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Professor of History in the University of Michigan 











Professor of History in the University of Michigan 






THERE were negroes in the region around the Dela 
ware river before Pennsylvania was founded, in the 
days of the Dutch and the Swedes. As early as 1639 
mention is made of a convict sentenced to be taken to 
South River to serve among the blacks there. 1 In 1644 
Anthony, a negro, is spoken of in the service of Gov 
ernor Printz at Tinicum, making hay for the cattle, and 
accompanying the governor on his pleasure yacht. 3 In 
1657 Vice-director Alricks was accused of using the 
Company s oxen and negroes. Five years later Vice- 
director Beekman desired Governor Stuyvesant to send 
him a company of blacks. In 1664 negroes were wanted 
to work on the lowlands along the Delaware. A con 
tract was to be made for fifty, which the West India 
Company would furnish. 8 In the same year, when the 

1 Breviate. Dutch Records, no. 2, fol. 5. In 2 Pennsylvania Archives, 
XVI, 234. Cf. Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania, 49. The " Proposed 
Freedoms and Exemptions for New Netherland," 1640, say, " The Com 
pany shall exert itself to provide the Patroons and Colonists, on their 
order with as many Blacks as possible "... 2 Pa. Arch., V, 74. 

2 C. T. Odhner. "The Founding of New Sweden, 1637-1642", trans 
lated by G. B. Keen in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 
III, 277. 

8 Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania, 331; O Callaghan, Documents rela 
tive to the Colonial History of the State of New York, II, 213, 214. The 
Report of the Board of Accounts on New Netherland, Dec. 15, 1644, had 
spoken of the need of negroes, the economy of their labor, and had rec 
ommended the importation of large numbers. 2 Pa. Arch., V, 88. See 
also Davis, History of Bucks County, 793. 



English captured New Amstel, afterward New Castle, 
the place was plundered, and a number of negroes were 
confiscated and sold. From Peter Alricks several were 
taken ; of these eleven were restored to him. 4 At least a 
few were living on the shores of the Delaware River in 
1 677." A year later an emissary was sent by the jus 
tices of New Castle to request most urgently permission 
to import negroes from Maryland. 8 

Thus negroes had been brought into the country be 
fore Pennsylvania was founded. Immediately after 
Penn s coming there is record of them in his first 
counties. They were certainly present in Philadelphia 
County in 1684, and in Chester in 1687. Penn himself 
noticed them in his charter to the Free Society of 
Traders. In 1702 they were spoken of as numerous." 
By that time merchants of Philadelphia made the im- 

* 2 Pa. Arch., XVI, 255, 256; Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania, 372. Sir 
Robert Carr, writing to Colonel Nicholls, Oct. 13, 1664, says, " I have 
already sent into Merryland some Neegars w c h did belong to the late 
Governor att his plantation above "... 2 Pa. Arch., V, 578. 

5 The Records of the Court of New Castle give a list of the " Names of 
the Tijdable prsons Living in this Courts Jurisdiction " in which occur 
" three negros": " i negro woman of Mr. Moll ", " i neger of Mr. Al- 
richs ", " Sam Hedge and neger ". Book A, 197-201. Quoted in Pa. Mag., 
Ill, 352-354. For the active trade in negroes at this time cf. MS. Board 
of Trade Journals, II, 307. 

6 " Wth out wch wee cannot subsist "... MS. New Castle Court 
Records, Liber A, 406. Hazard, Annals, 456. 

7 " Ik hebbe geen vaste Dienstbode, als een Neger die ik gekocht heb." 
Missive van Cornells Bom, Geschreven uit de Stadt Philadelphia, etc., 3. 
(Oct. 12, 1684). " Man hat hier auch Zwartzen oder Mohren zu Schlaven 
in der Arbeit." Letter, probably of Hermans Op den Graeff, German- 
town, Feb. 12, 1684, in Sachse, Letters relating to the Settlement of 
Germantown, 25. Cf. also MS. in American Philosophical Society s col 
lection, quoted in Pa. Mag., VII, 106: " Lacey Cocke hath A negroe " 
. . . , " Pattrick Robbinson-Robert neverbeegood his negor sarvant "... 
" The Defendts negros " are mentioned in a suit for damages in 1687. 
See MS. Court Records of Penna. and Chester Co., 1681-1688, p. 72. 

8 MS. Ancient Records of Philadelphia, 28 7th mo., 1702. 


portation of negroes a regular part of their business. 
Thenceforth they are a noticeable factor in the life of 
the colony. 

While there was an active demand for negroes, there 
was, nevertheless, almost from the first, strong opposi 
tion to importing them. This is evident from the fact 
that during the colonial period the Assembly of Pennsyl 
vania passed a long series of acts imposing restrictions 
upon the traffic. In 1700 a maximum duty of twenty 
shillings was imposed on each negro imported. Five years 
later this duty was doubled. 10 By that time there had 
arisen a strong adverse sentiment, due partly to economic 
causes, since the white workmen complained that their 
wages were lowered by negro competition, and partly 
to fear aroused by an insurrection of slaves in New 
York." Accordingly in 1712 the Assembly very boldly 
passed an act to prevent importation, seeking to accom 
plish this purpose by making the duty twenty pounds 
a head. The law was immediately repealed in England, 
the Crown not being disposed to tolerate such independ 
ent action, nor willing to allow interference with the 
African Company s trade. 12 Either the local feeling was 
too strong, or the requirements were less, since in spite 
of this failure there was for a while a falling off in the 

8 MS. William Trent s Ledger, 156. For numerous references to ne 
groes brought from Barbadoes, see MS. Booke of acc tts Relating to the 
Barquentine Constant Ailse And w : Dykes mast r : from Marfth 2jth 1700 
( 1702). (Pa. State Lib.) 

10 Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania (edited by J. T. Mitchell and 
Henry Flanders), II, 107. Ibid., II, 285. The act of 1705-1706 was re 
peated in 1710-1711. Ibid., II, 383. Cf. Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, 
II. 529, 530. 

11 Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Prov 
ince of Pennsylvania, I, pt. II, 132. Stat. at L., II, 433. 

13 MS. Board of Trade Papers, Proprieties, IX, Q, 39, 42. Stat. at L., 
II, 543, 544- 


number imported. 13 A more moderate duty of five 
pounds was imposed in 1715, but again the English 
authorities interposed, repealing it in 1719. Meanwhile 
an act to continue this duty had been passed in 1717- 
1718, but apparently it was not submitted to the Crown. 
In 1720-1721 the five pound duty was again imposed, 
this act also not being submitted. In 1722 the duty was 
repeated, and once more the law expired by limitation 
before it was sent up for approval." 

Up to this time restrictive legislation had been largely 
frustrated. It had encountered not only the disapproval 
of certain classes in Pennsylvania, but the powerful 
opposition of the African Company, which could count 
on the decisive interposition of the Lords of Trade. 18 
The Assembly accordingly submitted the acts long after 
they had been passed, and made new laws before the 
old ones had been disallowed. 16 Nevertheless the number 

13 Jonathan Dickinson, a merchant of Philadelphia, writing to a cor 
respondent in Jamaica, 4th month, 1715, says, " I must entreat you to 
send me no more negroes for sale, for our people don t care to buy. They 
are generally against any coming into the country." I have been unable 
to find this letter. Watson, who quotes it (Annals of Philadelphia, II, 
264), says, " Vide the Logan MSS." Cf. also a letter of George Tiller 
of Kingston, Jamaica, to Dickinson, 1712. MS. Logan Papers, VIII, 47. 

u Stat. at L., Ill, 117, 118; MS. Board of Trade Papers, Prop., X, 2, 
Q, 159; Stat. at L., Ill, 465; Col. Rec., Ill, 38, 144, 171- During this 
period negroes were being imported through the custom-house at the 
rate of about one hundred and fifty a year. Cf. Votes and Proceedings, 
II, 251. 

15 In 1727 the iron-masters of Pennsylvania petitioned for the entire 
removal of the duty, labor being so scarce. Votes and Proceedings, 1726- 
1742, p. 31. The attitude of the English authorities is explained in a 
report of Richard Jackson, March 2, 1774. on one of the Pennsylvania 
impost acts. " The Increase of Duty on Negroes in this Law is Mani 
festly inconsistent with the Policy adopted by your Lordships and your 
Predecessors for the sake of encouraging the African Trade "... Board 
of Trade Papers, Prop., XXIII, Z, 54- 

18 Votes and Proceedings, II, 152; Col. Rec., II, 572, 573 J i Pa- Arch., 
I, 160-162; Votes and Proceedings, 1766, pp. 45, 46. For a complaint 
against this practice cf. " Copy of a Representat* of the Board of Trade 
upon some Pennsylvania Laws " (1713-1714). MS. Board of Trade Papers, 
Plantations General, IX, K, 35. 


of blacks in the colony had steadily increased, and in 
1721 was estimated to be somewhere between twenty- 
five hundred and five thousand." The wrath of the 
white laborers was correspondingly increased, and in 
this year they presented to the Assembly a petition 
asking for a law to prevent the hiring of blacks. The 
Assembly resolved that such a law would be injurious 
to the public and unjust to those who owned negroes 
and hired them out, but the restrictions on importing 
them were maintained. 18 In 1725-1726 the five pound 
duty was imposed again, and in the same year five 
pounds extra was placed upon every convict negro 
brought into the colony. This became law by lapse of 
time. 19 

In 1729 the duty was reduced to two pounds. This 
duty continued in force for a generation, satisfactory 
partly because the opposition to importing negroes 
seems to have been less strong, partly because white 
servants proved to be cheaper and more adapted to in 
dustrial demands. 20 The newspaper advertisements an 
nounce the arrival of many more cargoes of servants 
than of negroes ; this notwithstanding the fact that white 
servants frequently ran away, often to enlist in the wars. 
Referring to this fact a message from the Assembly to 
the governor says that while the King has seemed to de 
sire the importation of servants rather than of negroes, 

17 O Callaghan, N. Y. Col. Docs., V, 604. 

18 Votes and Proceedings, II, 347. 

19 Stat. at L. f IV, 52-56, 60; Col. Rec., Ill, 247, 248, 250. 

20 Stat. at L., IV, 123-128; Col. Rec., Ill, 359; Smith, History of Dela 
ware County, 261. For a while, no doubt, there was a considerable influx. 
Ralph Sandiford says (1730), " We have negroes flocking in upon us 
since the duty on them is reduced to 40 shillings per head." Mystery of 
Iniquity, (2d ed.), 5. Many of these were smuggled in from New 
Jersey, where there was no duty from 1721 to 1767. Cooley, A Study of 
Slavery in New Jersey, 15, 16. 


yet the enlistment acts make such property so pre 
carious, that it seems to depend on the will of the servant 
and the pleasure of the officer. 21 Nevertheless the num 
ber of negroes brought in steadily dwindled. By 1750 
importation had nearly ceased. 22 

A few years later the great efforts made in the last 
French and Indian War caused loud complaints again 
about enlisting servants. It was feared that people 
would be driven to the necessity of providing themselves 
with negro slaves, as property in them seemed more 
secure. This is probably just what occurred, for the 
increase of negroes is said to have been alarming. 23 As 
a result restrictive legislation was tried again in 1761, 
when the duty was made ten pounds. The law was 
carried only after considerable effort. While the bill 
was in the hands of the governor a petition was sent to 
him, signed by twenty-four merchants of Philadelphia, 
who set forth the scarcity and high price of labor, and 
their need of slaves. After two months contest the bill 
was passed. One provision of the act was that a new 
settler need not pay the duty if he did not sell his slave 
within eighteen months. 24 In 1768 this act was renewed. 

21 Cargoes of servants are advertised in the American Weekly Mercury, 
the Pennsylvania Packet, and the Pennsylvania Gazette, passim. As to 
enlistment of servants cf. Mercury, Gazette, Aug. 7, 1740; Col. Rec., IV, 
437. Complaint about this had been made as early as 1711. Votes and 
Proceedings, II, 101, 103. 

22 Smith, History of Delaware County, 261; Peter Kalm, Travels into 
North America, etc., (1748), I, 391. 

23 Col. Rec., VII, 37, 38. 

24 Stat. at L., VI, 104-110; Votes and Proceedings, 1761, pp. 25, 29, 33, 
38, 39, 40, 41, 52, 55, 63; Col. Rec., VIII, 575, 576. "The Petition of 
Divers Merchants of the City of Philadelphia, To The Honble James 
Hamilton Esqr. Lieut. Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, Hum 
bly Sheweth, That We the Subscribers . . . have seen for some time past, 
the many inconveniencys the Inhabitants have suffer d, for want of La 
bourers, and Artificers, by Numbers being Inlisted for His Majestys 


In 1773 it was made perpetual, the former law having 
been found to be of great public utility ; but the duty was 
raised to twenty pounds. Once more the act became law 
by lapse of time. 25 

The act of 1773 was the last one which the Assembly 
passed to limit the importation of negroes. Not only 
was the duty sufficiently high, now, but its presence was 
hardly needed. 26 A silent but powerful movement was 
overthrowing slavery in Pennsylvania; and in a short 
time the outbreak of the Revolutionary War brought 
the traffic to an end. Shortly thereafter, in 1780, the 
state did what England had never permitted while she 
held authority: forbade the importation of slaves en 
tirely. 27 

The real reason for the passage of these laws is not 
always clear. They may have been passed either to keep 
negroes out, 28 or to raise revenue for the govern- 

Service and near a total stop to the importation of German and other 
white Servants, have for some time encouraged the importation of 
Negros, . . . that an advantage may be gain d by the Introduction of 
Slaves, w c h will likewise be a means of reduceing the exorbitant Price of 
Labour, and in all Probability bring our staple Commoditys to their usual 
Prices." MS. Provincial Papers, XXV, March i, 1761. 

25 Stat. at L., VII, 158, 159; VIII, 330-332; Col. Rec., IX, 400, 401, 
443, ff.; X, 72, 77. The Board of Trade Journals, LXXXII, 47, (May 
5, 1774), say that their lordships had some discourse with Dr. Franklin 
" upon the objections ... to ... imposing Duties amounting to a pro 
hibition upon the Importation of Negroes." 

26 Cf. MS. Provincial Papers, XXXII, January, 1775. 

27 Stat. at L., X, 72, 73. It was forbidden by implication rather than 
specific regulation. It had been foreseen that an act for gradual abolition 
entailed stopping the importation of negroes. Pa. Packet, Nov. 28, 1778; 
i Pa. Arch., VII, 79- 

28 Professor E. P. Cheyney in an article written some years ago (" The 
Condition of Labor in Early Pennsylvania, I. Slavery," in The Manufac- 
urer, Feb. 2, 1891, p. 8) considers these laws to have been restrictive in 
purpose, and gives three causes for their passage, in the following order 
of importance: (a) dread of slave insurrections, (b) opposition of the 
free laboring classes to slave competition, (c) conscientious objections. I 


ment. 28 An analysis of the laws themselves seems to 
show that both of these purposes were constantly in 
mind. 30 When, however, they are taken in connection 
with matters which they themselves do not mention, 
namely, the predominance of the Quakers in the colonial 
Assembly together with the abhorrence which they felt 
for the slave-trade and later for slavery itself, 31 it be- 

cannot think that this is correct, (a) seems to have been the impelling 
motive only in connection with the law of 1712, and seems rarely to have 
been thought of. It was urged in 1740, 1741, and 1742, when efforts were 
being made to pass a militia law in Pennsylvania, but it attracted little 
attention. Cf. MS. Board of Trade Papers, Prop., XV, T: 54, 57, 60. 

28 In a MS. entitled " William Penn s Memorial to the Lords of Trade 
relating to several laws passed in Pensilvania," assigned to the year 1690 
in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but probably 
belonging to a later period, is the following: " These . . . Acts ... to Raise 
money ... to defray publick Exigences in such manner as after a Mature 
deliberacon they thought would not be burthensom particularly in the Act 
for laying a Duty on Negroes "... MS. Pa. Miscellaneous Papers, 1653- 
1724, p. 24. 

80 1700. 20 shillings for negroes over sixteen years of age, 6 for those 
under sixteen. No cause given. Apparently (terms of the act) revenue. 
1705-1706. 40 shillings a draw-back of one half if the negro be re- 
exported within six months. Apparently revenue. 1710. 40 shillings 
excepting those imported by immigrants for their own use, and not sold 
within a year. Almost certainly (preamble) re-venue. 1712. 20 pounds. 
The causes were a dread of insurrection because of the negro uprising 
in New York, and the Indians dislike of the importation of Indian 
slaves. Purpose undoubtedly restriction. 1715. 5 pounds. Apparently 
(character of the provisions) restriction and revenue. 1717-1718. 5 
pounds. To continue the preceding. Restriction and revenue. 1720- 
1721. 5 pounds. To continue the preceding. Revenue (preamble) and 
restriction. 1722. 5 pounds. To continue provisions of previous acts. 
Revenue and restriction. 1725-1726. 5 pounds. Revenue and restric 
tion. 1729. 2 pounds. Reduction made probably because since 1712 none 
of the laws had been allowed to stand for any length of time, and because 
there had been much smuggling. Revenue and restriction. 1761. 10 
pounds. No cause given for the increase. Restriction and revenue. 
1768. Preceding continued " of public utility." Restriction and reve 
nue. 1773. Preceding made perpetual "of great public utility" 
but duty raised to 20 pounds. Restriction. Cf. Stat. at L., II, 107, 285, 
383, 433J HI, "7, 159, 238, 275; IV, 52, 123; VI, 104; VII, 158; VIII, 

81 See below, chapters IV and V. 


comes probable that the predominant motive was restric 
tion. 82 It is also probable that while the obtaining of 
revenue was the obvious motive in many of these acts, 
yet revenue was so raised precisely because Pennsylva 
nia desired to keep negroes out; that imported slaves 
were taxed largely for reasons similar to those which 
caused the Stuarts to tax colonial tobacco, and which 
lead modern governments to tax spirituous liquors and 
opium. It may be added that Pennsylvania always held, 
both in colonial times and afterwards, that England 
forced slavery upon her. That there was much justice 
in this complaint the failure of the earlier legislation 
goes far to sustain. 88 

The negroes imported were brought sometimes in 
cargoes, more often a few at a time. They came mostly 
from the West Indies, many being purchased in Barba- 
does, Jamaica, Antigua, and St. Christophers. 84 As a 

32 " Man hat besonders in Pensylvanien den Grundsatz angenoramen ihre 
Einfiihrung so viel moglich abzuhalten" . . . Achenivall s in Gottingen iiber 
Nordamerika und iiber dasige Grosbritannische Colonien aus mundlichen 
Nachrichten des Herrn Dr. Franklins . . . Anmerkungen, 24, 25. (About 

^Stat. at L., X, 67, 68; i Pa. Arch., I, 306. Cf. Mr. Woodward s 
speech, Jan. 19, 1838, Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of the 
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to Propose Amendments to the Consti 
tution, etc., X, 1 6, 17. 

84 " Aus Pennsylvanien . . . fahren gen Barbadoes, Jamaica und Antego. 
Von dar bringen sie zuriick . . . Negros." Daniel Falkner, Curieuse Nach- 
richt von Pennsylvania in Norden- America, etc., (1702), 192. For a ne 
gro woman from Jamaica (1715), see MS. Court Papers, Philadelphia 
County, 1619-1732. Also numerous advertisements in the newspapers. 
Mercury, Apr. 17, 1729, (Barbadoes); July 31, 1729, (Bermuda); July 
23. 1730, (St. Christophers); Jan. 21, 1739, (Antigua). Oldmixon, speak 
ing of Pennsylvania, says, " Negroes sell here . . . very well; but not by the 
Ship Loadings, as they have sometimes done at Maryland and Virginia." 
(1741.) British Empire in America, etc., (2d ed.), I, 316. Cf. however the 
following: "A PARCEL of likely Negro Boys and Girls just arrived in 
the Sloop Charming Sally ... to be sold ... for ready Money, Flour or 
Wheat "... Advt. in Pa. Gazette, Sept. 4, 1740. For a consignment of 
seventy see MS. Provincial Papers, XXVII, Apr. 26, 1766. 


rule they were imported by the merchants of Philadel 
phia, and, being received in exchange for grain, flour, 
lumber, and staves, helped to make up the balance of 
trade between Philadelphia and the islands. 85 A few 
seem to have been obtained directly from Africa. When 
so brought, however, they were found to be unable to 
endure the winter cold in Pennsylvania, so that it was 
considered preferable to buy the second generation in 
the West Indies, after they had become acclimated. 38 
Some were brought from other colonies on the main 
land, particularly those to the south. At times Penn 
sylvania herself exported a few to other places. 31 The 
prices paid in the colony naturally fluctuated from time 
to time in accordance with supply and demand, and 
varied within certain limits according to the age and 
personal qualities of each negro. The usual price for 
an adult seems to have been somewhere near forty 
pounds. 38 

35 Cf. MS. William Trent s Ledger, "Negroes" (1703-1708). Isaac 
Norris, Letter Book, 75, 76 (1732). For a statement of profit and loss 
on two imported negroes, see ibid., 77. In this case Isaac Norris acted as 
a broker, charging five per cent. For the wheat and flour trade with 
Barbadoes, see A Letter from Doctor More . . . Relating to the . . . 
Province of Pennsylvania, 5. (1686). 

38 Some were probably brought from Africa by pirates. Cf. MS. Board 
of Trade Papers, Prop., Ill, 285, 286; IV, 369; V, 408. The hazard 
involved in the purchase of negroes is revealed in the following: " Acco* 
of Negroes D r to Tho. Willen 17: io for a New Negro Man ... 15 and 
50 Sh. more if he live to the Spring "... MS. James Logan s Account 
Book, 91, (1714). As to the effect of cold weather upon negroes, Isaac 
Norris, writing to Jonathan Dickinson in 1703, says, . . . "they re So 
Chilly they Can hardly Stir fro the fire and Wee have Early beginning 
for a hard Wint r ." MS. Letter Book, 1702-1704, p. 109. In 1748 Kalm 
says, ..." the toes and fingers of the former " (negroes) " are frequently 
frozen." Travels, I, 392. 

37 Mercury, Sept. 26, 1723. MS. Penn Papers, Accounts (unbound), 
27 3d mo., 1741. Also Calendar of State Papery America and West 
Indies, 1697-1698, p. 390; Col. Rec., IV, 515; Pa. Mag., XXVII, 320. 

