6. General Survey.--Few States present better opportunities for the continuous study of a group of Negroes than Pennsylvania. The Negroes were brought here early, were held as slaves along with many white serfs. They became the subjects of a protracted abolition controversy, and were finally emancipated by gradual process. Although, for the most part, in a low and degraded condition, and thrown upon their own resources in competition with white labor, they were nevertheless so inspired by their new freedom and so guided by able leaders that for something like forty years they made commendable progress. Meantime, however, the immigration of foreign laborers began, the new economic era of manufacturing was manifest in the land, and a national movement for the abolition of slavery had its inception. The lack of skilled Negro laborers for the factories, the continual stream of Southern fugitives and rural freedmen into the city, the intense race antipathy of the Irish and others, together with intensified prejudice of whites who did not approve of agitation against slavery--all this served to check the development of the Negro, to increase crime and pauperism, and at one period resulted in riot, violence, and bloodshed, which drove many Negroes from the city.

Economic adjustment and the enforcement of law finally allayed this excitement, and another period of material prosperity and advance among the Negroes followed. Then came the inpouring of the newly emancipated blacks from the South and the economic struggle of the artisans to maintain wages, which brought on a crisis in the city, manifested again by idleness, crime and pauperism.

Thus we see that twice the Philadelphia Negro has, with a fair measure of success, begun an interesting social development, and twice through the migration of barbarians a dark age has settled on his age of revival. These same phenomena would have marked the advance of many other elements of our population if they had been as definitely isolated into one indivisible group. No differences of social condition allowed any Negro to escape from the group, although such escape was continually the rule among Irish, Germans, and other whites.

7. The Transplanting of the Negro, 1638­1760.--The Dutch, and possibly the Swedes, had already planted slavery on the Delaware when Penn and the Quakers arrived in 1682.1 One of Penn's first acts was tacitly to recognize the serfdom of Negroes by a provision of the Free Society of Traders that they should serve fourteen years and then become serfs--a provision which he himself and all the others soon violated.2

Certain German settlers who came soon after Penn, and who may or may not have been active members of the Society of Friends, protested sturdily against slavery in 1688, but the Quakers found the matter too "weighty."3 Five years later the radical seceders under Kieth made the existence of slavery a part of their attack on the society. Nevertheless the institution of slavery in the colony continued to grow, and the number of blacks in Philadelphia so increased that as early as 1693 we find an order of the Council against the "tumultuous gatherings of the negroes of the towne of Philadelphia, on the first dayes of the weeke." 4

In 1696 the Friends began a cautious dealing with the subject, which in the course of a century led to the abolition of slavery. This growth of moral sentiment was slow but unwaveringly progressive, and far in advance of contemporary thought in civilized lands. At first the Friends sought merely to regulate slavery in a general way and prevent its undue growth. They therefore suggested in the Yearly Meeting of 1696, and for some time thereafter, that since traders " have flocked in arnongst us and . . .increased and multiplied negroes amongst us," members ought not to encourage the further importation of slaves, as there were enough for all purposes. In 1711 a more active discouragement of the slave trade was suggested, and in 1716 the Yearly Meeting intimated that even the buying of imported slaves might not be the best policy, although the Meeting hastened to call this " caution, not censure."

By 1719 the Meeting was certain that their members ought not to engage in the slave trade, and in 1730 they declared the buying of slaves imported by others to be " disagreeable." At this milestone they lingered thirty years for breath and courage, for the Meeting had evidently distanced many of its more conservative members. In 1743 the question of importing slaves, or buying imported slaves, was made a disciplinary query, and in 1754, spurred by the crusade of Say, Woolman and Benezet, offending members were disciplined. In the important gathering of 1758 the same golden rule was laid down as that with which the Germans, seventy years previous, had taunted them, and the institution of slavery was categorically condemned.5 Here they rested until 1775, when, after a struggle of eighty­seven years, they decreed the exclusion of slaveholders from fellowship in the Society.

