Colonial Salem: 1772 to 1800

Town Affairs

The town of Salem was governed and tightly controlled by the brethren of the Moravian Church. The affairs in Salem were controlled by two groups:

  • The Aeltester Conferenz, or Board of Elders, was responsible for the supervision of the spiritual affairs of the congregation.
  • The Aufseher Collegium, or Supervising Board, was charged with the care of the material, the financial interests of the congregation (functions much like those of a present day City Council).

Another Board appointed in 1772 was the Grosse Helfer Conferenz, an advisory Board of ex-officers and elected members. This Board consisted of nine elected brethren and sisters, with the ex-officio members including the members of the Aeltesten Conferenz and the Aufseher Collegium, along with five other Brethren and Sisters. This Board had no executive power, but served as a kind of management advisory committee which presented to the other Boards anything that in their judgment needed attention.

Night Watch

There was a night watch of some sort in Salem from the time it began functioning as a Congregation Town. The minutes of the Grosse Hefler Conferenz on April 27, 1772, reports the future instead of blowing, the bell shall be rung in the morning at 7… It was not until two years later, however that the position of night watchman seems to have been formally instituted:

A night watchman for the community is indispensable. Br. (Heinrich) Zillman has been suggested, and a contract concerning his salary and his duties is to be made with him, should he be found willing to take over the job.

Zillman, a tailor by trade, accepted the offer on March 22, 1774, at a salary, agreed upon by him and the Congregation Council, of £22 a year...out of which he will pay all expenses except the great coat for which he has asked. The salary would be paid by all adult male residents of the town. The assessment of each apparently determined the extent of protection provided.

For example, the storekeeper, whose place of business would be a natural attraction to thieves, was assessed seven shillings every four weeks, while an ordinary householder or single brother was asked to pay only four pence.

It's interesting that the only "perq," Zillman, a tailor, asked for, was a coat.

Nightwatchman's Beat

Each night Zillman was to cover a prescribed beat, which according to the present day street pattern, took him from Main Street west on Academy to Liberty (then called Salt Street) north on Liberty almost to Shallowford, east to main, south on Main to midway between west and Walnut, north on Main, east on West St, north on Church and west on Academy to the beginning. There is no record of Zillman's specific duties as he made his rounds, but presumably his responsibilities followed generally those spelled out by the Aufserher Collegium ion the 1790s:

  • At ten in the evening the night watchman is going to start on his watch. He will blow his horn hourly during the night, before midnight with a long tune and after midnight with a short one. This will be done at the end and in the middle of the Community. If he is able to sing, it is very nice if he now and then sings a verse wile he makes his round.
  • During the summer from Lady-Day (Annunciation Day, March 25) til Michaelmas (September 29), he will make his last round at three.
  • In the winter, from Michaelmas to Lady-Day, he will make his last round at four.
  • He will past at least once before and after midnight through the large yards of the Gemein Haus and the Sisters House, the yard of the Brothers House, the Tavern, the Red and White Tanners, and through the gardens in the upper part of the Community toward Br. Holland.
  • If he notices fire, he will have to announce this at first in the house where he notices it, then in the Brothers House. If there is anything doubtful going on, like burglary, etc, he will announce this first in the Brothers House.
  • If there is a loud barking of the dogs or other unusual noises, he will have to find out what it means.
  • He will keep a good, strong dog, whom he takes with him during his rounds through the Community.
  • If there is anything doubtful going on in the middle of the night-also concerning our citizens- he shall investigate this and make a report about it the following day.
  • If there is a fire or a candle burning in one of the houses or windows at an unusual time of the night, he will enter the house quickly and ask the reason for this.
  • If he knows that there are sick people in a house, he will check them frequently, and ask for their welfare. Upon request he is to fetch the doctor.
  • If there are any travelers who are looking for the Tavern, the doctor, etc, he will show them the way.
  • If he cannot go on his night watch because of illness or any other reason, he shall not appoint anybody else without giving notice to the Community Warden.