88 A Report of the Royal African Company, Nov. 2, 1680, purports to 


As to the number of negroes in Pennsylvania at dif 
ferent times during the colonial period almost any esti 
mate is at best conjecture. Not only are there few 
official reports, but these reports, in the absence of any 
definite census, are of little value. 89 Apparently one of 
the best estimates was that made in 1721, which stated 
the number of blacks at anywhere between 2,500 and 
5,000.* In 1751 it was at least widely believed that 

show the first cost: " That the Negros cost them the first price 5li: and 
4li: 153. the freight, besides 25!! p cent which they lose by the usual 
mortality of the Negros." MS. Board of Trade Journals, III, 229. The 
selling price had been considered immoderate four years previous. Ibid., 
I, 236. In 1723 Peter Baynton sold " a negroe man named Jemy ... 30 
." Loose sheet in Peter Baynton s Ledger. In 1729 a negro twenty-five 
years old brought 35 pounds in Chester County. MS. Chester County 
Papers, 89. The Moravians of Bethlehem purchased a negress in 1748 for 
70 pounds. Pa. Mag., XXII, 503. Peter Kalm (1748) says that a full 
grown negro cost from 40 pounds to 100 pounds; a child of two or three 
years, 8 pounds to 14 pounds. Travels, I, 393, 394. Mittelberger (1750) 
says 200 to 350 florins (33 to 58 pounds). Journey to Pennsylvania in the 
Year 1750, etc., 106. Franklin (1751) in a very careful estimate thought 
that the price would average about 30 pounds. Works (ed. Sparks), II, 
314. Acrelius (about 1759) says 30 to 40 pounds. Description of . . . New 
Sweden, etc. (translation of W. M. Reynolds, 1874, in Memoirs of the 
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, XI), p. 168. A negro iron-worker 
brought 50 pounds at Bethlehem in 1760. Pa. Mag., XXII, 503. In 
1790 Edward Shippen writes of a slave who cost him 100 pounds. Ibid., 
VII, 31. It is probable that the value of a slave was roughly about three 
times that of a white servant. Cf. Votes and Proceedings (1764), V, 308. 

88 In 1708 the Board of Trade requested the governor of Pennsylvania 
that very definite information on a variety of subjects relating to the 
negro be transmitted thereafter half yearly. Were these records available 
they would be worth more than all the remaining information. Cf. MS. 
Provincial Papers, I, April 15, 1708; i Pa. Arch., I, 152, 153. 

40 N. Y. Col. Docs., V, 604. As to the necessity for allowing so large 
a margin in these figures cf. the following. " The number of the whites 
are said to be Sixty Thousand, and of the Black about five Thousand." 
Col. Hart s Answer, etc., MS. Board of Trade Papers, Prop., XI, R: 7. 
(1720). " The number of People in this Province may be computed to 
above 40,000 Souls amongst whom we have scarce any Blacks except a 
few Household Servants in the City of Philadelphia "... Letter of Sir 
William Keith, ibid., XI, R: 42. (1722). Another communication gave 
the true state of the case, if not the exact numbers. " This Government 
has not hitherto had Occasion to use any methods that can furnish us 


there were in Philadelphia 6,000, and it is asserted that 
the total number in Pennsylvania including the Lower 
Counties was i i,ooo. 41 It is probable that the same num 
ber was not much exceeded in Pennsylvania proper at 
any time before 1790. In these estimates no attempt was 
made to distinguish the free from the slaves. The num 
ber of slaves, it is true, was very near the total at both 
these periods, but after the middle of the century it be 
gan dwindling as the number of negro servants and free 
men increased. In 1780 a careful estimate placed the 
slaves at 6,ooo. 42 According to the Federal census of 
1790 the number of negroes in Pennsylvania was 
io,274. 43 

Of these negroes the great majority throughout the 
slavery period were located in the southeastern part of 
Pennsylvania, in and around Philadelphia. There were 
many in Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Montgomery, and 
York counties. There were negroes near the site of 

with an exact Estimate, but as near as can at present be guessed there 
may be about Forty -five thousand Souls of Whites and four thousand 
Blacks." Major Gordon s answer to Queries, ibid., XIII, S: 34. (1730- 

41 William Douglass, A Summary, Historical and Political, . . . of the 
British Settlements in North- America, etc. (ed. 1755), II, 324; Abiel 
Holmes, American Annals, etc., II, 187; Bancroft, History of the United 
States (author s last revision), II, 391. 

42 Letter in Pa, Packet, Jan i, 1780. This made allowance for the num 
erous runaways during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Also ibid., 
Dec. 25, 1779; i Pa. Arch., XI, 74, 75. For a higher estimate, 10,000, for 
1780 but made in 1795, see MS. Collection of the Records of the Pa. 
Society for the Abolition of Slavery, etc., IV, in. 

43 Slaves, 3,737; free, 6,537. Other enumerations occur, but are evi 
dently without value. Oldmixon (1741), 3,600. British Empire in 
America, I, 321. Burke (1758), about 6,000. An Account of the Euro 
pean Settlements in America, II, 204. Abbe Raynal (1766), 30,000. A 
Philosophical and Political History of the British Settlements ... in North 
America (tr. 1776), I, 163. A communication to the Earl of Dartmouth 
(1773), 2,000. MS. Provincial Papers, Jan. 1775; i Pa. Arch., IV, 597- 
Smyth (1782), over 100,000. A Tour in the United States of America, 
etc., II, 309. 


Columbia by 1726. John Harris had slaves by the Sus- 
quehanna as early as 1733. In 1759 Hugh Mercer 
wrote from the vicinity of Pittsburg asking for two 
negro girls and a boy. The tax-lists and local accounts 
reveal their presence in many other places. 44 Doubtless 
a few might be traced wherever white people settled 
permanently. In general it may be said that they were 
owned in the English, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish commu 
nities. The Germans as a rule held no slaves. 

Where negroes were owned they were for the most 
part evenly distributed, there being few large holdings. 
In rare instances a considerable number is recorded as 
belonging to one man, and the iron-masters generally 
had several. The tax-lists, however, indicate that the 
average holding was one or two, except in Philadelphia 
among the wealthier classes where it was double that 
number. 48 

The character of slavery in Pennsylvania was in 
many respects unique, but in no way was this so true as 
in connection with the number of negroes held. Gener 
ally speaking, the farther south a section lay the more 

44 MS. (Samuel Wright), A Journal of Our Rem(oval) from Chester 
and Darby (to) Conestogo . . . 1726, copied by A. C. Myers; Morgan, An 
nals of Harrisburg, 9-11; Col. Rec., VIII, 305, 306. Tax-lists printed in 
3 Pa. Arch. Also Davis, Hist, of Bucks Co., 793 ; Futhey and Cope, Hist, 
of Chester Co., 423 425; Ellis and Evans, Hist, of Lancaster Co., 301; 
Gibson, Hist, of York Co., 498; Bean, Hist, of Montgomery Co., 302; 
Lytle, Hist, of Huntingdon Co., 182; Blackman, Hist, of Susquehanna 
Co., 72; Creigh, Hist, of Washington Co., 362; Bausman, Hist, of Beaver 
Co., I, 152, 153; Linn, Annals of Buffalo Valley, 66-74; Peck, Wyoming; 
its History, etc., 240. 

45 MS. Assessment Books, Chester Co., 1765, p. 197; 1768, p. 326; 1780, 
p. 95; MS. Assessment Book, Phila. Co., 1769. As early as 1688 Henry 
Jones of Moyamensing had thirteen negroes. MS. Phila. Wills, Book A, 
84. An undated MS. entitled " A List of my Negroes " shows that Jona 
than Dickinson had thirty-two. Dickinson Papers, unclassified. An 
owner in York County is said to have had one hundred and fifty. 3 Pa. 
Arch., XXI, 71. This is probably a misprint. 


slaves did it possess. Thus there were fewer in New 
England than in the middle colonies ; there were fewer 
there than in the South. But to this rule Pennsylvania 
was an exception, for it had fewer negroes than New 
Jersey, and not half so many as New York. 48 This was 
due to two sets of causes : the first, ethical ; the second, 
economic. The first of these are easily understood. 
They resulted from the character of many of the people 
who settled Pennsylvania, their dislike for slavery, and 
their refusal to hold slaves. The second are not so 
easily traceable, but were doubtless more powerful in 
their influence, for they were owing to the character of 
Pennsylvania s industrial growth. 

The plantation system, which is most favorable to the 
increase of slavery, never appeared in Pennsylvania. 
During the whole of the eighteenth century the activ 
ities of the colony developed along two lines not favor 
able to negro labor : small farming, and manufacturing 
and commerce. 47 The small farms were almost always 
held by people who were too poor to purchase slaves, at 
least for a long while, and the kind of farming was not 
such as to make slavery particularly profitable. In com 
merce no large number of negroes was ever employed, 
while manufacturing demanded a higher grade of labor 
than slaves could give. It is true that in some cases 
where there was an approach to the factory system, and 
where the work was rough and needed little skill, slaves 
could answer every purpose. For this reason at the old 

46 In 1790 the numbers were as follows: New York, 21,324 slaves, 4,654 
free, total 25,978; New Jersey, 11,423 slaves, 4,402 free, total 15,825; 
Pennsylvania, 3,737 slaves, 6,537 free, total 10,274. 

47 On Pennsylvania s amazing commercial and industrial activity see 
Anderson, Historical and Chronological Deductions of the Origin of Com 
merce, etc. (1762), III, 75-77. 


ironworks negroes were in demand. 48 As a rule, how 
ever, this was not the case. It was because of its indus 
trial character that Pennsylvania was peculiarly the 
colony of indentured white servants. 

Furthermore, ethical and economic influences inter 
acted with subtle and powerful force. Barring all other 
considerations, the cost of a slave was a considerable 
item, not to be afforded by a struggling settler ; hence 
slavery never attained magnitude on the frontier. Be 
fore 1700 Pennsylvania was all frontier; hence it had 
very few negroes. In the period from 1700 to about 
1750 the country between the Delaware and the Susque- 
hanna was filled up, and the early conditions largely dis 
appeared. It was then that the greatest number of 
negroes was introduced. In the period between the 
middle of the century and the Revolution this older 
country became well developed and prosperous ; farms 
became larger and better cultivated ; there were numer 
ous respectable manufacturers and wealthy merchants. 
These men could easily afford to have slaves, and large 
importations might have been expected ; but there was 
no great influx of negroes. Economic conditions were 
favorable, but ethical influences worked strongly against 
it. In this eastern half of Pennsylvania two racial ele 
ments predominated: the Germans and the English 
Quakers. The Germans had abstained from slave- 
holding from the first ; * the Quakers were now coming 
to abhor it. 50 The same play of causes was seen again in 
the " old West." After 1750 in the mountains and val 
leys beyond the Susquehanna the earlier frontier condi- 

48 See below, p. 41. 

48 See below, chapters IV and V. 

60 See below, ibid. 


tions were lived over again. Here the settlers were 
largely Scotch-Irish, and had no dislike for slavery, but 
as yet .the conditions of their life did not favor it. When 
finally western Pennsylvania passed out of the frontier 
stage, and its inhabitants could purchase negroes, the 
days of slavery in Pennsylvania were nearly over. 51 For 
all of these reasons from first to last Pennsylvania s 
slave population remained small. 

51 Nevertheless slavery took root in the western counties, and lingered 
there longer than anywhere else in Pennsylvania. 


THE legal origin of slavery * in Pennsylvania is not 
easy to discover, for the statute of 1700, which seems to 
have recognized slavery there, is, like similar statutes in 
some of the other American colonies, very indirect and 
uncertain in its wording. Before this time, it is true, 
there occur instances where negroes were held for life, 
so that undoubtedly there was de facto slavery ; but by 
what authority it existed, or how it began, is not clear. 
It may have grown up to meet the necessities of a new 
country. It may have been an inheritance from earlier 
colonists. More probably still, it developed by diverg 
ing from temporary servitude which, in the case of white 
servants at least, flourished among the earliest English 
settlers in the region. 

It is probable that slavery existed among the Dutch of 
New Netherland, and possibly among the Swedes along 
the Delaware.* In 1664 their settlements passed under 
English authority. To regulate them the so-called 
" Duke of York s Laws " were promulgated. Mean 
while around the estuary of the Delaware English col 
onists were settling with their negroes. In 1676, five 

1 Throughout this work the fundamental distinction between the words 
" slave " and " servant," as used in the text, is that " slave " denotes a 
person held for life, " servant " a person held for a term of years only. 

* Cf. O Callaghan, Voyages of the Slavers St. John and Arms of Am 
sterdam, etc., 100, for a bill of sale, 1646. Sprinchorn, Kolonien Nya 
Sveriges Historia, 217. 

3 17 


years before Penn set out for his .territories, the Duke s 
laws seem to have been obeyed in part of the Delaware 
River country. 8 In these laws servants for life are ex 
plicitly mentioned. In them it is also ordained that no 
Christian shall be held in bond slavery or villenage. 4 
This latter may be a tacit permission to hold heathen 
negroes as slaves. 

Not much can be based upon the Duke of York s laws 
since their meaning upon this latter point is doubtful. 
Moreover, when Penn founded his colony they were 
superseded after a short time by laws enacted in Penn 
sylvania assemblies. In the years following at first no 
act was passed recognizing slavery, but that some slaves 
were held there is apparent. Numerous little pieces of 
evidence may be accumulated indicating that there were 
negroes who were not being held as servants for a term 
of years, nor does anything appear to indicate that this 
was looked upon as illegal. 5 In 1685 William Penn, 

MS. Record of the Court at Upland in Penn., Sept. 25, 1676. 

4 " No Christian shall be kept in Bondslavery villenage or Captivity, 
Except Such who shall be Judged thereunto by Authority, or such as 
willingly have sould, or shall sell themselves," . . . Laws of the Province 
of Pennsylvania . . . preceded by the Duke of York s Laws, etc., 12. 
This is not to prejudice any masters " who have . . . Apprentices for 
Terme of Years, or other Servants for Term of years or Life." Ibid., 12. 
Another clause directs that " No Servant, except such are duly so for 
life, shall be Assigned over to other Masters ... for above the 
Space of one year, unless for good reasons offered ". Ibid., 38. 

B There is an evident distinction intended in the following: " A List of 
the Tydable psons James Sanderling and slave John Test and servant." 
One follows the other. MS. Rec. Court at Upland, Nov. 13, 1677. In 
1686 the price of a negro, 30 pounds, named in a law-suit, is probably 
that of a slave. MS. Minute Book. Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions. 
Bucks Co., 1684-1730, pp. 56, 57. A will made in 1694 certainly disposed 
of the within mentioned negroes for life. " I do hereby give . . . pow r ... to 
my s d Exers . . . eith r to lett or hire out my five negroes . . . and pay my s d 
wife the one half of their wages Yearly during her life or OthTwise give 
her such Compensacon for her infest therein as shee and my s d Exers 
shall agree upon and my will is that the other half of their s d wages 


writing to his steward at Pennsbury, said that it would 
be better to have blacks to work the place, since they 
might be held for life." In the same year by the terms of 
a recorded deed a negro was sold to a new master " for 
ever." 7 Three years later the Friends of Germantown 
issued their celebrated protest against slavery, 8 while in 
1693 George Keith denounced the practice of enslaving 
men and holding them in perpetual bondage. 8 Mean 
while no law was made authorizing slavery in the col 
ony, and no court seems to have been called upon to de 
cide whether slavery was legal. It is not until 1700 that a 
statute was passed bearing upon the subject. In that 
year a law for the regulation of servants contains a sec 
tion designed to prevent the embezzlement by servants 
of their masters goods. This section asserts that the 
servant if white shall atone for such theft by additional 

shall be equally Devided between my aforsd Children, and after my sd 
wife decease my will also is That the sd negroes Or such of them and 
their Offsprings as are then alive shall in kind or value be equally Devided 
between my s d Children "... Will of Thomas Lloyd. MS. Philadelphia 
Wills, Book A, 267. 

8 Penn MSS., Domestic Letters, 17. 

7 " Know all men by these presents That I Patrick Robinson Countie 
Clark of Philadelphia for and in Consideration of the Sum of fourtie 
pounds Current Money of Pennsilvania . . . have bargained Sold and deliv 
ered . . . unto . . . Joseph Browne for himselfe, . . . heirs exers adriTrs 
and assigns One Negro man Named Jack, To have and to hold the Said 
Negro man named Jack unto the said Joseph Browne for himself ... for 
ever. And I ... the said Negro man unto him . . . shall and will warrant 
and for ever defend by these presents." MS. Philadelphia Deed Book, E, 
i, vol. V, 150, 151. This is similar to the regular legal formula afterward. 
Cf. MS. Ancient Rec. Sussex Co., 1681-1709, Sept. 22, 1709. 

8 See below, p. 65. 

" And to buy Souls and Bodies of men for Money, to enslave them 
and their Posterity to the end of the World, we judge is a great hinder- 
ance to the spreading of the Gospel " . . . " neither should we keep them in 
perpetual Bondage and Slavery against their Consent "... An Exhorta 
tion and Caution To Friends Concerning buying or keeping of Negroes, 
reprinted in Pa. Mag., XIII, 266, 268. 


servitude at the end of his time sufficient to pay for 
double the value of the goods ; but if black he shall be 
severely whipped in the most public place of the town 
ship. 10 It is probable that the law was so worded be 
cause it had come to be seen that there were few cases 
in which a negro could give satisfaction by additional 
time at the end of his term, since negroes were being 
held for life. If such be the case, this law may be said 
to contain the formal recognition of slavery in the 

The legal development of this slavery was rapid and 
brief. As it was not created by statutory enactment, so 
some of its most important incidents were never alluded 
to in the laws. The Assembly of Pennsylvania, unlike 
that of Virginia, never seems to have thought it neces 
sary to define the status of the slave as property, the 
consequences of slave baptism, or .the line of servile 
descent." Some of these questions had been settled in 
other colonies before the founding of Pennsylvania, and 
there the results seem to have been accepted. Accord 
ingly the steps in the development are neither obvious 
nor distinct. They rest not so much upon statute as upon 
court decisions interpreting usage, and in many cases 
the decisions do not come until the end of the slavery 
period. Notwithstanding all this there was a develop 
ment, which may be said to fall into three periods. 
They were, first, the years from 1682 to 1700, when 
slavery was slowly diverging from servitude, which it 
still closely resembled; second, from 1700 to 1725-1726, 
when slavery was more sharply marked off from servi- 

10 " An Act for the better Regulation of Servants in this Province and 
Territories." Stat. at L., II, 56. 

u Cf. J. C. Ballagh, A History of Slavery in Virginia, chapter II. 


tude; and third, the period from 1725-1726 to 1780, 
when nothing was added but some minor restrictions. 

During the earliest years slavery in Pennsylvania dif 
fered from servitude in but little, save that servitude 
was for a term of years and slavery was for life. It may 
be questioned whether at first all men recognized even 
this difference. Many of Penn s first colonists were 
men who embarked upon their undertaking with high 
ideals of religion and right, and whose conception of 
what was right could not easily be reconciled with hope 
less bondage. 12 The strength of this sentiment is seen 
in the well known provision of Penn s charter to the 
Free Society of Traders, 1682, that if they held blacks 
they should make them free at the end of fourteen years, 
the blacks then to become the Company s tenants. 13 It 
is the motive in Benjamin Furley s proposal to hold 
negroes not longer than eight years." It is particularly 
evident in the protest made at Germantown in 1688." It 
is seen in George Keith s declaration of principles in 
1 693." And it gave impetus to the movement among 
the Friends, which, starting about 1696, led finally to the 
emancipation of all their negroes. 

12 Cf. letter of William Edmundson to Friends in Maryland, Virginia, 
and other parts of America, 1675. S. Janney, History of the Religious 
Society of Friends, from Its Rise to the Year 1828, III, 178. 

" The Articles Settlement and Offices of the Free Society of Traders in 
Pennsylvania, etc., article XVIII. This quite closely resembles the ordin 
ance issued by Governor Rising to the Swedes in 1654, that after a certain 
period negroes should be absolutely free. ..." efter 6 ahr vare en 
slafvare alldeles fri." Sprinchorn, Kolonien Nya Sveriges Historia, 271. 

14 " Let no blacks be brought in directly, and if any come out of Vir 
ginia, Maryld. [or elsewhere erased] in families that have formerly bought 
them elsewhere Let them be declared (as in the west jersey constitutions) 
free at 8 years end." " B. F. Abridgm*. out of Holland and Germany." 
Penn MSS. Ford vs. Penn. etc., 1674-1716, p. 17. 

" Cf. Pa. Mag., IV, 28-30. 

u lbid., XIII, 265-270. 


Accordingly at first there may have been some ne 
groes who were held as servants for a term of years, 
and who were discharged when they had served their 
time. 17 There is no certain proof that this was so, 18 and 
the probabilities are rather against it, but the conscien 
tious scruples of some of the early settlers make it at 
least possible. In the growth of the colony, however, 
this feeling did not continue strong enough to be de 
cisive. Economic adjustment, an influx of men of dif 
ferent standards, and motives of expediency, perhaps of 
necessity, made the legal recognition of an inferior 
status inevitable. Against this the upholders of the idea 
that negroes should be held only as servants, for a term 
of years, waged a losing fight. It is true they did not 
desist, and in the course of one hundred years their 
view won a complete triumph; but their success came in 
abolition, and in overthrowing a system established, 
long after they had utterly failed to prevent the swift 
growth and the statutory recognition of legal slavery 
for life and in perpetuity. 

Aside from this one fundamental difference the inci 
dents of each status were nearly the same. The negro 
held for life was subject to the same restrictions, tried 
in the same courts, and punished with the same punish 
ments as the white servant. So far as either class was 
subject to special regulation at this time it was because 
of the laws for the management of servants, passed in 
1683 and 1693, which concerned white servants equally 
with black slaves. These restrictions were as yet neither 

17 Negro servants are mentioned. See Pa. Mag., VII, 106. Cf. below, 
p. 54. Little reliance can be placed upon the early use of this word. 

