Share |

a book about Harrisburg...

by George F. Nagle


Table of Contents

Study Areas:



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

US Colored Troops

Civil War

Harrisburg ad for "Two Negro Servants," 1805.

Dauphin Guardian, 5 October, 1805


Chapter Four

Legacy of Slavery

Two Negro Servants;
THE man, aged 30 years, a slave for life, has been brought up on a farm, and is acquainted with the tanning business. The girl, 21 years, has 7 years to serve, and is acquainted with all kinds of house-work. For further particulars, enquire of the editors of this paper.
Sept. 26, 1805.

A healthy stout Negro wench, about thirty-three years of age. She is excellent for cooking, washing, and any kind of house or kitchen work, and understands feeding cattle, and any work necessary on a farm.
For terms apply to the Printer.
    Slave advertisements from Harrisburg newspapers.1

Hercules may be the most famous African American slave to have inhabited the environs of Harrisburg, but he was only one of thousands. Many local farmers, innkeepers, craftsmen, and iron foundry owners depended upon slave labor to supplement their workforces, and in some cases used slaves as their sole source of labor. This practice began with the first settler to this area, gained strength through the early years of the revolution, and began to wane after 1780. It persisted in rural areas longer than in the cities, and was particularly well entrenched in Cumberland and Lancaster counties. Slaveholding continued in Pennsylvania far longer than intended by the law; Lancaster slaveholders were still registering slave children at the local prothonotary office as late as 1831, and slaves could still be found in most central Pennsylvania counties into the early 1840s.2

Agricultural Slaves

As in the rest of Pennsylvania, the majority of slaves in the Harrisburg area lived and worked on farms, but how they were used by the farmer-slaveholders differed significantly from how slaves were used on the large plantations of the lower south, with its rows of slaves planting and harvesting crops under the supervision of an overseer. Factors such as climate, variety of crops, diversity in the work force, and estate size tended to cause Pennsylvania slaveholders to employ agricultural slaves in a manner unique to the Middle Atlantic States.

Few slaveholders in Pennsylvania held enough slaves at one time for their estate to be considered a plantation, at least in the modern sense of the term as it applies to large agricultural estates common in the southern states. That term implies, to our modern minds, a vast planted landholding, worked by a large force of resident slave laborers. In fact, the term “plantation” was used fairly frequently in eighteenth century newspaper advertisements to describe substantial Pennsylvania farms. A typical example is the following description from the Pennsylvania Gazette:

To be Sold, at Private Sale,
A VALUABLE Plantation or Tract of Land, containing 140 acres, … late the estate of Thomas Fitzwater, deceased; there are on the said premises a two story stone dwelling-house, with a never failing spring of good water near the door, and a stone spring house over the same, a good barn and stabling, two good bearing apple orchards, and a variety of other fruit trees, a good proportion of wood land, and meadow well watered; the plough-land is of a good quality, very natural to clover, divided into suitable fields, and under good fence. Any person inclining to purchase may know the conditions, by applying to the subscribers.
11th Mo. 10th, 1800.

Although 140 acres pales by comparison to the thousands of acres, and even tens of thousands, common to southern state plantations, this advertisement accurately describes a very typical Pennsylvania farm of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The term "plantation" is here used in the older sense of a relatively self-sufficient farm, easily worked by a family, perhaps including, but not requiring, the aid of one or two hired men, servants, or slaves. There were, of course, landholders in Pennsylvania with vast amounts of land in their estates. Few, however, had most of that land under cultivation. These large estates were often subdivided into smaller farms and woodlots, with at least some of the acreage under lease to tenant farmers. There were other factors however, in addition to size, which differentiated Pennsylvania farms from southern plantations.

An obvious difference was climate. The northern climate dictated strict seasons for planting, tending, harvesting, and processing crops. Typically, only about five months of the year were spent in the labor-intensive planting to harvesting cycle. The other seven months were spent in less labor-intensive work, such as the processing and marketing of crops, clearing land, maintenance, and even domestic chores. Northern agricultural slaves, therefore, experienced a wide variety in their daily work.

