Northern slavery not uncommon
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 Googlebooks.com), “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 email@example.com.
A Place in History