18 I have found no instance where a negro was indisputably a servant 
in the early period. The court records abound in notices of white 


numerous nor detailed, being largely directed against 
free people who abetted servants in wrong doing. Thus, 
servants were forbidden to traffic in their masters 
goods; but the only penalty fell on the receiver, who 
had to make double restitution. They were restricted 
as to movement, and when travelling they must have a 
pass. If they ran away they were punished, the white 
servant by extra service, the black slave by whipping, 
but this different punishment for the slave was not en 
acted until 1700, the beginning of the next period. Who 
ever harbored them was liable to the master for dam 
ages. 19 The relations between master and servant were 
likewise simple. The servant was compelled to obey 
the master. If he resisted or struck the master, he was 
punished at the discretion of the court. On the other 
hand the servant was to be treated kindly. 20 

The period, then, prior to 1700 was characteristically 
a period of servitude. The laws spoke of servants white 
and black. 21 The regulations, the restrictions, the trials, 
the punishments, were identical. There was only the 
one difference: white servants were discharged with 
freedom dues at the end of a specified number of years ; 
for negroes there was no discharge ; they were servants 
for life, that is, slaves. 

In the period following 1700 this difference gradually 
became apparent, and made necessary different treat- 

18 Laws of the Province of Pennsylvania . . . 1682-1700, p. 153 (1683), 
211, 213 (1693). For running away white servants had to give five days 
of extra service for each day of absence. Ibid., 166 (1683), 213 (1693). 
Harboring cost the offender five shillings a day. Ibid., 152 (1683), 212 

20 Ibid., 113 (1682); ibid., 102 (Laws Agreed upon in England). 

21 Ibid., 152. " No Servant white or black . . . shall at anie time after 
publication hereof be Attached or taken into Execution for his Master 
or Mistress debt " . 


ment and distinct laws. This resulted from a recogni 
tion of the dissimilarity in character between property 
based on temporary service and that based on service 
for life. In the first place perpetual service gave rise 
to a new class of slaves. At first the only ones in Penn 
sylvania were such negroes as were imported and sold 
for life. But after a time children were born to them. 
These children were also slaves, because ownership of 
a negro held for life involved ownership of his offspring 
also, since, the negro being debarred by economic help 
lessness from rearing children, all of his substance be 
longing to his master, the master must assume the cost 
of rearing them, and might have the service of the 
children as recompense. 22 This was the source of the 
second and largest class of slaves. The child of a slave 
was not necessarily a slave if one of the parents was 
free. The line of servile descent lay through the 
mother. 23 Accordingly the child of a slave mother and 
a free father was a slave, of a free mother and a slave 
father a servant for a term of years only. The result 

22 The rearing of slave children was regarded as a burden by owners. 
A writer declared that in Pennsylvania " negroes just born are considered 
an incumbrance only, and if humanity did not forbid it, they would be 
instantly given away." Pa. Packet, Jan. i, 1780. In 1732 the Philadel 
phia Court of Common Pleas ordered a man to take back a negress whom 
he had sold, and who proved to be pregnant. He was to refund the pur 
chase money and the money spent " for Phisic and Attendance of the 
Said Negroe in her Miserable Condition." MS. Court Papers. 1732-1744. 
Phila. Co., June 9, 1732. 

23 The Roman doctrine of partus sequitur ventrem. This was never 
established by law in Pennsylvania, and during colonial times was never 
the subject of a court decision that has come down. That it was the usage, 
however, there is abundant proof. In 1727 Isaac Warner bequeathed 
" To Wife Ann ... a negro woman named Sarah . . . To daughter Ann 
Warner (3) an unborn negro child of the above named Sarah." MS. 
Phila. Co. Will Files, no. 47, 1727. In 1786 the Supreme Court declared 
that it was the law of Pennsylvania, and had always been the custom, i 
Dallas 181. 


of the application of this doctrine to the offspring of a 
negro and a white person was that mulattoes were 
divided into two classes. Some were servants for a term 
of years ; the others formed a third class of slaves. 

In the second place perpetual service gave to slave 
property more of the character of a thing, than was the 
case when the time of service was limited. The service 
of both servants and slaves was a thing, which might be 
bought, sold, transferred as a chattel, inherited and be 
queathed by will ; but in the case of a slave, the service 
being perpetual, the idea of the service as a thing tended 
.to merge into the idea of the slave himself as a thing. 
The law did not attempt to carry this principle very far. 
It never, as in Virginia, declared the slave real estate. 
In Pennsylvania he was emphatically both person and 
thing, with the conception of personality somewhat pre 
dominating. 24 Yet there was felt to be a decided dif 
ference between the slave and the servant, and this, to 
gether with the desire to regulate the slave as a negro 
distinguished from a white man, was the cause of the 
distinctive laws of the second period. 

"MS. Abstract of Phila. Co. Wills, Book A, 63, 71, (1693); Will of 
Samuel Richardson of Philadelphia in Pa. Mag., XXXIII, 373 (1719). 
In 1682 the attorney-general in England answering an inquiry from 
Jamaica, declared " That where goods or merchandise are by Law for 
feited to the King, the sale of them from one to another will not fix 
the property as against the King, but they may be seized wherever found 
whilst they remain in specie; And that Negros being admitted Merchan 
dise will fall within the same Law ". MS. Board of Trade Journals, IV, 
124. On several occasions during war negro slaves were captured from 
the enemy and brought to Pennsylvania, where they were sold as ordinary 
prize-goods things. In 1745, however, when two French negro prisoners 
produced papers showing that they were free, they were held for ex 
change as prisoners of war persons. MS. Provincial Papers, VII, Oct. 
2, 1745. For the status of the negro slave as real estate in Virginia, cf. 
Ballagh, Hist, of Slavery in Virginia, ch. II. In 1786 the Supreme Court 
of Pennsylvania decided that " property in a Negroe may be obtained by 
a bona fide purchase, without deed." i Dallas 169. 


The years from 1700 to 1725-1726 are marked by two 
great laws which almost by themselves make up the 
slave code of Penrrjlvania. The first, passed in 1700 
and passed again in 1705-1706, regulated the trial and 
punishments of slaves. 25 It marked the beginning of a 
new era in the regulation of negroes, in that, subjecting 
them to different courts and imposing upon them dif 
ferent penalties, it definitely marked them off as a class 
distinct from all others in the colony. In 1725-1726 
further advance was made. Not only was the negro 
now subjected to special regulation because he was a 
slave, but whether slave or free he was now made sub 
ject to special restrictions because he was a negro. 
While some of these had to do with movement and be 
havior, the most important forbade all marriage or inter 
course with white people. 20 These laws must be ex 
amined in detail. 

From the very first was seen the inevitable difficulty 
involved in punishing the negro criminal as a person, 
and yet not injuring the master s property in the thing. 
The result of this was that masters were frequently led 
to conceal the crimes of their slaves, or to take the law 
into their own hands. 27 The solution was probably felt 
to be the removal of negroes from the ordinary courts. 
It is said, also, that Penn desired to protect the negro 
by clearly defining his crimes and apportioning his 
punishments. Accordingly he urged the law of ijoo. 26 

25 " An Act for the trial of Negroes." Stat. at L., II, 77-79- Repealed 
in Council, 1705. Ibid., II, 79; Col. Rec., I, 612, 613. Passed again 
with slight changes in 1705-1706. Stat. at L., II, 233-236. 

26 " An Act for the better regulating of Negroes in this Province." 
Stat. at L., IV, 59-64. It became law by lapse of time. Ibid., IV, 64. 

27 " An Act for the better regulating of Negroes in this Province ", 
section i. Stat. at L., IV, 59. 

28 Cf. Enoch Lewis, "Life of William Penn" (1841), in Friends 
Library, V, 315; J. R. Tyson, "Annual Discourse before the Historical 
Society of Pennsylvania" (1831), in Hazard s Register, VIII, 316. 


Under .this law negroes when accused were not to be 
tried in the regular courts of the colony. They were to 
be presented by the Courts of Quarter Sessions, but the 
cases were to be dealt with by special courts for the trial 
of negroes, composed of two commissioned justices of 
the peace and six substantial freeholders. On applica 
tion these courts were to be constituted by executive 
authority when occasion demanded. Witnesses were 
to be allowed, but there was to be no trial by jury. 29 In 
such courts it was doubtless easier to regard the slave as 
property, and do full justice to the rights of the master. 

Something was still wanting, however, for in case the 
slave criminal was condemned to death, the loss fell en 
tirely on the master. From the earliest days of the col 
ony owners had been praying for relief from this. In 
1707 the masters of two slaves petitioned the governor 
to commute the death sentence to chastisement and 
transportation, and thus save them from pecuniary loss. 
The petition was granted. Such commutation was fre 
quently sought, and in the special courts it could be more 
readily granted. 80 The real solution, however, was dis 
covered in 1725-1726, when it was ordained that there- 

29 MS. Minutes Court of Quarter Sessions Bucks County, 1684-1730, 
P- 375 (1703); MS. "Bail, John Kendig for a Negro, 29. 9 br 35," in 
Logan Papers, unbound; " An Act for the trial of Negroes," Stat. at L., 
II. 77-79 (1700), 233-236 (1705-1706); Col. Rec., Ill, 254; IV, 243; IX, 
648, 680, 704, 705, 707; X, 73, 276. For the commission instituting one 
of these special courts (1762), see MS. Miscellaneous Papers, 1684-1847, 
Chester County, 149; also Diffenderffer, " Early Negro Legislation in the 
Province of Pennsylvania," in Christian Culture, Sept. i, 1890. Mr. 
Diffenderffer cites a commission of Feb. 20, 1773, but is puzzled at finding 
no record of the trial of negroes in the records of the local Court of 
Quarter Sessions. It would of course not appear there. Special dockets 
were kept for the special courts. Cf. MS. Records of Special Courts for 
the Trial of Negroes, held at Chester, in Chester County. The law was 
not universally applied at first. In 1703 a negro was tried for fornication 
before the Court of Quarter Sessions. MS. Minutes Court of Quarter 
Sessions Bucks County, 1684-1730, p. 378. 

80 Col. Rec. I, 61; II, 405, 406. 


after if any slave committed a capital crime, immedi 
ately upon conviction the justices should appraise such 
slave, and pay the value to the owner, out of a fund 
arising principally from the duty on negroes imported. 21 
These laws continued in force until 1780, and down to 
that time slaves were removed from the jurisdiction of 
the regular courts of the province; although after 1776 
it was asserted that the clause about trial by jury in the 
new state constitution affected slaves as well as 
free men; and a slave was actually so tried in 1779.*" 
Whether this view prevailed in all quarters it is impos 
sible to say. In the next year the abolition act did away 
with the special courts entirely. 33 

81 " An Act for the better regulating of Negroes," etc. Stat. at L., IV, 
59. For an instance of such valuation in the case of two slaves con 
demned for burglary, see MS. Provincial Papers, XXX, July 29, 1773. 
The governor, however, pardoned these negroes on condition that they 
be transported. 

82 " On the trials Larry the slave was convicted by a Jury of twelve 
Men and received the usual sentence of whipping, restitution and fine 
according to law. . . . This case is published as being the first instance of a 
slave s being tried in this state by a Grand and Petit Jury. Our con 
stitution provides that these unhappy men shall have the same measure 
of Justice and the same mode of trial with others, their fellow creatures, 
when charged with crimes or offences." Pa. Packet, Feb. 16, 1779. 
Nevertheless a commission for a special court had been issued in August, 
1777. Cf. " Petition of Mary Bryan," MS. Misc. Papers, Aug. 15, 1777. 

33 Stat. at L., X, 72. What was the standing of negro slaves before 
the ordinary courts of Pennsylvania in the years between 1700 and 1780 
it is difficult to say. They certainly could not be witnesses not against 
white men, since this privilege was given to free negroes for the first 
time in 1780 (Stat. at L., X, 70), and to slaves not until 1847 (Laws of 
Assembly, 1847, p. 208); while if they were witnesses against other ne 
groes it would be before special courts. Doubtless negroes could some 
times seek redress in the ordinary courts, though naturally the number 
of such cases would be limited. There is, however, at least one instance 
of a white man being sued by a negro, who won his suit. " Francis 
Jnson the Negro verbally complained agst W m Orion . . . and after plead 
ing to on both sides the Court passed Judgment and ordered W m Orion to 
pay him the sd Francis Jnson twenty shillings "... MS. Ancient Records 
of Sussex County, 1681 to 1709, 4th mo., 1687. Before 1700 negroes were 
tried before the ordinary courts, and there is at least one case where a 
negro witnessed against a white man. Ibid., 8br 1687. 


The law of 1700, which marked the differentiation of 
slaves from servants, marked also the beginning of dis 
crimination. For negroes there were to be different 
punishments as well as a different mode of trial. Mur 
der, buggery, burglary, or rape of a white woman, were 
to be punished by death ; attempted rape by castration ; 
robbing and stealing by whipping, the master to make 
good the theft." This law was repeated in 1705-1706, 
except that the punishment for attempted rape was now 
made whipping, branding, imprisonment, and transporta 
tion, while these same penalties were to be imposed for 
theft over five pounds. Theft of an article worth less than 
five pounds entailed whipping up to thirty-nine lashes. 85 
For white people at this time, whether servants or free, 
there was a different code." 

A far more important discrimination was made in 
1725-1726 by the law which forbade mixture of the 
races. There had doubtless been some intercourse 
from the first. A white servant was indicted for this 

84 Stat. at L., II, 77-79; Col, Rec., I, 612, 613. Instances of negro 
crime are mentioned in MS. Records of Special Courts for the Trial of 
Negroes Chester County. For a case of arson punished with death, cf. 
Col. Rec., IV, 243. For two negroes condemned to death for burglary, 
ibid., IX, 6, also 699. The punishment for the attempted rape of a white 
woman was the one point that caused the disapproval of the attorney- 
general in England, and, probably, led to the passage of the revised act 
in 1705-1706. Cf. MS. Board of Trade Papers, Prop., VIII, 40, Bb. 
For restitution by masters, which was frequently very burdensome, cf. 
MS. Misc. Papers, Oct. 9, 1780. 

35 Stat. at L., II, 233-236. These punishments were continued until 
repealed in 1780, (Stat. at L., X, 72), when the penalty for robbery and 
burglary became imprisonment. This bore entirely on the master, so 
that in 1790 Governor Mifflin asked that corporal punishment be substi 
tuted. Hazard s Register, II, 74. For theft whipping continued to be 
imposed, but guilty white people were punished in the same manner. MS. 
Petitions, Lancaster County, 1761-1825, May, 1784. MS. Misc. Papers, 
July, 1780. 

88 See below, p. in. 


offence in 1677; and a tract of land in Sussex County 
bore the name of " Mulatto Hall." In 1698 the Chester 
County Court laid down the principle that mingling of 
the races was not to be allowed. 37 The matter went be 
yond this, for in 1722 a woman was punished for abet 
ting a clandestine marriage between a white woman and 
a negro. 88 A few months thereafter the Assembly re 
ceived a petition from inhabitants of the province, 
inveighing against the wicked and scandalous practice 
of negroes cohabiting with white people. 89 It appeared 
to the Assembly that a law was needed, and they set 
about framing one. Accordingly in the law of 1725- 
1726 they provided stringent penalties. No negro was 
to be joined in marriage with any white person upon 
any pretense whatever. A white person violating this 
was to forfeit thirty pounds, or be sold as a servant for 
a period not exceeding seven years. A clergyman who 
abetted such a marriage was to pay one hundred 
pounds. 40 

The law did not succeed in checking cohabitation, 

37 " For that hee . . . contrary to the Lawes of the Governmt and 
Contrary to his Masters Consent hath . . . got wth child a certaine molato 
wooman Called Swart anna" . . . MS. Rec. Court at Upland, 19; Penn 
MSS. Papers relating to the Three Lower Counties, 1629-1774, p. 193; 
MS. Minutes Abington Monthly Meeting, 27 ist mo., 1693. " David 
Lewis Constable of Haverfoord Returned A Negro man of his And A 
white woman for haveing A Easter Childe . . . the negroe said she Intised 
him and promised him to marry him: she being examined, Confest the 
same: . . . the Court ordered that she shall Receive Twenty one laishes on 
her beare Backe . . . and the Court ordered the negroe never more to med 
dle with any white woman more uppon paine of his life." MS. Min. 
Chester Co. Courts, 1697-1710, p. 24. 

38 MS. Ancient Rec. of Phila., Nov. 4, 1722. 

39 Votes and Proceedings, II, 336. 

40 Stat. at L., IV, 62. Cf. Votes and Proceedings, II, 337, 345. For 
marriage or cohabiting without the master s consent a servant had to atone 
with extra service. Cf. Stat. ai L., II, 22. This obviously would not 
check a slave. 


though of marriages of slaves with white people there 
is almost no record. 41 There exists no definite informa 
tion as to the number of mulattoes in the colony during 
this period, but advertisements for runaway slaves indi 
cate that there were very many of them. The slave 
register of 1780 for Chester County shows that they 
constituted twenty per cent, of the slave population in 
that locality. 42 It must be said that the stigma of illicit 
intercourse in Pennsylvania would not generally seem 
to rest upon the masters, but rather upon servants, out 
casts, and the lowlier class of whites. 43 

Negro slaves were subject to another class of restric 
tions which were made against them rather as slaves 
than as black men. These concerned freedom of move 
ment and freedom of action. During the earlier years 
of the colony s history regulation of the movements of 
the slaves rested principally in the hands of the owners. 
The continual complaints about the tumultuous assem 
bling of negroes, to be noticed presently, would seem to 

41 Apparently such a marriage had occurred in 1722. MS. Ancient Rec. 
Phila., Nov. 4, 1722, which mention " the Clandestine mariage of M r 
Tuthil s Negro and Katherine Williams." The petitioner, who was im 
prisoned for abetting the marriage, concludes: " I have Discover d who 
maried the foresd Negroe, and shall acquaint your hon rs ." 

42 American Weekly Mercury, Nov. 9, 1727; Pa. Gazette, Feb. 7, 1739- 
1740; and passim. Mittelberger mentions them in 1750. Cf. Journey to 
Pennsylvania, etc., 107; MS. Register of Slaves in Chester County, 1780. 

48 " A circumstance not easily believed, is, that the subjection of the 
negroes has not corrupted the morals of their masters "... Abbe Raynal, 
British Settlements in North America I, 163. Raynal s authority is very 
poor. The assertion in the text rests rather on negative evidence. Cf. 
Votes and Proceedings, 1766, p. 30, for an instance of a white woman 
prostitute to negroes. Ibid., 1767-1776, p. 666, for evidence as to mulatto 
bastards by pauper white women. Also MS. Misc. Papers, Mar. 12, 1783. 
For a case (1715) where the guilty white man was probably not a servant 
cf. MS. Court Papers, Phila. Co., 1697-1732. Benjamin Franklin was 
openly accused of keeping negro paramours. Cf. What is Sauce for a 
Goose is also Sauce for a Gander, etc. (1764), 6; A Humble Attempt at 
Scurrility, etc. (1765), 40. 


indicate that considerable leniency was exercised. 4 * But 
frequently white people lured them away, and harbored 
and employed them. 45 The law of 1725-1726 was in 
tended specially to stop this. No negro was to go 
farther than ten miles from home without written leave 
from his master, under penalty of ten lashes on his bare 
back. Nor was he to be away from his master s house, 
except by special leave, after nine o clock at night, nor 
to be found in tippling-houses, under like penalty. For 
preventing these things counter-restrictions were im 
posed upon white people. They were forbidden to em 
ploy such negroes, or knowingly to harbor or shelter 
them, except in very unseasonable weather, under pen 
alty of thirty shillings for every twenty-four hours. 
Finally it was provided that negroes were not to meet 
together in companies of more than four. This last 
seems to have remained a dead letter. 46 

That this legislation failed to produce the desired ef 
fect is shown by the experience of Philadelphia in deal 
ing with negro disorder. Such disorder was complained 
of as early as 1693, when, on presentment of the grand 
jury, it was directed that the constables or any other 
person should arrest such negroes as they might find 
gadding abroad on first days of the week, without writ 
ten permission from the master, and take them to jail, 
where, after imprisonment, they should be given thirty- 
nine lashes well laid on, to be paid for by the master. 
This seems to have been enforced but laxly, for in 1702 

44 See below. 

45 Cf. Col. Rec., I, 117. 

**Stat. at L., IV, 59-64, (sections IX-XIII). Tippling-houses seem to 
have given a good deal of trouble. In 1703 the grand jury presented 
several persons " for selling Rum to negros and others "... MS. Ancient 
Rec. of Phila., Nov. 3, 1703. Cf. also presentment of the grand jury, 
Jan. 2, 1744. Pa. Mag., XXII, 498. 


the grand jury presented the matter again, and their 
recommendation was repeated with warmth in the year 
following. 47 A few years later they urged measures to 
suppress .the unruly negroes of the city. 48 In 1732 the 
council was forced to recommend an ordinance to bring 
this about, and such an ordinance was drawn up and 
considered. Next year the Monthly Meeting of Friends 
petitioned, and the matter was taken up again, but noth 
ing came of it, so that the council was compelled .to ob 
serve that further legislation was assuredly needed. 48 
In 1741 the grand jury presented the matter strongly, 50 
and an explicit order was at last given that constables 
should disperse meetings of negroes within half an hour 
after sunset. 61 The nuisance, probably, was still not 

47 Col. Rec., I, 380-381. " The great abuse and 111 consiquence of the 
great multitudes of negroes who commonly meete togeither in a Riott and 
tumultious manner on the first days of the weeke." MS. Ancient Rec. of 
Phila., 28 7th mo., 1702; ibid., Nov. 3, 1703. 

48 " The Grand Inquest ... do present that whereas there has been Divers 
Rioters . . . and the peace of our Lord the King Disturbers, by Divers In 
fants, bond S ervants, and Negros, within this City after it is Duskish . . . 
that Care may be taken to Suppress the unruly Negroes of this City ac 
companying to gether on the first Day of the weeke, and that they may 
not be Suffered to walk the Streets in Companys after it is Darke without 
their Masters Leave "... MS. Ancient Rec. of Phila., Apr. 4, 1717. 

43 Minutes of the Common Council of the City of Philadelphia, 1704-1776, 
3M, 3i5, 316, 326, 342, 376; Col. Rec., IV, 224, (1737). 

