Categotry Archives: Racism

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The Forgotten “Negro Burying Ground” at Middletown Friends Meeting

Categories: Black History, Graves, Langhorne, Maps, Middletown, Quakerism, Racism, Slavery

Negro Burying Ground - Street View

Just southwest of the Middletown Friends meetinghouse lies a small burial ground purchased for the interment of African Americans 225 years ago, at a time when almost a third of the county’s black population remained enslaved. There are no headstones or any other visual indicators to distinguish this plot from the rest of the meeting’s shaded lawn, and like other Quaker meetings in the area, Middletown did not begin keeping burial records until after the Civil War. It is therefore unsurprising that this burial ground has been forgotten in the intervening centuries. The current overseer of the cemetery was unaware of its existence, and while a “Negro burying ground” is referred to in the meeting’s property records, I was not able to identify it’s specific location until I discovered the original deed for the land in the archive of the Friends Historical Library.

Throughout the colonial era, burial grounds were places of great social importance to enslaved Africans. For example, in Philadelphia the section of the Strangers’ Burial Ground (now Washington Square Park) that was set aside for blacks drew large crowds on Sundays, holidays, and fair days. During these gatherings the burial ground became an autonomous African cultural space where participants came together to perform African dances and to speak and sing in their native languages. This was not the case in rural Bucks County, where the small scale of slaveholding meant that the enslaved had few opportunities to interact with other Africans. Slaves were permitted to attend the fairs that were held twice each year Bristol, but only on the last day.

Records indicate that early Quaker settlers initially permitted the burial of Africans in their burial ground, but this was quickly curtailed. Middletown Monthly Meeting, located on the western border of Langhorne Borough, set aside a portion of their burial ground for blacks in the early 18th century, but the meeting vacillated with regard to their treatment of the African dead. Middletown Meeting segregated their burial ground in 1703, noting in their minutes, “There having been formerly some Negros Buryed in friends Burying Yard which they are not well satisfied with therefore Robert Heaton & Thomas Stackhouse are ordered to fence off that corner with as much more as they may see convenient, that friends burying place may be of itself from all others.” After the construction of a wall around the burial ground in 1734 the Friends reaffirmed their opposition to sharing their burial ground with African Americans, ultimately declaring in 1739, “this meeting having had the Matter under Consideration it is unanimously agreed that hereafter no Deceased Negros be Buried Within the walls of the graveyard Belonging to this meeting, & Adam Parker, Jonathan Woolston & Joseph Richardson are appointed to keep the keys of the Said Graveyard & take Care that none be Buried therein but such as they in the Meetings Behalf shall allow of.” The black residents of Bucks County would not have a dedicated burial ground again until the Society of Friends changed its stance on slavery in the late 18th century.

The acknowledge by the Society of Friends that participation in the slave system violated their religious teachings also sparked a broader concern about the economic and spiritual well-being of African Americans. After Philadelphia Yearly Meeting banned slave ownership in 1776, they also added the treatment of free blacks to the list of religious queries that their constituent meetings were expected to address. Bucks County Quakers responded by appointing committees to meet with black families, holding meetings for worship for blacks, and eventually purchasing a small plot of land adjacent to Middletown Meeting as a “Negro burying ground” in 1791. This parcel measured sixteen and a half feet wide by 136 feet long, large enough for perhaps a few dozen burials. While the section allocated for blacks in 1703 was almost certainly meant to be used for the burial of slaves owned by members of the meeting, this small lot was purchased for the use of the free black community.

