Central Pennsylvania African American History for Everyone
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Banner headline Former Slave Dies



the 20th Century

News Items About Formerly Enslaved
African American Residents


Significant numbers of formerly enslaved African Americans made their homes in central Pennsylvania in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some escaped enslavement and traveled north via the Underground Railroad before 1865. Many more found themselves no longer enslaved by war's end and looked north for job opportunites or to escape the harsh poverty and crushing racism of southern Reconstruction. The first few decades of the 20th century saw large numbers of southern Blacks moving north to take advantage of the plentiful jobs in northern industries.

Their presence in northern cities enriched each African American community. Their shared first-hand stories of lives enslaved broadened the historical perspective and served to counter the "Lost Cause" myths. Knowing which citizens were formerly enslaved is invaluable for modern historians and persons researching their family histories. Small connections can often add up to bigger stories. The news items indexed below represent snippets in the lives of these persons. Click any item for a separate page detailing what we know of the listed person and their family

News Items, Alphabetical by Last Name


  • Name: Chism, Simon
    Community: Harrisburg, PA
    Last residence: Homeless, Harrisburg, PA until 1916; Agreed to be committed to Dauphin County Almshouse, February 1916.
    Enslavement notes: Told persons he was an ex-slave; status unsubstantiated at this time
    Item(s): News item published, 28 February 1916; Committed to almshouse 26 February 1916.
    Family members: No family members mentioned in article
    Comments: Received a small pension, per the article. Possible military service?

  • Name: Coleman, Ellen
    Community: Harrisburg, PA
    Last residence: 1421 Market Street, Harrisburg
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved in Virginia, freed after Civil War
    Item(s): Death notice published, 04 June 1915; Died on Wednesday, June 2, 1915, aged 74 (born c1841)
    Family members: Brother D. J. Summers, of Chicago, brother Moses Summers, of Greencastle, PA, step-daughter May E. Wilson
    Comments: Burial in Lincoln Cemetery, Penbrook

  • Name: Fields, Robert M.
    Community: Steelton, Dauphin County, PA
    Last residence: 105 Adams Street, Steelton, PA
    Enslavement notes: Born in Shenandoah, VA. Enslaved in Virginia for thirty years, for various families in that state
    Item(s): Death notice published, 20 March 1916; Died on Saturday, March 18, 1915, aged 82 (born c1834)
    Family members: Son, Perry Fields, Philadelphia; a daughter, Amdanda, wife of the Rev. Frank Bradley, of Philadelphia; and two sisters, Amanda and Annie, Steelton.
    Organizations: Founder and active member of Monumental AME Church, Steelton; Member of Paxton Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, and of the Gallilean Fishermen.
    Comments: Buried in Midland Cemetery, Swatara Township, Dauphin County, PA

  • Name: Harkness, Lydia
    Community: Carlisle, PA
    Last residence: Cumberland County Home, Carlisle, PA (specific care home not noted)
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved in Virginia, freed after Civil War
    Item(s): Feature about her life published, 02 November 1916; Aged 106 in 1916 (born c1810)
    Family members: Son was an aid to Confederate Captain Frank Ash in Civil War.
    Comments: Lived on Virginia plantation of Frank Ash until late 1860s; moved to Winchester, Virginia where she lived until moving to Carlisle about 1901. Death of relatives led to her moving into the Carlisle "home" facility in 1916.


  • Name: Harrison, "Auntie" Henrietta
    Community: Williamsport, MD and Harrisburg, PA
    Last residence: Harrisburg, PA
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved in South Carolina, freed after Civil War and moved to Williamsport, Maryland.
    Item(s): News of her death published, 29 December 1891; Aged 105 at death (born c1786)
    Family members: Lived with a niece (unnamed) in Harrisburg; Married when she moved to Maryland. Husband died shortly after marriage.
    Comments: Accidental death at home, burned to death. Her reported age conflicts with the story of her marriage at age 70 after being freed. Either she was about 80 when she got married, or she was actually ten years younger than reports, being born about 1796.


  • Name: Hodge, Peter Brooks
    Community: Carlisle, PA
    Last residence: North Pitt Street, Carlisle, PA
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved on Tyler Brisco plantation, Sheperdstown, Virginia
    Item(s): Newspaper death notice published, 03 February 1915; Died 02 February 1915, aged 67 (born c1848)
    Family members: None mentioned in death notice.
    Comments: Forced at age 13 to be an aide to Confederate officers in 1861; escaped to Union lines in 1865 and worked in Union Commissary Department until the war ended, after which he moved to Carlisle, PA. At his death, he was the oldest barber working in Carlisle.