50 " The Grand Inquest now met humly Represent to This honourable 
Court the great Disorders Commited On the first Dayes of the week By 
Servants, apprentice boys and Numbers of Negros it has been with 
great Concearn Observed that the Whites in their Tumultious Resorts 
in the markets and other placies most Darringly Swear Curse Lye Abuse 
and often fight Striving to Excell in all Leudness and Obsenity which 
must produce a generall Corruption of Such youth If not Timely Remi- 
dieed and from the Concourse of Negroes Not only the above Mischeiffs 
but other Dangers may issue "... MS. Court Papers, 1732-1744, Phila. 
Co., 1741. 

51 " Many disorderly persons meet every evg. about the Court house 
of this city, and great numbers of Negroes and others sit there with 
milk pails, and other things, late at night, and many disorders are there 
committed against the peace and good government of this city " Min 
utes Common Council of Phila., 405. 


abated, for in 1761 the mayor caused to be published 
in the papers previous legislation on the subject. 52 Noth 
ing further seems to have been done. 

The continued failure to suppress these meetings in 
defiance of a law of the province, must be attributed 
either to the intrinsic difficulty of enforcing such a law, 
or to the fact that the meetings were objectionable be 
cause of their rude and boisterous character, rather 
than because of any positive misdemeanor. More prob 
ably still this is but one of the many pieces of evidence 
which show how leniently .the negro was treated in 

The third period, from 1726 to 1780, is distinguished 
more because of the lack of important legislation about 
the negro than through any marked character of its own. 
The outlines of the colony s slave code had now been 
drawn, and no further constructive work was done. 
There is, however, one class of laws which may be as 
signed to this period, since the majority of them 
fall chronologically within its limits, though they are 
scarcely more characteristic of it than they are of either 
of the two periods preceding. All of these laws imposed 
restrictions upon the actions of negro slaves in matters 
in which white people were restricted also, but the re 
strictions were embodied in special sections of the laws, 
because of the negro s inability to pay a fine : the law 
imposing corporal punishment upon the slave, whenever 
it exacted payment in money or imprisonment from 

Thus, an act forbidding the use of fireworks without 
the governor s permission, states that the slave instead 

52 Pa. Gazette, Nov. 12, 1761. 


of being imprisoned shall be publicly whipped. An 
other provides that if a slave set fire to any woodlands 
or marshes he shall be whipped not exceeding twenty- 
one lashes. As far back as 1700 whipping had been 
made the punishment of a slave who carried weapons 
without his master s permission. In 1750-1751 partici 
pation in a horse-race or shooting-match entailed first 
fifteen lashes, and then twenty-one, together with six 
days imprisonment for the first offense, and ten days 
imprisonment thereafter. In 1760 hunting on Indians 
lands or on other people s lands, shooting in the city, or 
hunting on Sunday, were forbidden under penalty of 
whipping up to thirty-one lashes. In 1750-1751 the 
penalty for offending against the night watch in Phila 
delphia was made twenty-one lashes and imprisonment 
in the work-house for three days at hard labor ; for the 
second offence, thirty-one lashes and six days. Some 
times it was provided that a slave might be punished as 
a free man, if his master would stand for him. Thus a 
slave offending against the regulations for wagoners 
was to be whipped, or fined, if his master would pay the 
fine. 63 

So far the slave was under the regulation of the state. 
He was also subject to the regulation of his owner, who, 

53 " An Act for preventing Accidents that may happen by Fire," sect. 
IV, Stat. at L., Ill, 254 (1721); " An Act to prevent the Damages, which 
may happen, by firing of Woods," <etc., sect. Ill, ibid,, IV, 282 (1735); 
"An Act for the trial of Negroes," sect. V, ibid., II, 79 (1700); "An 
Act for the more effectual preventing Accidents which may happen by 
Fire, and for suppressing Idleness, Drunkenness, and other Debauch 
eries," sect. Ill, ibid., V, 109, no (1750-1751); " An Act to prevent the 
Hunting of Deer," etc., sect. VII, ibid., VI, 49 (1760); " An Act for the 
better regulating the nightly Watch within the city of Philadelphia," etc., 
sect. XXII, ibid., V, 126 (1750-1751); repeated in 1756, 1763, 1766, 1771, 
ibid., V, 241; VI, 309; VII, 7; VIII, 115; "An Act for regulating 
Wagoners, Carters, Draymen, and Porters," etc., sect. VII, ibid., VI, 68 
(1761); repeated in 1763 and 1770, ibid. VI, 250; VII, 359, 360. 


in matters concerning himself and not directly covered 
by laws, could enforce obedience by corporal punish 
ment. This was sometimes administered at the public 
whipping-post, the master sending an order for a cer 
tain number of lashes. 54 But the slave was not given 
over absolutely into the master s power. If he had to 
obey the laws of the state, he could also expect the pro 
tection of the state. 55 The master could not starve him, 
nor overwork him, nor torture him. Against these 
things he could appeal to the public authorities. More 
over public opinion was powerfully against them. If 
a master killed his slave the law dealt with him as 
though his victim were a white man. 56 It is not probable, 
to be sure, that the sentence was often carried out, but 
such cases did not often arise. 57 

Such was .the legal status of the slave in Pennsylvania. 
Before 1700 it was ill defined, but probably much like 
that of the servant, having only the distinctive incident 
of perpetual service, and the developing incident of the 
transmission of servile condition to offspring. Gradu- 

54 Cf. the story of Hodge s Cato, told in Watson, Annals of Philadel 
phia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time, etc., II, 263. 

55 Cf. Achenwall, who got his information from Franklin, Anmerkungen, 
25 : " Diese Mohrensclaven geniessen als Unterthanen des Staats . . . den 
Schutz der Gesetze, so gut als freye Einwohner. Wenn ein Colonist, 
auch selbst der Eigenthumsherr, einen Schwarzen umbringt, so wird er 
gleichfalls zum Tode verurtheilt. Wenn der Herr seinem Sclaven zu 
harte Arbeit auflegt, oder ihn sonst iibel behandelt, so kan er ihn beym 
Richter verklagen." Also Kalm, Travels, I, 390. 

36 " Yesterday at a Supream Court held in this City, sentence of Death 
was passed upon William Bullock, who was . . . Convicted of the Murder of 
his Negro Slave." American Weekly Mercury, Apr. 29, 1742. 

67 Kalm (1748) said that there was no record of such a sentence being 
carried out; but he adds that a case having arisen, even the magistrates 
secretly advised the guilty person to leave the country, " as otherwise they 
could not avoid taking him prisoner, and then he would be condemned 
to die according to the laws of the country, without any hopes of saving 
him". Travels, I, 391, 392. For a case cf. Pa. Gazette, Feb. 24, 1741-1742. 


v o* 


ally it became altogether different. To the slave now 
appertained a number of incidents of lower status. He 
was tried in separate courts, subject to special judges, 
and punished with different penalties. Admixture with 
white people was sternly prohibited. He was subject 
to restrictions upon movement, conduct, and action. He 
could be corrected with corporal punishment. The 
slave legislation of Pennsylvania involved discrimina 
tions based both upon inferior status, and what was re 
garded as inferior race. Nevertheless it will be shown 
that in most respects the punishments and restrictions 
imposed upon negro slaves were either similar to those 
imposed upon white servants, or involved discrimina 
tions based upon the inability of the slave to pay a fine, 
and upon the fact that mere imprisonment punished the 
master alone. Moreover, what harshness there was 
must be ascribed partly to the spirit of the times, which 
made harsher laws for both white men and black men. 
The slave x:ode almost never comprehended any cruel or 
unusual punishments. As a legal as well as a social sys 
tem slavery in Pennsylvania was mild. 



THE mildness of slavery in Pennsylvania impressed 
every observer. Acrelius said that negroes were treated 
better there than anywhere else in America. Peter 
Kalm said that compared with the condition of white 
servants their condition possessed equal advantages ex 
cept that they were obliged to serve their whole life 
time without wages. Hector St. John Crevecoeur de 
clared that they enjoyed as much liberty as their mas 
ters, that they were in effect part of their masters fam 
ilies, and that, living thus, they considered themselves 
happier than many of the lower class of whites. 1 There 
is good reason for believing these statements, since a 
careful study of the sources shows that generally mas 
ters used their negroes kindly and with moderation. 2 

Living in a land of plenty the slaves were well fed 
and comfortably clothed. They had as good food as the 
white servants, says one traveller, and another says as 
good as their masters. 8 In 1759 the yearly cost of the 
food of a slave was reckoned at about twenty per cent, 
of his value. 4 Likewise they were well clad, their 

1 Acrelius, Description of New Sweden, 169 (1759); Kalm, Travels, I, 
394 (1748); Hector St. John Crevecoeur, Letters from an American 
Farmer, 222 (just before the Revolution). 

8 When one of Christopher Marshall s white servants " struck and 
kickt " his negro woman, he " could scarcely refrain from kicking him 
out of the House &c &c &c." MS. Remembrancer, E, July 22, 1779. 

3 Kalm, I, 394; St. John Crevecceur, 221. Benjamin Lay contradicts 
this, but allowance must always be made for the extremeness of his as 
sertions. Cf. his All Slave-Keepers Apostates (1737), 93- 

4 Acrelius, 169. 



clothes being furnished by the masters. That clothes 
were a considerable item of expense is shown by the old 
household accounts and diaries. Acrelius computed the 
yearly cost at five per cent, of a slave s value. 5 In the 
newspaper advertisements for runaways occur particu 
larly full descriptions of their dress. 8 Almost always 
they have a coat or jacket, shoes, and stockings. 7 It is 
true that when they ran away they generally took the 
best they had, if not all they had ; but making due allow 
ance it seems certain that they were well clad, as an 
advertiser declared. 8 

As to shelter, since the climate and economy of Penn 
sylvania never gave rise to a plantation life, rows of 

5 St. John Crevecoeur, 221; Kalm, I, 394; Acrelius, 169. Personal papers 
contain numerous notices. " To i pr Shoes for the negro . . . 6 " (sh.). 
MS. William Penn s Account Book, 1690-1693, p. 2 (1690). A " Bill ren 
dered by Christian Grafford to James Steel " is as follows: " Making old 
Holland Jeakit and breeches fit for your Negero 0.3.0 Making 2 new 
Jeakits and 2 pair breeches of stripped Linen for both your Negeromans 
0.14.0 And also for Little Negero boy 0.4.0 Making 2 pair Leather 
Breeches, i for James Sanders and another for your Negroeman Zeason 
0.13.0." Pa. Mag., XXXIII, 121 (1740). The bill rendered for the shoes 
of Thomas Penn s negroes in 1764-1765 amounted to 7 7 sh. 3d., the 
price per pair averaging about 7 sh. 6d. Penn-Physick MSS., IV, 223. 
Also ibid., IV, 265, 267. Cf. Penn Papers, accounts (unbound), Aug. 19, 
1741; Christopher Marshall s Remembrancer, E, June i, 1779. 

8 Thus Cato had on " two jackets, the uppermost a dark blue half thick, 
lined with red flannel, the other a light blue homespun flannel, without 
lining, ozenbrigs shirt, old leather breeches, yarn stockings, old shoes, and 
an old beaver hat "... Pa. Gazette, May 5, 1748. A negro from Chester 
County wore " a lightish coloured cloath coat, with metal buttons, and 
lined with striped linsey, a lightish linsey jacket with sleeves, and red 
waistcoat, tow shirt, old lightish cloth breeches, and linen drawers, blue 
stockings, and old shoes." Ibid., Jan. 3, 1782. Judith wore " a green 
jacket, a blue petticoat, old shoes, and grey stockings, and generally 
wears silver bobbs in her ears." Ibid., Feb. 16, 1747-1748. 

7 Amer. Weekly Mercury, Jan. 31, 1721; Jan. 31, 1731; Pa. Gazette, 
Oct. 22, 1747; May 5, 1748; Apr. 16, 1761; Jan. 3, 1782; Pa. Journal, 
Feb. 5, 1750-1751; Pa. Mag., XVIII, 385. 

8 Pa. Gazette, May 3, 1775. Supported by advertisements passim. 


negro cabins and quarters for the hands never became a 
distinctive feature. Slaves occupied such lodgings as 
were assigned to white servants, generally in the house 
of the master. This was doubtless not the case where 
a large number was held. They can hardly have been 
so accommodated by Jonathan Dickinson of Philadel 
phia, who had thirty-two. 9 

In the matter of service their lot was a fortunate one. 
There seems to be no doubt that they were treated much 
more kindly than the negroes in the West Indies, and 
that they were far happier than the slaves in the lower 
South. It is said that they were not obliged to labor 
more than white people, and, although this may hardly 
have been so, and although, indeed, there is occasional 
evidence that they were worked hard, yet for the most 
part it is clear that they were not overworked. 10 The 
advertisements of negroes for sale show, as migHt be 
expected, that most of the slaves were either house- 
servants or farm-hands. 11 Nevertheless the others were 

9 MS. Dickinson Papers, unclassified. A farm with a stone house for 
negroes is mentioned in Pa. Gaz., June 26, 1746. " Part of these slaves 
lived in their master s family, the others had separate cabins on the 
farm where they reared families "... " Jacob Minshall Homestead " in 
Reminiscence, Gleanings and Thoughts, No. I, 12. 

10 Kalm, Travels, I, 394. For treatment of negroes in the West Indies, 
cf. Sandiford, The Mystery of Iniquity, 99 (1730); Benezet, A Short 
Account of that Part of Africa Inhabited by the Negroes (1762), 55, 56, 
note; Benezet, A Caution and Warning to Great Britain and Her Col 
onies in a Short Representation of the Calamitous State of the Enslaved 
Negroes (1766), 5-9; Benezet, Some Historical Account of Guinea (1771), 
chap. VIII. For treatment in the South, cf. Whitefield, Three Letters 
(1740), 13, 71; Chastellux, Voyage en Amerique (1786), 130. For treat 
ment in Pennsylvania cf. Kalm, Travels, I, 394; St. John Crevecoeur, 
Letters, 221. Acrelius says that the negroes at the iron-furnaces were 
allowed to stop work for " four months in summer, when the heat is 
most oppressive." Description, 168. 

11 Mercury, Gazette, and Pa. Packet, passim. Most of the taverns seem 
to have had negro servants. Cf. MS. Assessment Book, Chester Co., 
J7&9, P- *46; of Bucks Co., 1779, p. 84. 


engaged in a surprisingly large number of different oc 
cupations. Among them were bakers, blacksmiths, brick 
layers, brush-makers, carpenters, coopers, curriers, dis 
tillers, hammermen, refiners, sail-makers, sailors, shoe 
makers, tailors, and tanners. 12 The negroes employed at 
the iron-furnaces received special mention. 13 The 
women cooked, sewed, did house-work, and at times 
were employed as nurses. 14 When the service of ne 
groes was needed they were often hired from their 
masters, but as a rule they were bought. 15 They were 
frequently trusted and treated almost like members of 
the family. 18 

18 Mercury, Mar. 3, 1723-1724; Dec. 15, 1724; July 4, 1728; Aug. 24, 
1732; Gazette, Feb. 7, 1740; Dec. 3, 1741; May 20, 1742; Nov. i, 1744; 
July 9, Dec. 3, 1761; Packet, July 5, 1733- 

13 " The laborers are generally composed partly of negroes (slaves) 
partly of servants from Germany or Ireland "... Acrelius, Description, 
168. Cf. Gabriel Thomas, An Historical and Geographical Account of the 
Province and Country of Pensilvania (1698), etc., 28. 

14 Mercury, Jan. 16, 1727-1728; July 25, 1728; Nov. 7, 1728. Gazette, 
July 17, 1740; Mar. 31, 1743. "A compleat washerwoman " is advertised 
in the Gazette, Oct. i, 1761; also "an extraordinary washer of clothes," 
Gazette, Apr. 12, 1775; Penn-Physick, MSS IV, 203 (1740). 

15 Gazette, May 19, 1743; July n, 1745; Nov. 5, 1761; May 15, 1776; 
Dec. 15, 1779. Cf. notices in William Penn s Cash Book (MS.), 3, 6, 9, 
15, 18; John Wilson s Cash Book (MS.), Feb. 23, 1776; MS. Phila. Ac 
count Book, 38 (1694); MS. Logan Papers, II, 259 (1707); Richard 
Hayes s Ledger (MS.), 88 (1716). 

18 Cf. the numerous allusions to his negro woman made by Christo 
pher Marshall in his Remembrancer. An entry in John Wilson s Cash 
Book (MS.), Apr. 27, 1770, says: "paid his" (Joseph Pemberton s) 
" Negro woman Market mony . . . 7/6." The following advertisement is 
illustrative, although perhaps it reveals the advertiser s art as much as 
the excellence and reliability of the negress. " A likely young Negroe 
Wench, who can cook and wash well, and do all Sorts of House-work; 
and can from Experience, be recommended both for her Honesty and 
Sobriety, having often been trusted with the Keys of untold Money, and 
Liquors of various Sorts, none of which she will taste. She is no Idler, 
Company-keeper or Gadder abroad. She has also a fine, hearty young 
Child, not quite a Year old, which is the only Reason for selling her, 
because her Mistress is very sickly, and can t bear the Trouble of it." 
Pa. Gazette, Apr. 2, 1761. 


When the day s work was over .the negroes of Penn 
sylvania seem to have had time of their own which they 
were not too tired to enjoy. Some no doubt found 
recreation in their masters homes, gossipping, singing, 
and playing on rude instruments." Many sought each 
other s company and congregated together after night 
fall. In Philadelphia, at any rate, during the whole 
colonial period, crowds of negroes infesting the streets 
after dark behaved with such rough and boisterous mer 
riment that they were a nuisance to the whole com 
munity. 18 At times negroes were given days of their 
own. They were allowed to go from one place to an 
other, and were often permitted to visit members of 
their families in other households. 18 Moreover, holi 
days were not grudged them. It is said that in Philadel 
phia at the time of fairs, the blacks to the number of a 
thousand of both sexes used to go to " Potter s Field," 
and there amuse themselves, dancing, singing, and re 
joicing, in native barbaric fashion. 20 

If, now, from material comfort we turn to the matter 
of the moral and intellectual well-being of the slaves, 
we find that considering the time, surprising efforts 
were made to help them. In Pennsylvania there seems 

17 " Thou Knowest Negro Peters Ingenuity In making for himself and 
playing on a fiddle \v th out any assistance as the thing in them is Inno 
cent and diverting and may keep them from worse Employmt I have 
to Encourage in my Service promist him one from Engld therefore buy 
and bring a good Strong well made Violin w th 2 or 3 Sets of spare Gut 
for the Suitable Strings get somebody of skill to Chuse and by it "... 
MS. Isaac Norris, Letter Book, 1719, p. 185. 

18 See above, pp. 32-34. 

19 " Our Negro woman got leave to visit her children in Bucks County." 
Christopher Marshall s Remembrancar, D, Jan. 7, 1776. "This after 
noon came home our Negro woman Dinah." Ibid., D, Jan. 15, 1776. 

20 Watson, Annals, I, 406. Cf. letter of William Hamilton of Lancas 
ter: " Yesterday (being Negroes Holiday) I took a ride into Maryland." 
Pa. Mag., XXIX, 257. 


never to have been opposition to improving them. Not 
much was done, it is true, and perhaps most of the ne 
groes were not reached by the efforts made. It must 
be remembered, however, what violent hostility mere 
efforts aroused in some other places. 81 

There is the statement of a careful observer that 
masters desired by all means to hinder their negroes 
from being instructed in the doctrines of Christianity, 
and to let them live on in pagan darkness. This he as 
cribes to a fear that negroes would grow too proud on 
seeing themselves upon a religious level with their 
masters. 22 Some weight must be attached to this ac 
count, but it is probable that the writer was roughly ap 
plying to Pennsylvania what he had learned in other 
places, for against his assertion much specific evidence 
can be arrayed. 

The attention of the Friends was directed to this sub 
ject very early. The counsel of George Fox was ex 
plicit. Owners were to give their slaves religious in 
struction and teach them the Gospel. 23 In 1693 the 
Keithian Quakers when advising that masters should 
hold their negroes only for a term of years, enjoined 
that during such time they should give these negroes 
a Christian education. 24 In 1700 Penn appears to have 

21 For the treatment of William Edmundson when he tried to convert 
negroes in the West Indies, cf. his Journal, 85; Gough, A History of the 
People Called Quakers, III, 61. Cf. MS. Board of Trade Journals, III, 
191 (1680). 

23 Kalm, Travels, I, 397. " It s obvious, that the future Welfare of 
those poor Slaves ... is generally too much disregarded by those who 
keep them." An Epistle of Caution and Advice, Concerning the Buying 
and Keeping of Slaves (1754), 5. This, however, is neglect rather than 

23 Fox s Epistles, in Friend s Library, I, 79 (1679). 

24 " An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning buying or 
keeping of Negroes," in Pa. Mag., XIII, 267. 


been able to get a Monthly Meeting established for 
them, but of the meeting no record has come down. 25 
As to what was the actual practice of Friends in this 
matter .their early records give meagre information. It 
seems certain that negroes were not allowed to partici 
pate in their meetings, though sometimes they were 
taken to the meeting-houses. 26 It is probable .that in 
great part the religious work of the Friends among 
slaves was confined to godly advice and reading. 27 As to 
the amount and quality of such advice, the well known 
character of the Friends leaves no doubt. 

The Moravians, who were most zealous in converting 
negroes, did not reach a great number in Pennsylvania, 
because few were held by them; nevertheless they 
labored successfully, and received negroes amongst 
them on terms of religious equality. 28 This also the 
Lutherans did to some extent, negroes being baptized 
among them. 29 It is in the case of the Episcopalians, 
however, that the most definite knowledge remains. The 
records of Christ Church show that the negroes who 
were baptized made no inconsiderable proportion of the 
total number baptized in the congregation. For a 
period of more than seventy years such baptisms are re 
corded, and are sometimes numerous. 30 At this church, 

25 Proud, History of Pennsylvania, 423 ; Gordon, History of Penn 
sylvania, 114. 

26 " Several " (negroes) " are brought to Meetings." MS. Minutes 
Radnor Monthly Meetings, 1763-1772, p. 79 (1764). "Most of those 
possessed of them . . . often bring them to our Meetings." Ibid., 175 


27 Cf. MS. Yearly Meeting Advices, 1682-1777, "Negroes or Slaves." 

28 Cranz, The Ancient and Modern History of the Brethren . . . Unitas 
Fratrum, 600, 601; Ogden, An Excursion into Bethlehem and Nazareth 
in Pennsylvania, 89, 90; i Pa. Arch., Ill, 75; Pa. Mag., XXIX, 363. 

