Wolff, John Adam (1755-1805?)

Variant Name(s):

Wolff, Johann Adam


Pennsylvania, USA


  • Bethania, North Carolina


  • Carpenter/Joiner

Building Types:

Styles & Forms:

Federal; Georgian

John (Johann) Adam Wolff (January 15, 1755-1805 [?]), who often went by Adam, was a carpenter active in piedmont North Carolina in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Part of a large family of German background who settled in the Moravian Wachovia tract near Bethania, he was involved in erecting two important buildings—the Caswell County Courthouse II and Home Moravian Church in Salem—and likely constructed other buildings as well.

On June 29, 1794, Wolff signed a contract to build a new courthouse in the newly established seat of Caswell County, for which he had four men post bond to guarantee his performance; a county account records that he was later paid 333 pounds, 14 shillings, 11 pence for his work (Caswell County records, photocopy courtesy of Gil Robertson, Winston-Salem, 1984). This was likely a frame building; it was succeeded by stylish masonry edifices in the antebellum period.

According to Frank P. Albright’s history, The Home Moravian Church, in 1798 “Mr. Wolff” applied to do the carpentry work of the imposing, brick Home Moravian Church, which was to be the landmark building of the Moravian town of Salem. A contract was signed on July 13, 1799, with the brother John Adam Wolff, Lewis (Ludwig) Wolff, and Daniel Wolff. The contract called for the Wolff brothers to do the framing, notes Albright, while the doors and other finish carpentry were to be done by Salem joiners. As a passage from the Salem Board Minutes in the Moravian Records for July 3, 1798, reads, “Mr. Wolf has offered to do the carpenter work on our new church. He seems the best fitted for it, and we will find out how high his demands are. Work on the galleries, the steeple, the door and window frames, can be done without him.” A few years later, the board minutes of July 13, 1802 addressed re-covering the roof with poplar shingles: “Perhaps a contract can be made with a reliable carpenter . . . Adam Wolff, who put up the roof timbers, was suggested.” The roof framing of Home Moravian Church was a difficult and dangerous project involving massive trusses, rafters, and purlins of hard yellow pine that compose a complex roof structure. Albright provides a detailed account of the process of assembling the roof, which required considerable skill on Wolff’s part. Whether Wolff undertook any other projects for the Moravians is not known.

Family histories and genealogy websites describe John Adam Wolff as a son of Wilhelm Adam (1727-1773) and Maria Elisabetha Wolff, who immigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania on the ship Edinburgh in 1751 and settled first in York County, Pennsylvania, then moved to the Moravian community at Monocacy, Maryland, and then to North Carolina where they established a home near the Moravian town of Bethania. Wilhelm and Maria reportedly had seven children, of whom John Adam appears to have been the second oldest, born in 1755, shortly after the family’s move to Pennsylvania. John Adam married Eva Barbara Petree, and they had a son, John William Wolff (1781-1795). John Adam and Eva Wolff separated in 1803, and he moved to Sevierville, Tennessee, where he may have continued at his trade. He evidently died there in 1805 or shortly thereafter. Other members of the Wolff family married and had numerous children, creating a large kinship group in North Carolina and elsewhere.

  • Frank P. Albright, The Home Moravian Church 1983), http://divinityarchive.com/bitstream/handle/11258/8625/homemoravianchur00albr.pdfsequence=1.
  • Adelaide E. Fries, ed., Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Vol. VI (1943), https://archive.org/details/recordsofthemora06frie.
  • “The Jarvis Family and Other Relatives,” http://www.fmoran.com/wolff.html.
  • “Wilhelm Adam (Wolf) Wolff (1720-1773),” WikiTree, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Wolf-1072.
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  • Caswell County Courthouse II

    John Adam Wolff, carpenter


    Yanceyville, Caswell County
    Street Address:

    Yanceyville, NC


    No longer standing




    This courthouse, the county’s second, was built in the village of Caswell Courthouse (present Yanceyville), which had become the county seat after the county was partitioned in 1792 and the county seat was moved from Leasburg. Its first successor was built by John Berry, and the next was designed by William Percival.

  • Home Moravian Church

    William Craig, brickmason; Johann Gottlob Krause, brickmason; Frederic William Marshall, architect; John Adam Wolff, carpenter


    Winston-Salem, Forsyth County
    Street Address:

    529 S. Church St., Winston-Salem, NC





    Images Published In:

    Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
    Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
    Frances Benjamin Johnston and Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (1941).
    Mills B. Lane, Architecture of the Old South: North Carolina (1985).
    Molly Grogan Rawls, Old Salem and Salem College (2010).
    Molly Grogan Rawls, Winston-Salem in Vintage Postcards (2004).

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