In his work Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery In North America, Ira Berlin notes, "Moving from job to job as labor demands changed, slaves found themselves in the field one day and in the shop the next, smithing horseshoes, tanning leather, making bricks, or repairing houses, barns, and furniture. On other days, they could be back in the field or driving a wagon, piloting a boat, or delivering a message."4

The demand for such variety in the work experience and skills of slaves is clearly shown by reading some of the advertisements from this period offering slaves for sale. The unidentified slaveholder who was advertising the thirty-three-year-old woman, in the advertisement that opened this chapter, highlighted her wide variety of skills when he wrote, “She is excellent for cooking, washing, and any kind of house or kitchen work, and understands feeding cattle, and any work necessary on a farm.” Obviously, such a range of talents made this female slave much more valuable than one who was limited only to housework.

Ad placed by Patrick Hayes to sell a 19-year-old slave, 1799.

Oracle of Dauphin, 23 January 1799

"For Sale, A Stout, healthy, serviceable Negro Boy," 1806.

Dauphin Guardian, 20 May, 1806

Dauphin County slaveholder Patrick Hayes, in 1799, advertised for sale a nineteen-year-old man who “is well acquainted with all kind of farming work.” Although Hayes did not list the various types of work in which the slave was experienced, he indicated that the man could handle almost any type of work he might encounter. This ability to perform a great variety of work was a distinct asset in a setting where many types of crops were grown, and the slave would often be trusted to take care of all types of different chores. Because most Pennsylvania farmers owned few slaves, individual slaves were usually entrusted with a great deal of responsibility and even independence to ensure that necessary work was completed.

In another very typical slave advertisement, a seller who wished to remain anonymous sought to sell a slave child: “FOR SALE, A Stout, healthy, serviceable NEGRO BOY, About 12 years of age; who has to serve until 28; very active and smart about a house, but more particularly used on a farm. For further particulars, enquire of the Editor.”5 The characteristic "stout" description in such ads implies good health, while "active and smart" implies industriousness. The advertiser noted that the child would be useful either around a household or on a farm. Note that the slaveholder remained anonymous by having the printer act as an agent. This child was born about 1794, and if he were held to the full sixteen years remaining in his indenture, would have remained a slave until 1822, when he reached 28 years of age and would have to be manumitted, according to Pennsylvania law.

Another difference between Pennsylvania agricultural slaves, and those used on southern plantations was in the diversity of forced labor used by these farmers. Pennsylvanians were not dependant upon slaves for their supplemental labor needs, but seemed equally divided among using European indentured servants and black slaves. While the influence of Philadelphia Quakers in the latter half of the eighteenth century cannot be discounted in discouraging slave use, the average Pennsylvania gentleman farmer, who often favored the title of “yeoman,” seemed more influenced in his choice of help by the relative costs of slaves versus indentured servants. War, economic downturns, and import duties all played a part in pushing the prices for slaves and indentured servants and redemptioners either up or down.

As noted earlier, the year 1684 saw the first commercial sale of slaves in Pennsylvania as the British merchant ship Isabella landed at Philadelphia with a cargo that included 150 African slaves. They were immediately purchased by the local Quaker settlers, who were in need of manpower to help clear the land in the three-year-old colony. Slave imports after that year were small in number until the 1730's, when a decrease in the duty levied upon imported slaves, combined with a laxity on the part of the provincial collector to collect any imposts at all between 1731 and 1761, combined to allow a surge in the number of slaves brought into the colony by slave merchants. The imports leveled off again, probably owing to a preference by buyers for European indentured servants and redemptioners, until the start of the Seven Years' War.

The war, which began in 1756, caught the British army short of manpower. Recruiting sergeants began to recruit new Scots-Irish and German laborers who had been arriving in the colony in large numbers. One of their standard procedures was to visit a nearby farm and impress all the white servants into royal army service. The recruiting sergeants would only take white servants from the farms, as blacks were not at that time commonly used as soldiers in royal regiments. Because the Crown did not compensate the servant owners for the full value of these servants, and sometimes gave no compensation at all, farmers lost any money they had paid for the laborer’s term of service, or money paid to redeem the German servant, for which the servant had been indentured to the farmer. Pennsylvania farmers who wished to purchase labor, faced with a probable financial loss if they bought European servants who were likely to be taken by the army, therefore felt obligated to turn to African slaves as a safer investment of their funds for forced labor.

