September 29 history blog post: One of a series of short essays to provide the cultural, political and geographical context for the 1766 travelers.
Anyone with an interest in the founding of Salem Academy and College and especially those excited about our retracing of the journey from Bethlehem to Salem need to know this name: Maria Salome Meurer Nissen Hessler. Her journal should be required reading for every Salem Academy and College new student and alumna.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Aaron S. Fogleman for finding Salome’s diary and for translating her German words into English in his work, “Women on the Trail in Colonial America: A Travel Journal of German Moravians Migrating from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 1766,” Pennsylvania History, Vol. 61, No. 2, April 1994.
Prof. Fogleman’s introductory piece, which offers a wealth of information about colonial travel, particularly by the Moravians, and Salome’s eye witness account provided the direction for the historic journey many are retracing today. The route team of the 250th Journey Committee relied almost exclusively on Salome’s diary to reconstruct the route (except through Virginia, where it was difficult to plot her trail). And the historical information provided by Fogleman was invaluable in preparing these daily blogs. Over the past year, hardly a day has gone by that we have not thought of Aaron and Salome.
Her account of the migration is a fascinating tale of adventure, danger—particularly for women and girls not accompanied by a large number of men—and most especially, evidence of their great faith in God.
What About the Author?
Maria Salome Meurer was born in Bethlehem, PA on January 20, 1750 and died in Salem on May 4, 1821, two hundred years ago this year. Her parents were Philip and Christine Meurer, who immigrated to Pennsylvania from Germany by way of England. Dr. Fogleman tells us that Philip was himself a skilled writer, a talent perhaps inherited by Salome. His memoir tells us that he had five daughters who were alive at the time of his death in 1760. At six years of age Salome lost her mother, and four years later her father, so as was customary then, she was placed in the children’s school in Bethlehem to be educated. She remained there until, at age twelve, she entered the Older Girls’ Choir in 1762.
The Walk To Bethabara
At age sixteen Salome was among a group of nineteen Moravians who were chosen and called by the Church in Bethlehem to move from Pennsylvania to Wachovia to form the nucleus of the Single Sisters and Older Girls Choirs in the new settlement in Carolina. This traveling party consisted of twelve Older Girls, four Single Sisters, a married Sister (on the way to join her husband), and a married couple, along with a few brethren who escorted them and lent aid during their dangerous 500-mile passage through the backwoods. After 29 and a half days, this courageous, pious, and faithful group arrived in Bethabara. Along the way, Salome kept the diary which we cherish to this day. We learn from the daily record of the Moravians that Mattheus Schropp (or Schrobb), who made the leg of the trip from Hillsborough with his wife Anna Maria, described Salome’s diary as “worth to be read on account of its natural style.” Fogleman praises her “youthful enthusiasm.”
Life In Bethabara
As a member of the Older Girls Choir in Bethabara, Salome served in the “Economy” or common housekeeping, which “supported the [missionaries] in their various fields of activity.” When she reached the age of eighteen (1768) she was received into the Single Sisters Choir. After the Economy was dissolved in Bethabara in 1772, the Single Sisters Choir moved to Salem.
Life in Salem and Friedland: Marriage and Children
Her memoir states that in early January 1775, at age 25, Salome “received the offer to enter into holy marriage” with Single Brother Tyco (Toego) Nissen and to join him in serving at the country congregation in Friedland, where they moved after their marriage on January 29. Two years later Salome gave birth to a daughter, Maria Salome.
Tyco and Salome served as leaders and schoolteachers in Friedland until 1780 when they moved back to Salem. There Salome had three more children: Christian in 1780, Johann Phillip in 1783 and Johanna Elisabeth in 1787 (more about her later).
To say Tyco Nissen had many skills would be an understatement. He made chairs, spinning wheels, and wheelbarrows; was a grave digger and a carver of gravestones; served as an assistant in the store by day and watchman at night for Salem; was a porter; made clay pipes; built and repaired wagons; made posts; became the roadmaster; laid logs; and was a forester.
Less than a week after his death on February 20, 1789 four men were named to replace him!
Along with raising their four children Salome faithfully supported her hardworking husband, and toward the end of his life, during his illness, she did tailoring work, which she had learned as a young girl in Bethlehem. After his death she continued to support her family of five with her tailoring skills.
On December 8, 1796 she married widowed Brother Abraham Hessler, a congregational worker in Bethabara. Their marriage, however, was cut short when he contracted a bad fever and died on September 11, 1800. This was an enormously difficult time for Salome as she herself nearly died of fever at the same time. It was not until she recovered that she became aware of her husband’s death.
Later Years in Salem
After a month of recuperation Salome, now aged fifty, moved back to Salem in October of 1800.