Once when the Single Brothers' horses broke into Johan George Stockburger's oat field, Zillman was mildly reprimanded for neither driving the horses out nor notifying Stockburger of the trouble. By and large though, he seems to have discharged his duties satisfactorily, though from time to time Zillman registered complaints - mainly about his sleeping accommodations.


Arrangements had been made for Zillman to occupy a front room in the home of Christina Triebel. The Triebel house was on Main St just north of the Town Square. Triebel also agreed to feed Zillman's dog. A service which, together with the rent for the room, cost the Community Diacony £2 a year. The trouble was, Triebel's house was located in the noisiest part of town and Zillman found it was impossible to sleep in the daytime amid the creaking of wagon wheels, the clop-clop of horses' hooves, the clank of cow bells and the chatter of town's people as they went about the day's business. As he complained to the Aufserher Collegium, the loss of sleep unfits him for watching; besides he said, The place smokes.

So in November 1778, the Collegium decided to build a small house for the watchman, but two months later changed its mind, voting instead to ask Br. Triebel to make his (the watchman's) quarters as comfortable as possible. It was not until June 17, 1780, that the watchman's house- a log structure measuring sixteen by thirteen feet- was erected on the lot just a bit further north on Main. And it was not until September 165 that Zillman moved into it.

He was not to remain there long, however, nor would he enjoy many calm days or nights. For by then the Revolutionary War was moving closer to Salem, and the burden of keeping watch during the perilous times lay heavy on him: "Many people pass through our town at night, and the night watchman is reminded to take good care." Frequently, the potential danger was so great that additional Brethren joined him in the watch.

During the American Revolution

Zillman had been living in the little log house less than four months when he was asked to vacate it to make room for a group of six Virginia cavalrymen who had been ordered by General Greene to go to Salem to recuperate. It was then used for the temporary storage of gunpowder that had been brought to Salem from Greene's army, and shortly after the powder was moved out, the Salem Diary reported that a sick militiaman had arrived and was added to the wounded men in the house of the night watchman.

So, with all these demands tumbling down on Salem as a result of the Revolution, it may be that Zillman never gain was permitted to enjoy the privacy of the night watchman's house. For by this time, mid-February 1781, his tenure as watchman was drawing to a close. He was in his late sixties, and particularly in those troubled times in Salem, the job was too strenuous for a man of that age. The Elders Conference decided to tell him that he is relieved and could devote his full time to tailoring.

Later Watchmen

March 1, 1781-Br. Rudolph Strehle has taken the place of Br. Zillman as night-watchman. His blowing (Conch shell trumpet) last night put him in danger of being shot, and it will be well for Br. Meyer, when there are officers in the Tavern, especially when they are on the way to the Army, to explain that our night-watchman always announces the hours by blowing.

April 5, 1781-Br. Strehle asks increase of pay as night-watchman. He has been receiving 14 pence a night, and wishes 18 pence. This is fair, and it is a quarter more than he has been getting. The Brethren must increase their contributions to his salary proportionately.

Tycho Nissen covered the watchman's beat by night and then worked at the Community Store from nine o'clock in the morning until toward evening. With this grueling schedule, it is little wondering that after only a couple of months, Nissen suffered an apoplectic attack and some other Brother had to take over the watch. His indisposition turned out to be only temporary and he remained as Salem's night watch for nearly three years. Not once during that time is there a recorded complaint about his work.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his successors. Neither the pay nor the hours of the night watchman being very attractive, the Aufserher Collegium was hard pressed to find reliable Brethren willing to take the job and often had to fall back on men who were not overly conscientious. As a consequence, there were continual complaints:

There is general complaint that our night watchman does not do his duty faithfully. It was resolved that the Brn Schnepff, Reuz and Herbst should speak with him earnestly and then it will appear whether he will do better or must be relieve of the job…there was a new complaint about the negligent manner in which the night watchman's job is attended to, which makes many citizens unwilling to pay their subscriptions.