A petition to Provincial Governor Robert Morris protesting these recruiting practices was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It pleaded for the halt of such practices because it forced local farmers to buy slaves:

But if the Possession of a bought Servant, after Purchase made, is thus rendered precarious, and he may at any time be taken away from his Master at the Pleasure of a recruiting Officer, perhaps when most wanted, in the Midst of Harvest or of Seed time, or in any other Hurry of Business, when another cannot be provided to supply his Place, the Purchase, and of course the Importation of Servants will be discouraged, and the People driven to the Necessity of providing themselves with Negro Slaves, as the Property in them and their Service seems at present more secure.6

Governor Morris replied that he was in agreement and sympathy with the Pennsylvania farmers, but referred to a previous plea to British Major General Shirley that was not successful. In essence, Morris told the complainants that they could ask the courts for redress. This answer was not what the common farmers wanted to hear, so they did what they had to do to protect their investments in labor. The numbers of Africans brought into Philadelphia ports reached its high point in the next several years as a result of this new demand.

A common economic factor that influenced the farmer’s decision of whether to buy African slaves or European servants was the duty that was imposed upon the importation of slaves. The duties, which considerably increased the investment required to obtain an African slave, were set high specifically to discourage their sale, therefore forcing buyers into purchasing the terms of European indentured servants instead. Often, the imposition of these duties were driven by the general public’s unease with the unfamiliar looks, language, sounds, cooking, rites and beliefs of newly imported Africans, and particularly by the occasional public gatherings of blacks in town on holidays.

As early as 1700, Pennsylvania slave dealers were required to pay a duty of twenty shillings “for every Negro, male or female, imported, if above sixteen years of age,” and six shillings each if below that age. Six years later the duty was raised to forty shillings “per head” on “Imported Negroes.” Of course, this duty was passed directly along to the slave buyers.

The forty shilling surcharge held steady for another six years until the colony was rocked by shocking news out of New York City of a deadly “Negro plot” there. In April 1712, several blacks in New York used arson as a method for signaling a general revolt and to ambush whites that responded to douse the blaze. Several whites were killed and many more blacks died in retaliatory fighting, or were brutally executed after order was restored. The bone-chilling news severely rattled Philadelphia area residents who, during this same period, had been observing their neighbors buying up African slaves almost as fast as they became available. In response to rising public fears about the sheer numbers of African slaves in their town, lawmakers passed a prohibitory duty act in June 1712, described as an act to “Prevent the Importation of Negroes and Indians” into the colony.

The duty of £20 per head that was mandated by the act was indeed prohibitive and might have stifled the slave trade into Pennsylvania forever, had it not been disallowed by England the following year to accommodate the Asiento with Spain. The Asiento, a particularly callous plan to bolster England’s economy and enrich its upper and merchant class, centered on a contract awarded to the English South Sea Company to supply African slaves to Spain’s colonial markets around the world. The company would buy wholesale lots of slaves in Africa and transport them to Jamaica, where the weak and sick ones would be left to die from neglect—many still in chains right on the docks—and the best slaves transported to Spanish markets in South America. Those slaves deemed healthy enough for sale, but not fit enough to command the best prices in the Spanish ports, were often transported to British North America—many of them into Pennsylvania—to be disposed of for whatever price they would bring.7

Pennsylvania’s £20 duty on imported slaves, imposed the year before the Asiento was signed, posed a severe threat to the profitability of the trade, not so much because it sharply limited the number of slaves that could be shipped to Philadelphia, but because it was a model for elimination of the African slave trade that was likely to be mimicked by other British North American colonies. When England slapped down Pennsylvania’s prohibitory duty act of 1712, it not only shut down the first really effective effort to destroy the African slave trade in the new world colonies, but it likewise opened up a new and spectacularly cruel era that would forever shape the political, economic and social order here.

