The minute book of the United Sons of Salem Benevolent Society is a rare survival of a mid-19th century African American self-help organization. A hybrid of an insurance agency and charitable operation, the United Sons bound together members of the African American community of Salem, New Jersey, providing a social network, a financial safety net, and support in the event of illness or death. The Society also made small, usually short-term loans to its members to assist in their business endeavors.
The first 18 pages of the minute book contain the constitution of the United Sons, including a preamble and 25 articles, plus the signatures of eighteen founding members. Six of these men appear to have signed, the other twelve making marks. Thereafter, typical entries in the minute book are very brief, including notice that meetings began with "singing and prays," and tersely summarizing the business at hand -- the election of officers, the induction of new members, society discipline, and the disbursement of funds to compensate sickness and death.
The constitution of the Society is of considerable historical value in explicitly laying out the reasons for forming the Society and providing a highly detailed overview of its structure, ideology, and operations. Providing the names of many of its members and their contributions and roles within the organization, the remainder of the book is a valuable key to examining the social and financial relationships among members of the African American community during a critical period of history.