Categotry Archives: Langhorne

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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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Three Generations in Photographs

Categories: Ambrotype, Horsham, Langhorne, Lower Moreland, Middletown, Opalotype, Philadelphia, Photography, Portrait, Tintype

Alexander Porter (zoom)

(Click on any portrait to see the extremely detailed hi-res scan)

I purchased this collection of photographs a few months ago. In addition to the fact that they’re interesting photographs covering a wide span of time and including diverse photographic processes, I was primarily motivated to buy them because they came from Bucks County and the subjects were named. With a little research I was able to find out who they were and where they came were from.

The oldest is that of David Kerbaugh, a salted paper print that probably dates to before 1855. Kerbaugh was born in 1817 in Warrington Township, Bucks County. His father Justus later moved the family to Horsham, Montgomery County. He died in 1867 and was probably buried at Horsham Friends Meeting, where is wife and other members of the Kerbaugh family are buried.

David Kerbaugh

When fully zoomed in you can see the rough fibers characteristic of salted paper prints.

The next oldest are the portraits of his brother-in-law, George Palmer, and his daughter, Mary “Minnie” Augusta Kerbaugh. These are both ambrotypes, photographs made by pouring a liquid emulsion on a plate of glass. They’re the earlier style of ambrotype, in the photograph is taken on clear glass and black varnish is then painted on the back in order to make it a positive image. They date to about 1860.

George Palmer

The photographer hand-tinted his lips and cheeks.

The portrait of George Palmer is very small, a 1/16th plate measuring less than 2″, housed in a broken Union case made of hard plastic. The photo of Minnie Kerbaugh has clearly been altered. The metal frame holding the pane of glass is warped from being opened, and it is slightly too large for the leather case. It looks like the glass cover may have broken and been replaced with thicker glass that doesn’t fit correctly in the metal frame.

Mary "Minnie" Augusta Kerbaugh

Notice the red tinting on her cheeks and the green tinting on the shoulder of her dress.

Minnie remained single into her 50s, when she married Alexander Forbes Porter Jr., a widower who had employed her as a housekeeper for over a decade before their marriage. Porter spent most of his life in Philadelphia before moving to Langhorne.

The collection also contains an opalotype, a rare early form a photography created by pouring emulsion over white opaque glass. Unfortunately, it’s the only one that hasn’t been identified. Based on the family resemblance, the man is probably a Porter. It may be Alexander as a young man.

Porter Opalotype - Before

This opalotype was extremely faded before I touched it up. It was difficult to view at most angles. Also known as opalypes or milk glass positives, these photographs are made by pouring collodion emulsion on opaque white glass.

Porter Opalotype - After

After adjusting the levels and hue concentration, the subject is easier to see, as is the hand-tinted bow tie. The pigment on his chin was smudged, demonstrating how fragile the unprotected emulsion is. Zoom in to see the particles of pigment on the surface of the glass.

 

 

 

 

There are two other photos of Alexander, both tintypes, photos made by pouring a liquid emulsion on a piece of metal. The first shows Alexander (right) and his brother Richard (left), taken in Philadelphia on August 30th, 1892. This photo is still in its decorative paper sleeve. While early tintypes were housed in cases like daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, they were more often displayed in paper sleeves or specially designed books. Matting the image behind paper hides the irregular shape of the plate as well as the edge of the photo where the emulsion is uneven.

Alexander Forbes Porter Jr (left) & Richard Porter (right) in sleeve

 

Notice the line below Alexander's head where a swatch off emulsion is gone, exposing the iron plate below. This sort of damage usually occurs when a tintype is bent, causing the inflexible emulsion to break and fall off.

Notice the line below Alexander’s head where a swath off emulsion is gone, exposing the iron plate below. This sort of damage usually occurs when a tintype is bent, causing the inflexible emulsion to break and fall off.

The other photo shows Alexander standing with an unnamed man. Alexander looks a good bit older in this photo, having gained some weight and lost some hair. Based on these features, this photo may date to around 1900-1910.

Alexander Forbes Porter Jr. (left)

The last photo, also a tintype, shows Alexander’s son-in-law Clarence Luther Green. Born in Shippensbury in 1877, Clarence moved to Philadelphia where he married Lillian May Porter, Alexander’s daughter from his first marriage. The couple eventually moved to Langhorne. Clarence is seated on the left, and his friend Linford Logan is on the right. The photo was taken on August 31st, 1902.

Clarence Green & Linford Logan

When I purchased the collection of photographs, it contained the following letter:

Linford Logan Letter

John K. Logan was Linford’s brother. They grew up in Horsham, Montgomery County, before Linfored moved to west. John stayed in the area and lived in Lower Moreland until his death in 1961. He and Eva are buried in William Penn Cemetery.

It’s not clear which Mr. Green the letter is addressed to. Clarence was still alive, but a very old man. It may have been addressed to his son, Emerson P. Green.