A third factor that influenced the utilization of slaves on Pennsylvania farms was the nature of its agricultural makeup. The type and variety of crops being planted in Pennsylvania differed considerably from those being grown in the south. Grains such as wheat, rye, and corn were popular, with few farmers giving most of their acreage over to one specific crop. Tobacco was grown in small quantities and in certain areas, but cotton, rice, indigo, and sugar cane were too tender for the climate. The Pennsylvania farmer therefore grew a great variety of crops, both for his own use and for market, all on considerably fewer acres.

This meant that there was no need for work gangs. More commonly, one or two slaves worked side by side with the owner in the field. Just as the pioneer John Harris had worked closely with his slave Hercules, entrusting him with important tasks and working alongside him to ensure their mutual survival, so did other local farmers for generations after. They shared the burden of work with their few slaves, sometimes owning an entire family group. This arrangement not only allowed for a closer working relationship between slave and slaveholder, but it fostered stronger relationships betweens slaves and servants on neighboring farms.

Entrusted to travel locally for the purpose of conducting their master’s business with nearby neighbors and businessmen, slaves took advantage of the opportunity to visit with each other and formed friendships and relationships with slaves and servants on these neighboring farms. They forged these alliances not only with other black slaves, but frequently also with the poor white indentured servants they met, whose freedom, although less constricted than complete slavery, was similarly limited. These relationships, which crossed not only the lines of enslavement, but also of race and gender, often resulted in mutual friendships, economic and social alliances, and even marriage.

Lancaster borough slaveholder George Ross lost two bound laborers when his English servant girl, Ann Bourghton, ran away with his black slave, Bob, in January 1766. After a lengthy description of each slave in the runaway ad placed by Ross in the newspaper, he added “they will probably pass for Man and Wife.”8 Although Ross clearly implicated that they were not married in his eyes—the indenture for bound white servants almost always included a clause forbidding marriage or fornication—it is highly possible that the escape of Ann and Bob was motivated by their legal inability to live as man and wife despite dwelling in the same household.

The close working arrangement between slaves and slaveholders, and blacks and whites, mirrored the living arrangements most common among slaves and slaveholders in Pennsylvania. Instead of separate slave quarters or cabins common on southern plantations, most slaves lived in the slaveholder's house, although often in the attic, loft, cellar, or a small back room. Sometimes the slave's only living space was a sleeping pallet near the fireplace.

The furnishings allowed to slaves contrasted considerably in value from those of the slaveholders themselves, being always of a lesser quality. The 1776 estate inventory of Dr. John Calhoon, of Chambersburg, Cumberland County, listed the owner’s “bed, bedstead, hangings and cloathes,” valued at £22, as compared with a “Negro bed [and cloathes],” listed a few lines below, valued at £2 and ten shillings. The value of the “Negro bed” was less than half of the £5 value listed for a child’s bed.9

Meals were most often taken together with the family, although in the homes of wealthy slaveholders who lived in large stylish houses, particularly in the city, meals were taken in the kitchen immediately after the family had been served. Historian Darold D. Wax, in his article “Slave Labor in Colonial Pennsylvania,” cited European traveler Sarah Kemble Knight, who, in a 1704 trip through the mid-Atlantic states, observed farmers and their slaves eating at the same table, from the same dishes. The food allowed to slaves was generally the same food available to the family.

At the end of the day, after all chores had been completed, slaves and family members in the smaller households would have shared a common space before going to bed. Ailing slaves were generally permitted, even in the wealthiest households, to share the common living spaces with the owning family. The slave York, a twenty-year-old worker originally from Peter Grubb’s iron forge at Mount Hope, injured his back and was allowed to stay with Lancaster attorney Jasper Yeates as a house servant, but Yeates was not happy with the man, writing, “He spends 13½ hours out of the 14 in the chimney corner with his great coat and hat on.”10