29 Cf. Bean, History of Montgomery County, 302. 

30 MS. Records of Christ Church, Phila., I, 19, 43, 44, 46, 49, 132, 168, 
271, 273, 274, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 288, 293, 306, 312, 314, 333, 


also, there was a minister who had special charge of the 
religious instruction of negroes. 81 It is possible that 
something may have been accomplished by missionaries 
and itinerant exhorters. This was certainly so when 
Whitefield visited Pennsylvania in 1740. Both he and 
his friend Seward noted with peculiar satisfaction the 
results which they had attained. 32 Work of some value 
was also done by wandering negro exhorters, who, ap 
pearing at irregular intervals, assembled little groups 
and preached in fields and orchards. 33 

Something was also accomplished for negroes in the 
maintenance of family life. In 1700 Penn, anxious to 
improve their moral condition, sent to the Assembly 
a bill for the regulation of their marriages, but much 
to his grief this was defeated. 84 In the absence of such 

337, 341, 342, 344, 352, 353, 359, 3?i, 379, 383, 388, 392, 397, 399, 416, 
440, 441. Baptisms were very frequent in the years 1752 and 1753. Very 
many of the slaves admitted were adults, whereas in the case of free 
negroes at the same period most of the baptisms were of children. 

31 William. Macclanechan, writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 
1760, says: " On my Journey to New-England, I arrived at the oppulent 
City of Philadelphia, where I paid my Compliments to the Rev d Dr. 
Jenney, Minister of Christ s Church in that City, and to the Rev d Mr. 
Sturgeon, Catechist to the Negroes." H. W. Smith, Life and Corres 
pondence of the Rev. William Smith, I, 238. 

32 " Many negroes came, . . . some enquiring, have I a soul? " Gillies 
and Seymour, Memoirs of the Life and Character of . . . Rev. George 
Whitefield (3d ed.), 55- " I believe near Fifty Negroes came to give me 
Thanks, under God, for what has been done to their Souls . . . Some of 
them have been effectually wrought upon, and in an uncommon Manner." 
A Continuation of the Reverend Mr. Whitefield s Journal, 65, 66. 
" Visited a Negroe and prayed with her, and found her Heart touched by 
Divine Grace. Praised be the Lord, methinks one Negroe brought to 
Jesus Christ is peculiarly sweet to my Soul." W. Seward, Journal of a 
Voyage from Savannah to Philadelphia, etc., Apr. 18, 1740. 

33 " This afternoon a Negro man from Cecil County maryland preached 
in orchard opposite to ours, there was Sundry people, they said he spoke 
well for near an hour." MS. Ch. Marshall s Remembrancer, E, July 13, 

34 " Then (the pror and Gov.) proposed to them the necessitie of a 
law . . . about the marriages of negroes." Col. Rec., I, 598, 606, 610; Votes 


legislation they came under the law which forbade 
servants to marry during their servitude without the 
master s consent. 38 Doubtless in this matter .there was 
much of the laxity which is inseparable from slavery, 
but it is said that many owners allowed their slaves to 
marry in accordance with inclination, except that a 
master would .try to have his slaves marry among them 
selves. 36 The marriage ceremony was often performed 
just as in the case of white people, the records of Christ 
Church containing many instances. 37 The children of 
these unions were taught submission to their parents, 
who were indulged, it is said, in educating, cherishing, 

and Proceedings, I, 120, 121; Bettle, "Notices of Negro Slavery as 
connected with Pennsylvania," in Mem. Hist. Soc. Pa., VI, 368; Clark- 
son, Life of Penn, II, 80-82. Clarkson attributes the defeat to the lessen 
ing of Quaker influence, the lower tone of the later immigrants, and 
temporary hostility to the executive. More probably the bill failed be 
cause stable marriage relations have always been found incompatible 
with the ready movement and transfer of slave property; and because at 
this early period the slaveholders recognized this fact, and were not 
yet disposed to allow their slaves to marry. 

35 5*a*. at L., II, 22. Cf. Commonwealth v. Clements (1814), 6 
Binney 210. 

36 St. John Crevecceur, Letters, 221; Kalm, Travels, I, 391. Kalm adds 
that it was considered an advantage to have negro women, since other 
wise the offspring belonged to another master. 

37 MS. Rec. Christ Church, 4239, 4317, 4361, 4370, 4371, 4373, 4376, 
4379. 438i, 4404, 4405; MS. Rec. First Reformed Church, 4158, 4315; 
MS. Rec. St. Michael s and Zion, 109. Among the Friends there are 
very few records of such marriages. Cf. however, MS. Journal of Joshua 
Brown, 5 2d mo., 1774: ..." I rode to Philadelphia . . . and Lodged that 
Night at William Browns and sth day of the mo th I Spent in town and 
Was at a Negro Wedding in the Eving Where Several pe r Mett and had 
a Setting with them and they took Each other and the Love of God Seemd 
to be Extended to them "... A negro marriage according to Friends 
ceremony is recorded in MS. Deed Book O, 234, West Chester. Cf. 
Mittelberger, Journey, 106, " The blacks are likewise married in the 
English fashion." There must have been much laxity, however, for only 
a part of which the negroes were to blame. " They are suffered, with 
impunity, to cohabit together, without being married, and to part, when 
solemnly engaged to one another as man and wife "... Benezet, Some 
Historical Account of Guinea, 134. 


and chastising them. 87 * Stable family life among the 
slaves was made possible by the conditions of slavery 
in Pennsylvania, there being no active interchange of 
negroes. When they were bought or sold families were 
kept together as much as possible. 38 

In one matter connected with religious observances 
race prejudice was shown : negroes were not as a rule 
buried in the cemeteries of white people. 39 In some of 
the Friends records and elsewhere there is definite pro 
hibition. 40 They were often buried in their masters 
orchards, or on the edge of woodlands. The Philadel 
phia negroes were buried in a particular place outside 
the city. 41 

Under the kindly treatment accorded them the negroes 
of colonial Pennsylvania for the most part behaved 
fairly well. It is true that there is evidence that crime 
among them assumed grave proportions at times, while 
the records of the special courts and items in the news 
papers show that there occurred murder, poisoning, 
arson, burglary, and rape. 42 In addition there was fre- 

87 St. John Crevecceur, Letters, 222. 

38 " Acco* of Negroes Dr. ... for my Negroe Cuffee and his Wife Rose 
and their Daughter Jenny bo* of W m Banloft . . . 76/3/10." MS. James 
Logan s Account Book, 90 (1714). " Wanted, Four or Five Negro Men . . . 
if they have families, wives, or children, all will be purchased together." 
Pa, Packet, Aug. 22, 1778. Cf. also Mercury, June 4, 1724; June 21, 1739; 
Independent Gazeteer, July 14, 1792. Cf. however, Benezet, Some His 
torical Account of Guinea, 136; Crawford, Observations upon Negro 
Slavery (1784), 23, 24; Pa. Packet, Jan. i, 1780. 

39 This was not always the case. The MS. Rec. of Sandy Bank Ceme 
tery, Delaware Co., contains the names of two negroes. 

40 MS. Minutes Middletown Monthly Meeting, 2d Book A, 171, 558, 
559; Pa. Mag., VIII, 419; Isaac Comly, " Sketches of the History of 
Byberry," in Mem. Hist. Soc. Pa., II, 194. There were exceptions, how 
ever. Cf. MS. Bk. of Rec. Merion Meeting Grave Yard. 

41 Bean, Hist. Montgomery Co., 302; Martin, Hist of Chester, 80; 
Kalm, Travels, I, 44; Pa. Gazette, Nov. 15, 1775. 

a Stat. at L., IV, 59; Col. Rec., II, 18; i Pa. Arch. XI, 667; Mercury, 
Apr. 12, 1739; Phila. Staaisbote, Jan. 16, 1764; Pa. Gazette, Nov. 12, 


quent complaint about tumultuous assembling and bois 
terous conduct, and there was undoubtedly much pilfer 
ing. 43 Moreover the patience of many indulgent mas 
ters was tried by the shiftless behavior and insolent 
bearing of their slaves. 44 Yet the graver crimes stand 
out in isolation rather than in mass ; and it is too much 
to expect an entire absence of the lesser ones. The white 
people do not seem to have regarded their negroes as 
dangerous. 45 Almost never were there efforts for severe 
repression, and a slave insurrection seems hardly to 
have been thought of. 48 There are no statistics what 
ever on which to base an estimate, but judging from the 
relative frequency of notices it seems probable that crime 
among the negroes of Pennsylvania during the slavery 
period no doubt because they were under better con 
trol was less than at any period thereafter. 

But there was a misdemeanor of another kind : negro 

1761. For an instance of a slave killing his master, cf. MS. Supreme 
Court Papers, XXI, 3546. This was very rare. Pa. Mag., XIII, 449. 
According to Judge Bradford s statement arson was " the crime of slaves 
and children." Journal of Senate of Pa., 1792-1793, p. 52; Col. Rec., IV, 
243, 244, 259; XII, 377; MS. Miscellaneous Papers, Feb. 25, 1780. Cf. 
especially MS. Records of Special Courts for the Trial of Negroes; Col. 
Rec., IX, 648; MS. .Streper Papers, 55. 

43 In 1737 the Council spoke of the " insolent Behaviour of the Negroes 
in and about the city, which has of late been so much taken notice of "... 
Col. Rec., IV, 244; Votes and Proceedings, IV, 171. As to pilfering 
Franklin remarked that almost every slave was by nature a thief. Works 
(ed. Sparks), II, 315. 

44 The following has not lost all significance. " I was much Disturbed 
after I came our girl Poll driving her same stroke of Impudence as when 
she was in Philad 8 and her mistress so hood-winked by her as not to see 
it which gave me much uneasiness and which I am determined not to put 
up with" . . . Ch. Marshall, Remembrancer, D, Aug. 4, 1777. Cf. also 
Remarks on the Quaker Unmasked (1764). 

45 As shown by the very careless enforcement of the special regu 

16 Except immediately following the negro " insurrection " in New 
York in 1712. Cf. Stat. at L., II, 433; i Pa. Arch., IV, 792; 2 Pa. Arch., 
XV, 368. 


slaves frequently ran away. Fugitives are mentioned 
from the first/ 7 and there is hardly a copy of any of the 
old papers but has an advertisement for some negro at 
large. 49 These notices sometimes advise that the slave 
has stolen from his master; often that he has a pass, 
and is pretending to be a free negro ; and occasionally 
that a free negro is suspected of harboring him." 

The law against harboring was severe and was strictly 
enforced. Anyone might take up a suspicious negro; 
while whoever returned a runaway to his master was by 
law entitled to receive five shillings and expenses. It 
was always the duty of the local authorities to appre 
hend suspects. When this occurred the procedure was 
to lodge the negro in jail, and advertise for the master, 
who might come, and after proving title and paying 
costs, take him away. Otherwise the negro was sold 

47 " A negro man and a White Woman servant being taken up ... and 
brought before John Simcocke Justice in Commission for runaways Who 
upon Examination finding they had noe lawful Passe Comitted them to 
Prison" . . . MS. Court Rec. Penna. and Chester Co., 1681-88, p. 75; 
MS. New Castle Ct. Rec., Liber A, 158 (1677); MS. Minutes Ct. Quarter 
Sess. Bucks Co., 1684-1730, p. 138 (1690); MS. Minutes Chester Co. 
Courts, 1681-1697, p. 222 (1694-1695). For the continual going away of 
Christopher Marshall s " Girl Poll," see his Remembrancer, vol. D. 

48 The following is not only typical, but is very interesting on its own 
account, since Abraham Lincoln was a descendant of the family men 
tioned. " RUN away on the i3th of September last from Abraham Lin 
coln of Springfield in the County of Chester, a Negro Man named Jack, 
about 30 Years of Age, low Stature, speaks little or no English, has a 
Scar by the Corner of one Eye, in the Form of a V, his Teeth notched, 
and the Top of one on his Fore Teeth broke; He had on when he went 
away an old Hat, a grey Jacket partly like a Sailor s Jacket. Whoever 
secures the said Negro, and brings him to his Master, or to Mordccai 
Lincoln . . . shall have Twenty Shillings Reward and reasonable Charges." 
Pa. Gazette, Oct. 15, 1730. 

49 Mercury, Apr. 18, 1723; July n, 1723; Gazette, May 3, 1744; Feb. 
22, 1775; July 28, 1779; Jan. 17, 1782; Packet, Oct. 13, 1778; Aug. 3, 
1779. One negro indentured himself to a currier. Gazette, Aug. 30, 1775- 
Such negroes the community was warned not to employ. Backet, Feb. 
27, 1779. 


for a short time to satisfy jail fees, advertised again, and 
finally either set at liberty or disposed of as pleased the 
local court. 80 

This fleeing from service on the part of negro slaves, 
while varying somewhat in frequency, was fairly con 
stant during the whole slavery period, increasing as the 
number of slaves grew larger. During the British oc 
cupation of Philadelphia, however, it assumed such 
enormous proportions that the number of negroes held 
there was permanently lowered. 61 Notwithstanding, 
then, the kindly treatment they received, slaves in Penn 
sylvania ran away. Nevertheless it is significant that 
during the same period white servants ran away more 
than twice as often. 52 

Many traits of daily life and marks of personal ap 
pearance which no historian has described, are pre 
served in the advertisements of the daily papers. Al 
most every negro seems to have had the smallpox. To 
have done with this and the measles was justly con 
sidered an enhancement in value. Some of the negroes 
kidnapped from Africa still bore traces of their savage 
ancestry. Not a few spoke several languages. Gener- 

50 The penalty was thirty shillings for every day. Stat. at L., IV, 
64 (1725-1726). There was need for regulation from the first. Cf. Col. 
Rec., I, 117. An advertisement from Reading in Gazette, July 31, 1776, 
explains the procedure when suspects were held in jail. Such advertise 
ments recur frequently. Cf. Mercury, Aug. 13, 1730 (third notice); 
Gazette, Dec. 27, 1774; Packet, Mar. 23, 1779. 

81 For negroes carried off or who ran away at this time cf. MS. Mis 
cellaneous Papers, Sept. i, 1778; Nov. 19, 1778; Aug. 20, 1779; and 
others. Numbers of strange negroes were reported to be wandering 
around in Northumberland County. Ibid., Aug. 29, 1780. In 1732 the 
Six Nations had been asked not to harbor runaway negroes, since they 
were " the Support and Livelihood of their Masters, and gett them their 
Bread." 4 Pa. Arch., II, 657, 658. 

M So I judge from statistics which I have compiled from the adver 
tisements in the newspapers. 


ally they were fond of gay dress. Some carried riddles 
when they ran away. One had made considerable 
money by playing. Many little hints as to character ap 
pear. Thus Mona is full of flattery. Cuff Dix is fond 
of liquor. James chews abundance of tobacco. Stephen 
has a " sower countenance " ; Harry, " meek counten 
ance " ; Rachel, " remarkable austere countenance " ; 
Dick is " much bandy legged " ; Violet, " pretty, lusty, 
and fat." A likely negro wench is sold because of her 
breeding fast. One negro says that he has been a 
preacher among the Indians. Two others fought a duel 
with pistols. A hundred years has involved no great 
change in character. 53 

Finally, on the basis of information drawn from rare 
and miscellaneous sources it becomes apparent that in 
slavery times there was more kindliness and intimacy 
between the races than existed afterwards. In those 
days many slaves were treated as if part of the master s 
family : when sick they were nursed and cared for ; when 
too old to work they were provided for ; and some were 
remembered in the master s will." Negroes did run 

63 Mercury, Apr. 18, 1723; Packet, July 16, 1778; Gazette, June 12, 
1740; Feb. 4, 1775; Jan. 3, 1776; July 2, 1781; Gazette, Nov. 17, 1748; 
Feb. 21, 1775. " Old Dabbo an African Negro . . . call d here for some 
victuals . . . He had three gashes on each cheek made by his mother when 
he was a child . . . His conversation is scarcely intelligible "; MS. Diary 
of Joel Swayne, 1823-1833, Mar. 27, 1828. Mercury, Aug. 6, 1730; 
Packet, Aug. 26, 1779; Gazette, July 31, 1739-1740; Mercury, June 24, 
1725; Packet, June 22, 1789; Packet, Dec. 31, 1778; Gazette, Sept. 10, 
1741; July 21, 1779; Sept. ii, 1746; Oct. 16, 1776; July 30, 1747; May 
14, 1747; Oct. 22, 1747; Aug. 30, 1775; Mar. 22, 1747-1748; July 24, 
1776; Apr. 23, 1761; July 5, 1775; Packet, Jan. 26, 1779. 

54 " My Dear Companion . . . has really her hands full, Cow to milk, 
breakfast to get, her Negro woman to bath, give medicine, Cap up with 
flannels, as She is allways Sure to be poorly when the weather is cold, 
Snowy and Slabby. its then She gives her Mistriss a deal of fatigue and 
trouble in attending on her." Ch. Marshall, Remembrancer, E, Mar. 25, 
1779. " To Israel Taylor p order of the Com 1 for Cureing negro Jack 


away, and numbers of them desired .to be free, but when 
manumission came not a few of them preferred to stay 
with their former owners. It was the opinion of an ad 
vocate of emancipation that they were better off as 
slaves than they could possibly be as freemen. 55 

Such was slavery in Pennsylvania. If on the one 
hand there was the chance of families being sold apart ; 
if there was seen the cargo, the slave-drove, the auction 
sale; it must be remembered that such things are in 
separable from the institution of slavery, and that on the 
other hand they were rare, and not to be weighed against 
the positive comfort and well-being of which there is 
such abundant proof. If ever it be possible not to con 
demn modern slavery, it might seem that slavery as it 
existed in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century was 
a good, probably for the masters, certainly for the 

legg . . . 4/10 To Roger Parke for Cureing negro sam . . . /9/9." MS. 
William Penn s Account Book, 1690-1693, p. 8. A bill for 10 10 sh. 
4d. was rendered to Thomas Penn for nursing and burying his negro 
Sam. Some of the items are very humorous. MS. Penn Papers, Ac 
counts (unbound), Feb. 19, 1741. The bill for Thomas Penn s negroes, 
Hagar, Diana, and Susy, for the years 1773 and 1774, amounted to 5 
5 sh. Penn-Physick MSS., IV, 253. An item in a bill rendered to Mrs. 
Margaretta Frame is: " To bleeding her Negro man Sussex . . . /2/6." 
MS. Penn Papers, Accounts (unbound), June 5, 1742. St. John Crevecceur, 
Letters, 221. Masters were compelled by law to support their old slaves 
who would otherwise have become charges on the community. Cf. Stat. 
at L., X, 70; Laws of Pa., 1803, p. 103; 1835-1836, pp. 546, 547. In very 
many cases, however, old negroes were maintained comfortably until 
death in the families where they had served. Cf. MS. Phila. Wills, X, 94 
(1794). There are numerous instances of negroes receiving property by 
their master s wills. Cf. West Chester Will Files, no. 3759 (1785). For the 
darker side cf. Lay, All Slave-Keepers Apostates, 93. 

55 " Many of those whom the good Quakers have emancipated have 
received the great benefit with tears in their eyes, and have never quitted, 
though free, their former masters and benefactors." St. John Crevecceur, 
Letters, 222; Pa. Mag., XVIII, 372, 3735 Buck, MS. History of Bucks 
Co., marginal note of author in his scrapbook. For the superiority of 
slavery cf. J. Harriot, Struggles through Life, etc., II, 409. Also Wat 
son, Annals, II, 265. 


slaves. 68 The fact is that it existed in such mitigated 
form that it was impossible for it to be perpetuated. 
Whenever men can treat their slaves as men in Pennsyl 
vania treated them, they are living in a moral atmos 
phere inconsistent with the holding of slaves. Nothing 
can then preserve slavery but paramount economic 
needs. In Pennsylvania, since such needs were not 
paramount, slavery was doomed. 

56 It has been suggested that it was milder than the system under 
which redemptioners were held, and that hence " Quaker scruples against 
slavery were either misplaced or insincere." C. A. Herrick, " Indentured 
Labor in Pennsylvania," (MS. thesis, University of Pa.), 89. An exam 
ination of the Quaker records would have shown that the last part of 
this statement is not true. See below, chaps. IV, V. 


IN Pennsylvania the disintegration of slavery began as 
soon as slavery was established, for there were free ne 
groes in the colony at the beginning of the eighteenth 
century. 1 Manumission may have taken place earlier 
than this, for in 1682 an owner made definite promise of 
freedom to his negro. 2 The first indisputable case now 
known, however, occurred in 1701, when a certain Lydia 
Wade living in Chester County freed her slaves by 
testament. 3 In the same year William Penn on his re 
turn to England liberated his blacks likewise. 4 Judging 
from the casual and unexpected references to free ne- 

1 It is of course possible that some of these negroes had been servants, 
and that their period of service was over. 

- " Where As William Clark did buy ... An negor man Called and 
knowen by the name of black Will for and during his natrill Life; never 
the Less the said William Clark doe for the Incourigment of the sd 
neagor servant hereby promise Covenant and Agree; that if the said 
Black Will doe well and Truely sarve the said William Clark . . . five 
years . . . then the said Black Will shall be Clear and free of and from 
Any further or Longer Sarvicetime or Slavery ... as wittnes my hand this 
Thirteenth day of ... June Anno; Din; 1682." MS. Ancient Rec. of 
Sussex Co., 1681-1709, p. 116. 

8 " My will is that my negroes John and Jane his wife shall be set 
free one month after my decease." Ashmead, History of Delaware 
County, 203. 