While in the councils of the State Church the freedom of Negroes was thus evolving, the legal status of Negroes of Pennsylvania was being laid. Four bills were introduced in 1700: one regulating slave marriages was lost; the other three were passed, but the Act for the Trial of Negroes--a harsh measure providing death, castration and whipping for punishments, and forbidding the meeting together of more than four Negroes--was afterward disallowed by the Queen in Council. The remaining acts became laws, and provided for a small duty on imported slaves and the regulation of trade with slaves and servants.6

In 1706 another act for the trial of Negroes was passed and allowed. It differed but slightly from the Act of 1700; it provided that Negroes should be tried for crimes by two justices of the peace and a jury of six freeholders; robbery and rape were punished by branding and exportation, homicide by death, and stealing by whipping;7 the meeting of Negroes without permission was prohibited. Between this time and 1760 statutes were passed regulating the sale of liquor to slaves and the use of firearms by them; and also the general regulative Act of 1726, "for the Better Regulation of Negroes in this Province." This act was especially for the punishment of crime, the suppression of pauperism, the prevention of intermarriage, and the like--that is, for regulating the social and economic status of Negroes, free and enslaved.8

Meantime the number of Negroes in the colony continued to increase; by 1720 there were between 2500 and 5000 Negroes in Pennsylvania; they rapidly increased until there were a large number by 1750--some say 11,000 or more--when they decreased by war and sale, so that the census of 1790 found 10,274 in the State.9

The slave duties form a pretty good indication of the increase of Negro population.10 The duty in 1700 was from 6s. to 20s. This was increased, and in 1712, owing to the large importations and the turbulent actions of Negroes in neighboring States, a prohibitive duty of £20 was laid.11 England, however, who was on the eve of signing the Assiento with Spain, soon disallowed this act and the duty was reduced to £5. The influx of Negroes after the English had signed the huge slave contract with Spain was so large that the Act of 1726 laid a restrictive duty of £10. For reasons not apparent, but possibly connected with fluctuations in the value of the currency, this duty was reduced to £2 in 1729, and seems to have remained at that figure until 1761.

The £10 duty was restored in 1761, and probably helped much to prevent importation, especially when we remember the work of the Quakers at this period. In 1773 a prohibitive duty of £20 was laid, and the Act of 1780 finally prohibited importation. After 1760 it is probable that the efforts of the Quakers to get rid of their slaves made the export slave trade much larger than the importation.

Very early in the history of the colony the presence of unpaid slaves for life greatly disturbed the economic condition of free laborers. While most of the white laborers were indentured servants the competition was not so much felt; when they became free laborers, however, and were joined by other laborers, the cry against slave competition was soon raised. The particular grievance was the hiring out of slave mechanics by masters; in 1708 the free white mechanics protested to the Legislature against this custom, 12 and this was one of the causes of the Act of 1712 in all probability. When by 1722 the number of slaves had further increased, the whites again protested against the "employment of blacks," apparently including both free and slave. The Legislature endorsed this protest and declared that the custom of employing black laborers and mechanics was "dangerous and injurious to the republic." 13 Consequently the Act of 1726 declared the hiring of their time by Negro slaves to be illegal, and sought to restrict emancipation on the ground that "free negroes are an idle and slothful people," and easily become public burdens.14

As to the condition of the Negroes themselves we catch only glimpses here and there. Considering the times, the system of slavery was not harsh and the slaves received fair attention. There appears, however, to have been much trouble with them on account of stealing, some drunkenness and general disorder. The preamble of the Act of 1726 declares that "it too often happens that Negroes commit felonies and other heinous crimes," and that much pauperism arises from emancipation. This act facilitated punishment of such crimes by providing indemnification for a master if his slave suffered capital punishment. They were declared to be often "tumultuous" in 1693, to be found "cursing, gaming, swearing, and committing many other disorders" in 1732; in 1738 and 1741 they were also called "disorderly" in city ordinances. 15

In general, we see among the slaves at this time the low condition of morals which we should expect in a barbarous people forced to labor in a strange land.

