This not only improved the quality of the material and goods produced from Salem, but also the efficiency of the labor.


The community of Salem relied heavily on slave labor to develop and establish itself as a sustainable city. Slaves greatly contributed to the economic prosperity of the city through establishing buildings, clearing land, and crafting goods. The exploitation of slave labor to improve the economy was a  strategy that both Salem and the United States endorsed. Salem’s rise to a thriving economy is similar to the United States, because both benefited from the labor of slaves. One author of a research report stated, “The increased slave population is an important measure of the extent of market development. Since slaveholding was most profitable where farmers had access to larger markets for their products, those regions of the South—the Piedmont, for example—that experienced steep increases in slave populations were engaged to a significant degree in the market economy.” That is why it is important to not forget the sacrifices these slaves made to establish the economic foundation of the United States. 


One effective way to remember the stories and contributions of slaves is to study bricks. Studying bricks is an excellent way to remember and commemorate the hard work and dedication of slaves, because each brick is unique. Oftentimes there are markings or fingerprints left in the bricks from slaves handling them in the 1700’s-1800’s. These indentations in the bricks serve as a permanent reminder of the significant role slavery played in establishing the United States economy. These bricks also serve as a warning to all of humanity about the dangers of a society that does not promote equality. That is why these bricks are valuable and meanwhile to study, because we are remembering the sacrifices of our ancestors while also being reminded of past injustices.


Object biography by Sam Arrix, Sabi Lopez-Ibanez, Natalia Martinez, and Kurt Saraceno, Spring 2020

The average wage in America in 1760 was roughly nine shillings a week, much lower than the six shillings per day earned by brick masons.
Frederick William Marshall
Marshall was the chief administrator of the Wachovia settlements in North Carolina—and both an architect and brickmason.
In 1763 he was charged with oversight of the material interests of the Moravians’ Wachovia tract in North Carolina with special attention to creation of the town of Salem. Marshall actually chose the site of Salem, and after selecting its cite he designed and built many of the structures still standing in Old Salem today.
salem tavern.jpg

Salem Tavern

St. Philips.jpg

St. Philips Church

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Single Sisters' House


Single Brothers' House

Works Cited


Christopher E. Hendricks. "'And Will You There a City Build': The Moravian Congregation Town and the Creation of Salem, North Carolina." Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, vol. 20, no. 2, 2013, pp. 77–101.


Krause, Johann Gottlob (1760-1802).


Sensbach, Jon F. "Culture and Conflict in the Early Black Church: A Moravian Mission Congregation in Antebellum North Carolina." The North Carolina Historical Review, vol. 71, no. 4, 1994, pp. 401–429.

Shirley, Michael. "The Market and Community Culture in Antebellum Salem, North Carolina." Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 11, no. 2, 1991, pp. 219–248.


Surratt, Jerry L. "Salem Tavern." NCpedia, 2006,


Marshall, Frederic William (1721-1802).

Industry. August 22 2017.,

Furr, Clegg M. “Brick Making.” NCpedia,

“Single Sisters Museum.” Single Sisters Museum |


Salem College, 12 May 1970,

These indentations in the bricks serve as a permanent reminder of the significant role slavery played in establishing the United States economy. These bricks also serve as a warning to all of humanity about the dangers of a society that does not promote equality.
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