The Moravian Archives has received a special Christmas-tide gift that soon will grace the walls of the new Archie K. Davis Center.
(In December 2001) Janet M. Sims, Ph.D., journeyed from her home in Vermont to Salem to present the Archives with a portrait of her great-great-great-great-grandfather, Wilhelm Ludwig Benzien. It is only the second portrait in the collection of the Archives.
Long-faced, cherry-lipped, kerchief-necked, bespectacled William Lewis Benzien did not live long enough to make an impression on the Moravian Church that is notice-able almost two centuries later. That memory goes to his father, Christian Ludwig Benzien, who was Frederic William Marshall’s assistant, and then Marshall’s successor as Unity administrator of Wachovia, the Moravian Church lands in North Carolina, from 1802 to 1811.
Wilhelm Ludwig’s young life was full of promise. Born in Salem in 1797, he entered the Boys School at the age of 5, and because his father also gave him private schooling “it was easy for me to be first among my comrades,” he wrote in a brief autobiography. To further his education, his parents sent him at the age of 9 — homesick and briefly captured at sea by the British — to Europe to study in the Moravian schools there. Barely at the age of 21 he entered service in the Moravian Church by being called first to teach at Nazareth Hall in Pennsylvania, then in 1821 “to his great joy . . . to his beloved Salem” as teacher at the Boys School.
In 1827 Wilhelm Ludwig became Vorsteher, or business and property manager, of Salem Congregation. His labors in this important position in the church were cut short, though, when in October 1832 he took a cold, which shortly developed into a high fever. He lingered for a month, then on December 1, 1832, according to his memoir, he “softly fell asleep in the 35th year of his age.” An appendix to his memoir mourned the loss of one who “did so much service for the congregation that each one who traces his steps must wish that he could have continued in this occupation until old age and until he had become gray.”
Surviving Wilhelm Ludwig’s early death were his wife and two of his three children. And the portrait that his descendant gave to the Moravian Archives last December. On inspecting the painting, Paula Locklair, our curator for everything we need to know at Old Salem, Inc., declared it was done by Daniel Welfare, Salem’s master artist of the mid 1800’s, or “maybe it’s a copy, but nobody else in Salem was that good.” Indeed it is evidently one of several copies that Br. Welfare painted of Br. Benzien.
Following conservation and suitable framing, the portrait of Wilhelm Ludwig Benzien will be hung in the conference room of the Davis Center, opposite the Archives’ only other painting, a portrait of Maria Magdalena Transou Schober.