By this time the town was nearly thirty years old. She would witness the success of the Single Sisters’ entrepreneurial enterprise and the rise and mushrooming enrollment at the Girls’ Boarding School, now Salem Academy and College. She spent much of her time working there. Her daughter Elisabeth was educated and taught there for a number of years. By 1812 Salome was living in the Widows House, where she served as supervisor for a period. She remained there for the rest of her life, while serving as she was able at the school. According to her memoir, Salome was watching over the children at the boarding school on the day she died.
It is ironic that our dear writer did not leave a personal memoir (a written account of her life in the Church) as was customary near the time of one’s death, but one was written for her, and in it she was described as having “an extremely sympathetic manner” and an “energetic spirit” despite suffering for many years from brief attacks of chest problems, presumably pulmonary edema, according to the memoir, though breast cancer was listed in Fogleman’s epilogue as the cause of her death.
She illustrates on a daily basis in her journal her devotion to doing God’s will and to being a good and faithful follower. It is obvious this dedication to her faith consumed much of her thought. Her memoir states that in her final days, she “desired to be released and to be with Christ.”
Salome, in her own words added: “Then, when I come to Him I will no longer think about goodness or piety, but rather ‘Here comes a sinner who would happily be blessed in grace. And how I will praise Him for the past trials He showed me.’”
Salome died on May 4, 1821 at age 71. Her first marriage was blessed with two sons and two daughters, of whom one son (Johan Phillip, age 9) preceded her in death. She had sixteen grandchildren from her 3 surviving children, twelve of whom were still alive at the time of her death. In her memoir, her children called her a “faithful mother, concerned for their well-being, who was always happy to help them where she was able, and who, in return, recognized the help they provided her.” They expressed their wish that she might have “peace in her physical rest in the quiet grave.”
Salome Meurer Nissen Hessler is buried in God’s Acre in Salem, Square 01I, Row 02, Grave 04.
In his preface to her journal, Fogleman writes, “Most of the diaries of Moravian men traveling from Pennsylvania to North Carolina during this period present detailed accounts of mileage and landmarks –essentially navigational guides for future travelers. But Meurer’s journal provides guidance for navigating the spiritual rather than the physical landscape.”
Postscript: Salome’s Descendants
In this blog I did not intend to go beyond Salome’s death, but while doing the research, I stumbled upon some exciting links from Salome to Salem Academy and College.
Her younger daughter Johanna Elisabeth Nissen (1787-1864) married Johann Christian Wilhelm Fries (1775-1866). From this union came Salome’s grandson, Francis L. Fries (1812-1863) who took part in the design and construction of the Greek Revival-style Main Hall, known as The Academy Building upon its completion in 1856.
Francis and his wife Lisetta Marie Vogler Fries (1820-1903) gave Salome seven great grandchildren, including great grandson, John William Fries (1846-1927) who with his wife Agnes Sophia DeSchweinitz (1849-1915), were parents of Dr. Adelaide L. Fries (1871-1949), archivist, and foremost scholar of the history and genealogy of the Moravians in North Carolina. It is of interest to add that Agnes Sophia’s father, Emil Adolphus DeSchweinitz, served as Inspector at the school from 1848 to 1853, and was succeeded by his brother Robert William DeSchweinitz from 1853 to 1866, when the title “Inspector “ was changed to “President.”
Salome’s great granddaughters were Caroline Louisa Fries Shaffner (1839-1922), Mary Elizabeth Fries Patterson (1844-1927), and Emma Christina Fries Bahnson (1852-1945), names well known to Salem Academy alumnae since the Academy central building and dormitory wings on East Salem Avenue, built in 1930, bear their names. Strong are thy walls!
Undoubtedly many other descendants of Salome Meurer Nissen Hessler impacted the growth of Salem, Winston-Salem, and Salem Academy and College, but that’s for another blog.
Martha Johnston Manning A’73
“Women on the Trail in Colonial America: A Travel Journal of German Moravians Migrating from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 1766,” Pennsylvania History, Vol. 61, No. 2, April 1994 by Aaron S. Fogleman
From the Memoir Collection of the Moravian Archives, Winston-Salem, NC, the following memoirs were used: Maria Salome Hessler, May 4, 1821; Philip Meurer, April 16, 1760; Johanna Elisabeth Nissen, January 21, 1864; and Adelaide L. Fries, November 29, 1949.
Daily Records of the Moravians, 1766, Moravian Archives, Winston-Salem, NC
“The Jarvis Family and Other Relatives,” http://www.fmoran.com/fries/html
Less Time For Meddling, A History of Salem Academy and College 1772-1866, Frances Griffin, 1979
“The Walk from Bethlehem” by Dudley D, Shearburn, and its “Post Postscriptum: The Wachovia Pilgrims. The Three Forks of Muddy Creek,” Vol. 8 by Frances S. Griffin, Old Salem, Inc., 1981