Peter Oliver

Mason's Assistant

Born: 1766
Died: September 9, 1809

Oliver was a slave, later freed, in the Moravian settlement of Wachovia. He worked in the towns of Salem and Bethabara predominately, and his skills have been reported to be vast. It is rare to find an individual who would perform such a myriad of labor to the desired quality in Salem, North Carolina.

The Moravians first mention Oliver in Bethania, and hired him for a project in Salem lasting until the end of January of the next year. Oliver is spoken in the records as having a history with the Moravians in the area. He requests to be bought by the Moravians so he may join the congregation at this time as well. However, his owner ‘Mr. Blackborn’ was unwilling to sell him.

Oliver was reportedly working on projects with Johann Gottlieb Krause who is said to have been the point of hire. This project was very important to Salem, Oliver had been hired to help Krause rebuild the Salem Tavern. He was likely aiding in the burning of bricks, or the laying of bricks. Either way, Oliver was providing a vital aid to the community, and Krause.

The tavern was completed on December 11, 1784, however in February 1785 Oliver was still in the employ of Johann Krause. The records indicate that construction on Gottlieb Schober’s House began on January 4, 1785.

Mr. Blackborn came to take Oliver on February 10, 1784 into his own custody, yet Krause demanded he be kept until the end of work that day. On February 11, Oliver went “most unwillingly” back to Blackborn after being requested to be bought by the Congregation once again. On February 12 Oliver seems to have returned to Salem on his own accord, however was met with only closed doors. However Oliver’s requests were not falling on deaf ears, throughout 1785 it is mentioned the congregation was attempting to buy the ‘negro,’ despite being turned away by Blackborn at every pass. Oliver was allowed to attend church services with his master in Bethania, and on November 20, 1785 he was baptized by the church and given the Christian name, Peter.

Finally on February 20, 1786 Peter Oliver was sold to the Congregation for £100. He worked for the congregation in the pottery and burning bricks for almost two years in Salem before being sold from Brother Stotz to Brother Christ in a formality. Peter then worked in the pottery for a time likely preparing the clay for the potter, Christ.

There is no record of further transaction, however the next mention of Peter is that of him falling ill with Johann Krause; “ Nearly everybody at Gottlieb Krause’s is sick with high fever. The Negroes Peter Oliver and Rose also have it.” Krause seems to have had a fondness and respect for Peter as they seem to have worked well with one another on Krause’s projects including the Boy’s School. The two seem to have worked together until 1795 when he was sold to Brother Ernst for a short time, Krause citing personal differences in the sale. It was the intention of the Congregation to hire Peter out across the area.

During the period of employ with Brother Ernst, Peter Oliver was freed. He wished to become married and have employment, though the prospects in the region seemed bleak. Frederick William Marshall took it upon himself to find Peter a wife. During this time Peter traveled to Nazareth, Pennsylvania on personal business. He returned to North Carolina in September of the same year having spent time working and with the congregations of Nazareth and Lititz. For a freedman to return to the South speaks greatly to Peter’s opinions of the Moravians and his safety and security among their number.

Marshall sent Peter back to Pennsylvania to find a wife in January of 1802. He was also granted the right to rent a farm in the Wachovia tract upon his return. He returned in September of the same year with no luck, however by February of 1803 he had been married to Christine, a mulatto, and was given a tract of land outside city limits to build a home. Peter seems to have gained a prominent position in the local congregation as he oversaw a special negro church service in 1806. He and Christine also had two children and in July 1809 they were baptized in the church.

Peter Oliver passed away on September 28, 1809 in Bethabara. His funeral is noted as having been attended by members of the church, visitors, and a large number of negroes who were given the front benches of the church. This shows the beloved state of Peter Oliver in the community. His memoir was read to the church on December 23 of the same year. Peter Oliver was a man who’s work has not been forgotten to time, and a man who came a slave and died a freedman in Salem, North Carolina.