8. Emancipation, 1760­1780.-­The years 1750-1760 mark the culmination of the slave system in Pennsylvania and the beginning of its decline. By that time most shrewd observers saw that the institution was an economic failure, and were consequently more disposed than formerly to listen to the earnest representations of the great antislavery agitators of that period. There were, to be sure, strong vested interests still to be fought. When the £10 duty act of 1761 was pending, the slave merchants of the city, including many respectable names, vigorously protested; "ever desirous to extend the Trade of this Province," they declared that they had "seen for some time past the many inconveniencys the Inhabitants have suffered for want of Labourers and Artificers," and had consequently "for some time encouraged the importation of Negroes." They prayed at the very least for delay in passing this restrictive measure. After debate and altercation with the governor the measure finally passed, indicating renewed strength and determination on the part of the abolition party.16

Meantime voluntary emancipation increased. Sandiford emancipated his slaves in 1733, and there were by 1790 in Philadelphia about one thousand black freedmen. A school for these and others was started in 1770 at the instance of Benezet, and had at first twenty-two children in attendance." The war brought a broader and kindlier feeling toward the Negroes; before its end the Quakers had ordered manumission,18 and several attempts were made to prohibit slavery by statute. Finally, in 1780, the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery was passed.19 This act, beginning with a strong condemnation of slavery, provided that no child thereafter born in Pennsylvania should be a slave. The children of slaves born after 1780 were to be bond­servants until twenty-eight years of age--that is, beginning with the year 1808 there was to be a series of emancipations. Side by side with this growth of emancipation sentiment went an increase in the custom of hiring out Negro slaves and servants, which increased the old competition with the whites. The slaves were owned in small lots, especially in Philadelphia, one or two to a family, and were used either as house servants or artisans. As a result they were encouraged to learn trades and seem to have had the larger share of the ordinary trades of the city in their hands. Many of the slaves in the better families became well-known characters--as Alice, who for forty years took the tolls at Dunk's Ferry; Virgil Warder, who once belonged to Thomas Penn, and Robert Venable, a man of some intelligence.20

9. The Rise of the Freedman, 1780-1820.--A careful study of the process and effect of emancipation in the different States of the Union would throw much light on our national experiment and its ensuing problems. Especially is this true of the experiment in Pennsylvania; to be sure, emancipation here was gradual and the number emancipated small in comparison with the population, and yet the main facts are similar: the freeing of ignorant slaves and giving them a chance, almost unaided from without, to make a way in the world. The first result was widespread poverty and idleness. This was followed, as the number of freedmen increased, by a rush to the city. Between 1790 and 1800 the Negro population of Philadelphia County increased from 2489 to 6880, or 176 per cent against an increase of 43 per cent among the whites. The first result of this contact with city life was to stimulate the talented and aspiring freedmen; and this was the easier because the freedman had in Philadelphia at that time a secure economic foothold; he performed all kinds of domestic service, all common labor and much of the skilled labor. The group being thus secure in its daily bread needed only leadership to make some advance in general culture and social effectiveness. Some sporadic cases of talent occur, as Derham, the Negro physician, whom Dr. Benjamin Rush, in 1788, found "very learned."21 Especially, however, to be noted are Richard Allen,22 a former slave of the Chew family, and Absalom Jones,23 a Delaware Negro. These two were real leaders and actually succeeded to a remarkable degree in organizing the freedmen for group action. Both had bought their own freedom and that of their families by hiring their time--Allen being a blacksmith by trade, and Jones also having a trade. When, in 1792, the terrible epidemic drove Philadelphians away so quickly that many did not remain to bury the dead, Jones and Allen quietly took the work in hand, spending some of their own funds and doing so well that they were publicly commended by Mayor Clarkson in 1794.24