  • Name: Johnson, James W.
    Community: Winston, PA and Archbald, PA
    Last residence: Winston, PA (part of Jessup Borough, Lackawanna County)
    Enslavement notes: News article reports Johnson as an ex-slave.
    Item(s): News item published, 26 January 1899;
    Family members: A son and a married daughter, not named.
    Comments: Suing borough of Archbald for injuries sustained in a fall. News article reports that Johnson was sold at one time for $1,150. The writing in the news article includes numerous racist comments and asides, both in the courtroom by the defense attorney and from the reporter, highlighting the difficulties faced by African American citizens in local courts. A folow-up news article, however, reports the judge sided with the plaintiff and would not accept the jury's report of being deadlocked, ordering them out until they reached a decision, which turned out to be in favor of the plaintiff, Mr. Johnson.


  • Name: Johnson, Salena
    Community: Carlisle, PA and Harrisburg, PA
    Last residence: 812 East Street, Harrisburg, PA (part of Old 8th Ward, address and street no longer exist)
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved in Virginia until end of Civil War
    Item(s): Newspaper death notice published, 19 February 1919; Died 18 February 1919, aged 94 (born July 4, 1824)
    Family members: Daughter Mrs. A. W. Dennee (deceased); Daughters Mrs. Elizabeth McDonald, of Pittsburgh and Mrs. Elnora Washington, of Philadelphia; Son George W. Johnson, 812 East Street, Harrisburg; three grandchildren: Mrs. Mary Jackson, of Toronto, Canada; Miss Frances Johnson, of Harrisburg; and George E. Johnson, who is with the Army in France; three great-grandchildren: Dr. A. L. Marshall, Dr. W. E. Marshall, of Harrisburg, and Dr. F. S. Marshall, Harrisburg, who served with the 351st Field Artillery; one great-great-grandchild: Margaret Jane Marshall.
    Comments: Came north with her daughter, Mrs. A. W. Dennee, after the Civil War, to Carlisle. Later moved to Harrisburg. Member of Wesley Union A.M.E. Church. At the time of her death, the newspaper reported that she had been the oldest African American resident in Harrisburg.


  • Name: Johnson, William H.
    Community: Mount Holly Springs, Cumberland County, PA
    Last residence: Mount Holly Springs; resided there from the time of the Civil War
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved in Virginia; worked as a field hand on a plantation.
    Item(s): Newspaper death notice published, 25 January 1919; Was over 100 years old (born c1819)
    Family members: Survived by four sons and one daughter (children not named in death notice)
    Comments: Died at home. Death notice remarks he was one of the oldest residents in the area.


  • Name: Mitchell, Charles
    Community: Washington DC, Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA
    Last residence: 4923 Stiles Street, Philadelphia
    Enslavement notes: Enslaved by Capt. William A. T. Maddox family, about 1858-1865. Left family about 1866.
    Item(s): Newspaper feature article published, 10 February 1919; He was searching for descendants of Maddox family.
    Family members: Wife (born free) and eight children in Louisiana. Attempting to get money to move them to Philadelphia.
    Comments: There is extensive biographical information on Captain Maddox, nearly all of which matches Charles Mitchell's story.


  • Name: Morgan, George Washington
    Community: Sharon Hill, Delaware County, PA
    Last residence: Sharon Hill, PA; resided there at least since 1860
    Enslavement notes: Former slave, but no specifics in newspaper article.
    Item(s): Newspaper burial notice published, 25 October 1915; Was 80 years old (born c1835); buried October 24, 1915 in Sharon Hill.
    Family members: None named in burial notice.
    Comments: Escaped to Pennsylvania on Underground Railroad in 1860, at age 25.


  • Name: Smith, James
    Community: Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA
    Last residence: 334 Cherry Street, Harrisburg, PA; resided in Harrisburg since about 1867.
    Enslavement notes: Formerly enslaved in Knoxville, Maryland. Freed at age 26 (c1851)
    Item(s): Newspaper death notice published, 12 March 1917; Died 11 March 1917; Was 92 years old (born c1825); buried in Lincoln Cemetery.
    Family members: None named in death notice.
    Comments: Rev. D. D. Will of Wesley Union Church officiated at funeral.


  • Name: Ward, Henry
    Community: Mount Holly Springs, Cumberland County, PA
    Last residence: Upper Holly; was a resident since about 1875.
    Enslavement notes: Born into slavery in Virginia c1842. Escaped and joined Union Army c1863.
    Item(s): Newspaper death notice published, 20 March 1915; Died 18 March 1915; Was 73 years old (born c1842).
    Family members: None named in death notice.
    Comments: Died of pneumonia.


  • Name: Webster, Henry
    Community: Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA
    Last residence: Dauphin County Almshouse
    Enslavement notes: Described in news article as a "former slave."
    Item(s): Newspaper arrest notice published, 16 March 1916;
    Family members: None named in death notice.
    Comments: Impoverished

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