As described above, Pennsylvania did not utilize the plantation system of slave labor on farms, however there were some estates in the Harrisburg area that are considered to be similar to plantations in their method of management. One was Fort Hunter, located north of Harrisburg in modern Susquehanna Township. Owned by Archibald McAllister, Fort Hunter utilized anywhere from three to seven slaves at one time, used hired white and black laborers, and hired blacks from neighboring farms as needed by seasonal demands.11 At Fort Hunter, McAllister raised traditional crops, distilled applejack whiskey, made cider for sale and for use in his tavern, the “Practical Farmer,” and ran a saw mill as well as a dairying operation. The estate consisted of about 300 acres, 120 of which were under cultivation at one point in 1796. In April 1828, McAllister offered to rent the estate “for one or more years.” In addition to the tavern, the operation included the mansion, a substantial fieldstone stable for the use of tavern guests, a springhouse, a smokehouse, a “ciderhouse,” and a larger distillery “worked by steam.”12

Archibald was the son of Richard McAllister, of Hanover, York County. Richard bequeathed two slaves for life, Cato, and Cato's son Jack, to Archibald upon his death in August 1795. Prior to that acquisition, Archibald McAllister had registered five slaves in the county seat of Lancaster on 11 September 1780, in accordance with the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780. He listed his residence as "London Derry Township," and his occupation as "Gentleman.” The five slaves registered on that date, all described as "slave for life," were: Ned, aged 52; Isaac, aged 20; Jem, aged 8; Nance, aged 10; and Sal aged 14. McAllister increased his slave holdings when he married widow Elizabeth Carson of Paxton Township, who then owned a male slave named Pompey. At least twenty-two slaves have been associated with owner Archibald McAllister on this estate between the years 1780, when he registered five slaves, and 1829, when he was forced by financial difficulties to sell the property. There were at least two distinct slave family groups at this estate, and possibly more. Of the twenty-two slaves registered by McAllister between 1780 and 1825, five have been determined to have had the surname Craig, and two others, Cato and Jack, shared a father-son relationship, although their surname has not been discovered.13

One of the Craig slaves, Sally, had been with the McAllister family for over sixty years, giving her entire life in service, when financial disaster struck and McAllister placed her up for sale, along with his other, much younger, slaves:

The Time of Colored People For Sale.
I wish to dispose of all my colored people at private sale:--One female slave, aged about sixty one years, strong and active of her age, she is an excellent washer, baker and cook, and understands the management of a dairy, and soap boiling.
Also, a female aged about twenty years, has eight years to serve; she understands all kind of house work, and is stout and healthy.
Also, a male aged about twenty four years, has four years to serve, remarkably stout and healthy, and understands all kinds of farming whatever.
Also, a female aged twenty two years, has six years to serve, stout and healthy, understands all kind of house work, a good cook and ironer; in short, she understands every kind of work that belongs to a respectable family.
Archibald M'Allister. December 9.

Unwilling to change masters at her age and no doubt highly insulted and hurt by McAllister’s callous actions, Sally took charge of her destiny ten days later and ran away from the only home she had known for six decades. When a week passed and Sally did not return to Fort Hunter, Archibald McAllister placed an advertisement seeking her return in the local newspaper, but he was able to offer little as a reward:

Ran away from the subscriber at Fort Hunter, six miles above Harrisburg on the 19th instant, a female slave, named Sall Crage, aged about 60. I hereby forewarn all persons from harboring her, and will pay $2 to any person who will deliver her to me at Fort Hunter. Archibald M'Allister. December 24, 1828.

The idea of a sixty-one-year-old woman venturing out into the world with no assets or supplies, a few days before the onset of winter, conjures up visions of a tragedy in the making. Sally had little time to prepare for her escape, as only ten days had passed from the placing of the sale ad and the day she ran away. Perhaps she had warnings, or perhaps she knew from the earlier offer to rent the estate, or from other signs, that her master planned to liquidate his human assets. It is possible that she had a plan and a destination in mind. At her age, she must have established numerous contacts in the surrounding neighborhoods with people on whom she knew she could depend in a crisis, and this was certainly a crisis.

Whether due to the pitifully small reward, or to her success at finding safe harbor, Sally Craig was never recovered by McAllister, who also failed to sell all of his slaves by the time financial problems forced the sale of his assets at a sheriff’s sale in 1829. At least one slave was listed among his assets, and it was not Sally Craig.14

Tinian, homestead of James Burd, Middletown.