4 " I give to ... my blacks their freedom as is under my hand already " 
. . . MS. Will of William Penn, Newcastle on Delaware, 3oth 8br, 1701. 
This will, which was left with James Logan, was not carried out. Penn s 
last will contains no mention of his negroes. He frequently mentions 
them elsewhere. Cf. MS. Letters and Papers of William Penn (Dreer), 
29 (1689), 35 (1690); Pa. Mag., XXXIII, 316 (1690); MS. Logan Papers. 
II, 98 (1703). Cf. also Penn. MSS., Official Correspondence, 97. 



groes which come to light from time to time, it seems 
probable that other masters also bestowed freedom. At 
any rate the status of the free negro had come to be rec 
ognized about this time as one to be protected by law, for 
when in 1703 Antonio Garcia, a Spanish mulatto, was 
brought to Philadelphia as a slave, he appealed to the 
provincial Council, and presently was set at liberty. 8 In 
1717 the records of Christ Church mention Jane, a free 
negress, who was baptized there with her daughter. 6 

This freeing of negroes at so early a time in the his 
tory of the colony is sufficiently remarkable. It might be 
expected that manumission would have been rare ; and, 
indeed, the records are very few at first. Nevertheless 
a law passed in 1725-1726 would indicate that the prac 
tice was by no means unusual. 7 

It is not possible to say what was the immediate cause 
of the passing of that part of the act which refers to 
manumission. It may have been the growth of a class 
of black freemen, or it may have been the desire to check 
manumission ; * but it was probably neither of these 
things so much as it was the practice of masters who set 
free their infirm slaves when the labor of those slaves 
was no longer remunerative. 8 This practice together 
with the usual shiftlessness of most of the freedmen 
makes the resulting legislation intelligible enough. It 

Col. Rec., II, 120. 

8 Jane " a free negro woman "... MS. Rec. Christ Church, 46. 

1 " Whereas tis found by experience that free negroes are an idle, 
slothful people and often prove burdensome to the neighborhood and af 
ford ill examples to other negroes "... " An Act for the better regulating 
of Negroes in this Province." Stat. at L., IV, 61. 

8 " Our Ancestors . . . for a long time deemed it policy to obstruct the 
emancipation of Slaves and affected to consider a free Negro as a useless 
if not a dangerous being "... Letter of W. Rawle (1787), in MS. Rec. 
Pa. Soc. Abol. Slavery. 

8 Votes and Proceedings, II, 336, 337. 


provided that thereafter if any master purposed to set 
his negro free, he should obligate himself at the county 
court to secure the locality in which the negro might 
reside from any expense occasioned by the sickness of 
the negro or by his inability to support himself. If a 
negro received liberty by will, recognizance should be 
entered into by the executor immediately. Without this 
no negro was to be deemed free. The security was 
fixed at thirty pounds. 10 

Whatever may have been the full purpose of this stat 
ute, there can be no question that it did check manumis 
sion to a certain extent. A standing obligation of thirty 
pounds, which might .at any moment become an un 
pleasant reality, when added to the other sacrifices which 
freeing a slave entailed, was probably sufficient to dis 
courage many who possessed mildly good intentions. 
Several times it was protested that the amount was so 
excessive as to check the beneficence of owners ; u and 
on one occasion it was computed that the thirty pounds 
required did not really suffice to support such negroes as 
became charges, but that a different method and a 
smaller sum would have secured better results. 12 The 

10 " An Act for the better regulating of Negroes in this Province." 
Stat. at L., IV, 61 (1725-1726). 

11 " This is however very expensive for they are obliged to make a pro 
vision for the Negro thus set at liberty, to afford him subsistence when he 
is grown old, that he may not be driven by necessity to wicked actions, 
or that he may be at anybody s charge, for these free Negroes become 
very lazy and indolent afterwards." Kalm, Travels, I, 394 (1748). 

12 Cf. Votes and Proceedings, 1767-1776, p. 30. The author of Brief 
Considerations on Slavery, and the Expediency of Its Abolition (1773) 
argued that the public derived benefit from the labor of adult free ne 
groes, and that the public should pay the surety required. By an elab 
orate calculation he endeavored to prove that a sum of about five shillings 
deposited at interest by the community each year of the negro s life after 
he was twenty-one, would amply suffice for all requirements. Pp. 8-14 
of the second part, entitled " An Account Stated on the Manumission 


burden to owners was no doubt felt very grievously dur 
ing the latter half of the eighteenth century, when man 
umission was going on so actively, and it is known that 
the Assembly was asked to give relief. 13 Nevertheless 
nothing was done until 1780 when the abolition act 
swept from the statute-books all previous legislation 
about the negro, slave as well as free. 14 

In spite of the obstacles created by the statute of 
1725-1726, the freeing of negroes continued. In 1731 
John Baldwin of Chester ordered in his will that his 
negress be freed one year after his decease. Two years 
later Ralph Sandiford is said to have given liberty to all 
of his slaves. In 1742 Judge Langhorne in Bucks 
County devised freedom to all of his negroes, between 
thirty and forty in number. In 1744 by the will of John 
Knowles of Oxford, negro James was to be made free 
on condition that he gave security to the executors to 
pay the thirty pounds if required. Somewhat before 
this time John Harris, the founder of Harrisburg, set 
free the faithful negro Hercules, who had saved his 
life from the Indians. In 1746 Samuel Blunson manu 
mitted his slaves at Columbia. During this period 
negroes were occasionally sent to the Moravians, who 
gave them religious training, baptized them, and after 
a time set them at liberty. During the following years 
the records of some of the churches refer again and 
again to free negroes who were married in them, bap- 

of Slaves." He says " As the laws stand at present in several of our 
northern governments, the act of manumission is clogged with difficulties 
that almost amount to a prohibition." Ibid., 1 1. 

13 Votes and Proceedings, 1767-1776, p. 696. 

14 Stat. at L., X, 72. 


tized in them, or who brought their children to them to 
be baptized. 15 At an early date there was a sufficient 
number of free black people in Pennsylvania to attract 
the attention of philanthropists; and it is known that 
Whitefield as early as 1744 took up a tract of land 
partly with the intention of making a settlement of free 
negroes. 16 Up to this time, however, manumission prob 
ably went on in a desultory manner, hampered by the 
large security required, and practised only by the most 
ardent believers in human liberty. The middle of the 
eighteenth century marked a great turning-point. 

The southeastern part of Pennsylvania, in which most 
of the negroes were located, was peopled largely by 
Quakers, who in many localities were the principal slave 
owners, and who at different periods during the eigh 
teenth century probably held from a half to a third of all 
the slaves in the colony. But they were never able to 
reconcile this practice entirely with their religious be 
lief and from the very beginning it encountered strong 
opposition. As this opposition is really part of the his 
tory of abolition in Pennsylvania it will be treated at 
length in the following chapter. Here it is sufficient to 
say that from 1688 a long warfare was carried on, for 
the most part by zealous reformers who gradually won 
adherents, until about 1750 the Friends meetings de 
clared against slavery, and the members who were not 
slave-owners undertook to persuade those who still 
owned negroes to give them up. 

1B Martin, History of Chester, 480; Watson, Annals, II, 265; Pa. Mag., 
VII, 82; Davis, History of Bucks County, 798; MS. in Miscellaneous 
Collection, Box 10, Negroes; Morgan, Annals of Harrisburg, n; Smed- 
ley, History of the Underground Railroad in Chester, etc., 27; Pa. Mag., 
XII, 188; XXIX, 363, 365; MS. Rec. Christ Church, 46, 352, 356, 379, 
400, 403, 404, 440, 441, 455, 475 4 I2 6, 4330, 4356; MS. Rec. First Re 
formed Church, 4126, 4248; MS. Rec. St. Michael s and Zion, 97. 

16 Cf. Conyngham s " Historical Notes," in Mem. Hist. Soc. Pa., I, 338. 


The feeling among some of the Friends was ex 
traordinary at this time. They went from one slave 
holder to another expostulating, persuading, entreating. 
It was then that the saintly John Woolman did his work ; 
but he was only the most distinguished among many 
others. It is hardly possible to read over the records of 
any Friends meeting for the next thirty years without 
finding numerous references to work of this character ; 
and in more than one journal of the period mention is 
made of the obstacles encountered and the expedients 

The results of their efforts were far-reaching. Many 
Friends who would have scrupled to buy more slaves, 
and who were convinced that slave-holding was an evil, 
yet retained such slaves as they had, through motives of 
expediency, and also because they believed that negroes 
held in mild bondage were better off than when free. 
Against this temporizing policy the reformers fought 
hard, and aided by the decision of the Yearly Meeting 
that slaveholders should no longer participate in the 
affairs of the Society, carried forward their work with 
such success that within one more generation slavery 
among the Friends in Pennsylvania had passed away. 

During the period, then, from 1750 to 1780 manumis 
sion among the Friends became very frequent. Many 
slaves were set free outright, their masters assuming 
the liability required by law. Others were manumitted 
on condition that they would not become chargeable. 18 
Some owners gave promise of freedom at the end of a 
certain number of years, considering the service during 
those years an equivalent for the financial obligation 

17 See below, p. 74. 

18 MS. Miscellaneous Papers, 1684-1847, Chester Co., 101 (1764). 


which at the end they would have to assume. 19 Often 
the negro was given his liberty on condition that at a 
future time he would pay to the master his purchase 
price. 20 In 1751 a writer said that numerous negroes had 
gained conditional freedom, and were wandering around 
the country in search of employment so as to pay their 
owners. The magistrates of Philadelphia complained of 
this as a nuisance. 21 

Just how many slaves gained their freedom during 
this period it is impossible to say. The church records 
mention them again and again ; and they become, what 
they had not been before, the occasion of frequent notice 
and serious speculation. 22 Other people began now to 
follow the Friends example, 23 and the belief in abstract 
principles of freedom aroused by the Revolutionary 
struggle gave further impetus to the movement. 24 In 
every quarter, now, manumissions were constantly be- 

19 They were generally held longer than apprentices or white servants 
until twenty-eight or thirty years of age, but many of the Friends pro 
tested against this. MS. Diary of Richard Barnard, 24 5 mo., 1782; MS. 
Minutes Exeter Monthly Meeting, Book B, 354 (1779). 

- " I do hereby Certify that Benjamin Mifflin hath given me Directions 
to sell his Negro man Cuff to himself for the Sum of Sixty Pounds if he 
can raise the Money having Repeatedly refused from Others seventy 
Five Pounds and upwards for him." MS. (1769) in Misc. Coll., Box 10, 

21 Pa. Gazette, Mar. 5, 1751. 

22 Cf. Benezet, Some Historical Account of Guinea, 134, 135, where he 
laments the difficulties under which free negroes labor. Also same au 
thor, A Mite Cast into the Treasury, 13-17, where he argues that negro 
servants should not be held longer than white apprentices. 

23 "Die mahrischen Briider folgten diesem ruhmlichen Beispiel; so auch 
Christen von den ubrigen Bekenntnissen." Ebeling, in Erdbeschreibung, 
etc., IV, 220. 

2 * Cf. preamble to the act of 1780. Stat. at L., X, 67, 68. A negro 
twenty-one years old was manumitted because " all mankind have an 
Equal Natural and Just right to Liberty." MS. Extracts Rec. Goshen 
Monthly Meeting, 415 (G. Cope). 


ing made. 35 Any estimate as to how many negroes, serv 
ants and free, there were in Pennsylvania by 1780 must 
be largely a conjecture, but it is perhaps safe to say that 
there were between four and five thousand. 28 

The act of 1780, which put an end to the further 
growth of slavery in Pennsylvania, marked the begin 
ning of the final work of the liberators. Coming at a time 
when so many people had given freedom to their slaves, 
and passing with so little opposition in the Assembly as 
to show that the majority of Pennsylvania s people no 
longer had sympathy with slavery, it was the signal to 
the abolitionists to urge the manumission of such ne 
groes as the law had left in bondage. The task was 
made easier by the fact that not only was the value of the 
slave property now much diminished, but a man no 
longer needed to enter into surety when he set his slaves 
free. Doubtless many whose religious scruples had been 
balanced by material considerations, now saw the way 
smooth before them, or arranged to make the sacri 
fice cost them little or nothing at all. During this period 
manumission took on a commercial aspect which for 
merly had not been so evident. This was brought about 
in several ways. 

Sometimes negroes had saved enough to purchase 
their liberty. 27 Many, as before, received freedom upon 

25 MS. General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, Phila. Co., 1773-1780. 
Franklin, Letter to Dean Woodward, Apr. 10, 1773, in Works (ed. 
Sparks), VIII, 42. 

28 In 1751 the number of negroes in Pennsylvania, including Delaware, 
was thought to be 11,000. Cf. above, p. 12. The negroes in Pennsylva 
nia alone by 1780 probably did not exceed the same number. Of these 
6,000 were said to be slaves. Cf. above, ibid. In some places by this 
time manumission was nearly complete. Cf. W. J. Buck, in Coll. Hist. 
Soc. Pa., I, 201. 

27 MSS. Misc. Coll., Box 10, Negroes. 


binding themselves to pay for it at the expiration of a 
certain time. 28 In this they often received assistance 
from well-disposed people, in particular from the 
Friends, who had by no means stopped the good work 
when their own slaves were set free. 28 At times the en 
tire purchase money was paid by some philanthropist. 80 
Frequently one member of a negro family bought free 
dom for another, the husband often paying for his wife, 
the father for his children. 81 Furthermore it had now 
become common to bind out negroes for a term of years, 
and many owners who desired their slaves to be free, 
found partial compensation in selling them for a limited 
period, on express condition that all servitude should be 
terminated strictly in accordance with the contract. By 

28 MS. Rec. Pa. Soc. Abol. SI., I, 19, 27, 29, 43, 67, and passim. 

28 A MS. dated Phila., 1769, contains a list of persons who had prom 
ised to contribute towards purchasing a negro s freedom. Among the 
memoranda are: " John Head agrees to give him Twenty Shillings and not 
to be Repaid . . . John Benezet twenty Shillings . . . Christopher Marshall 
/7/6 ... If he can raise with my Donation enough to free him I agree to 
give him three pounds and not otherwise I promise Saml Emlen jur . . . 
Joseph Pemberton by his Desire [Five erased] pounds 3." MS. Misc. 
Coll., Box 10, Negroes. 

30 Misc. MSS. 1744-1859. Northern, Interior and Western Counties, 
191 (1782). 

31 In 1779 a negro of Bucks County to secure the freedom of his wife 
gave his note to be paid by 1783. In 1782, having paid part, he was al 
lowed to take his wife until the next payment. In 1785 she was free. 
MS. Rec. Pa. Soc. Abol. Si., I, 27-43. In 1787 negro Samson had pur 
chased his wife and children for ninety-nine pounds. Ibid., I, 67. James 
Oronogue, who had been hired by his master to the keeper of a tavern, 
gained by his obliging behavior sixty pounds from the customers within 
four years time, and at his master s death was allowed to purchase his 
freedom for one hundred pounds. He paid besides fifty pounds for his 
wife. Ibid., I, 69. When Cuff Douglas had been a slave for thirty- 
seven years his master promised him freedom after four years more. On 
the master agreeing to take thirty pounds in lieu of this service, Doug 
las hired himself out, and was free at the end of sixteen months. He 
then began business as a tailor, and presently was able to buy his wife 
and children for ninety pounds, besides one son for whom he paid forty- 
five pounds. Ibid., I, 72. Also ibid., I, 79, 91. 


furthering such transactions the benevolent tried to 
help negroes to gain freedom. 32 Occasionally the slave 
liberated was bound for a term of years to serve the 
former master. 83 Even at this period, however, negroes 
continued to be manumitted from motives of pure benev 
olence. Some received liberty by the master s testament, 
and others were held only until assurance was given the 
master that he would not become liable under the poor 
law. 81 

As the result of the earnest efforts that were made 
slavery in Pennsylvania dwindled steadily. In the 
course of a long time it would doubtless have passed 
away as the result of continued individual manumission. 
As a matter of fact, it had become almost extinct within 
two generations after 1750. This was brought about 
by work that affected not individuals, but whole classes, 
and finally all the people of the state ; which was de 
signed to strike at the root of slavery and destroy it 
altogether. This was abolition. 

82 "Wanted to purchase, a good Negro Wench ... If to be sold on terms 
of freedom by far the most agreeable." Pa. Packet, Aug. 22, 1778. In 
1791 Caspar Wistar bought a slave for sixty pounds "to extricate him 
from that degraded Situation " . . . , his purpose being to keep the negro 
for a term of years only. MS. Misc. Coll., Box 10, Negroes. Numerous 
other examples among the same MSS. 

88 " I, John Lettour from motives of benevolence and humanity ... do 
. . . set free . . . my Negro Girl Agathe Aged about Seventeen Years. 
On condition . . . that she . . . bind herself by Indenture to serve me 
... Six years " . . . . MS. ibid. Cf. MS. Abstract Rec. Abington 
Monthly Meeting, 372 (1765). 

34 " I Manumit ... my Negro Girl Abb when she shall Arrive to the Age 
of Eighteen Years . . . (on Condition that the Committee for the Abolition 
of slavery shall make entry according to Law ... so as to secure me from 
any Costs or Trouble on me or my Estate on said Negro after the age of 
Eighteen Years). . . Hannah Evans." MS. Misc. Coll., Box 10, Negroes. 
Cf. Stat. at L., X, 70. At times this might become an unpleasant reality. 
Cf. MS. State of a Case respecting a Negro (Ridgway Branch). 


THE events which led to the extinction of slavery in 
Pennsylvania fall naturally into four periods. They are, 
first, the years from 1682 to about 1740, during which 
the Germans discountenanced slave-holding, and the 
Friends ceased importing negroes ; second, the period of 
the Quaker abolitionists, from about 1710 to 1780, by 
which time slavery among the Quakers had come to an 
end; third, from 1780 to 1788, the years of legislative 
action; and finally, the period from 1788 to the time 
when slavery in Pennsylvania became extinct through 
the gradual working of the act for abolition. 

Opposition to slaveholding arose among the Friends. 
Slavery had not yet been recognized in statute law 
when they began to protest against it. This protest, 
faint in the beginning and taken up only by a few ideal 
ists, was never stopped afterwards, but, growing con 
tinually in strength, was, as the events of after years 
showed, from the first fraught with foreboding of doom 
to the institution. Opposition on the part of the Friends 
had begun before Pennsylvania was founded. In 1671 
Fox, travelling in the West Indies, advised his brethren 
in Barbadoes to deal mildly with their negroes, and after 
certain years of servitude to make them free. Four 
years later William Edmundson in one of his letters 
asked how it was possible for men to reconcile Christ s 
command, to do as they would be done by, with the prac- 



tice of holding slaves without hope or expectation of 
freedom. 1 Nevertheless in the first years after the set 
tlement of Pennsylvania Friends were the principal 
slaveholders. This led to differences of opinion, but at 
the sta; f economic considerations prevailed. 

The reform really began in 1688, a year memorable 
for the first formal protest against slavery in North 
America. 2 Germantown had been settled by German 
refugees who in religious belief were Friends. These 
men, simple-minded and honest, having had no previous 
acquaintance with slavery, were amazed to find it exist 
ing in Penn s colony. At their monthly meeting, the 
eighteenth of the second month, 1688, Pastorius and 
other leaders drew up an eloquent and touching me 
morial. In words of surpassing nobleness and sim 
plicity they stated the reasons why they were against 
slavery and the traffic in men s bodies. Would the 
masters wish so to be dealt with ? Was it possible for 
this to be in accord with Christianity? In Pennsylvania 
there was freedom of conscience ; there ought likewise 
to be freedom of the body. What report would it 
cause in Europe that in this new land the Quakers 
handled men as there men treated their cattle? If it 
were possible that Christian men might do these things 
they desired to be so informed. 8 

1 Edmundson s Journal, 61. Janney, History of the Friends, III, 178. 

2 Pennypacker, " The Settlement of Germantown," in Pa. Mag., IV, 
28; McMaster, "The Abolition of Slavery in the United States," in 
Chatauquan, XV, 24, 25 (Apr., 1892). For the protest against slavery 
and the slave-trade (De instauranda JEthiopum Salute, Madrid, 1647) of 
the Jesuit, Alfonso Sandoval, cf. Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud de la 
Rasa Africana en el Nuevo Mundo, 253-256. 

8 Pennypacker, place cited; Learned, Life of Francis Daniel Pastorius, 
261, 262. Facsimile of protest in Ridgway Branch of the Library Com 
pany of Philadelphia. 


This protest they sent to the Monthly Meeting at 
Richard Worrel s. There it was considered, and found 
too weighty to be dealt with, and so it was sent on to the 
Quarterly Meeting at Philadelphia, and from thence to 
the Yearly Meeting at Burlington, which finally decided 
not to give a positive judgment in the case. 4 For the 
present nothing came of it ; but the idea did not die. It 
probably lingered in the minds of many men ; for within 
a few years a sentiment had been aroused which be 
came widespread and powerful. 

In 1693 George Keith, leader of a dissenting faction 
of Quakers, laid down as one of his doctrines that 
negroes were men, and that slavery was contrary to the 
religion of Christ; also that masters should set their 
negroes at liberty after some reasonable time. 5 At a 
meeting of Friends held in Philadelphia in 1693 the pre 
vailing opinion was that none should buy except to set 
free. Three years later at the Friends Yearly Meeting 
it was resolved to discourage the further bringing in of 
slaves. 6 In 1712 when the Yearly Meeting at Philadel 
phia desiring counsel applied to the Yearly Meeting at 
London, it received answer that the multiplying of 
negroes might be of dangerous consequence. 7 In the 
next and the following years the Meetings strongly ad 
vised Friends not to import and not to buy slaves. 8 From 
1730 to 1737 reports showed that the importation of 

4 The Monthly Meeting declared " we think it not expedient for us to 
meddle with it here." Pennypacker, place cited, 30, 31. 

5 Watson, Annals, II, 262. " An Exhortation and Caution To Friends 
Concerning buying or keeping of Negroes," in Pa. Mag., XIII, 265-270. 
This is said to have been the first printed protest against slavery in 
America. Cf. Hildeburn, A Century of Printing, etc., I, 28, 29; Gabriel 
Thomas, Account, 53; Settle, Notes, 367. 

