Joshua Boner House
The Joshua Boner house sits on the Main Street of Salem and was the home of the dominant mayor, Joshua Boner. The house’s notoriety came from its role during the Union occupation of Salem during the Civil War and the liberation of the enslaved inhabitants of Salem. However, the story of the Boner house runs deeper than the civil war, including slavery and the negative effects of beautification on history.
History is rich in Salem, North Carolina and each building plays a part in creating that history. However, as we discuss in our podcast, there is one house with a role that has gone relatively unnoticed for decades: the Joshua Boner house. Unlike the other buildings that make up Old Salem Museums and Gardens, this house is not accompanied by a lengthy plaque or a pretty sign indicating what Moravian business used to flourish there. Instead, this house has no front yard, a backyard that is reminiscent of the Secret Garden, and little indication of its current inhabitants or purpose. It turns out that this mystery house on Main Street is not as simple as it appears.
The Joshua Boner house was the heart of the Union occupation in Salem at the end of the Civil War. When the Union soldiers marched into town led by General William J. Palmer, they met face-to-face with Joshua Boner, the mayor, who surrendered the southern town of Salem to the Union army. General Palmer proceeded to live in the Boner house until the end of the war and used it as a central hub for his army operations. At the conclusion of the war, right down the street from the Boner house, the ordinance that freed the enslaved people of Salem was read and the history of Salem was changed forever (“Joshua Boner”).
The following pages will break down the important chapters of the house and all there is to learn about it, bringing attention to what we can’t solve about the enigma that is the Joshua Boner house.
Lot 25 on 734 South Main Street, underwent major changes before it became noteworthy as the site of the Union occupation during the Civil War and the home of the prominent Salem Mayor, Joshua Boner. The lot was first purchased by a Prussian immigrant, Johann Kuschke in 1790. He was an outsider in the Salem, Moravian community and was told by the “Aufseher Collegium”, who were the Board of Supervisors for financial and material matters in the community, that he had one year to build a home if he were to become a citizen of the town. A year later, a log house was built on the property (Harley and Boxley 7). At this time it is unclear what business Kuschke was running out of this home. In 1790, he was first cited asking the Aufseher Collegium to allow him to be a shoemaker in Salem, but in 1799, Kuschke is noted as attempting to have his own tanning business (Harley and Boxley 10). Whatever occupation Kuschke claimed must not have been extremely profitable, because the initial log house fell into a deteriorated state by 1816 (Harley and Boxley 13, 21).
With the house not maintained, Issac Boner, Joshua Boner’s father, began renting the house from Kuschke in 1816 (Harley and Boxley 13). Two years later, the lot officially fell into the hands of the Boner family and Issac Boner built a hatter shop in the yard (Harley and Boxley 14). From 1818-1841 there is little information regarding the Boner family or the house on South Main Street. We can assume that Issac Boner and his hatter business were unproblematic in the Salem community at this time because they are absent from the Aufseher Collegium records. Then in 1841, twenty-five years after Issac Boner first started living on the property, his son Joshua took over the home (Harley and Boxley 16). According to census records, Joshua would have been 31 years old and Issac would have been 63. Issac continued to live in the house after his son took over, probably assuming the role of retiree (“United States Census, 1850).
When Joshua Boner took over as head of household from his father, he had plans of adding to the house and the lot. However, the Aufseher Collegium advised otherwise, and Boner knocked down the original log house and built the wooden house that still stands on Lot 25 (Harley and Boxley 7). There is no record of who physically built the house, but it is known that enslaved persons inhabited Salem at the time, so it is important to note that their labor could have been exploited in the process and then excluded from local records.
The Boner family was recorded to be having some financial troubles in the early 1840s, which contributed to the want and need to open a General store in the new construction of the house. Boner received approval for his new house plans and store, but the store operation was only approved to be run by both Joshua Boner and his brother-in-law, Jacob Rudolph Crist. If one brother were to resign, then the store's endorsement would become invalid. This special agreement likely took into consideration that Crist had years of experience as a store clerk, while Boner had none and was facing financial troubles (Harley and Boxley 17). It is interesting to note that the general store would have been the fourth different business to be run out of this lot on Main Street. It seems it took several tries to establish a successful business on this property and that the Boner family never developed a specialized craft, like other homes in Salem. This might contribute to why the Boner house lacks the elaborate plaques and identification that other buildings in Old Salem now have. The house was finished in 1844 and still stands (Harley and Boxley 17). The General store was located in the front, left room of the house, and the double doors leading into what would have been the store can still be seen from South Main Street.