The meeting did not record the burials in this lot and few details about its use remain. The only documented burial that has been identified at present is that of Cato Adams, a free black man who resided in Middletown for a number of years before moving to Bristol. The will that Adams drafted in 1810 demonstrates the burial ground’s importance to the local black community. Although Adams had a number of children and grandchildren to consider when writing his will, he set aside five pounds “for the purpose of keeping in repair the Burying ground appropriated for the interment of black people near to the meeting.” He also left his “first day clothes” to his son. The use of the Quaker term “first day” rather than “Sunday” indicates that he may have attended meeting for worship at Middletown Meeting, although like most African Americans who worshipped with Quakers in this period he was not a member of the Society and does not appear in the meeting’s records. When Adams died in 1812, Orphans’ Court records related to the settlement of his estate show that his executors paid Isaac Gray, a founding member of the independent black Methodist group the Society of Colored Methodists, to dig his grave. The small lot purchased in 1791 was apparently approaching full capacity by 1816, when Middletown Meeting bought an additional lot for the burial of African Americans at the northeast corner of their property along what is now Green Street. This parcel constitutes the northern half of Mt. Olive Cemetery, which was used by Langhorne’s black community into the 20th century. Before the establishment of Bethlehem African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817 these burial grounds were the only public spaces in Bucks County to which African Americans could claim a collective right.

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Although evidence is scarce, at least two other African-American burial grounds were created by Quaker meetings in the region. The first was  Byberry Preparative Meeting, which established a small African-American burial ground in 1780. This burial ground is now part of Benjamin Rush State Park near the border between Northeast Philadelphia and Bensalem Township, only about four and a half miles away from Middletown Meeting. Joseph C. Martindale provides a brief account of this burial ground in book A History of the Townships of Byberry and Moreland in Philadelphia (1876):

Previous to this time the colored people who died in the townships were generally buried in the orchards belonging to their masters or in the woods; but forty or fifty had been interred in a kind of cemetery for them, on the lands lately owned by Charles Walmsley. It was located in the field fronting the mansion house, not far from Watson Comly’s line. All traces of it have long since been destroyed, and hundreds have since passed over the spot not knowing that they were treading upon the graves of the long since dead. Another of these graveyards was on the farm lately owned by Mary Hillborn, where several slaves were buried. The exact spot is not now known. Many persons by this time had had their attention drawn to the matter, and efforts were made to secure a proper place for the burial of such people. Accordingly, in this year [1780], we find that Byberry Meeting purchased a lot of Thomas Townsend for a burying place for the blacks, and the practice of burying on private grounds was discontinued. The record says that the first person buried there was “Jim,” a negro belonging to Daniel Walton.

Later, after discussing the local potter’s field where white indigents were interred, he writes:

The graveyard for colored persons… is still kept for that purpose. Some years since a portion of this yard was plowed up, and most of the “little mounds” were leveled with the earth around, so that the exact spot where many of this race were buried can no longer be seen. What a pity that man should ever be willing to disturb the resting-places of the dead in order to add to his coffers! Of late years more care has been taken of this place, and it is now kept in good order by Byberry Meeting.

The only historical map that I’ve been able to locate that shows the Byberry African Burial Ground is the “Atlas of Greater Northeast Philadelphia” in Franklin’s Proposed Real Estate Atlases of Philadelphia, Vol. 7 (1953). The small lot is not identified as a burial ground, but the property boundaries are visible:

African American Burial Grounds at Middletown Friends Meeting

More detailed maps, photographs, and other documentation are provided in Byberry Librarian Helen File’s paper on the burial ground and an archaeological study of the site performed by the US General Services Administration in 1993.

The second Quaker meeting in the area to establish an African-American burial ground was Buckingham Friends Meeting, which laid out a small section of their existing graveyard for that purpose in 1807. They report in their minutes:

We have laid out a small portion of Ground within the large Grave Yard at Buckingham to Bury Black People in, Beginning at a stone standing at the North Corner of the Old enclosure, thence N 50 [degrees] E two Perches to a Stone, thence N 40 [degrees] W to a Stone standing at the back Wall of the Yard And to be comprehended by these two lines, the Back Wall, and the Foundation of the Old Wall. The Meeting Uniting therewith, directs Burying in rows beginning at the North End…

Unfortunately the exact location of this plot is unclear, but it is probably located in the northwest section of the current burial ground. Further examination of the meeting’s property records may yield a more exact location. While the author of the Buckingham Meeting’s National Register of Historic Places nomination claims that “The African American burials here were made unnecessary within a few years” after Mount Gilead African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed nearby in 1837, a recent archaeological survey of the site conducted by Meagan Ratini suggests that the burials may not have taken place there until the 1860s. If that is the case, the African-American burial ground at Buckingham Meeting may have been in use for half a century.