The great work of these men, however, lay among their own race and arose from religious difficulties. As in other colonies, the process by which the Negro slaves learned the English tongue and were converted to Christianity is not clear. The subject of the moral instruction of slaves had early troubled Penn and he had urged Friends to provide meetings for them.25 The newly organized Methodists soon attracted a number of the more intelligent, though the masses seem at the end of the last century not to have been churchgoers or Christians to any considerable extent. The small number that went to church were wont to worship at St. George's, Fourth and Vine; for years both free Negroes and slaves worshiped here and were made welcome. Soon, however, the church began to be alarmed at the increase in its black communicants which the immigration from the country was bringing, and attempted to force them into the gallery. The crisis came one Sunday morning during prayer when Jones and Allen, with a crowd of followers, refused to worship except in their accustomed places, and finally left the church in a body.26

This band immediately met together and on April 12, 1787, formed a curious sort of ethical and beneficial brotherhood called the Free African Society. How great a step this was, we of to-day scarcely realize; we must remind ourselves that it was the first wavering step of a people toward organized social life. This society was more than a mere club: Jones and Allen were its leaders and recognized chief officers; a certain parental discipline was exercised over its members and mutual financial aid given. The preamble of the articles of association says: "Whereas, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, two men of the African Race, who for their religious life and conversation, have obtained a good report among men, these persons from a love to the people of their own complexion whom they beheld with sorrow, because of their irreligious and uncivilized state, often communed together upon this painful and important subject in order to form some kind of religious body; but there being too few to be found under the like concern, and those who were, differed in their religious sentiments; with these circumstances they labored for some time, till it was proposed after a serious communication of sentiments that a society should be formed without regard to religious tenets, provided the persons lived an orderly and sober life, in order to support one another in sickness, and for the benefit of their widows and fatherless children."27

The society met first at private houses, then at the Friends' Negro school house. For a time they leaned toward Quakerism; each month three monitors were appointed to have oversight over the members; loose marriage customs were attacked by condemning cohabitation, expelling offenders and providing a simple Quakerlike marriage ceremony. A fifteen-minute pause for silent prayer opened the meetings. As the representative body of the free Negroes of the city, this society opened communication with free Negroes in Boston, Newport and other places. The Negro Union of Newport, R. I., proposed in 1788 a general exodus to Africa, but the Free African Society soberly replied: "With regard to the emigration to Africa you mention we have at present but little to communicate on that head, apprehending every pious man is a good citizen of the whole world." The society co-operated with the Abolition Society in studying the condition of the free blacks in 1790. At all times they seem to have taken good care of their sick and dead and helped the widows and orphans to some extent. Their methods of relief were simple: they agreed "for the benefit of each other to advance one-shilling in silver Pennsylvania currency a month; and after one year's subscription, from the dole hereof then to hand forth to the needy of the Society if any should require, the sum of three shillings and nine pence per week of the said money; provided the necessity is not brought on them by their own imprudence." In 1790 the society had £42 9s. 1d. on deposit in the Bank of North America, and had applied for a grant of the Potter's Field to be set aside as a burial ground for them, in a petition signed by Dr. Rush, Tench Coxe and others.

It was, however, becoming clearer and clearer to the leaders that only a strong religious bond could keep this untrained group together. They would probably have become a sort of institutional church at first if the question of religious denomination had been settled among them; but it had not been, and for about six years the question was still pending. The tentative experiment in Quakerism had failed, being ill suited to the low condition of the rank and file of the society. Both Jones and Allen believed that Methodism was best suited to the needs of the Negro, but the majority of the society, still nursing the memory of St. George's, inclined toward the Episcopal church. Here came the parting of the ways: Jones was a slow introspective man, with a thirst for knowledge, with high aspirations for his people; Allen was a shrewd, quick, popular leader, positive and dogged and yet far-seeing in his knowledge of Negro character. Jones therefore acquiesced in the judgment of the majority, served and led them conscientiously and worthily, and eventually became the first Negro rector in the Episcopal church of America. About 1790 Allen and a few followers withdrew from the Free African Society, formed an independent Methodist church which first worshiped in his blacksmith's shop on Sixth near Lombard. Eventually this leader became the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of America--an organization which now has 500,000 members, and is by long odds the vastest and most remarkable product of American Negro civilization.28

