Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Freedom Road

"Freedom Road" marker near Stoneboro, PAMercer County, PA

Marker Text: In search of freedom, men and women brought from the South by the "Underground Railroad" settled near here about 1825 and later. After 1850, most of them went on to Canada. Their cemetery, still in use, lies a short distance above the road.

Location: On U.S. Route 62 southeast of Stoneboro, PA, southwest of Sandy Lake across from the Stoneboro Fairgrounds. Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1947.

"Freedom Road" marker across from the Stoneboro Fairgrounds (Click any photo to enlarge)

Marker next to Route 62 with Stoneboro Fairgrounds in the background.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  The location of this marker indicates the former presence of a old African-American community and the remains of an old cemetery left behind by this community dating back between 1825 to 1850. This marker is related to other markers informing the traveler to the early efforts to establish an underground railroad for escaping slaves.

  In 1820, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted a personal liberty law that aimed to protect African-American residents from being kidnapped by southern slave catchers. This law was amended and strengthened in 1826. Following these changes, free African-Americans or escaped slaves felt more confident residing in Pennsylvania.

"Freedom Road" marker across from the Stoneboro Fairgrounds Main Entrance

  Here near Stoneboro, PA in Mercer County, a fugitive slave town called “Liberia” or “Freedom Road” was established by the Travis family of free African-Americans. For years, this community offered sanctuary to weary travelers. It was also the site of frequent raids by slave catchers. Southerners continued to cross the state boundary looking for fugitive slaves coming to small communities of African-Americans like "Freedom Road" (also called Liberia) near Sandy Lake. Other similar communities existed throughout Pennsylvania, such as, "Africa" in Washington County; "Tow Hill" in Columbia, Lancaster County; and "Wilmore" in Cambria County.

  Their sense of security began to disappear in 1842, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the laws protecting them in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842). The court's decision was not a complete reversal. The ruling also established new guidelines for acceptable personal liberty provisions. In 1847, the state adopted a new version of its anti-kidnapping statute.

Old Freedom Road Cemetery on the hill behind the marker

Photo of part of the old cemetery behind the marker on a hill.

  Then in 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, however, that finally changed the perceptions of many Pennsylvania African-American communities about their continued safety. The law made it easier for southerners to enter the North and recapture runaways. It authorized financial rewards for slave catchers, and severe penalties for those who helped fugitives escape (six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines).

Old Freedom Road Cemetery and grave stone for Jacob Roberts a Civil War Veteran

One of the newer grave stones in the cemetery.  Many of the residents who remained in the area later served in the army during the Civil War.

  The result of the Fugitive Slave Law created the near abandonment of African-American communities in places like Freedom Road and elsewhere. All that remains of this old community is a cemetery located behind this marker up a road near the marker.

  After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, most of the population fled to Canada to become legal free citizens. A few stayed in this area, one an entrepreneur who sold cigars and whiskey to his neighbors. Another person who stayed was “Auntie Strange.” She was a runaway who was persistent enough to flee the South twice. The first time she was captured, beaten, and her fingers on the left hand chopped off. The second time, she gained her freedom.

  The “Freedom Road” community is located just south of Crawford County, PA where John Brown lived during this period and other underground railroad activities in Meadville, PA with Richard Henderson.

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