On December, 7th, 1844, after the construction of the house, Joshua Boner purchased an enslaved African woman. In September of the same year, Boner was recorded as being in debt and struggling to pay for the house (“Boner, Joshua.” Old Salem Wachovia Residents Database). It is interesting that Boner is able to get out of that debt and obtain the funds to enslave a woman in only three months. Furthermore, in 1846, “Boner has dismissed his rented Negro Jack from the community and employed a certain McKaughain in his place” (“Boner, Joshua.” Old Salem Wachovia Residents Database). Unfortunately, there is no further information on “Jack” or “McKaughan” or what their lives would have been like working for Joshua Boner. It is unjust that there are such detailed accounts of the Boner family’s home renovation and debts, but little to absolutely no information about the enslaved workers who lived in Salem right alongside the Boners. This informational discrepancy gives insight into the community dynamics of Salem at the time, with white individuals being the dominant force.
Between 1846 and 1850, a northern wing, warehouse, and iron house were all added to the lot (Harley and Boxley 19). They have since been destroyed, but it is likely that these are places that the enslaved people would have been moving through on a daily basis. In 1850, nine white individuals were recorded living in the house with Joshua Boner. These people include his wife and children, along with his father, and mother-in-law. There was also a 21-year-old clerk named Livingston Clinard who was noted living in the house (“United States Census, 1850”). The census does not keep a record of enslaved people in Salem at this time, but it is likely that there were even more people living and working on the property than just the ten listed individuals. Once again, a gap in the history of the Boner house arises, with no information on the house or its inhabitants from 1850-1860. We can assume that the house would have been a hub of activity with this many people living there during the time.
At some point between 1850 and 1860, five people moved out of the house. The 1860 census only includes Joshua, his wife, two kids and mother-in-law (“United States Census, 1860”). It is reasonable to assume that Issac Boner died at some point during these years because he is no longer listed in the census and would have been reaching his 80s. In 1860, there was a slave schedule for Salem and it included two enslaved people under the ownership of Joshua Boner, one female aged 60 and one male aged 17 (“United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860”). There is no information about their roles in the house but it is likely they were domestic workers, working in the house or in the general store. Their names are not known.
Lot 25 in Salem saw many physical renovations before the civil war started. Buildings were being added, people were moving in and out of the house, businesses were created, failed, and thrived all on this one location over the years. There was much activity, but it occurred on a local or small scale and its history was only written by the people who lived there and specifically, the Aufseher Collegium. Although there is much to learn and ponder about the history of the Boner house in its early days, its notoriety came when the Civil War started and made its way to Salem.
The Boner house is most well known for the role it played for Salem during the Civil War. During the Civil War, Salem remained with the confederacy under the role of Jefferson Davis. In order to understand the importance of the Boner house, it is essential to understand the impact the Civil War had on Salem.
At the beginning of the Civil War, North Carolina remained loyal to the Union and resisted joining the Confederacy. However, despite this position, North Carolina became one of the last states to join the Confederacy on the 20th of May, 1861, (“North Carolina and the Civil War”). While over 80 percent of North Carolina men did serve in the war, public opinion was rather divided. Many people remained loyal to the Union and consequently, North Carolina had a large number of deserters. Additionally, North Carolina had an enslaved population of approximately 330,000 at this time, and approximately 20 percent of the population of Salem were enslaved people (“North Carolina and the Civil War”). Due to a divide in loyalties between the Union and the Confederacy and the large enslaved population, tensions in North Carolina ran high during the Civil War era.
While a lot of North Carolina men served in the war, North Carolina avoided many conflicts and was the site of only a few major battles. Large areas of North Carolina, including Salem, were able to avoid major battles of the war, as the closest major battle occurred approximately eighty miles away in the city of Durham (McDonough). While a large number of soldiers fought in the War, the civilian population of North Carolina was able to avoid much of the direct consequences during the war (McDonough).
While North Carolina was largely an agricultural state, Salem specifically was set up as a merchant town. The Moravian village streets were filled with shops and general stores, meaning much of the enslaved population were skilled or domestic workers rather than field workers. Salem echoed the same negative basis towards their African American community that was felt throughout much of the southern region of the United States (“Negotiated Segregation in Salem”). Salem remained segregated, with the African American community only allowed to worship at a separate church and be laid to rest in a makeshift graveyard on the outskirts of the town (“Negotiated Segregation in Salem”). The dehumanization of the enslaved population was so prevalent that their graveyard consisted of the front of a church and they were denied the right to have their names on their headstones (“Negotiated Segregation in Salem”). Instead, all that remains are dozens of headstones with only the age and gender of the person.