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The Burning of Pennsylvania Hall

Categories: Abolitionists, Black History, Buckingham, Philadelphia, Racism, Solebury

The Burning of Pennsylvania HallTonight marks the 176th anniversary of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, which was razed by anti-black rioters a mere three days after it opened in May of 1838. The building was erected in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and at the time of the riot they were hosting the Requited Labor Convention, which brought together various regional anti-slavery societies. A number of Bucks County abolitionists were in attendance when the hall was destroyed. The convention minutes list delegates from the Bucks County Anti-Slavery Society as well as the Buckingham Female Anti-Slavery Society. The delegates include people who were very active in the Underground Railroad in Bucks County, including William H. and Mary Johnson of Buckingham and Jonathan P. and Mary W. Magill of Solebury. After the convention was reconvened in September, William H. Johnson was elected as one of the convention’s vice-presidents. The Magills’ son Edward H. Magill would later write the most complete history of the Underground Railroad in Bucks County, “When Men Were Sold: Reminiscences of the Underground Railroad in Bucks County,” published in the second volume of A Collection of Papers Read Before the Bucks County Historical Society.

Bucks Anti-Slavery Society Buckingham Female Anti-Slavery Society

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Recollections of Solebury Friends’ School 1836-1846

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Categories: Abolitionists, Death, Photography, Quakerism, Racism, Schools, Solebury

In the fall of 1897, prominent Solebury resident Eastburn Reeder, then an old man, was asked to recount his experience at the Solebury Friends’ school to the current generation of students. Reeder started school there in 1836, the first year it was open.

Solebury Meeting has since converted the school building into a residence for their caretakers, which just so happens to be the house I grew up in. The building was heavily altered long before I got there, but evidence of the original open floor plan can be seen in the uneven room sizes and odd layout. Other evidence of its prior use can be found in the old outhouse, where four wooden seats indicate that it was built for a well-trafficked public facility. Now used as a shed, the outhouse also once served as rabbit hutch for a previous caretaker, a serious alcoholic so poor that he had to raise rabbits for meat.

The former school house, as seen from the graveyard.

The following is his address, as recorded in the Daily Intelligencer, October 9th, 1897, which I’ve transcribed from microfilm:

In Days Gone By.
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Recollections of the Solebury School from 1836 to 1846.
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A Paper Read at the Closing Exercises of Solebury First Day School
by Eastburn Reader, 10th Month 3d, 1897—A Story of Two Boys.
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A few weeks ago I was asked to give this First-day school my recollections of Solebury meeting of Friends of sixty and fifty years ago. Since that time these words have been continually coming to my mind—“How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood.” Whether they were suggested by the effort to turn my mind backward to the day of my youth, or whether they are to be regarded as an evidence of approaching age, I will not stop now to inquire. I have not been able to rid myself of that thought. Like the ghost of Banquo in the story of Macbeth, “it would not down ;” it would not leave me. I am asked to-day to give my recollections of Solebury school, its teachers, and the scholars attending it, from 1836 to 1846, a period of ten years, and all of it more than fifty years, and some of it more than sixty years ago.

We, (my sister and I) began going to school here in the spring of 1836. I was nearly eight years of age, and my sister a little over five. Our mother went with us the first day, and we all walked to the school house. Whether mother went with us on that day to assist in carrying our books, and dinner, or to tell the teacher who we were, or to protect us from imaginary danger along the road, I never knew. After the school opened, mother walked home, and that was the only time that I ever recollect being taken to or from school. After that we had to rough it, like the rest of the scholars, having no protection from the storms, except an umbrella, or an occasional cloak or shawl. Elizabeth Ely was the teacher that summer, and continued to teach the school for four or five summers after that time, being succeeded by Annie Martin and Sarah Murphy in summer, and by Moses E. Blackburn, Albert Pearson, Charles Murphy, and Edward A. Magill in the winters.

