The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania

In “The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania, 1830-1860,” Dr. Nilgun Anadolu Okur offers a brief overview of slavery in the state of Pennsylvania. By 1830, the city of Philadelphia had long been a beacon of freedom for escaping slaves. It was home to a large free black community as well as a number of anti-slavery societies and abolitionists groups. Despite this, Dr. Okur argues that Pennsylvania was built by prominent, slave holding men like state founder, William Penn, and Benjamin Franklin. Pennsylvania was also the stage for significant fights in the long war against slavery.  John Brown stayed in Chambersburg while he planned his raid of the armory at Harpers Ferry. Benjamin Lay, an immigrant from Barbados, came to Philadelphia in 1731 and made several dramatic public statements against the evils of slavery. From these tumultuous beginnings, Dr. Okur argues, Pennsylvania emerged as pivotal in the creation of the Underground Railroad. In fact, she argues that early escape stories in Columbia Township could be the first in the known in the history of aided escape. In 1804 General Thomas Boude helped his servants’ mother escape her slaveholder in Virginia, inspiring more slaves to seek freedom. They traveled a route that took them from the Maryland line to several safe stops in Columbia township. Finally, Dr. Okur reminds us that many prominent black abolitionists had ties to the antislavery society in Philadelphia, including William Still and Robert Purvis.

Adapted from The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania by Francis Mohammed

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