Jones and the Free African Society took immediate steps to secure a church; a lot was bought at the corner of Fifth and Adelphi streets in February, 1792, and by strenuous effort a church was erected and dedicated on the seventeenth of July, 1794. This was the first Negro church in America, and known as the First African Church of St. Thomas; in the vestibule of the church was written: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light." Bethel Church was erected by Allen and his followers in 1796, the same year that a similar movement in New York established the Zion Methodist Church. In 1794, too, the Methodists of St. George's, viewing with some chagrin the widespread withdrawal of Negroes from their body, established a mission at Camperdown, in the northeastern part of the city, which eventually became the present Zoar Church.

The general outlook for the Negroes at this period was encouraging, notwithstanding the low condition of the masses of the race. In 1788 Pennsvlvania amended the Act of 1780, so as to prevent the internal and foreign slave trade, and correct kidnapping and other abuses that had arisen.29 The convention which adopted the Constitution of 1790 had, in spite of opposition in the convention, refused to insert the word "white" in the qualifications for voters, and thus gave the right of suffrage to free Negro property holders; a right which they held, and, in most counties of the State, exercised until 1837.30 The general conference of Abolition Societies, held in Philadelphia in 1794, started an agitation which, when reinforced by the news of the Haytian revolt, resulted in the national statute of 1794, forbidding the export slave trade.31 In 1799 and 1800 Absalom Jones led the Negroes to address a petition to the Legislature, praying for immediate abolition of slavery, and to Congress against the fugitive slave law, and asking prospective emancipation for all Negroes. This latter petition was presented by Congressman Waln, and created an uproar in the House of Representatives; it was charged that the petition was instigated by the Haytian revolutionists and finally the Negroes were censured for certain parts of the petition.32

The condition of the Negroes of the city in the last decade of the eighteenth and the first two decades of the nineteenth century, although without doubt bad, slowly improved; an insurance society, in 1796, took the beneficial features of the old Free African Society. Some small essays were made in business, mostly in small street stands, near the wharves; and many were in the trades of all kinds. Between 1800 and 1810 the city Negro population continued to increase, so that at the latter date there were 100,688 whites and 10,522 blacks in the city, the Negroes thus forming the largest per cent of the population of the city that they have ever attained. The free Negroes also began to increase from the effect of the abolition law. The school established in 1770 continued, and was endowed by bequests from whites and Negroes. It had 414 pupils by 1813. In this same year there were six Negro churches and eleven benevolent societies. When the war broke out many Philadelphia Negroes were engaged on land and sea. Among these was James Forten--a fine character, expressive of the best Negro development of the time. Born in 1766, and educated by Benezet, he "was a gentleman by nature, easy in manner and able in intercourse; popular as a man of trade or gentleman of the pave, and well received by the gentry of lighter shade."33 For years he conducted a sail-making trade, employing both whites and Negroes. In 1814 he, Jones, Allen and others were asked, in the midst of the alarm felt at the approach of the British, to raise colored troops. A meeting was called and 2500 volunteers secured, or three-fourths of the adult male population; they marched to Gray's Ferry and threw up fortifications. A battalion for service in the field was formed, but the war closed before they reached the front. 34

The Negroes at this time held about $250,000 of city property, and on the whole showed great progress since 1780. At the same time there were many evidences of the effects of slavery. The first set of men emancipated by law were freed in 1808, and probably many entitled to freedom were held longer than the law allowed or sold out of the State. As late as 1794 some Quakers still held slaves, and the papers of the day commonly contain such advertisements, as:

" To be Sold for want of Employ, For a term of years, a smart active Negro boy, fifteen years of age. Enquire at Robert McGee's board yard, Vine street wharf." 35