Southeast of Harrisburg, near Middletown, was another large estate, Tinian, owned by the Burd family. This was, like Fort Hunter, a typical agricultural estate that held from four to seven slaves at one time, and possibly more. James Burd founded his estate in 1755, and the elegant stone mansion, of thirty by forty feet, was probably constructed about 1767 on land granted to him for his service as commander of Fort Augusta, at modern day Sunbury, during the French and Indian Wars. Ownership of Tinian stayed in the Burd family for generations, passing down to his son Joseph.

Like Fort Hunter, Burd’s estate could boast of many substantial outbuildings, including one of the largest wooden barns in the area when it was assessed in 1798, measuring thirty by ninety feet. A wooden still house, measuring nineteen by thirty feet, and a wooden whiskey house measuring eighteen by twenty-four feet, attest to the importance of Colonel Burd and the hospitality of the estate for visiting military and political figures.

James Burd, who lived 1726 to 1793, was an ardent patriot, organizing the people in and around Middletown at a meeting in 1774 in support of the Hanover Resolves, and he served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, commanding the Fourth Battalion of Lancaster County Militia. His wife, Sarah, was the daughter of the influential Philadelphia merchant and jurist Edward Shippen.

Burd cultivated and maintained strong ties to prominent and influential people in the state, often welcoming them to his home near Middletown. Visitors to Tinian would probably have seen or interacted with the Burd family slaves: Lucy, Cuff, Dina, and Venus. Over the course of the next few decades, Colonel Burd and his son Joseph would also register several children born to slaves on their estate, including Lucy, John, and Hannah.15

There seem to have been additional slaves in the Burd estate that are not documented by surviving records. Most of what we know about the Burd family slaves comes from surviving registration entries with county clerks after passage of the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, but incidental comments in historical accounts mention “a number of slaves” in the family as early as 1768. Unlike the majority of local slaveholders, Colonel Burd arranged to have his slaves quartered in separate log cabins that stood apart and at a considerable distance from the family residence.16 This extra expense would not have been practical had Colonel Burd owned just a single family of slaves, and seems to indicate that there were at one time more than the six slaves documented by county clerks from 1780 onward.

Still another well-known estate, lying one half mile to the west of Tinian, was Walnut Hill, owned by Captain James Crouch, an officer of the Revolution, and his son Edward Crouch, a U.S. Congressman from 1813-15. Although not as famous for hosting visiting dignitaries as the Burd estate, Walnut Hill was a sizable property, and its operation was similar in scope and use of slaves to that of Tinian and Fort Hunter.

The Crouch family may even have owned more slaves than their neighbors, the Burds, having registered no less than fourteen slaves from 1780 onward. In the year 1780 alone, James Crouch traveled to Lancaster to "enter as his property" eleven slaves, who ranged in age from 60 years to nine months old. Prior to that, James Crouch had already sold at least two young slaves, a Mulatto boy of no more than three years old and an eighteen-month-old female child, to neighboring farmer William Hay. There probably were several family groups among the blacks on Crouch’s estate, although relationships among registered slaves are difficult to determine from the scant details provided to the county clerk. At least two of the slaves registered in 1780 at Lancaster, a “Negroe Woman,” named Lucey, and a seven-year-old “Negroe Boy” named George, were mother and son.17

Some of the slaves registered by Colonel Crouch were sold after his death in 1794. Kate, who was registered at age nine as the “Negroe Girl” Ket, was sold at some point to Northumberland County farmer Roan McClure, from whom she ran away in September 1801. McClure advertised locally for her return, noting in the ad that she was “with child” and that she was “raised by Capt. Crouch deceased late of Paxton.”18

Walnut Hill, which at 159 acres was somewhat smaller than nearby Tinian, could boast of an impressive stone barn, measuring thirty-three by eighty feet. The mansion itself was described as a “substantial stone structure,” and the entire estate was upgraded by Colonel Crouch’s son Edward when he inherited it after his father’s death. Upon his death in 1827, the estate passed to his son-in-law, Benjamin Jordan. At least some of the Crouch family slaves were still living at Walnut Hill in 1820, and were present when the estate passed to Jordan a few years later.


