Wesley Williams survived the 1860 Salisbury fire

The question remains — did he also survive the Salisbury fire of 1886?

Currently I am focused on my latest project, a new book on the history of downtown Salisbury, Maryland.  It is being done from a different perspective and has been an all-consuming project.

During the process of re-visiting Salisbury’s famous history, I have learned that at least one African American suffered losses during Salisbury’s earliest large fire, that of 1860. Included in the list of those who suffered losses was Wesley Williams, identified in the U.S. Census as African American who worked as a barber.  His name appears in the Salisbury Sentinel following the 1860 fire, listed as having lost his shop.  Another listed name is Levin Houston, another known African American of that time period, who also lost his shop. Where their shops were located at the time of the fire is not yet determined. But the 1860 U.S. Census from earlier that year shows both their names, so they might have lived near each other, and Levin Houston has been identified as the prominent founder of the John Wesley Methodist Church on Broad Street east of the downtown area. If the Levin Houston in the newspaper is the same person, then it it appears he and Wesley both lost their shops during the 1860 fire.

Now I am trying to determine if Wesley also suffered during Salisbury’s largest fire, that of 1886.  There is no evidence of this yet, only a mention of it in a 1932 book by Charles J. Truitt.  Wesley Williams does appear as a barber in the 1880 U.S. Census, but he does not appear in the 1890 census or later.  Truitt identifies the location of Williams’ shop as right downtown on Main Street, three doors west of Division Street. If true, it may be possible to identify where his shop was in Salisbury’s earliest photograph which has an approximate date of about 1870 (contrary to an earlier estimate).  If Truitt’s description is correct, Wesley’s shop is visible in the photograph. But I cannot yet make that assumption.  Still, the 1860 fire was much smaller, as Salisbury was considerably smaller at that time.  If indeed the fire was localized to the couple of blocks downtown, then it is possible Truitt’s assessment was correct.  But I am still working on it!

— Linda Duyer

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1860 Wesley Williams

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