1. Cf. Scharf-Westcott's " History of Philadelphia," I, 65, 76. DuBois' "Slave Trade," p. 24.

2. Hazard's "Annals," 553. Thomas' "Attitude of Friends Toward Slavery," 266.

3. There is some controversy as to whether these Germans were actually Friends or not; the weight of testimony seems to be that they were. See, however, Thomas as above, p. 267, and Appendix. " Pennsylvania Magazine," IV, 28-31, The Critic, August 27, 1897. DuBois' "Slave Trade," p. 20, 203. For copy of protest, see published fac-simile and Appendix of Thomas. For further proceedings of Quakers, see Thomas and DuBois, passim.

4. "Colonial Records," I, 380-81.

5. Thomas, 276; Whittier Intro. to Woolman, 16.

6. See Appendix B.

7. "Statutes­at­Large, " Ch. 14, 881. See Appendix B.

8. "Statutes­at­Large," III, pp. 250, 254; IV, 59 ff.See Appendix B.

9. DuBois' "Slave Trade," p. 23, note. U. S. Census.

10. See Appendix B. Cf DuBois' "Slave Trade," passim.

11. DuBois' " Slave Trade," p. 206.

12. Scharf-Westcott's "History of Philadelphia," I, 200.

13. Watson's "Annals," (Ed. 1850) I, 98.

14. See Appendix B.

15. Cf. Chapter XIII.

16. "Colonial Records," VIII, 576; DuBois' "Slave Trade," p. 23

17. Cf. Pamphlet: " Sketch of the Schools for Blacks," also Chapter VIII.

18. Cf. Thomas' "Attitude of Friends," etc., p. 272.

19. Dallas' "Laws, " I, 838, Ch. 881; DuBois' " Slave Trade," p. 225.

20. Cf. Watson's "Annals" (Ed. 1850), I, 557, 101-103, 601, 602, 515.

21. The American Museum, 1789, pp. 61-62.

22. For life of Allen, see his "Autobiography," and Payne's "History of the A. M. E. Church."

23. For life of Jones, see Douglass' "Episcopal Church of St. Thomas."

24. The testimonial was dated January 23, 1794, and was as follows:

"Having, during the prevalence of the late malignant disorder, had almost daily opportunities of seeing the conduct of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and the people employed by them to bury the dead, I, with cheerfulness give this testimony of my approbation of their proceedings as far as the same came under my notice. Their diligence, attention and decency of deportment, afforded me at the time much satisfaction.


From Douglass' "St. Thomas, Church. "

25. See Thomas, p. 266.

26. See Allen's "Autobiography," and Douglass' "St. Thomas."

27. Douglass' "St. Thomas."

28. There is on the part of the A. M. E. Church a disposition to ignore Allen's withdrawal from the Free African Society, and to date the A. M. E. Church from the founding of that society, making it older than St. Thomas. This, however, is contrary to Allen's own statement in his " Autobiography." The point, however, is of little real consequence.

29. Carey & Bioren, Ch. 394. DuBois' " Slave Trade, " p. 231.

30. The constitution, as reported, had the word "white," but this was struck out at the instance of Gallatin. Cf. Ch. XVII.

31. Cf. DuBois' " Slave Trade," Chapter VII.

32. "Annals of Congress," 6 Cong., I Sess., pp. 229-45. DuBois' "Slave Trade," pp. 8-­83.

33. Quoted by W. C. Bolivar in Philadelphia Tribune.

34. Delany's "Colored People," p. 74.

35. Dunlap's American Daily Advertiser, July 4, 1791. William White had a large commission-house on the wharves about this time. Considerable praise is given the Insurance Society of 1796 for its good management. Cf. "History of the Insurance Companies of North America." In 1817 the first convention of Free Negroes was held here, through the efforts of Jones and Forten.


From W.E.B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Chapter III, pp. 10-24.

Back to the Table of Contents

Forward to Chapter IV

Back to Chapter II

Back to the Dead Sociologists' Index