Visit the Star Barn website at

A few more acres had been added to the estate and all slaves had long disappeared from Walnut Hill by the time it was sold by the Jordan family, in 1872, to Dauphin County businessman John Motter. Motter further updated the structures and land, and commissioned the building of a substantial and stylish Carpenter Gothic barn, designed by master carpenter Daniel Reichert, and now known locally as the Star Barn.19 For decades, thousands of motorists traveled past the distinctive Star Barn on their daily commute along Interstate 283 in Swatara Township, yet few knew that this landmark structure stood upon the site of one of the area’s few slave-run plantations, the Crouch estate at Walnut Hill.

Pennsylvania slaveholders, even those who owned large amounts of land, therefore did not manage plantations as we now think of them. Rather they owned farms or estates consisting of a great variety of crops, an admixture of a labor supply consisting of slaves, indentured servants, and hired hands, and greatly diversified duties and chores that depended upon the weather, season, market conditions, and family needs.

Previous | Next



1. Dauphin Guardian, 5 October, 1805; Oracle of Dauphin, February 1795, as transcribed in Egle's Notes and Queries, 58:445.
The first is an interesting advertisement that describes two seemingly valuable slaves. The man, a slave for life, is trained in two trades: farming and tanning. The woman is "acquainted with all kinds of house-work." As adults, neither would require training or close supervision, as would a child. Yet it is their ages that would keep their value down. The preference expressed by central Pennsylvania slaveholders in buying slaves was always for children, ideally in their early teens. The woman in this ad, born about 1784, could be kept for only seven more years until 1812 when she must be given her freedom. The man, born in 1775 and prior to the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780, could be kept a slave for the remainder of his life, however. The second advertisement, from 1795, describes another older and probably less valuable slave—a woman over thirty years old. The advertiser uses terms that emphasize her good condition and experience to try to increase her value.

2. Slaveholder Mary H. Thompson, of Colerain Township, Lancaster County, registered six-month old Saul, the child of her slave Eliza, on 4 February 1831. ("A Record of the Returns Made in Writing and Delivered to Me. . ." Typed transcript of the Lancaster County clerk's records for the registration of children of slaves, 1788-1831, Library call letters L.C.326.9; R294, library of the Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.) For official counts of slaves in 1840, census takers enumerated two slaves in Adams County, twenty-four in Cumberland County, two in Lancaster County and one in York County. Not counted on the census as slaves, but existing in large numbers were many children of slaves being held in bondage until their twenty-eighth birthday. (University of Virginia Library, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, Historical Census Browser, http://fisher.lib. [accessed 13 May 2006].)

3. Pennsylvania Gazette, 10 November 1800.

4. Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery In North America (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1998), 56.

5. Oracle of Dauphin, 23 January 1799; Dauphin Guardian, 20 May 1806.

6. Pennsylvania Gazette, 19 February 1756.

7. W.E.B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899; repr., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 411-12; “Noted Riots in New York,” New York Times, 29 July 1877, 10; Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 235-37.

8. Pennsylvania Gazette, 15 January 1766.
Passing for man and wife would seem to be a risky proposition, as the earlier law forbidding marriage or cohabitation between blacks and whites, “An Act for the Better Regulation of Negroes in this Province,” passed in March 1726, would not be repealed for another fourteen years.

9. Estate Inventory, Dr. John Calhoon, Chambersburg, PA, 1776, Microfilm, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

10. Sarah Kemble Knight, The Journal of Madam Knight (New York: 1935), in Darold D. Wax, “The Demand for Slave Labor,” 333; Joseph E. Walker, "Negro Labor in the Charcoal Iron Industry of Southeastern Pennsylvania," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 93, no. 4 (October 1969): 466-486; "Slaves in Lancaster County in 1780," Handwritten copy of the 1780 Slave Register for that county, not dated, MG-240 The Slave Records of Lancaster County Collection, box 1, folder 2, Lancaster County Historical Society.

11. “Account Book, 1777-1789, of Capt. Archibald McAllister (1756-1831), Folders 19 and 20,” MG-81 McAllister Family Papers, Microfilm, Pennsylvania State Archives.
In addition to slaves that lived on the estate, Archibald McAllister hired outside blacks to work on his estate as extra help. Whether these were free blacks, or slaves hired from a neighboring farmer is not clear. In November 1797, McAllister recorded in his account books a debit to “Black Tim” for “3 months work @11 Dolls per month.” An 1800 entry shows a debit to “Black Bill” for work performed through the prime agricultural season of April to September: “6 months work @4 Dolls per month.”