Solebury township had not then (1836) accepted free school law, and our tuition was paid for by our parents at the rate of three cents per day. The teachers made out the bills regularly at the end of each month, which we carried home to our parents. The school was a large one, and the house was crowded to its fullest capacity. It was so large that our teacher had to employ her sister, Sarah Ely, to assist her in hearing some of the classes. The desks were arranged around the walls of the room, the boys occupying one side of the house, and the girls the other side, while a few benches in the centre of the room were occupied by the small children, and by those who did not need desks, having neither books, slates, pens or pencils, but recited their letters etc., at the teacher’s desk. I have a list of over seventy-five names of children whom I can recall to mind as having attended that school during the period that I attended it. These companions of my youth, where are they now? How many are yet living? How many deceased? And how far and widely have they been scattered? I have undertaken the task of ascertaining these points, and although the task is far from being completed I have good reasons for believing that a majority of them are still living. Out of a list of 76 names, 32 are know to be deceased, and 44 are believed to be now living. This, I think, is a remarkable showing for health and longevity—44 out of 76 beings is over 60 per cent. living, and all of them now over 50 years, and many of them over 60 years of age. During this entire period of ten years, we were called upon but once to note the death of but a single one of our school mates, and that was a little boy between 5 and 6 years of age.

The dead, where are they? Of the 32 who are known to be deceased 12 of them have been buried in these grounds. They lived out their allotted lives in this vicinity and have been gathered in with their fathers. Of the other 20, fifteen of them lie in cemeteries in different parts of this State ; three in New Jersey, one in Ohio and one in Bombay, in far away India. The 44 living are believed to be now scattered almost, if not quite, as widely, only five or six of us left remaining within a reasonable walking distance of the school.

It is my object to ascertain the date of birth of all, the date of marriage, of those who married, and to whom married, the present whereabouts and address of those who are living ; and the date of death of those who have died, and the place where they are buried. I am aware that to accomplish this will be no easy task. It will take time, and I may find cases where it will be impossible to gain information I desire. I have already, in the very threshhold of the work, met with some very pleasant and encouraging experiences, and I have also met with some very sad and discouraging experiences. After I left Solebury school in 1846, I was away from this neighborhood most of the time for nearly three years. When I returned in the spring of 1849, and looked around for my former companions, what did I find? I found several of them married, and obeying that command which God gave to Noah in Genesis 8 : 16-17. Others had gone I knew not whether. To ascertain this as far as possible is my object, and while I am waiting for the returns to come in, I will tell the children a story of my recollections of my school boy days.

A STORY OF A BOY

I will tell a story of a boy, or rather a story of two boys. Almost every boy who goes to school, has his chum. This must be natural among boys, or so many of them would not do so. I had my chum. He was one year older than I. He was a boy very peculiar in disposition, and seemed to have the power of moulding me to his will. Everything he said or did, to my mind, was exactly right. Our desks and seats were side by side. This is not only for one term of the school, but it lasted as long as we both attended this school. To secure this end on the last day of a term of school we would each of us leave a book in our desks, in order to secure possession of them for the next term. In these books he taught me to write these lines—

“Steal not this book my honest friend,
For fear the gallows will be your end.”

These lines were signed by our respective names and were supposed to be potent against depredations. We had full faith in this, and our books were never stolen. I have said that my chum had a peculiar disposition. He was inclined to be a rover—he was going to be a sailor, to be a captain of a ship. He said I should be a farmer and have a large plantation. I was to produce articles for him to carry in his ship to other countries of the world. Every day as we studied our geography together afforded him an excellent opportunity to mature his plans. He located my plantation on the Atlantic coast somewhere between Charleston and Savannah. With a stroke of pen and ink he converted a promontory or cape to an island.

This is necessary, he said, so that he could approach my plantation from every side. I was to raise rice and cotton for him to export. To enable me to do this it would be necessary for me to have large numbers of slaves, which he would go to Africa for and capture and bring to me. I will say just here, that our teacher was his aunt, and boarded in his father’s family. She was a very strong anti-slavery woman, and often spoke to us of the sinfulness of slavery and the wrongs of the poor slaves. Whether it was to be in oppostion to the views of his aunt and teacher, that he decided to make a slave holder of me, I never knew. I was to be married, he said, and have a family, but he was to be a sea captain, and they never married or had families. His stories of adventure were so captivating that I believed everything he told me. As I was to marry and live on a plantation and have a family, I began to think about a wife early in life. Every day, instead of studying our lessons in geography, he would say to me “Let us transact business.” That is to say, he would buy up what I had produced for export, and bring back to me any product of the earth that I might desire. This gave us knowledge of geography, in a measure, but it did not give us very often much knowledge of the lesson for the day. Very frequently were the orders given to us by the teacher, “Boys, you must get this lesson over after school.” Then we would put ourselves down to work and soon master the lesson.

