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Peter Oliver learns pottery in Old Salem's "Between Two Masters" video.
Historic enslaved potter Peter Oliver
of Old Salem has an enduring legacy
BY TODD LUCK
THE CHRONICLE ?
Peter Oliver's dramatic
story of being a local
Moravian slave who
learned pottery and pur
chased his own freedom is
still remembered today, by
historical experts and his
Oliver's skill and con
tributions to history were
noted in "Peter Oliver: Life
of a Black Moravian
Craftsman" by historian
"Moravian pottery is
today regarded as among
the best in late eighteenth
America, a legacy in which
Peter Oliver played a sub
stantial part," wrote
Sensbach, a University of
Florida history professor.
Many Forsyth County
natives can trace their line
age to Oliver, including
basketball star Chris Paul.
One of Oliver's
descendants is Raymond
Oliver, a retired local den
tist. He said a decade ago
he was contacted by Mel
White, a historian with Old
Salem, who had traced
Peter Oliver's lineage to his
Meetings were held, and
50 descendants attended
and were given genealogi
cal information about their
connection to Peter Oliver.
Reunions of descendants
are still regularly held.
Raymond Oliver said
he didn't waste any time
producing a play in 2005
on his noted ancestor,
"The Peter Oliver Story,"
which drew a full house.
"If he could accomplish
all he did under the time
and circumstances that he
found himself, we should
be encouraged to do more,
since we have so many
opportunities available to
us now," he said.
Peter Oliver is also
remembered at Old Salem
Museums & Gardens,
which features the restored
historic town of Salem,
where he spent many years
of his life. In 2010, Old
Salem held a service for the
200th anniversary of his
death. He's featured during
the African American
Heritage Tour at Old Salem
and is even featured in the
tour's video "Between Two
Cheryl Harry, Old
Salem's director of
graming, said that Peter
Oliver was an example of
the many educated and
skilled artisans who were
slaves. She said he was
well regarded in the
"He was a beloved
member of the Moravian
community," she said.
Peter Oliver was bom
on May 10, 1766, in
Virginia. During his early
years he was simply known
as "Oliver." He came to
Wachovia as an enslaved
adolescent. In July 1785,
the Single Brother House
in Salem, where unmarried
Moravian men stayed, took
over his lease. He worked
in the house's kitchen, gar
den and craft shop. The
house purchased him in
1786 and he was baptized
and given the Christian
Slaves at the time wor
shiped alongside their
white brethren in the
Moravian Church and were
addressed as "brother" and
"sister." The Moravian
Church expected slaves to
be obedient and, in
exchange, masters were
expected to treat them
"During that time,
when Peter Oliver joined
the church, Moravians
believed that everybody
was equal spiritually, so
once you joined the church
you were a full- fledged
member of the congrega
tion," Harry said.
Slaves like Oliver
would learn to write and
read both English and
German. Slaves would use
the church's rules to have
more say in how they were
i n g
t i a t e
In 1788, he moved to
Bethabara when he was
purchased by Moravian
master potter Rudolph
Christ, who taught him the
When Christ moved
back to Salem, Oliver
remained in Bethabara with
a new master, potter
Gottlob Krause. He worked
there until 1796, when he
returned to Salem to work
for Christ again.
showed his pottery skills
made his value as a slave
He purchased his own
freedom by 1800. In 1802,
he married a free mulatto
woman working in Salem
named Christina Bass, and
they had six children.
He rented a four- acre
plot of land just north of
octau?c ui inc iccu ui a
slave revolt, stipulations
were put on him that no one
other than his family could
live in the house, and that
he report any conspiracy
involving blacks against
citizens or the county.
Oliver continued to be a
potter, supporting his fami
ly through the sale of pot
tery and farming.
He died of illness on
Sept. 28, 1810.
He was buried in God's
Acre with a men's choir.
He was the last African
American buried there.
Over the next decade,
the Moravian church start
ed to have blacks worship
separately, leading to the
creation of St Phillips
Moravian Church in 1822,
which had its own grave
yard for African
While Moravian pot
tery from the era has sur
vived, which specific
pieces Peter Oliver did has
never been determined.
Peter cleans up in Old Salem's "Between Two Masters" video.
history in N.C.
BY LENWOOD O. DAVIS
SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
Since this is Black History Month, we celebrate the
achievements made by African Americans such as:
Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Benneker, Richard Allen,
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass,
Nat Turner, Booker T. Washington, George Washington
Carver, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Maggie Lena
Walker, Madame CJ. Walker, A. Phillip Randolph, Paul
Roberson, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles Drew,
Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Malcolm X and Colin Powell and many others that are too
numerous to name.
