Born into slavery in Framingham, MA. When he was 25 years old, the man who held him in slavery, Major Lawson Buckminster, freed him so he could enlist in the Massachusetts Minute Men and later in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army. Salem fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, White Plains, Saratoga, Stony Point, served at Valley Forge, and was later posted to the Hudson Highlands.

Some historians have speculated that Salem may have been Muslim, but have not been able to prove this with primary source documentation.

After the war Salem married and moved to Leicester, MA where made a living caning chairs and weaving baskets. He and his wife did not have any children. He died in 1816, aged 65 years old. His friends arranged for his burial, but could not afford a headstone. In 1882, his hometown of Framingham erected a granite monument on his grave, which was restored by the Framingham Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2000. The town of Leicester named a road after him.

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