I recollect one day in particular as we opened our atlas, my chum told me that he had on board for me a large number of very valuable Araibian horses, fresh from the desert, that he had, with great difficulty, secured for me. He said his ship was now in sight of land, and would soon be in the harbor. He then put up both hands to his mouth to blow the trumpet announcing the arrival of his vessel. He blew louder than he know, for the noise of the blast attracted the attention of the teacher and the entire school. We were ordered to the teacher’s desk at once. Which of us had made that noise? Neither of us would tell. Then both must be punished, and that severely. The teacher had a small chestnut sprout in her desk, from which the bark had been peeled, and it had become very dry and brittle. My chum held out his hand to receive the punishment first, and after receiving a few sharp cuts, he cried out lustily, or pretended to do so, and was sent to his seat with his face deeply buried in his hands upon the top of his desk. It was my turn next, and as I did not cry, for in boy parlance, “it didn’t hurt a bit,” the teacher naturally looked to see why the punishment had not the same effect on me. Her eyes were small, black and fiery, and her expression almost convulsed me with laughter. The blows upon my hand were renewed with redoubled force. At every blow, two or three inches of the switch flew off the end, and it was speedily used up. The boy was still rebellious and defiant. The teacher was too conscientious to use a ruler, but something more must be done.

Accordingly, I was led by the shoulder over to the girls’ side of the schoolroom, where “room was made” for me on the bench between two of the oldest and largest girls in the school. I suppose they were 18 or 20 years of age. They appeared to me then as mountains of flesh, both being large and fat. I was not placed opposite to a window where I could look out, and had nothing but white wall to gaze upon. I could not even see the girl on the other side of the two between whom I was placed. I could not see over or around them, and was almost buried from sight. Had I been placed between two other girls, whom I could name, and nearer my own age, I should have liked it far better. I was compelled to remain there until school closed for the day. When the school was dismissed I was told to remain. The teacher busied herself with mending our goose quill pens, and setting the copies for the next day, until all the scholars had time to reach their homes. I wondered what was to be done with me next. The teacher told me that she had made up her mind to write a note and send it by me to my parents, telling them to keep me home from the school. I promptly told her she could send no such note home by me. Then she would send it by my sister, who would not go home without her brother. I said my sister should not take the note either. I do not know whether it was the tears of my sister, or what it was, but the teacher all at once took a sudden change. She began to talk to me. She told me what a great interest she had felt in me, and what pains she had taken, and how hard she had tried to do her duty by me. And as she talked on in this strain, her tears began to flow as rapidly as her words. This overcame me entirely. I could stand punishment, and scolding, but entreaties and tears I could not stand. I yielded, and promised obedience for the future. The note home was neither written nor sent. As I look back upon this little incident after an interval of sixty years, I can but look upon it as a victory for us both. It was a victory for the teacher, most certainly, for the boy not only promised, but gave obedience. It was a victory for the boy over himself, and it was not necessary to punish him afterward, and he continued to go to that teacher for several summers. She was a faithful, conscientious teacher, and tried hard to do her duty by us. She afterward removed form Solebury to Philadelphia, where she died many years ago, and was buried in Friends’ burial ground at Fair Hill. I intend some day to visit her grave as a deserving tribute to her memory

