North­ern slav­ery not un­com­mon

The Willow Grove Guide - - OPINION -

Although many folks aren’t aware as we ob­serve Black His­tory Month in Fe­bru­ary that slav­ery ex­isted in Penn­syl­va­nia, in­clud­ing in east­ern Mont­gomery County, it is clear the ter­ri­ble in­sti­tu­tion once thrived to the de­gree that early African Amer­i­cans, Ger­mans and Quak­ers led suc­cess­ful move­ments over time to abol­ish the prac­tice.

“A num­ber of Penn­syl­va­nia’s founders were slave own­ers,” notes Joe Thomas in “A Syn­op­sis of the His­tory of Moreland Town­ship and Wil­low Grove” for the Up­per Moreland His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion that can be found on­line at www.umha. com.

“Wil­liam Penn was a slave­holder, who later in life, af­ter he re­turned to Eng­land, drew up a will grant­ing them free­dom upon his death. Ben­jamin Franklin not only owned slaves, but ad­ver­tised and sold them. Dur­ing his fi­nal days he joined the abo­li­tion­ists and led the anti-slav­ery move­ment,” Thomas points out.

One ad­ver­tise­ment re­flects Franklin’s early pro-slav­ery ac­tiv­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber 1752 an­nounce­ment in Franklin’s Gazette news­pa­per pur­chased by John Jones, then liv­ing in the “Manor of Moreland, near the Crooked Bil­let.” Jones was at­tempt­ing to sell, ac­cord­ing to Thomas, “a likely ne­gro woman, about twenty-nine years of age,” who once “had ‘the small-pox, and un­der­stands coun­try busi­ness well. Also a ne­gro child, a boy, one year old.’”

In fact, Jones cer­tainly was not alone with own­ing slaves in Moreland or the Wil­low Grove area, Thomas as­serts. Oth­ers listed as own­ing at least one slave in tax and cen­sus doc­u­ments from 1776 through 1790 in­cluded Daniel Thomas, Casper Fet­ters, Sa­muel Boutcher, David Perry, Richard Cor­son, An­drew san Bushkirk, Joseph Fol­well and Isaac Boileau.

Of­ten, though, Colonists with stature and land were more likely to own a group of slaves in our neck of the woods, in­clud­ing Gov­er­nor Sir Wil­liam heith, who in 1726, “sold from his es­tate in Hor­sham, seven­teen slaves.” Notably, “his son-in-law, Dr. Thomas Graeme and a gen­tle­man by the name of Thomas Sober,” were pur­chasers of those hu­man be­ings.

Graeme lived on his huge es­tate near what is to­day the de­funct U.S. Naval Air Sta­tion in Wil­low Grove. Those “slaves in­cluded 10 males and seven fe­males, and of those 17 to­tal, 10 were adults. One of the slaves was an In­dian woman mar­ried to a slave.”

In­deed, a co-founder of Chel­tenham Town­ship, To­bias Leech, also kept en­slaved Africans, as well as an­other “orig­i­nal” set­tler of Chel­tenham, Humphrey Mor­rey, who’d be ap­pointed WKH fiUVW PDyRU RI 3KLODGHOphia in 1691. His son Richard, in fact, had a re­la­tion­ship with a black ser­vant, &UHPRQD, WKDW SURGuFHG fiYH chil­dren. Cre­mona would even­tu­ally be lib­er­ated and re­ceive about 200 acres of land af­ter her so-called mate’s death. A small black set­tle­ment, Guineatown, would de­velop near the fam­ily’s home on Limekiln Pike, as well as an as­so­ci­ated burial ground.

In nearby Whitemarsh, set­tler Ed­ward Far­mar owned slaves on land dur­ing the early 1700s that would be­come Hope Lodge, later the home of Quaker Sa­muel Mor­ris. And it’s very likely, ac­cord­ing to my ear­lier re­search for the Penn­syl­va­nia Hu­man­i­ties Coun­cil and Penn­syl­va­nia His­tor­i­cal C Mu­seum Com­mis­sion, as well as con­fer­ring with the likes of his­to­rian Charles Block­son, that Mor­ris too used slave la­bor with sev­eral of the work­ers’ names listed in his ledger books.

Slav­ery, how­ever, was op­posed to some de­gree by var­i­ous fac­tions in Penn­syl­va­nia from the state’s in­cep­tion. Early black Penn­syl­va­ni­ans ac­tu­ally sued, with some success, for their lib­er­a­tion as such AfricanAmer­i­can Colo­nial lead­ers as the­olo­gians Richard Allen and Ab­sa­lom Jones, as well as busi­ness­man James Forten, founded anti-slav­ery groups like the Free African So­ci­ety. And var­i­ous Quaker ac­tivists, such as Abing­ton res­i­dent Ben­jamin Lay and John Woolman, dur­ing the early-to-mid1700s de­manded an end to the in­sti­tu­tion. A group of Ger­mans, some of them Quak­ers, held the first “of­fi­cial” protest in North Amer­ica against slav­ery along what is to­day Ger­man­town Av­enue in 1688, led by Daniel Pas­to­rius.

“The events which led to the ex­tinc­tion of slav­ery in Penn­syl­va­nia fall nat­u­rally into four pe­ri­ods,” notes Ed­ward Ray­mond Turner in his 1911 book Evia Google­, “The Ne­gro in Penn­syl­va­nia: Slav­ery, Servi­tude, Free­dom, 1639-1861.”

7KH fiUVW SKDVH VWDUWHG about the time that Chel­tenham was founded in 1682 through 1740, when Lay was quite ac­tive and Ger­mans, some of them Quak­ers, led the anti-slav­ery charge.

Next came “the pe­riod of the Quaker abo­li­tion­ists,” ac­cord­ing to Turner, “from about 1710 to 1780, by which time slav­ery among the Quak­ers had come to an end.” Then, “leg­isla­tive ac­tion” took hold from 1780 WR 1788 “DQG fiQDOOy, WKH SHriod from 1788 to the time when slav­ery in Penn­syl­va­nia be­came ex­tinct through the grad­ual work­ing of the act for abo­li­tion.”

So, con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, the erad­i­ca­tion of slav­ery, even in Penn­syl­va­nia, was “grad­ual” and re­quired the per­sis­tence of di­verse peo­ple who would not let such in­jus­tice stand.

Don ‘Og­be­wii’ Scott, a Mel­rose Park res­i­dent, can be reached at

Don­ald Scott

A Place in His­tory

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