Genealogical databases will allow St. Philips visitors to trace history backwards

Press release, March 12, 2003

Located in Winston-Salem, NC, the St. Philips Church complex sits nestled among the quaint Moravian buildings that make up the historic Old Salem. The St. Philips brick church is the oldest standing African American church building in North Carolina and one of the oldest in the South.

African American families often have difficulty tracing family roots back into the 18th and 19th centuries. However, families with ties to the Africans and African Americans that helped build the community of Salem, NC - most of them were enslaved- will have a unique opportunity at St. Philips. Computer databases that trace family names from the early 1900's back into Salem's history will be available to any visitors with an interest in genealogy.

The Moravians, a protestant group from Germany, built the St. Philips log church in 1823 in order to teach religion to those enslaved in the area. A brick church was built in 1861 in order to accommodate the growing attendance rate. In 1891, there was an addition added to the front of the church to accommodate a growing Sunday School. In front of the brick church stands the African American graveyard. Sometime during its history, all of the gravestones were taken up and placed underneath the steps and under the addition of the brick church.

The Moravians were detailed record keepers. They believed in equal education for men and women. Therefore, the Moravians, as a whole, were a very literate group. Most citizens of Salem kept a daily journal. Many of those journals remain stored in the Moravian archives in Old Salem today.

The Moravians' details give genealogists a unique opportunity to trace family histories. Old Salem staff and others working on the family lines of St. Philips have been able to work from the past to the present and have taken many of the names of those enslaved in Salem and followed their families out into different parts of the modern community.

Many of those descendants remain in the area today and recently, the descendants of one of those enslaved, Peter Oliver, who died in 1810, had a family reunion in Winston-Salem, NC and at Old Salem.

The St. Philips Church complex will reopen to the public on May 5, 2003 with a week of history and celebration.

The St. Philips complex will officially become of the part of the Old Salem tour on Thursday, May 15, following the opening of the new Old Salem Visitor Center on May 14.

For more information on St. Philips or any of the opening events, contact Old Salem at (336) 721-7300 or visit

###. Opening Events The week begins with a sacred rededication service on Sunday, May 4 at 4:30 p.m. The service will be led by Rev. Cedric S. Rodney of the current St. Philips congregation, located on Bonair Ave. This day will include the rededication of the church as well as the African American graveyard.

Monday, May 5 at 11:30 a.m. will be the official ribbon cutting. Following the public ribbon cutting, the complex will be open free to the public from noon-5 p.m.

On Thursday evening, at 7:30 p.m., in the sanctuary of the brick church, the members of the Emmanuel Baptist Church Spiritual Choir will lead attendees in an old fashioned Praise Service that was a forerunner of today's prayer meetings. The evening will be filled with music and excitement that has not been a part of the St. Philips brick church's history for over 50 years.

Friday night, St. Philips will be the site of a very special free theatrical performance by Flonnie Anderson. "Celia's Salem" will begin at 7:30. Celia was one of the African Americans enslaved by the owners of the Salem Tavern. This production will serve as a poignant reproduction of the lives of those enslaved in Salem.

The week of celebration concludes in a very special way on Saturday, May 10, with Masonic and Descendant's Day. At 12:00 noon, the Masons, who played a large part in the building of the reconstructed log church, will return to dedicate the site through the installation of a cornerstone and time capsule. Also in attendance on Saturday will be descendants of those people who actually lived, laughed, cried and celebrated their lives within the walls of St. Philips. The event is open to the public.


Kelli Reich

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