African Ancestry in Pennsylvania

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HISTORY & BACKGROUND

The earliest known African settlers arrived in Pennsylvania around 1639. Termed as Guineas, these Africans were taken from the Guinea Coast of Africa. Their enslavers were Swedes, Dutch, and Finns. The early Quakers were the main slaveholders who would later become known as the prominent abolitionists of slavery. Three years after the Quakers arrived, in 1684, the ship Isabella arrived in Philadelphia carrying 150 Africans. The majority of the slaves in Pennsylvania were previous inhabitants of the West Indies. The importation of rum and sugar, for the exchange of slaves, produced the prosperity and the accumulated wealth of the early colonists.

From 1754 to 1766, the Philadelphia firm of Charles Willings and Robert Morris (known as the "Financier of the Great Revolution") were persistent in the sale of slaves. Morris would later stake his personal fortune for the freedom of slaves. A prominent slaveholder of central Pennsylvania, in the counties of York, Lancaster, and Dauphin was the Revolutionary family of Captain Archibald McAllister. This family owned more slaves than any other in this region.

As the slave trade continued to grow, many of Pennsylvania's citizens grew hostile to slavery. In 1775, Quakers and other concerned abolitionists organized the Pennsylvania Abolition Society whose primary responsibility was to assist fugitive slaves who were fleeing slavemasters. In 1780, Pennsylvania passed the Gradual Abolition Act which allowed any slave born after March 1, 1780 to be freed at the end of twenty-eight years. However, emancipation could occur sooner if the slavemaster so desired.


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Placed online: 26 Sep 1999 | Updated:  1 Jan 2003
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