I cannot close this little story without telling what afterwards became of my chum. After he left school he studied medicine, and graduated with high honors. I believe he was soon appointed a ship surgeon, which was an object of his ambition. In the year 1851 he was appointed by the President of the United States Counsel to Bombay. He remained there for seven years, dying there in 1858. A short time before his death he married, and as they were making arrangements for their wedding trip home to visit his parents his wife was taken sick with some fatal disease peculiar to that country, and soon died. He was also smitten with the same disease, and died. When the news of their deaths reached this country I went to see his parents and sympathize with them in their great affliction. They told me it would be impossible for their bodies even to be brought here for burial. The distance was so great and the nature of the disease such as to render it impossible. I do not even know the name or nationality of his wife, and I may never be able to ascertain it. But I shall never forget the sorrow that was depicted upon that mother’s countenance as she told me the sad story. She had followed to the grave all the rest of her children in early life save one. This was her first-born and favorite son, and those lines of deep sorrow were never entirely obliterated from her countenance, and she lived for many years.

I hope there will be seen in this simple story a lesson for young boys and girls of this , our First-day school. That lesson is—get mementos, or keepsakes of some kind from your teachers and from your most intimate friends. You have far greater facilities to do this than we scholars had sixty years ago. Then photographs were unknown. I have not a single picture of one of my schoolmates or teachers. You can get them now at a very small cost. If you cannot get these, then get a few lines from a favorite author, written in their own handwriting, and signed by their names and date. And more than all, do not suffer yourselves to lose all knowledge of their address. Then no matter how widely the companions of your youthful days may become scattered in this wide world of ours, you will know and feel that you have the power of reaching them, and of communicating with them in a few days at most. It will be a source of great gratification to you when you grow to be old. I have here a card in my hand, a little red card, which I received from my first teacher more than sixty years ago. It was my first card, and is dated 8th mo. 7Th, 1835. I was not then seven years old, I have kept it to this day, and every year it grows more precious to my sight. The picture upon it represents Noah’s Ark riding upon the waters of the Deluge. Underneath the picture of the ark is printed the command given by God to Noah to enter the ark :

“Cometh thou and all thine houses into the ark,” Gen. 7 : 1.

Noah is represented as standing on the front of the ark, sending forth the dove to see if it could find land, the story of which is beautifully told in the following lines:

“The dove set free from Noah’s hand,
Wandered a weary space,
But could not find the solid land
Or gain a resting place.
‘Tis thus the soul that strays from God,
No comfort can obtain,
‘Till it return to its abode
And finds the Ark again.”

I do not know what then prompted my young mind to choose this card, but now its picture and its lines have to my mind a deep significance.

*Note: The chum is Dr. Edward Ely, 1827-1858, who served as consul in Bombay under President Polk. (Battle Vol.3 p.814)

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Slobbery Run

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Categories: Black History, Inns & Taverns, Lower Black Eddy, Places, Plumstead, Racism

The other day I paid a visit to Slobbery Run, a small stream that cuts down from the hillside on River Road and flows into the canal. It wasn’t very slobbery when I came to visit, but I imagine after a hard rain the water flows a bit more impressively through this rocky valley.

From MacReynolds’ Place Names in Bucks County:

Slobbery Run – Small short steam in southeastern Plumstead Township, tumbling through a rocky ravine about a quarter mile east of Lower Black Eddy and emptying into Delaware Division Canal. The water foams over the rough boulders, hence its name. It is a venturesome climb from Delaware River Road up this steep valley, to be paid upon reaching the top with magnificent waves of river scenery.

It’s located just north of Devil’s Half Acre, an unlicensed distillery that operated along the canal in its early days and acquired a raucous reputation. One of the reasons I visited Slobbery Run was to try to pinpoint the plot of land on the boulder-covered hill that a black farmer cleared and cultivated, which I read about in this article by Cyrus Livezy, published in the Doylestown Democrat on November 28th, 1876, and reprinted by MacReynolds in Place Names:

 On the hillside after leaving the old Devils Half Acre house is a modest dwelling erected many years ago by ‘Old Black John,’ who by a vast amount of labor and with more patience and perseverance than is often found in the African race succeeded in rendering a small stony patch susceptible to cultivation, and just beyond this we come to the famous high rocks towering grandly at least eight feet above them. The sun is not visible here and the wintry atmosphere that prevades [sic] this place gives us a taste of that season, and we remember finding a block of winter ice here late April, 1830. Advancing a few rods we pass Rattling Run Cascade and are opposite Moss Giel Rock, which rises from the side of the hill some distance above the road. The ascent is very steep and the distance from the road to the summit of the rock is about three hundred feet. Our fraternal guide offers to lead us up by a circuitous route without difficulty, but climbing steep hills was a favorite amusement fifty years ago, and we resolve to have a taste of it now and in a few minutes, panting for breath, the summit of the rock is reached. Here after resting awhile we contemplate the scenery below, around and far away. On the eastern side is the cascade, so called from a small steam of water flowing through a wildwood glen and over a ledge of rocks. The run formerly bore a name that was rather uncongenial to modern refinement and was changed a few years ago to suit the taste of some Philadelphia ladies; and, although we are generally disposed to accept names as we find them, beg leave to demur on this case (as the steam flows through a thickly wooded glen) to call it Sylvan Run and Sylvan Run Cascade. Moss Giel Rock was dedicated by an ederly [sic] gentleman and some schoolboy companions in 1865, the ceremony consisting of reading Bayard Taylor’s account of the great Burns Festival at Moss Giel in Scotland in 1845. The Broad surface of the rock is smooth and pretty well covered with inscriptions by numerous visitors. Although many years of our life were passed within two miles of this place, we never stood upon the rock before and knew not of its sublimity. To the eastward the head of the Delaware and Raritan Canal feeder, Readings Hollow, Bulls Island and Raven Rock are visible.

It’s amazing to me that, following the rules of politeness in that era, Livezey dances around the word “slobbery” but doesn’t think twice before dropping offensive racial stereotypes.

I didn’t have much luck, and I have no idea if any evidence remains of this old homestead. I looked at an 1876 map of Plumstead, and it seems like the land at the top of the ridge was one large plot, while there were a couple thin strips of separately owned land running between the hill and the canal, one including Devil’s Half Acre and the other with one building shown across the road. It’s possible that John lived there, and that before River Road was widened he had enough cultivatable land to subsist on. I also haven’t been able to identify any African Amercian named John on the Plumstead census records from this era.

UPDATE: I met the owner of what is probably John’s homestead. The old house is gone, but until the 1930’s, it was an old wooden shack raised up on stilts. When the homeowner tore down the house that replaced it (a confused jumble of additions and alterations cobbled together as a residence) to build a new home, the bases of the old wooden stilts were still visible. There’s a small flat area adjacent to the house big enough for a garden.  The other houses immediately past Devil’s Half Acre weren’t built until after World War II, and are therefore unlikely candidates for John’s home site.

The owner of John’s plot also told me that, rather than Slobbery Run, the old-timers used the name Sloppy Gulch.

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Slavery in Solebury?

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Categories: Black History, Racism, Solebury, Tags:

I’m working on a museum exhibit for the Solebury Historical Society that will be on display starting tomorrow. The subject is medical history, and I’ve been researching the earliest doctors in the area. The first recorded in Solebury is Doctor Jonathan Ingham, and I found this interesting note about his death in Davis’ History of Bucks County:

Click to view the full passage on the Inghams from Davis' History of Bucks County.

By this account Doctor Ingham, a resident of Solebury Township, was a slave owner. If Davis is correct, Ingham’s slave Cato is the only recorded slave in Solebury. All other sources I’ve seen claim that there is no record of slavery in the township, and the presence of slaves would have been readily documented. Following Pennsylvania’s Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780, all slave owners were required to register their slaves annually, and if they failed to do so their slaves would be freed. A list of slaves registered in Bucks County is available here. There are no slaves registered in Solebury.

Census data also casts doubt on Davis’ claim. According to the 1790 US Census, Ingham did not own slaves. However, there does appear to be one “free” black person living in his household:

The column “other free persons” can be inferred to mean free black person. However, this “free” person could be an indentured servant. As such, the “other free person” living in the Ingham household could be Cato. While he might not have been legally defined as a slave, he may well have been treated like one.

