Slavery was entwined with Pennsylvania's earliest colonial history. Governor William Penn, founder of the colony in 1681, owned eleven enslaved people. A century later, Pennsylvania passed the 1780 Gradual Emancipation law. This allowed for the eventual freedom of the children of the enslaved. A child born in 1780 or later would be free by the age of twenty-eight. Most northern states had passed similar laws by the early 1800s.
Enslaved people worked on farm and in taverns, in craftsmen's shops and as servants. The majority lived in or around Philadelphia, where slaves were imported. The 1790 census recorded 6,537 free Blacks and 3,737 enslaved Blacks. By 1810 on 795 enslaved people lived in the state, although the total Black population had doubled. Slavery ended in Pennsylvania by the late 1840s.
(Inscription under the image in the center left) 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery
(Inscription under the image in the lower left) William Penn, Governor of Pennsylvania
(Inscription under the image in the upper right) This lithograph depicts the London Coffee House in Philadelphia, which was a common selling location for merchants and slave traders.
(Inscription under the image in the center right) This powerful woodcut image comes from an 1837 anti-slavery poem titled, "Our Countrymen in Chains."
(Inscription beside the image in the lower right) Pennsylvania provided a glimmer of home for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman once said, "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."