12. “U.S. Direct Tax of 1798, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania,” Microfilm no. 372, roll 11, Pennsylvania State Archives; Dauphin County Parks and Recreation Department, Fort Hunter Park: A Walking Tour (Harrisburg: n.p. n.d.), n.pag. (3)-(4); Harrisburg Argus, 19 April 1828.
McAllister’s property also included a large stone ice house, measuring 10 feet by 12 feet, according to the 1798 Direct Tax lists for Dauphin County. In that year McAllister was taxed for the ice house mentioned, a two-story stone and wood dwelling house, 21 feet by 40 feet, with 14 windows and 168 lights (individual windowpanes), an 18 by 33 foot wooden kitchen, a wooden smoke house (no dimensions listed), an 8 foot by 10 foot springhouse, a stone and wood barn measuring 32 by 66 feet, a stone still house of 22 by 45 feet, a saw mill (no dimensions listed), and another stone mill measuring 28 by 30 feet. McAllister had tenant farmers living on an additional 119 acres of attached “mountain land” that included two more modest farm houses and a wooden cider house, 31 by 39 feet.

13. "Slaves in Lancaster County in 1780;” “Tax Lists, Inhabitants and Slaves, 1800, 1807,” RG-47 Records of County Governments, “Dauphin County Prothonotary, Old Miscellaneous Files, 1795-1898,” Microfilm, Pennsylvania State Archives; "Children of Previously Registered Slaves," in Luther Reily Kelker, History of Dauphin County Pennsylvania (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1907), 422-426.

14. Carl Dickson (Director of Fort Hunter), telephone interview with author, 16 October 1990; Pennsylvania Reporter and Democratic Herald, 9, 28 December 1828.
Archibald McAllister paid to have the advertisement to recover Sally Craig published in the local newspaper through February 1829.

15. “Slaves in Lancaster County in 1780;” Kelker, "Children of Previously Registered Slaves."

16. Egle, Notes and Queries, 58:339-341.
Tinian, located near Highspire, was about one-half mile west of Walnut Hill, the estate of James Crouch. Historian William Henry Egle described a trip from Walnut Hill to Tinian in the last few years of the nineteenth century, remarking, "On our way we passed the remains of several log cabins, formerly occupied by Colonel Burd's negro slaves.” This offhand observation is valuable proof of the existence of separate living quarters for slaves on Burd's estate.

17. “Slaves in Lancaster County in 1780.”
Crouch registered his eleven slaves on 11 September 1780. They were: Bodly, age 60, Sambo, age 50, Phillis, age 50, Jack, age 30, Lucey, age 30, Peter, age 15, Nan, age 12, Ket, age 9, George, age 7, Nell, age 3, and Isaac, nine months old. The two slaves sold to William Hay were registered by Hay in Lancaster on 27 October 1780, with the notation “bought of James Crouch.” Unfortunately, Hay failed to provide the names of those two children.

18. Farmer's Instructor, and Harrisburgh Courant, 21 October 1801.

19. Bureau of the Census, “Population Schedules of the Fourth Census of the United States: 1820,” Microfilm roll 102, Pennsylvania, Vol. 7, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania State Archives; Harrisburg Republican, 28 April 1820.
The 1820 census lists five African Americans—three males and two females—in residence at Walnut Hill in 1820. That same year, B. Jordan of Swatara Township, Dauphin County, advertised for the return of runaway slave William Jones, age 17. Jordan had been married to Edward Crouch’s daughter Mary for nine years at that point.


Caution: Copyrighted material. Published September 2010.

© 2010 George F. Nagle



This is the first in a series of books from the Afrolumens Project. Drawing on a large number of sources, and making good use of the treasure trove of information on the pages of the Afrolumens Project, this is the first truly comprehensive history of Harrisburg's African American community.

About the AP | Contact AP | Mission Statement | 20th Century History