6 Clarkson, Life of Penn, II, 78, 79. 

7 Cf. Settle, 372. 
*lbid., 373- 


negroes by Friends was being largely discontinued. By 
1745 it had virtually ceased. 8 

It is generally believed that Pennsylvania s restrictive 
legislation, that long series of acts passed for the pur 
pose of keeping out negroes by means of prohibitive 
duties, was largely due to Quaker influence. This is 
probably true, but it is not easy to prove. The proceed 
ings of the colonial Assembly have been reported so 
briefly that they do not give the needed information. 
When, however, the strong feeling of the Friends is 
understood in connection with the fact that they con 
trolled the early legislatures, it is not hard to believe that 
the high duties were imposed because they wished the 
traffic at an end. Their feeling about the slave-trade 
and their desire to stop it are revealed again and again 
in the meeting minutes. 10 The most drastic law was 
certainly due to them. 11 

8 ibid., 377. 

" Whereas several Papers have been read relating to the keeping and 
bringing in of Negroes ... it is the advice of this Meeting, that Friends 
be careful not to encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes "... 
MS. " Negroes or Slaves," Yearly Meeting Advices, 1682-1777 (1696). 
" This meeting is also dissatisfied with Friends buying and incouriging 
the bringing in of Negroes "... MS. Chester Quarterly Meeting Minutes, 
6 6th mo., 1711. " There having a conscern Come upon severall friends 
belonging to this meeting Conscerning the Importation of Negros . . . after 
some time spent in the Consideration thereof it is the Unanimous sencc 
of this meeting that friends should not be concerned hereafter in the 
Importation thereof nor buy any "... MS. Chester Monthly Meeting 
Minutes, 27 4th mo., 1715. MS. Chester Quarterly Meeting Minutes, 
i 6th mo., 1715. " This meeting have been for some time under a 
Concern by reason of the great Quantity of Negros fetched and im 
ported into this Country." Ibid., n 6th mo., 1729. MS. Yearly Meeting 
Minutes, 19-23 7th mo., 17.30. As soon as Friends had been brought to 
cease the importation of negroes, attack was made upon the practice of 
Friends buying negroes imported by others. Cf. MS. Chester Q. M. M., 
n 6th mo., 1729; 9 9th mo., 1730. The MS. Chester M. M. M. mention 
100 books on the slave-trade for circulation. 

11 " We also kindly received your advice about negro slaves, and we are 
one with you, that the multiplying of them, may be of a dangerous con- 


But the small number of negroes in Pennsylvania as 
compared with the neighboring northern colonies was 
above all due to the early and continuous aversion to 
slavery manifested by the Germans. The first German 
settlers opposed the institution for religious reasons. 12 
This opposition is perhaps to be ascribed to them as 
Quakers rather than as men of a particular race. But 
as successive swarms poured into the country it was 
found, it may be from religious scruples, more probably 
because of peculiar economic characteristics and be 
cause of feelings of sturdy industry and self-reliance, 
that they almost never bought negroes nor even hired 
them. 13 As the German element in Pennsylvania was 

sequence, and therefore a Law was made in Pennsylvania laying Twenty 
pounds Duty upon every one imported there, which Law the Queen was 
pleas d to disanull, we would heartily wish that a way might be found to 
stop the bringing in more here, or at least that Friends may be less 
concerned in buying or selling, of any that may be brought in, and hope 
for your assistance with the Government if any farther Law should be 
made discouraging the importation. We know not of any Friend 
amongst ws that has any hand or concern in bringing any out of their 
own Country." MS. Yearly M. M., 22 7th mo., 1714. This was written 
in reply to the London Yearly Meeting, and alludes to the act passed in 
1712. See above, p. 3. 

12 See above, p. 65. Cf. also P. C. Plockhoy s principle laid down in 
his Kort en Klaer Ontwerp (Amsterdam, 1662): " No lordship or servile 
slavery shall burden our Company." Quoted in Pennypacker, Settlement 
of Germantown, 204, 292. 

13 " The Germans seldom hire men to work upon their farms." Rush, 
An Account of the Manners of the German Inhabitants of Pennsylvania 
(1789), 24. "They never, as a general thing, had colored servants or 
slaves." Ibid., 24 (note by Rupp). " Slaves in Pennsylvania never were 
as numerous in proportion to the white population as in New York and 
New Jersey. To our German population this is certainly attributable 
Wherever they or their numerous descendants located they preferred 
their own labor to that of negro slaves." Buck, MS. History of Bucks 
County, 69. " Of all the nations who have settled in America, the Ger 
mans have availed themselves the least of the unjust and demoralizing 
aid of slavery." W. Grimshaw, History of the United States, 79. The 
truth of these statements is revealed in the tax-lists of the different 
counties. Thus, in Berks County there were 2692 German tax-payers 
(61%) and 1724 (39%) not Germans. Of these 44 Germans held 62 slaves, 


very considerable, amounting at times to one-third of 
the population, such a course, though lacking in dra 
matic quality, and though it has been unheralded by 
the historians, was nevertheless of immense and de 
cisive importance." 

During this period, then, much had been accom 
plished. Not only had the Germans turned their backs 
upon slave-holding, but the Friends, brought to perceive 
the iniquity of the practice, had ceased importing slaves, 
and for the most part had ceased buying them. It was 
another generation before the conservative element 
could be brought to advance beyond this position. It 
was not so easy to make them give up the slaves they 
already had. 

The succeeding period was characterized by an in 
evitable struggle which ensued between considerations 
of economy and ethics. The attitude of many Friends 
was that in refusing to buy any more slaves they were 

and 57 of other nationalities held 92 slaves. 3 Pa. Arch., XVIII, 303- 
430. In York County, where there were 2051 German property-holders 
(34%) and 3993 who were not Germans (66%), 27 Germans held 44 
slaves as against 178 others who held 319 slaves. 3 Pa. Arch., XXI, 
165-324. (Both these estimates are for 1780.) In Lancaster County the 
property-holders included approximately 3475 Germans (48%) and 3706 
not Germans (52%). Here 31 Germans held 46 slaves, while 200 not 
Germans held 402 slaves. 3 Pa. Arch., XVII, 489-685 (1779)- The 
records of the German churches rarely mention slaves. 

14 The small number of negroes in Pennsylvania was often noticed. 
Burnaby, Travels through the Middle Settlements, 63, said "there are few 
negroes or slaves" . . . (1759), Anburey, Travels through the Interior 
Parts of America, II ,280-281, said, " The Pennsylvanians . . . are more 
industrious of themselves, having but few blacks among them." (1778). 
Cf. Proud, History, II, 274. Estimates as to the number of Germans in 
Pennsylvania vary from 3/5 (1747, cf. Rupp s note in Rush, Account, i) 
to 1/3 (1789, ibid., 54). For many estimates cf. Diffenderffer, German 
Immigration into Pennsylvania, pt. II, The Redemptioners, 99-108. Some 
few Germans had intended to hold slaves from the first. Cf. the articles 
of agreement between the members of the Frankfort Company (1686): 
..." alle . . . leibeigenen Menschen . . . sollen unter Allen Interes- 
senten pro rato der Ackerzahl gemein seyn." MS. in possession of S. W. 
Pennypacker, Philadelphia. 


fulfilling all reasonable obligations. Sometimes there 
was a desire to hush up the whole matter and get it out 
of mind. Isaac Norris tells of a meeting that was 
large and comfortable, where the business would have 
gone very well but for the warm pushing by some 
Friends of Chester in the matter of negroes. But he 
adds that affairs were so managed that the unpleasant 
subject was dropped. 15 What would have been the re 
sult of this disposition cannot now be known; but it 
proved impossible to smooth matters away. There had 
already begun an age of reformers, forerunners by a 
hundred years of Garrison and his associates, men who 
were content with nothing less than entire abolition. 

The first of the abolitionists was William Southeby 
of Maryland, who went to Pennsylvania. For years the 
subject of slavery weighed heavily upon his mind. As 
early as 1696 he urged the Meeting to take action. His 
petition to the Provincial Assembly in 1712 asking that 
all slaves be set free was one of the most memorable in 
cidents in the early struggle against slavery. But the 
Assembly resolved that his project was neither just nor 
convenient ; and his ideas were so far in advance of the 
times that not only did he a little later lose favor among 
the Friends, but long after it was the judgment that his 
ill-regulated zeal had brought only sorrow. 18 

15 Watson, (MS.) Annals, 530. The same spirit is apparent much later. 
" There generally appeared an uneasiness in their minds respecting them, 
tho all are not so fully convinced of the Iniquity of the practice as to 
get over the difficulty which they apprehend would attend their giving 
them their liberty "... MS. Abstract Rec. Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, 
278 (1770). " Perhaps thou wilt say, I do not buy any negroes: I only 
use those left me by my father. But is it enough to satisfy your own 
conscience? " Benezet, Notes on the Slave Trade, 8. 

10 Votes and Proceedings, II, no; The Friend, XXVIII, 293, and fol 
lowing; A. C. Thomas, " The Attitude of the Society of Friends toward 
Slavery in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Particularly in Rela 
tion to Its Own Members," in Amer. Soc. Church History, VIII, 273, 274. 


The next in point of time was Ralph Sandiford 
(1693-1733), a Friend of Philadelphia. His hostility 
to slavery was aroused by the sufferings of negroes 
whom he had seen in the West Indies ; and his feeling 
was so strong that on one occasion he refused to accept 
a gift from a slaveholder. In 1729 he published his 
Mystery of Iniquity, an impassioned protest against 
slavery. Although threatened with severe penalties if 
he circulated this work, he distributed it wherever he 
felt that it would be of use." Such enmity did he arouse 
that he was forced to leave the city. w 

His work was carried forward by Benjamin Lay 
(1677-1759), an Englishman who came from Barba- 
does to Philadelphia in 1731. He too aroused much 
hostility by his violence of expression and eccentric ef 
forts to create pity for the slaves. He gave his whole 
life to the cause, but owing to his too radical methods 
he was much less influential than he might have been. 19 

A man of far greater power was John Woolman 
(17201772), perhaps the greatest liberator that the 
Friends ever produced. Woolman gave up his position 
as accountant rather than write bills for the sale of 
negroes. He was very religious, and most of his life 
he spent as a minister travelling from one colony to 
another trying to persuade men of the wickedness of 

17 " Ralph Sandiford C r for Cash receiv d of Benj Lay for 50 of his 
Books which he intends to give away . . . 10 " (sh.) MS. Benjamin Frank 
lin s Account Book, Feb. 28, 1732-1733. 

18 Sandiford, Mystery of Iniquity, 43 ; Vaux, Memoirs of the Lives of 
Benjamin Lay and Ralph Sandiford; The Friend, L, 170; Thomas, 
Attitude, 274; Franklin, Works (ed. Sparks), X, 403. 

u Cf. American Weekly Mercury, Nov. 2, 1738, for notice in which the 
Friends Meeting denounces his All Slave-Keepers . . . Apostates (1737). 
Cf. anecdotes related by Vaux; Settle, Notices, 375, 376; The Friend, L, 
170; Thomas, Attitude, 274. 


slavery. In 1754 he published the first part of his book, 
Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, of 
which the second part appeared in 1762. He was 
stricken with smallpox while on a visit to England, and 
died there. 20 

The last was Anthony Benezet ( 1713-1784) , a French 
Huguenot who joined the Society of Friends. He came 
to Philadelphia as early as 1731, but it was about 1750 
that his attention was drawn to the negroes. From that 
time to the end of his life he was their zealous advocate. 
By his writings upon Africa, slavery, and the slave- 
trade, he attracted the attention and enlisted the support 
of many. He was untiring in his efforts. Frequently 
he talked with the negroes and strove to improve them ; 
he endeavored to create a favorable impression of them ; 
he was influential in securing the passage of the abo 
lition act; and at his death he bequeathed the bulk of 
his property to the cause which he had served so well in 
his life. 21 

That these Quaker reformers, particularly men like 
Woolman and Benezet, exerted an enormous influence 
against slavery in Pennsylvania, there can be no doubt.** 
Their influence is attested by numerous contemporary 
allusions, but it is proved far better by the change in 
sentiment which was gradually brought about. Southe- 
by, Sandiford, and Lay were before their time and were 

20 Settle, Notices, 378-382; Thomas, Attitude, 245, 275-279; Tyler, Lit 
erary History of the American Revolution, II, 339-3475 The Friend, LIII, 
190; Woolman, Journal. 

^Vaux, Memoirs of Beneset; The Friend, LXXI, 369; Thomas, 274, 
275; Settle, 382-387; Benezet s own writings. 

22 Thomas, 273. There must have been a great many other reformers 
of considerable influence, but of less fame, about whose work little has 
come down. Cf. " Thos. Nicholson on Keeping Negroes" (1767). MS. 
in Misc. Coll., Box 10, Negroes. 


treated as fanatics. Woolman and Benezet who came 
afterward were able to reap the harvest which had 
been sown. 

The movement which had been urged with violent 
rapidity from without was all the while proceeding 
slowly and quietly within. For many years the Friends 
considered slavery, and almost every year the Meetings 
made reports upon the subject. These reports showed 
that the number of Quakers who bought slaves was con 
stantly decreasing. 23 In 1743 an annual query was in 
stituted. 24 In 1754 the Yearly Meeting circulated a 
printed letter strongly condemning slavery. 25 The sec 
ond decisive step followed when it was made a rule that ^ 
Friends who persisted in buying slaves should be dis 
owned. The measure was effective and this part of the 
work was soon accomplished. 28 Finally in 1758 the 
third step was taken when it was unanimously agreed 
that Friends should be advised to manumit their slaves, 
and that those who persisted in holding them should not 

23 Cf. MS. Chester Q. M. M., 14 6th mo., 1738; 8 6th mo., 1743. 

24 Needles, Memoir, 13. 
^Bettle, 377. 

26 The MS. Chester Q. M. M., 8 8th mo., 1763, say . . . " we are not 
quite clear of dealing in Negro s, but care is taken mostly to discourage 
it . . ." Three years later they add ..." clear of importing or purchasing 
Negro s." Ibid., n 8th mo., 1766. Cf. also ibid., 10 8th mo., 1767; MS. 
Chester M. M. Miscellaneous Papers, 28 ist mo., 1765; MS. Darby M. 
M. M., II, n, 12, 16, 19, (1764), 24, 27, 31, 33, 35, 38, 40, 42, 45, 46, 
(1764-1765). These references concern the case of Enoch Eliot, who, 
having purchased two negroes, was repeatedly urged to set them free, 
and finally did so. MS. Abstract Rec. Abington M. M., 28 7th mo., 1760; 
25 8th mo., 1760. " One of the fr ds app d to visit Jonathan Jones reports 
they all had an oppertunity With him s d Jonathan, and that he gave 
them exspectation of not making any more purchases of that kind, as 
also he is sorry for the purchace he did make" . . . Ibid., 24 nth mo., 
1760; also ibid., 24 nth mo., 1760; 20 gth mo., 1762; 29 loth mo., 1764. 


be allowed to participate in the affairs of the Society/ 7 
John Woolman and others were appointed on com 
mittees to visit slaveholders and persuade them. 28 

The work of these visiting committees is as remark 
able as any in the history of slavery. Self-sacrificing 
people who -had freed their own slaves now abandoned 
their interests and set out to persuade others to give 
negroes the freedom thought to be due them. In south 
eastern Pennsylvania are old diaries almost untouched 
for a century and a half which bear witness of charac 
ters odd and heroic; which contain the story of men 
and women sincere, brave, and unfaltering, who united 
quiet mysticism with the zeal of a crusader. The com 
mittees undertook to persuade a whole population to 
give up its slaves. There is no doubt that the task was a 
difficult one. Again and again .the writers speak of ob 
stacles overcome. They tell of owners who would not 
be convinced, who acknowledged that slavery was 
wrong, and promised that they would buy no more 
slaves, but who* affirmed that they would keep such as 
they had. The diaries speak of repeated visits, of the 

27 MS. Yearly M. M., 23-29 gth mo., 1758, where Friends are earnestly 
entreated to " sett them at Liberty, making a Christian Provision for them 
according to their Ages etc" . . . Cf. report about George Ragan: . . . 
" as to his Buying and selling a Negro, he saith he Cannot see the Evil 
thereof, and therefore cannot make any satisfaction, and as he has been 
much Laboured with by this m^ to bring him to a sight of his Error, This 
mE therefore agreeable to a minute of our Yearly M g can do no Less than 
so far Testify ag s t him ... as not to Receive his Collections, neither is he 
to sit in our m* s for Discipline until he can see his Error "... MS. 
Abst. Abington M. M., 288 (1761). Cf. Michener, Retrospect of Early 
Quakerism, 346, 347; A Brief Statement of the rise and Progress of the 
Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends, against Slavery and the 
Slave Trade, 21-24; Sharpless, A History of Quaker Government in Penn 
sylvania, II, 229; Needles, 13. For the fervid feeling at this time cf. 
Journal of John Churchman (1756), in Friends Library, VI, 236. 

28 Settle, 378; Sharpless, II, 229. Cf. also Journal of Daniel Stanton, 
in Friends Library, XII, 167. 


arguments employed, of slow and gradual yielding, and 
of final triumph. If ever Christian work was carried 
on in the spirit of Christ, it was when John Woolman, 
Isaac Jackson, James Moon, and their fellow mission 
aries put an end to slavery among the Quakers of Penn 
sylvania. 28 

The penalties denounced by the Meeting were im 
posed with firmness. In 1761 the Chester Quarterly 
Meeting dealt with a member for having bought and 
sold a slave. 30 Through this and the following years 
there are many records in the Monthly Meetings of 
manumissions, voluntary and persuaded ; record being 
made in each case to ensure the negro his freedom. 31 
In 1774 the Philadelphia Meeting resolved that Friends 
who held slaves beyond the age at which white ap 
prentices were discharged, should be treated as dis 
orderly persons. 32 The work of abolition was practically 
completed in 1776 when the resolution passed that 
members who persisted in holding slaves were to be 

29 MS. Abst. Abington M. M., 328, 336, 347, 35i, 358, 368, 372, 398; 
MS. Min. Sadsbury M. M., 1737-8 1783, pp. 270, 290; MS. Min. Radnor 
M. M., 1772-1782, pp. 63, 66, 71, 102, 103, 107, etc.; MS. Min. Women s Q. 
M., Bucks Co., 26 8th mo., 1779; 30 8th mo., 1781; MS. Darby M. M. M., 
II, 87, 91, 93, (1769), 178 (i774), 180, 181, 184, 186, 190 (i775), 309, 
312 (1780); MS. Women s Min. Darby M. M., 2 2d mo., 1775; 30 3rd 
mo., 1775; 3 8th mo., 1780; 31 8th mo., 1780; MS. Extracts Buckingham 
M. M., 128, 130, 136 (1767-1768); MS. Diary of Richard Barnard, 24 
9th mo., 1774; 7 6th mo., 1780; MS. Journal of Joshua Brown, nth mo., 
1775; above all the MS. Diary of James Moon, passim. Cf. Sharpless, 
Quakerism and Politics, 159-178; Whittier s introduction to John Wool- 
man s Journal. 

30 Futhey and Cope, History of Chester Co., 423. 

81 Cf. Abst. Rec. Gwynedd M. M., 201, 204, 213, 218, 240, 270, 271, 
273, 278, 280, 307, 311, 312, 316, 321, 322, 323, 336, 348, 374, 471; MS. 
Papers Middletown M. M., 1759-1786, pp. 386, 388, 389, 39o; Franklin, 
Works, (ed. Sparks), VIII, 42. 

33 Brief Statement, 49. 


disowned. 33 If this is understood in connection with the 
fact that in the Meetings questions were rarely decided 
except by almost unanimous vote, it is clear that so far 
as the Friends were concerned slavery was nearly ex 
tinct. This was almost absolutely accomplished by 
I780. 34 

The wholesale private abolition of slavery by the 
Friends of Pennsylvania is one of .those occurrences 
over which the historian may well linger. It was not 
delayed until slavery had become unprofitable, 35 nor was 
it forced through any violent hostility. It was a result 
attained merely by calm, steady persuasion, and a dis 
position to obey the dictates of conscience unflinchingly. 
As such it is among the grandest examples of the 
triumph of principle and ideal righteousness over self- 
interest. 36 It may well be doubted whether any body of 

83 MS. Yearly M. M., 27 pth mo., 1776; Brief Statement, 24-27; Needles, 
13; Thomas, 245; Sharpless, History of Quaker Government in Pennsyl 
vania, II, 138, 139. 

34 Brief Statement, 31-35; Needles, 13; Sharpless, II, 226. For some 
years the Meetings continued to make regular reports on this subject. 
" 7th No Slaves among us and such of their Offspring as are under our 
Care are generally pretty well provided for." MS. Rec. Warrington Q. 
M.. 25 8th mo.. 1788. 

35 In the absence of a plantation system slavery in Pennsylvania 
never was profitable in the same sense as in Virginia or South Carolina, 
and where white labor could be obtained slavery could not compete. Cf. 
Franklin, Works, II, 314, 3^5 O75O. But as it was almost impossible 
to obtain sufficient white labor, or at least to retain it, slavery as it ex 
isted in Pennsylvania was profitable throughout the colonial period. For 
the strong desire to import, see above, chap. I. For the high prices paid 
in the first quarter of the nineteenth century for the right to hold negroes 
to the age of 28, see below, p. 94. 

38 This is my judgment after a careful investigation of the Friends 
records. Adam Smith, who had not seen these records, but who wrote 
just when the work was being completed, thought differently. Wealth of 
Nations (ed. Rogers), I, 391. 


men and women other than the Friends were capable of 
such conduct at .this time. 37 

So far the checking of slavery in Pennsylvania had 
been the result of two great factors ; that the Germans 
would not hold slaves, and that the Friends gradually 
gave them up. Another factor now made it possible to 
bring about the end of the institution altogether. There 
began the period of the long contest of the Revolution, 
when Pennsylvania was stirred .to its depths by the 
struggle for independence. 

Almost at the beginning of the war, in 1776, the As 
sembly received from citizens of Philadelphia two pe 
titions that manumission be rendered easier. These pe 
titions accomplished nothing, 38 but the feeling which had 
been gathering strength for so many years went for 
ward unchecked, and by 1778 there existed a powerful 
sentiment in favor of legislative abolition. Therefore 
in February, 1779, the draft of a bill was prepared and 
recommended by the Council ; but for a while no prog 
ress was made, since the Assembly, though it approved 
the principle, believed that such a measure should orig 
inate in itself. 89 Toward the end of .the year the matter 
was taken up in earnest, and a bill was soon drafted. 
Public sentiment was thoroughly aroused now. Peti 
tions for and against the bill came to the Assembly, and 
letters were published in the newspapers. The friends 
of the measure were untiring in their efforts. Anthony 
Benezet is said to have visited every member of the As- 

37 Other sects followed the example of the Friends, cf. Ebeling, IV, 
220, but their work was mostly significant in connection with the legis 
lative work of the Assembly. For the effects of the work of the Friends 
cf. Bowden, History of the Friends, II, 221. 