During the War, the town of Salem came under the control of Joshua Boner, a merchant. Boner served as mayor of the town from February of 1864 until November of 1865. (“Joshua Boner”). While this time was quite short, Boner gained a considerable amount of notoriety. As the war continued, the Union army turned to many different destruction methods. Famously, William T. Sherman burned down many cities in the Confederacy causing massive destruction in an attempt to get the Confederacy to surrender (Bailey). To avoid the complete destruction of Salem, Boner peacefully surrendered the town when Union soldiers arrived. Not only did Boner surrender the house in peace, but he also allowed for the dozens of Union Troops to remain at his home while the Union army was occupying Salem. (“Joshua Boner”). It was Boner’s willingness to let the town go peacefully that saved it from destruction. Additionally, Boner’s house became a historic landmark due to the Union Army’s stay.
The Union army not only brought peace to the town of Salem but it also played an integral role in the future of African American population within Salem. At the African American Moravian Church, less than a mile from the Boner house, the Union Army announced the enslaved people living in the town were to be freed. This announcement took place on May 21, 1865, and led to large changes within the Old Salem community (Stinson). As twenty percent of the Salem community was composed of enslaved people, many of whom acted as skilled workers for merchants, the shift to freedom left some merchants with no way to continue to produce products. This appears to be the case for Joshua Boner, as Census records indicated he owned two enslaved people before the war but there were no records of them or the general store following the conclusion of the war ("United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860”). While some of the newly freed population was able to leave Salem, many faced the challenges of racism, poverty, and lack of education or much training. These factors drove slaves to continue to stay under the control of their previous owners while receiving very little money and shelter (Stinson). This method served as an institutionalized and legal way to continue to enslaved people. Oftentimes, this method relied on not providing newly enslaved people with enough resources to be able to survive and grow within the society.
The town of Salem has seen many changes throughout history and serves as the home to many historic sites. One of such sites is an old white house with green shutters that sits on Main Street. This house has seen a town built on enslaved people, the endings of slavery, and an attempt to rectify the wrongdoings of the past. The Joshua Boner house will remain notable for a variety of reasons. One of which being the narratives of the enslaved people who once walked its halls that still has yet to be recovered. Another of which is that the house originally became a landmark for the site of Union occupation which led to the freedom of the enslaved people within Salem.
With the surrender of the Confederate army and thus, the end of the Civil War, enslaved individuals across the country were freed from the label of “slave”. On May 21, 1865, in the African American Moravian church, news of this was relayed to the black population by the Union army (“National Historic Landmark Nomination”). From this, the question arises: what happened to the enslaved, now “freed”, individuals at the Boner house, and other Black Americans across the United States? Did they remain in the house, find a salaried job, remain in Salem? Though Moravians were highly detailed in record-keeping, information on black Moravians is scarce in comparison to the entirety of their documentation.
Upon further research post-1865, little is known about the lives of the people Joshua Boner enslaved, besides the gender and estimated year of birth. Any documentation prior to the emancipation of enslaved peoples was based on records related to Joshua Boner himself. Information is scarce about the movement of the black population of Salem once the state of their citizenship or personhood was acknowledged. Did they remain in Salem? Did they remain in the Boner house, working for Joshua Boner? According to the Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, North Carolina Law adopted a “Black Code'', which limited the rights and mobility of African Americans (“Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume XII: 1856-1866.” 6615). Salem upheld such laws. Under these conditions, similar conditions to slavery were continued, and from this, history suggests that significant movement away from the town of Salem was unlikely. The black population lacked the money and the privilege to be independent of white Moravians, the Moravian text stating, “no money scarcely to be had, and every one trying hard to secure some wherewith to pay the heavy taxes now due and expected” (“Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume XII: 1856-1866.” 6615).
