Slavery in Chester County

     Slavery was known to exist in the area from the earliest days and is thought to have been introduced by the Dutch and Swedes who were in the area before the arrival of the Quakers in the late 1600s. The concept of slavery didn’t sit well with the Quakers and as early as 1712 an effort was made to staunch the flow of slaves into the Commonwealth by passing an act in the colonial Assembly to prevent the further importation of Negroes into the province. However, the law was subsequently repealed by the home government, and another act, designed to impose a high duty on their introduction was then repealed by the Crown. At this time England did a large trade in the traffic of Negroes, and such duties would have cut down on the profit made in this trade. An interesting aside into the business was the fact it had been discovered that slaves directly brought from Africa into the colder provinces didn’t fare well, health-wise, so, the traders found it more efficient to first take them to the West Indies and allow them to acclimate there first, before the final move north. Thus most of the slaves in Chester County came directly from the West Indies. The price of an imported Negro man in about the middle of the 17th century was from £ 40 to 100, a considerable amount of money, so this practice of acclimation was strictly for economic expediency.

     In 1696 the Society of Friends advised its members “not to encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes”, and it also gave advice to its members concerning their “moral training”. In 1711 the Quarterly Meeting of Chester declared “their dissatisfaction with Friends buying and encouraging the bringing in of Negroes”, and in 1715 “friends should not be concerned hereafter in the importation thereof, nor buy any.” In 1730 the same meeting cautioned “against purchasing imported Negroes, it being disagreeable to the sense of the meeting, and that such as are likely to be found in the practice be cautioned how they offend therein”…and, in 1761 a member was chastised for having bought and sold a Negro. He was not, however, disowned for he acknowledged his error. The subject of slavery seemed to appear frequently in the records of the society and finally, in 1777, the simple holding of a slave was deemed a sufficient cause for disownment, and in 1780, an act was passed in the Assembly to gradual abolish slavery. This law provided for the registration with the Court Clerk of each county of all persons held as slaves for life, or until the age of 31, in accordance with existing laws, and they were declared to continue to be slaves; but that all persons born after that date should be free, except the children born of such registered slaves, who should be servants until they reached the age of 28 years. A subsequent law provided for the registration of all children born of slaves within 6 months of their birth, and only the children registered continued to be servants till they reached 28. The total registered was 495, of whom 472 were slaves for life, and 23 till the age of 31. This does not accurately indicate how many Negroes were actually in the Commonwealth, as many members of the Society of Friends and others not of the Quakers faith had, a short time before, liberated all their slaves. It is also not known exactly when slavery came to an actual end with the death of the last slave, but only those born BEFORE March 1, 1780 remained slaves for life.

data from:

The Chester City Safeguards

1780 listing of slave owners, # of slaves owned and township

Blacks and Mulattoes in West Caln Twp, 1850 census

Info on  abandoned slave cemeteries in the area

Free Labor Stores

Ashmund Institute, Oxford, PA  a site that includes executions of Va slave revolts ....a fascinating site.

Area Wills that mention Slaves or African Americans

Listing of those researching African American ancestors from Chester County, with their surnames of interest and email addresses...  (click for list )     Please submit your information in the following form, and email to me with the subject African Americans in Chester.

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Pennsylvania Free Blacks, 1790 census

Hosanna Meeting House, Oxford, PA

Hosanna AUMP History

An excellent site on slavery in PA

Lists and photos of stations on the underground railroad, by state

Early anti-slavery (US Park Service)

The slave trade (US Park Service)

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition

Dorothy Porter Wesley Research Center, Inc.

Letter from Thomas GARRETT to William STILL (1858), Delaware County, PA

Death of a local 'ex-slave', General Jackson

1764 Uwchlan residents taxed for owning slaves

This page updated on February 13, 2015