While we acknowledge the above individuals, we
sometimes forget that a number of African-Americans
ftpm North Carolina should also be recognized.
They include the following:
Simon Green Atkins was born in Haywood in 1863
and graduated from St. Augustine Normal Institute (now
St. Augustine College) in Raleigh. In 1892 he founded the
Slater Industrial Academy (now Winston-Salem State
University) and he became its first president. In 1925,
Winston-Salem Teachers College, now WSSU, became
the first African-American institution in the United States
to grant degrees for teaching in the elementary grades.
In 1881 Israel Clement was elected to die Winston
(now Winston-Salem) town Commission. Although
Clement was the first African-American town commis
sioner, at least eight other Blacks were also elected to that
John Chavis was born free in Oxford in 1763 and
became an educator and minister. He also fought in the
American Revolution War. Between 1808 and 1835 he
owned and operated a private school in Raleigh for both
African-Americans and Whites.
After Nat "Rimer's Rebellion in 1831, African
Americans were prohibited from being taught how to read
or write. Rev. Chavis did, however, continue to teach
White children. Several of the White students were from
prominent families. North Carolina's Chief Justice
Henderson's two sons, Archibald and John, as well as
Willie P. Mangum, who later became a U.S. senator, and
Charles Manley, who later became governor of North
Carolina, were among the students at Chavis's school.
John Stanly was born a slave in 1775 in New Bern.
After being a slave for 23 years, he was freed by an act of
legislation in 1798. Stanly was a barber, land owner, busi
nessman and slave owner. Through wise investments in
property and other business ventures, it was said that he
was one of the wealthiest men in Craven County, African
American or White. Over the year he freed at least 23
slaves, including his wife and children.
Lunsford Lane was a slave from Raleigh, born in
1803. He made a special type of blend of smoking tobac
co during the early 1830s. Lane also invented a type of
pipe for his special blend of tobacco. In 1835 Lane had
earned enough money to purchase his freedom. He later
became an abolitionist.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was a slave bom in 1813 in
Edenton. She escaped to freedom in 1842. In 1861 she
published a book under the pseudonym Linda Brent. It
was titled, "Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl." This was
the first autobiographical narrative written by a female
slave from North Carolina.
t tir.ai rv i l r ? ion ?
james wanter nooa was dom iree in ioji, in
Chester County, Pennsylvania. In 1863, Hood came to
North Carolina as a missionary and it was said that during
his stay, over 500 churches were erected under his super
vision. In 1869, he became the first African- American
assistant superintendent of Public Instruction for the State
of North Carolina. Rev. Hood was consecrated a Bishop
of the A.M.E. Zion Church in 1872. In 1884, he edited
"The Negro in The Christian Pulpit," the first book of ser
mons published by an African-American Methodist
Harde Spears was bom in Snow Hill and was the first
known African-American in North Carolina to receive a
patent for his invention. In 1870 he was given a patent for
an "Improvement in Portable Shields for Infantry and
Artillery." This invention was the forerunner of our mod
Warren Clay Coleman was bom a slave in 1849 in
Concord. After slavery he opened a barbershop and a gen
eral store. In a matter of years, he acquired substantial
property in Cabarrus County and became one of the
wealthiest men, African American or White, in the area
and in the South.
There are hundreds of notable African-Americans in
North Carolina that are not mentioned in this article due to
limitation of space. I must, however, list some of them
because they had a major impact on society: Elreta M.
Alexander, Romare Bearden, Daniel Blue, Charlotte
Hawkins Brown, Robert J. Brown, Selma Burke, Julius L.
Chambers, John C. Dancy, Thomas Day, Helen G.
Edmonds, Henry Evans, Henry D. Frye, Harvey Gantt,
Annie Wealtly Holland, Larry Womble, Charles H.
Hunter, Edward A. Johnson, George Black, Elizabeth
Duncan Koontz, Howard Lee, Clarence E. Lightner, John
Merrick, Henry (Mickey) Michauxjr., Aaron M. Moore,
Berry O'Kelly, William G. Pearson, Lawson A. Scruggs,
James F. Shober, Asa T. Spaulding, Charles C. Spaudling,
David Walker, Leroy T. Walker, William J. Walls, John H.
Wheeler, James Young, Clarence "Big House Gaines,
Roland Hayes and many more.
During Black History Month, we celebrate the
achievements and accomplishments of African
Americans all across the United States, let us also
acknowledge the contributions that African Americans
from North Carolina have made to society.