It’s likely that this collection of photos was owned by Emerson. The note accompanying one photo of Alexander Porter refers to him as the grandfather of Emerson Green, indicating that they may have been identified for Emerson by an older relative. Emerson had no siblings and no children, so it makes sense that he would have been the last owner.

Emerson Porter Green died just last year on October 23rd, 2012, at the age of 97. His wife, Jean Mitchell Green, died this January. I bought these photos on eBay in March, so perhaps the seller bought the photos at their estate sale. Regardless, after being kept in the family for 150 years, they were sold a stranger. Usually a collection like this would be parted out and sold as individual pieces for more money. When family photographs are transformed into commodities they are stripped of their context and the identities of their subjects are usually lost. According to Emerson’s obituary, “He spent a large amount of his time volunteering at the Langhorne Historical Society where he was involved in archiving historical artifacts for the society.”

Given Emerson’s dedication to preserving local history, I’m glad that I was able to purchase them and save them from that nameless abyss.

Emerson and Jean Green are buried at Middletown Friends Meeting.

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A Trove of Documents Saved from Destruction

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Categories: Abolitionists, Buckingham, Graves, Langhorne, Maps, Middletown, Plumstead, Quakerism, Solebury

Petition to Congress

A few months ago my grandfather decided to a do a little spring cleaning. There was a storage unit in our barn that hadn’t been touched in years, full of mildewy furniture and worthless miscellany. He came across a metal container full of maps, mostly showing local topography and zoning. My aunt suggested that I might want them, so they escaped the trash heap.

When I got down to the barn I found a pile of mostly junk, covered in a plastic tarp because we were expecting rain. I found a few items worth keeping: the sled my great-grandmother had when she was a little girl growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, a wooden tricycle that belonged to my grandfather, and a few plastic trucks for my son to play with. I found the box of maps and popped open the latch, and immediately knew that the contents were far more important than my grandfather had realized.

There were dozens of maps, but among the rolls of paper I recognized a draft of the map my great-grandfather made for the Solebury Friends Meeting burial ground in the 1960s. Then I noticed another roll that was clearly a much older material. With the box sitting in the gravel driveway, I rolled the map out a few inches and discovered that it was in fact two maps rolled together.

SoleburyFriendsMeeting-Burial Map-1907(small)

The first was from 1907.

The second was from 1866.

They were the original maps that by great-grandfather used as a reference for the modern map, and they’d been sitting in our barn for decades, totally forgotten.

I called the person currently in charge of the graveyard to tell him about my find and offered to bring it to the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College to deposit it with the rest of the Meeting’s original records, and I held on to them for a few months until I had time to make the trip.

A couple weeks ago I finally I finally had a day off, and decided to bring the maps to Swarthmore. My timing was fortuitous. That Monday I led a graveyard tour at Plumstead Friends Meeting. We assembled in the meetinghouse, and as I led the group outside towards the burial ground, a woman approached me with a box of documents about the meeting. At the time I was too focused on the tour to discuss it, and suggested that she talk to the clerk of the meeting. The next day, however, I was consumed by curiosity. I already had plans to go down the the Friends Historical Library that week, and thought I might be able to bring those papers as well. Luckily I ran into her in Doylestown a couple days later and proposed that I take them for her. She agreed.

When she dropped the documents off the next day, she brought a lot more than the Plumstead material. She also brought a collection of documents from Buckingham Meeting, and there was so much that it took her two trips to unload it from her car.

The Plumstead material turned out to be the notes and research prepared for a pamphlet published for the meeting’s 225th anniversary celebration on 1953, as well as notes about the ceremony itself. There were also two large photographs that were used in the pamphlet, one from c.1875, and one from 1953.

The Buckingham material was rather varied. One box contained about a dozen copies of the book published for Buckingham Meeting’s 225th anniversary in 1923, as well as a block print of the meetinghouse that was used for that book. There was a folder with newspaper clippings and other 20th Century material. Finally, there was a cardboard box that had been saved from Buckingham Meeting by the woman’s father. At some point a few decades ago, the members of Buckingham meeting had decided to indiscriminately “clean” their attic, and this box was a subject of the purge. Like the burial map from Solebury, these documents were almost destroyed.

When I opened this final box I got goosebumps. I could tell by looking at the parchment that they were old. Really old. Most of them were tied together with string into little bundles, with a few groupings of loose papers between them. I saw the date “1776” peeking out from one of the bundles. When I brought them home and examined them further I found that some documents dated back to the beginning of the 1700s, and in addition to material from Buckingham, a lot of the documents actually came from Middletown Monthly Meeting. Most of them were excerpts from annual conference of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and epistles from the yearly meetings in London and Philadelphia. Some were testimony against members of meeting, or letters from people willingly leaving the Society of Friends. There were a few more recent documents that dealt with the Civil War. Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter written from a Quaker aid mission during the British occupation of Boston. She had kept them in storage for years, hoping to eventually deposit them in the archive, and I was finally able to bring them for her.

Swarthmore Donation - Stack of Papers

For the sake of brevity, I will show the individual documents in separate posts: