150 Years in December
Far left: Circa-1880 view of the brick St. Philips Church, before the front addition and with the log church (right with steeple and chim- ney) still in place.
Center: 1880s view of the brick St. Philips Church with photographer Tom Hege of Salem standing in front.
Near Left: There are three components to the St. Philips complex: the 1861/1890 brick church, the reconstructed 1823 log church, and the eighteenth-century graveyard.
Elders Conference to address the matter. The Conference called on Brother Abraham Steiner, a veteran of mission ser- vice. A first service in March 1822 at the home of enslaved African Americans Bodney and Phoebe led to the construction of a small log church. In September 1823, thirty enslaved and free African
American volunteers raised the logs to start the church. It was consecrated on December 28th with the church band, digni- taries, and about ninety congregants. Through the ups and downs of the next four decades, the
log building served its African American attendees. Though the worshippers often followed the Moravian faith, that wasn’t always the case. Squire and his wife, for instance, were Baptists. But, as in later years, all were welcomed.
Growth and Contributions The new 1861 brick church provided the solid base that took its congregation through the Civil War and beyond. In the 1860 census, 418 enslaved and ten free African Americans were recorded in the Salem District. Many of them found a haven and a social gathering place in the brick church. It was just over three years later when, on May 21, 1865, a
capacity crowd heard the Rev. Mr. Clark of the 10th Regiment, U.S. Cavalry, share the President’s proclamation that the slave population of North Carolina was now free. Soon, freedmen Alexander Vogler and Lewis Hege led the community to build the first schoolhouse in Forsyth County dedicated to the edu- cation of African American children (1867). Across the creek
from St. Philips, in 1872, African Americans were permitted to purchase lots, forming a neighborhood first called Liberia, then Happy Hill. Because its Sunday School provided an important link in
the community’s educational offerings, the church expanded again in 1890. Classrooms were built over a portion of an ear- lier strangers’ graveyard. The graves of three Revolutionary War soldiers can be seen today from inside the church. After ninety years in its historic church home, St. Philips
held its last formal service in 1952. Today the St. Philips congregation remains active in another location. Full-scale archaeology and restoration on its brick home began in the 1990s. Today, the reconstructed log church and restored brick
church host tours for visitors, adding depth to the story of life in Salem and illuminating the lives of those early African Americans. The buildings also host community groups, lec- tures, film discussions, and special events, bringing a new era of service to the south end of Church Street. m
Bill Cissna is a freelance writer and playwright. He lives in Kernersville, North Carolina.
Interesting Facts About St. Philips
• The log church and brick church were called the African Moravian Church until December 20, 1914, when, at a Christmas lovefeast, Bishop Edward Rondthaler named the church St. Philips.
• The congregation moved to Happy Hill in 1952. In 1959, a chapel was built there. The church moved to Bon Air Avenue in 1967, due to a highway project.
• The brick church has the only cornerstone in Salem containing a document, which includes the phrase: “Jefferson Davis being Provisional President of the Confederate States of America.”
• Though these two churches in Salem served primarily African Americans after 1823, all its pastors were white until Nicaraguan native and lay minister George A. Hall was named pastor in 1946.
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