The narratives of black Moravians are important in understanding the history and structure of slavery and how, though emancipated, slavery in ways continued to persist. Records remained insufficient for understanding the history of African Americans, both in Moravian text and American history books and records. Yet, African American history is American history, and it is important to understand these narratives in order to fully comprehend the weight and history of American slavery. Certain resources such as the Federal Bureau in the Slave Schedule allow some insight into the tracking of emancipated black individuals ("United States Census [Slave Schedule], 1860”). Similarly, the Moravian database displays limited records of enslaved and formerly enslaved peoples that have been useful for understanding the relationship between power and slaveholding in Old Salem (“Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume XII: 1856-1866.”). Data has been provided on the transaction of enslaved individuals, however, their existence once held is limited, as well as their movements following emancipation “Records of the Moravians in North Carolina”. For example, any information about where other enslaved individuals from Salem went after the war could give insight into the possible path taken by the individuals that Boner enslaved. While these resources provided only a brief insight into the lives of the individuals that were enslaved at the Boner house, it may be helpful to uncover the lives of others where information may be more abundant. Records are lacking in the tracking of black Moravians following 1865. This is representative of many “freed” individuals who were seen as not quite a slave yet, not quite human.
Present-day: Ongoing Story
There is no doubt that Joshua Boner and his legacy live on through the house on South Main Street, positioned in the historic district of Old Salem. However, there is another story that is still being uncovered, and that is the story of those he enslaved during the years prior to the Union occupation of Salem and the subsequent emancipation. Thus, the Joshua Boner House not only fits into the cultural context of the Civil War and Juneteenth, but also highlights the prevalence of whitewashing in American history.
Every aspect of the Joshua Boner House underscores the little attention that was paid to those who built this country, and more specifically who built the town of Salem. Even the most basic elements of this side of Joshua Boner’s legacy are unknown: how many people he enslaved, where they lived, and their identities. The graveyards in Salem provide a glimpse into this, as the graves of enslaved individuals are only marked as “child” or “adult”. This stands in stark opposition to the white cemetery stationed at the top of the hill, literally looking down upon the cemetery of the enslaved. In this cemetery, the graves are labeled with names and dates, demonstrating how records were kept of individuals deemed “important” to society. Consistent with this, the meticulous Moravian records cast a shadow over the unwritten past of those they enslaved. With so much information available surrounding the residents of Salem, it is strikingly obvious that the enslaved people of Salem were omitted from this history for a reason.
The whitewashing of history is a concept all too familiar to global history and even more specifically, American history. Those in power -traditionally white wealthy men- were the ones who crafted the narrative with themselves at the center (Reddick). This not only poses an issue when it comes to understanding the lives of those oppressed across centuries but also in attempting to rectify these wrongdoings. Salem is no exception to this phenomenon, and as previously mentioned, Joshua Boner is a prime example. There is a plethora of information available surrounding his home, occupation, and even his political aspirations, however, the lives of those he enslaved exist in a world devoid of records. Furthermore, this perpetuates the issue at hand, since the narrative that was created to focus on Joshua Boner will therefore always have him at the center, even when discussing the enslaved people who stood at the backbone of his enterprises.
When discussing history, it is integral that all dimensions of the story be presented and understood in a comprehensive manner. For obvious reasons, this lack of documentation in regards to enslaved people presents a rather robust issue. However, this should not stand in the way of making progress towards learning more about their lives and the crucial role these men and women played in creating Salem and the United States as a whole. One way to combat this whitewashing is to remove prominent enslavers from the center of these stories and take an approach towards crafting a narrative that pieces together unknown aspects of the story from what we currently know. For example, rather than discussing Joshua Boner and those he enslaved, the narrative can be presented as the men and women who built up a bustling economy in the town of Salem, all while being enslaved and subsequently creating their own vibrant culture. Joshua Boner can then serve as a secondary figure, one who is there for context and also provides essential information in regards to Salem and history as a whole, but not someone who should be allowed to dominate the stories of those whose lives he ruined.
Ultimately, the first step in combating this problem is recognizing that history should be questioned for bias and should not simply be accepted as fact (“Bias Through History: Analyzing Historical Sources”). While all perspectives throughout history are vital to understanding the world, the positions of those whose stories are told all too often should not overshadow the much broader impact that the unseen enslaved individuals of this country had. Becoming educated on this topic from an earlier age could help to raise awareness surrounding this unequal historical representation, and could further prompt the discussion surrounding the resulting systemic and systematic oppression that is painfully apparent in America today. Therefore, the Joshua Boner house should serve as a hallmark example of how a one-sided narrative can open the door for positive communication and understanding of whitewashing, and demonstrate the vital role that enslaved people played in creating this country.