Slavery and Other Bondage

The 1780 law dictated that all current slaves would remain slaves for life, while the children of slaves would technically be “free” but would remain indentured servants until the age of 28. In theory they had the same rights as a white indentured servant, but their actual position in society was surely quite different. While most white indentured servants willingly entered into servitude, usually being paid with cash or land at the end of their term, the black children born into bondage had no say in the matter. Their terms of service were also much longer. The 28 years of bondage required for these “free” children of slaves was most of their productive life; Davis notes that there are few slaves over the age of 45 in the register and sarcastically suggests, “From this it might be argued that the mild type of slavery in Bucks county was not conducive to long life.”

Conversely, indentured service could be quite profitable for white residents of Bucks County. After Doctor Ingham died his own son Samuel D. Ingham became an indentured servant. Samuel, then 14-years-old, was indentured as a condition of his apprenticeship to a paper miller on the Pennypack. Seven years later Samuel returned to Solebury and took charge of his family’s farm and mills. He was later elected to US Congress and served as Secretary of the Treasury under Andrew Jackson, and lent his name to Ingham County, Michigan.

Clearly indentured servitude meant something different for white residents of Bucks County than for the children of slaves.

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Springdale, Huffnagle, Rosenthal… Darkey Town?

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Categories: Black History, Demography, Maps, New Hope, Racism, Solebury

Segregated housing or unfortunate surname?

Today while poring over J.D. Scott’s Combination Atlas Map of Bucks County (1876), I discovered this detail in the map of New Hope Borough. The row of houses on Stoney Hill Road above Joshua Whiteley’s cotton mill (now the Inn at the Ruins) is labelled Darkey Town.

At different times the larger hamlet was known as Springdale, Huffnagle, and Rosenthal, but none of the sources I’ve checked make any mention of Darkey Town. MacReynolds’ Place Names in Bucks County provides some details about the development of the hamlet. Robert Heath built Solebury’s first grist mill here in 1707, and the William Maris moved here in 1812 and built the cotton mill (owned by Whiteley on this map) and the mansion known as Springdale.  When the railroad line was put in, Springdale became first stop southwest of New Hope. Maris sold the property to the Huffnagle family (Dr. John Huffnagle appears on this map). The hamlet was then called Huffnagle until it was renamed for artist Albert Rosenthal who purchased the ruined mansion in 1928 and set up a studio. The houses on Mechanics St. and Stoney Hill probably belonged to the skilled and unskilled laborers that worked at the mills.

I hate to jump to conclusions, but of course I’m wondering if the name Darkey Town is being used in the pejorative sense to label a section of New Hope Borough where black families resided. There are two bits of evidence that reinforce this idea. First off, one of the residents is listed only as “Old Bob.” Every other resident I’ve found in this atlas is listed by surname or at very least by first and last initial (compare this to J. Huffnagle, M.D. a few houses to the west). Why was Old Bob not afforded the same respect and formality given to every other resident and landowner? More importantly, the building labelled “M.E. Ch.” may be a Methodist Episcopalian Church. This might be related to the Mount Gilead African Methodist Episcopalian Church, founded by former slaves on Buckingham Mountain in 1835.

Of course, this hypothesis is discordant with the standard narrative of race relations in Bucks County. You always read that the area was remarkably tolerant thanks to the salutary influence of the Quakers. It’s conceivable that some less educated mill workers in this industrial valley had a different stance on race relations than the Quaker farmers.

My biggest question is why this name doesn’t appear elsewhere. George MacReynolds was the librarian of the Bucks County Historical Society, so he must have seen this atlas. Did he omit this place name on purpose? This map was published in 1876, when minstrel shows were a popular source of entertainment and played a significant role in exporting the stereotypes of Southern racism to the rest of the country. A quick Google search reveals that the term “Darkey Town” was used in the South to describe black neighborhoods, such as this one on the outskirts of Lebanon, Virginia. By the time MacReynolds published Place Names in 1942 the name would have been downright offensive. Likewise, MacReynolds may have purposefully omitted it because the Darkey Town label was a spurious editorial flourish by the mapmaker rather than a name that locals actually used to describe that area.

The next time I’m at the Spruance Library I’ll see what else I can find.

For a modern view:

If you enter Google Street View there are a few images of the ruins.