38 Votes and Proceedings, 1767-1776, p. 696. 

88 i Pa. Arch., VII, 79; Journal of House of Rep., 1776-1781, p. 311. 


sembly. On March i, 1780, the bill was enacted into 
a law, thirty-four yeas and twenty-one nays. 40 

The " Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery " pro 
vided that thereafter no child born in Pennsylvania 
., should be a slave ; but that such children, if negroes or 
mulattoes born of a slave mother, should be servants 
until they were twenty-eight years of age ; that all pres 
ent slaves should be registered by their masters before 
November i, 1780 ; and that such as were not then regis 
tered should be free. 41 It abolished the old discrimina- 

40 Col. Rec., XII, 99; Pa. Packet, Sept. 16, 1779; Journals of House, 
1776-1781, pp. 392, 394, 399, 412, 424, 435; Packet, Mar. 13, 1779; Dec. 
2 5 i779> Jan. i, 1780; Gazette, Dec. 29, 1779; Vaux, Memoirs of Benezet, 
92. The distribution of the vote seems to have had no political, no re 
ligious, and probably no economic significance. The measure was 
popular in and out of the Assembly. Packet, Dec. 25, 1779; Jour, of 
House, 1776-1781, p. 435. An earlier bill had been published in the 
Packet, Mar. 4, 1779. It is very interesting. The bill as finally drafted 
became the first act for the abolition of slavery in the United States. 
Accordingly its authors had to do much original and constructive work. 
In the course of the work their ideas underwent some change, and the 
transition is easily seen in comparing the first bill of 1779 with the act 
as passed in 1780. In some respects the first is more liberal than the 
second; in other respects less so. Thus at first it was intended to make 
the children of slaves servants until twenty-one only. {Packet, Mar. 4, 
I 779) "A Citizen" discussing this objected that the master would 
receive inadequate compensation for rearing negro children, and urged 
that the age limit be made twenty-eight or even thirty. (Packet, Mar. 13, 
1779). and so pay for the unproductive years, which was but just. The 
law made the age twenty-eight. On the other hand it was at first pro 
posed to continue the prohibition of intermarriage and the permission 
to bind out idle free negroes. (Packet, Mar. 4, 1779). Both these pro 
visions were omitted from the law. 

41 Stat. at L., X, 67-73; 2 Sergeant and Rawle, 305-309. Many of the 
Friends thought that negroes ought not to be held after they were 
twenty-one. Cf. MS. Rec. Pa. Soc. Abol. SI., I, 23. Very many masters 
lost their negroes through failing to register them, through ignorance of 
the provision requiring registry, or through carelessness in complying 
with it. Cf. Rush, Considerations upon the Present Test-Law, (2nd ed.), 
7 (note) ; Journals of House, 1776-1781, p. 537, and following; 4 Pa. 
Arch., Ill, 822. Cf. Christopher Marshall s Remembrancer, F, Oct. 10, 
1780: . . . " gott our Negro Recorded." Cf. York Herald, Apr. 26, 1797- 
The limit was extended to Jan. i, 1783, in favor of the citizens of Wash- 


tions, for it provided that negroes whether slave or free 
should be tried and punished in the same manner as 
white people, except that a slave was not to be admitted 
to witness against a freeman. 42 The earlier special legis 
lation was repealed. 43 

The act of 1780, which was principally the work of 
George Bryan, 44 was the final, decisive step in the de 
struction of slavery in Pennsylvania. The buying and 
selling of human beings as chattels had become repug 
nant to the best thought of the state, and it had partly 
passed away. The practice still survived, however, in 
many quarters, and strengthened as it was by considera 
tions of economy and convenience, it would probably 
have gone on for many years. Against this the aboli 
tion law struck a mortal blow. From the day of March 
i, 1780, the little remnant of slavery slowly withered 
and passed away. In the course of a generation, except 
for some scattered cases, it had vanished altogether. 

Pennsylvania was the first state to pass an abolition 
law. 45 In after years this became a matter of great 

ington and Westmoreland counties, previously under the jurisdiction of 
Virginia. Stat. at L., X, 463. Runaways from other states were of 
course not made free by this provision. Cf, sect. VIII of act. 

42 The repeal of this section was proposed the next year, but failed by 
three votes. Cf. Journals of House, 1776-1781, p. 605. It was finally re 
pealed in 1847. 

43 Sect. X of act. 

44 For the view that it was drafted by William Lewis, cf. Pa. Mag., 
XIV, 14; Robert E. Randall, Speech on the Laws of the State relative to 
Fugitive Slaves, 6; Horace Binney, Leaders of the Old Bar of Philadel 
phia, 25. There can be little doubt, however, that full credit should be 
given to Bryan. " He framed and executed the act "... Obituary 
notice in the Gazette, Feb. 2, 1791. Cf. inscription on his tomb-stone, 
copy in Inscriptions in the Burying Ground of the Second Presbyterian 
Church Phila. (MS. H. S. P.); Mem. Hist. Soc. Pa., I, 408-410; Konkle, 
Life and Times of Thomas Smith, 105. 

48 Vermont had forbidden slavery by her constitution of 1777. Poore, 
II, 1859- 


pride. Her legislators and statesmen frequently boasted 
of it. Not only was the priority a glory in itself, but the 
manner in which Pennsylvania conceived the law, and 
the success with which she carried it out, furnished the 
states that lay near her a splendid example and a strong 
incentive which not a few of them followed shortly 
thereafter.* 5 

Yet this law was open to some objections, and for 
different reasons received much criticism. First, it was 
loosely and obscurely drawn in some of its sections, anc 
these gave rise to litigation. 47 In the second place, il 
was largely ineffectual to prevent certain abuses whicV 
had been foreseen when it was discussed, and which as 
sumed alarming proportions in a few years. Some 
Pennsylvanians openly kept up the slave-trade out 
side of Pennsylvania, and masters within the state 
sold their slaves into neighboring states, whither the} 
sent also their young negroes, who there remainec 
slaves instead of acquiring freedom at twenty-eight. 4 
They even sent away for short periods their female 
slaves when pregnant, so that the children might no 
be born on the free soil of Pennsylvania. Besides thi< 

46 Its significance in this respect is remarked by Bowden, History of th 
Friends, II, 220. Connecticut and Rhode Island provided for abolitioi 
in 1784, New York in 1799, New Jersey in 1804. The same wal accom 
plished in Massachusetts in 1780, and in New Hampshire in 1792, b; 
construction of the constitution. Among many instances where Penn 
sylvania pointed to her great act with pride, cf. Acts of Assembly, i8i9-2C 
p. 199; 4 Pa. Arch., VI, 242, 290. Albert Gallatin, writing to Charle 
Brown, Mar. i, 1838, says: "It is indeed a great subject of pride . . . tha 
as one of the United States she was the first to abolish slavery " . . 
Writings (ed. Adams), II, 523, 524. 

47 i Dallas 469; 14 Sergeant and Rawle 443-446; i Pa. Arch., VIII, 720 

48 Pa. Mag., XV, 372, 373. The selling-price elsewhere was greate 
since it included the price of the posterity. 


the kidnapping of free negroes went on unchecked.* 9 
These practices did not escape unprotested. The 
Friends were indefatigable in their efforts to stop them, 
and the government was not disposed to allow the work 
of 1780 to be undone. 50 So in 1788 was passed an act 
to explain and enforce the previous one. It provided 
that the births of the children of slaves were to be reg 
istered ; that husband and wife were not to be separated 
more than ten miles without their consent; that preg 
nant females should not be sent out of the state pending 
their delivery ; and it forbade the slave-trade under pen 
alty of one thousand pounds. Heavy punishments were 
provided for such chicanery as had previously been 
employed. 81 

This legislation was enforced by the courts in con 
structions which favored freedom wherever possible. 
Exact justice was dealt out, but if the master had neg 
lected in the smallest degree to comply with the precise 
conditions specified in the laws, whether through care 
lessness, mistake, or unavoidable circumstance, the au 
thorities generally showed themselves glad to declare 
the slave free. 53 The Friends and abolitionists were par 
ticularly active in hunting up pretexts and instituting 

49 Brissot de Warville, Memoire sur les Noirs de I Amerique Septen- 
trionale, 19. 

50 Minutes of Assembly, 1787-1788, pp. 104, 134, 135, 137, 159, 164, 177, 
197; Packet, Mar. 13, 1788; Diary of Jacob Hiltzheimer, 144. 

81 Laws of Pennsylvania (Carey and Bioren), III, 268-272. Despite 
this many negroes continued to be sold out of the state, and in 1795 
the Pa. Soc. Abol. SI. was asking for a more stringent law. Cf. MS. 
Rec. of Soc., IV, 191. Also MS. Supreme Court Papers, nos. 3, 4, 
(i795)- As late as 1796 the author of the Reise von Hamburg nach 
Philadelphia says: " Haufig kommen, in Philadelphia vorzuglich . . . grosze 
Transporte von Sclaven von Africa voruber," p. 24. 

82 i Dallas 491, 492; 2 Dallas 224-228; 3 Sergeant and Rawle 396-402; 
2 Yeates 234, 449; 3 id. 259-261; 4 id. 115, 116; 6 Binney 206-211; MS. 
Sup. Ct. Papers, I, i; MS. Rec. Pa. Soc. Abol. SI.. I, 197. 


law-suits for the purpose of setting at liberty the ne 
groes of people who believed they were obeying the 
laws, but who had neglected to comply with some tech 
nical point. 53 

While these devotees of freedom were harassing the 
enemy they were engaged in operations much more 
drastic. The laws for abolition, respecting as they did 
the sacredness of right in property, had not abrogated 
existing titles to slaves. 54 This the abolitionists de 
nounced as theft, and resolved .to get justice by cutting 
out slavery root and branch. 55 

First they attacked it in the courts. The declaration 
of rights in the constitution of 1790 declared that all 
men were born equally free and independent, and had an 
inherent right to enjoy and defend life and liberty. 58 In 
1792 a committee of the House refused the petition of 
some slaveholders on the ground that slavery was not 
only unlawful in itself, but also repugnant to the con 
stitution. 57 This point was seized upon by the aboli 
tionists, who resolved to test it before the law. Accord 
ingly they arranged the famous case of Negro Flora v. 
Joseph Graisberry, and brought it up to the Supreme 
Court of the state in 1795. It was not settled there, 
but went up to what was at that time the ultimate judi 
cial authority in Pennsylvania, the High Court of Er 
rors and Appeals. Some seven years after the question 
had first been brought to law this august tribunal de- 

83 2 Rawle, 204-206; i Penrose and Watts 93. Cf. Min. of Assembly, 
1785-1786, pp. 1 68, 169. 

54 14 Sergeant and Rawle 442; Brissot, Memoire, 20. 

85 Brissot, Memoire, 21. Cf. the severe censure in Why Colored People 
in Philadelphia Are Excluded from the Street Cars (1866), 23. 

M Art. IX, sect. i. 

87 Journal of the House, 1792-1793, PP- 39, 55- 


cided after lengthy and able argument that negro 
slavery did legally exist before the adoption of the con 
stitution of 1790, and that it had not been abolished 

Failing to destroy slavery in the courts the aboli 
tionists strove to demolish it by legal enactment. For 
this purpose they began a campaign that lasted for two 
generations. In 1793 the Friends petitioned the Senate 
for the complete abolition of slavery, and in 1799 they 
sent a memorial showing their deep concern at the keep 
ing of slaves. In the following year citizens of Philadel 
phia prayed for abolition, and a few days later the free 
blacks of the city petitioned that their brethren in bond 
age be set free, suggesting that a tax be laid upon them 
selves to help compensate the masters dispossessed. The 
demand for freedom was supported in other quarters of 
the state, and undoubtedly a strong feeling was aroused. 
The Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery 
began the practice, which it kept up for so many years, 
of regularly memorializing the legislature. Later on 
some of the leading men of the state took up the cause, 
and once the governor in his message referred to the 
galling yoke of slavery and its stain upon the common 

58 MS. Docket Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, XXVII, 379. The 
suit was on a writ " de homine replegiando." Cf. Stroud, Sketch of the 
Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of 
America <2d ed.), 227 (note); MS. Docket of the High Court of Errors 
and Appeals, 1780-1808, p. 126; Pa. Gazette, Feb. 3, 1802; Report of 
Pa. Soc. Abol. SI. in Minutes Sixth Convention Abol. Soc., Phila., 1800, 
p. 7. It was the different decision of an exactly similar question that 
abolished slavery in Massachusetts. Cf. Littleton v. Tuttle, 4 Massa 
chusetts 128. 

K Journal of Senate, 1792-1793, pp. 150, 151; 1798-1799, p. 149; J. of H., 
1799-1800, pp. 76, 123, 153, 160, 172, 190; 7. of S., 1799-1800, p. 223; 7. of S., 
1800-1801, pp. 134, 135; J. of H., 1802-1803, p. 218; 7. of H., 1811-1812, pp. 
24, 216; 4 Pa. Arch., IV, 757, for Governor Snyder s message. 


It is probable, however, that the majority of the peo 
ple in the state believed that enough had been done, and 
desired to see the little remaining slavery quietly ex 
tinguished by the operation of such laws as were effect 
ing the extinction. Be this as it may, it is certain that 
although many bills were proposed to effect total and 
immediate abolition, some of which had good prospects 
of success, yet each one was gradually pared of its most 
radical provisions, and in the end was always found to 
lack the support requisite to make it a law. 

In 1797 the House had a resolution offered and a bill 
prepared for abolition. This measure dragged along 
through the next two sessions, but in 1800 so much en 
couragement came from the city and counties that the 
work was carried on in earnest. The course of this 
bill illustrates the progress of others. At first the pro 
posed enfranchisement was to be immediate and for 
all; then it was modified to affect only negroes over 
twenty-eight. In this form it passed the House by a 
handsome majority, but in the Senate it was postponed 
to the next session. When finally its time came the com 
mittee having it in charge reported that as slavery was 
not in accordance with the constitution of 1790, a law to 
do away with slavery was not needed. The measure was 
still mentioned as unfinished business about the time 
that the High Court decided that slavery was in ac 
cordance with the constitution after all. 90 

The abolitionists did not lose heart. They tried again 
in 1803, and again the following year. In 1811 a little 

< /. of H., 1796-1797, pp. 283, 308, 354, 355; /. of H., 1797-1798. PP. 
75, 269; J. of H., 1798-1799, pp. 20, 354; /. of H., 1799-1800, pp. 23, 76, 
93, 123, 153, 160, 162, 172, 176, 190, 236, 303, 304, 306, 309. 3io, 313. 
3i4, 330, 358, 376; /. of S., 1799-1800, pp. 144, 223. 235. The bill passed 
the House 54 to 15. /. of S., 1800-1801, p. 175; /. of S., 1801-1802, p. 24. 


was done in the House, and in 1821 the matter was dis 
cussed in the Senate. In this latter year a bill was pre 
pared and debated, but nothing passed except the 
motion to postpone indefinitely. Indeed the movement 
had now spent its force, and was thereafter confined to 
futile petitions that showed more earnestness of purpose 
than expectation of success. 61 

This is easily explicable when it is understood how 
rapidly slavery had declined. The number of slaves in 
Pennsylvania had never been large. By the first Federal 
census they were put at less than four thousand ; but 
within a decade they had diminished by more than half, 
and ten years later there were only a few hundred scat 
tered throughout the state. 62 The majority of these 
slaves during the later years were living in the western 
counties that bordered on Maryland and Virginia, 
where slavery had begun latest and lingered longest. 63 

61 7. of H,, 1802-1803, pp. 361, 362; 1804-1805, p. 61; Pa. Gazette, Feb. i, 
1804; J. of H., 1811-1812, pp. 58, 67, 216; /. of S., 1820-1821, p. 33; Pliila. 
Gazette, Mar. 6, 1821; 7. of S., 1820-1821, pp. 105, 308, 469, 531, 532, 535, 
536. For the provisions of such a bill the abolition of slavery and of 
servitude until twenty-eight compensation of owners permission for 
negroes to remain slaves if they so desired cf. House Report no. 399 
(1826); 7. of H., 1825-1826, pp. 370, 375, 396, 497, 498. Also 7. of S., 
1841, vol. I, 249, 294. 

62 The numbers were 1790, 3737; 1800, 1706; 1810, 795; 1820, 211; 1830, 
67; 1840, 64 (?). The U. S. Census Reports do not mention any after 
1840, but it is said that James Clark of Donegal Township, Lancaster 
County, held a slave in 1860. Cf. W. J. McKnight, Pioneer Outline His 
tory of Northwestern Pennsylvania, 311. It is necessary to remark that 
the U. S. Census reported 386 as the number of slaves in 1830. As this 
was in increase of 175 over the number reported in 1820, it aroused con 
sternation in Pennsylvania and amazement elsewhere, so that a com 
mittee of the Senate was immediately appointed to investigate. Their 
account showed that there had been no increase but a substantial diminu 
tion in numbers; and that the U. S. officers had been grossly careless, if 
not positively ignorant in their work. 7. of S., 1832-1833, vol. I, 141, 148, 
482-487; Hazard s Register, IV, 380; IX, 270-272, 395; XI, 158, 159; 
African Repository and Colonial Journal, VII, 315. 

68 Cf. J. of S., 1821-1822, pp. 214, 215. 


In Philadelphia and .the older counties it had almost 
entirely disappeared. So rapid was the decline that as 
early as 1805 the Pennsylvania Abolition Society re 
ported that in the future it would devote itself less to 
seeking the liberation of negroes than to striving to im 
prove those already free. This could only mean that 
they were finding very few to liberate. 64 

That the decreasing agitation for the entire abolition 
of slavery in Pennsylvania was due to the decline of 
slavery and not to any decrease in hostility to it, is shown 
by the character of other legislation demanded, and the 
readiness with which stringent laws were passed. The 
act of 1780 permitted the resident of another state to 
bring his slave into Pennsylvania and keep him there 
for six months. 65 A very strong feeling developed 
against this. In 1795 it was necessary for the Supreme 
Court to declare that such a right was valid. It was 
afterwards decided, however, that if the master con 
tinued to take his slave in and out of Pennsylvania for 
short periods, the slave should be free. Again and 
again the legislature was asked to withdraw the priv 
ilege. It is needless to recount the petitions that never 
ceased to come, and at times poured in like a flood. At 
last the pressure of popular feeling could no longer be 
held back, and after the legislation of 1847 following 
the memorable case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, when a 
slave was brought by his master within the bounds of 
Pennsylvania, that moment by state law he was free.* 5 

61 Minutes Tenth American Convention Abol. SL, Phila., 1805, p. 13. 

Stat. at L., X, 71. 

m Respublica v. Richards, 2 Dallas 224-228; Commonwealth v. Smyth, i 
Browne 113, 114; Laws of Assembly, 1847, p. 208. This law was affirmed 
by the courts in 1849. Kauffman v. Oliver 10 Pa. State Rep. (Barr), 
517-518. It was at times contested by the citizens of other states, as in 

Long before this time the passage through the state 
of slaves bound with chains had awakened the pity of 
those who saw it" In 1816 it was decided that in cer 
tain cases if a runaway slave gave birth to a child in 
Pennsylvania the child was free. 68 Later the legislature 
forbade state officers to give any assistance in returning 
fugitives ; and at last lacked but little of giving fugitives 
trial by jury. 

If it be asked whether at this time Pennsylvania was 
not rather decrying slavery among her neighbors than 
destroying it within her own gates, since beyond denial 
she still had slavery there, it must be answered that first, 
her slavery as regards magnitude was a veritable mote, 
and secondly, since after 1830, for example, there was 
not one slave in Pennsylvania under fifty years old, it 
was far more to the advantage of the negroes to remain 
in servitude where the law guaranteed them protection 
and good treatment, than to be set free, when their color 
and their declining years would have rendered their 
well-being doubtful. It is probable that such slavery as 
existed there in the last years was based rather on the 
kindness of the master and the devotion of the slave, 
than on the power of the one and the suffering of the 
other. It was a peaceful passing away. 

the famous episode of J. II. Wheeler s slaves in 1855. Cf. Narrative of 
Facts in the Case of Passmore Williamson. In this case the Federal 
District Court held that Pa. had no jurisdiction over the right of transit. 
In 1860 a negress was brought from Va. to Pa. She was at once told 
that she was free; but when her master returned she went back with him. 
Phila. Inquirer, Aug. 29, 1860. 

67 /. of H., 1821-1822, pp. 628, 637, 950; /. of S., 1821-1822, pp. 325, 330, 
331. For a vivid description cf. Parrish, Remarks on the Slavery of the 
Black People (1806), 21. 

68 If the mother had absconded before she became pregnant. Common 
wealth v. Holloway (1816), 2 Sergeant and Rawle 305. Cf. Niles s 
I /eekly Register, X, 400. 


And so in connection with slavery Pennsylvania is 
seen to have been fortunate. Seeing at an early time the 
pernicious consequences of such an institution she was 
able, such were the circumstances of her economic en 
vironment, and such was the character of her people, to 
check it so effectually that it never assumed threatening 
bulk. Almost as quick to perceive the evil of it, she 
acted, and while others moralized and lamented, she 
set her slaves free. Moreover as if to atone for the sin 
of slave-keeping she granted her freedmen such priv 
ileges that it seemed to her ardent idealists that the fu 
ture could not but promise well. 

Whether this liberality came to be a matter of regret 
in after years, and whether because of circumstances 
sure to come, but as yet unforeseen, it was possible for 
the experience of Pennsylvania with her free black 
population to be as happy as that with her slaves, it will 
be the purpose of later chapters to enquire. 


Edward Raymond Turner was born May 28, 1881, in 
Baltimore, Maryland, where he obtained his earlier edu 
cation. After receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts 
at St. Johns College, Annapolis, 1904, he taught in the 
Baltimore .schools. He entered the Johns Hopkins 
University in 1907, and was Fellow in History 1909- 

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