Object biography by Nat Chew, Natasha Heisenberg, Margaret Wilson, and Meg Wong. Spring 2021.
Resources for Learning More About the Joshua Boner House:
The Wachovia Database provides a history of the Boner Family. It discusses the history of the building of the new house in 1841 as well as information about the general store and Boner’s occupation.
The 1860 United States Census contains information about the Boner house and the number of people he enslaved.
The Records of Morvians in North Carolina is a collection of diaries from Old Salem and discusses information about the town.
“Unfortunately, there is no further information on “Jack” or “McKaughan” or what their lives would have been like working for Joshua Boner. It is unjust that there are such detailed accounts of the Boner family’s home renovation and debts, but little to absolutely no information about the enslaved workers who lived in Salem right alongside the Boners. This informational discrepancy gives insight into the community dynamics of Salem at the time, with white individuals being the dominant force.”
Bailey, Anne. “Sherman's March to the Sea.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/shermans-march-sea.
“Bias Through History: Analyzing Historical Sources.” NewseumED, newseumed.org/tools/lesson-plan/bias-through-history-analyzing-historical-sources.
“Boner, Joshua.” Old Salem Wachovia Residents Database, Old Salem Museums and Gardens, www.oldsalem.org/item/wachovia/boner-joshua/193/.
Hartley, Michael O. and Boxley, Martha B. “Lot 25 - Joshua Boner House”. Unpublished Manuscript, Old Salem Museums and Gardens, 1997.
“Joshua Boner.” Joshua Boner | City of Winston-Salem, NC, www.cityofws.org/1165/Joshua-Boner.
“National Historic Landmark Nomination.” United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 29 Feb. 2016.
“North Carolina in the Civil War.” NCpedia, www.ncpedia.org/history/cw-1900/civil-war.
“Negotiated Segregation in Salem.” NCpedia, www.ncpedia.org/anchor/negotiated-segregation-salem.
McDonough, James L. “Army of Tennessee.” Tennessee Encyclopedia, Tennessee Historical Society, 1 Mar. 2018, tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/army-of-tennessee/.
“Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volume XII: 1856-1866.” Edited by Lisa D Bailey and Daniel Crews, Internet Archive, Raleigh, N.C. : Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2000, archive.org/details/recordsofthemora12edit/page/6612/mode/2up.
Reddick, Richard J. “Patriotic Education Is a Whitewashing of History.” UT News, The University of Texas at Austin, 24 Oct. 2020, news.utexas.edu/2020/10/24/patriotic-education-is-a-whitewashing-of-history/.
Stinson, Tevin. “Slaves and Freemen Lived in Shadows of Salem.” WS Chronicle, 23 Aug. 2017, wschronicle.com/2017/08/slaves-freemen-lived-shadows-salem/.
"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6S69-6S1?cc=1401638&wc=95R6-16G%3A1031311901%2C1031691801%2C1031516201 : 9 April 2016), North Carolina > Forsyth > Salem > image 8 of 20; citing NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
"United States Census, 1860," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GBS8-KHH?cc=1473181&wc=7QSN-6QH%3A1589432691%2C1589423986%2C1589425094 : 24 March 2017), North Carolina > Forsyth > Salem District > image 17 of 48; from "1860 U.S. Federal Census - Population," database, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
"United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1860," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GBS8-ZH6?cc=3161105&wc=8B5J-W38%3A1610492401%2C1610498601%2C1610499501 : 16 October 2019), North Carolina > Forsyth County > Salem District > image 2 of 6; citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
“During the War, the town of Salem came under the control of Joshua Boner, a merchant. Boner served as mayor of the town from February of 1864 until November of 1865.... To avoid the complete destruction of Salem, Boner peacefully surrendered the town when Union soldiers arrived. Not only did Boner surrender the house in peace, but he also allowed for the dozens of Union Troops to remain at his home while the Union army was occupying Salem. It was Boner’s willingness to let the town go peacefully that saved it from destruction.”
“Little is known about the lives of the people Joshua Boner enslaved, besides the gender and estimated year of birth. Any documentation prior to the emancipation of enslaved peoples was based on records related to Joshua Boner himself. Information is scarce about the movement of the black population of Salem once the state of their citizenship or personhood was acknowledged.”
For a firsthand acount of the surrender of both Winston and Salem to Union forces on April 10th, 1865 see this entry in the North Carolina Digital Collections, courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.