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Finding Black-Led Creation and Use of Economic Instruments to support Freedom Seekers in 1840

This research was supported by the Along Freedom's Journey History grant provided to the Peter Mott House from the New Jersey Historical Commission.


We are finding evidence that Black led Underground Railroad leadership activity in Philadelphia was economically sophisticated, employing economic instruments like stocks and mortgages to support Freedom Seekers. We are also finding evidence of an on-going communication channel between Free Haven, New Jersey - a known Underground Railroad sanctuary town - and the same Philadelphia leaders managing the economic support.


This points to a clear Black-led regional Underground Railroad network between Free Haven, NJ and Philadelphia as early as the late 1830s.


We lay out the findings below.



AI Imagining of Margaret Williams standing in front of her home in Free Haven, New Jersey




Aid to Freedom Seekers was an Organized Sophisticated Economic Effort by Black leaders of the Agricultural and Mechanics Association of Pennsylvania and New Jersey


The Philadelphia Vigilant Committee (VC) was founded in 1837. The VC’s primary activity was assistance to freedom seekers, people fleeing from slave plantations.


The VC acted as a hub of information, helping to arrange short-term housing, travel, medical assistance, and clothing for newly arrived freedom seekers in Philadelphia (see the VC Notes). This entry shows the agents meeting a Freedom Seeker at 11th and Filbert and providing clothing.



VC Notes showing clothing assistance for Freedom Seekers and economic leader Daniel Colly. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania



In 1839 the Agricultural and Mechanics Association of Pennsylvania and New Jersey (AMAPNJ) was created.



Cover of the AMAPNJ Constitution, Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania


Here's a fun imagining of the logo of the AMAPNJ if they AMAPNJ was here today.





Many of the leaders of the VC were also leaders of the AMAPNJ. Here we see from the Vigilance Committee notes the same names leading the AMAPNJ.



Jacob C White and Daniel Colly in the Vigilance Committee Notes, Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania



Excerpt from the Constitution of the AMAPNJ, Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Jacob. C. White, Sr. for example was the agent of the VC, while Daniel Colly and Roger Smith were founding members.



Jacob C. White, Sr.

We have previously described how Jacob C. White's location in Northern Liberties was close to a hub of services for freedom seekers offered by people living on Paschall's Alley, the local Hicksite Friends meeting house and two AME Churches. This video describes that information.


The stated purpose of the AMAPNJ from the their constitution was rather ambiguous.


“The subscribers believing that the principals affirmed will become more general in their operation and preparation as institutions are patronized in which are taught the useful trades the arts together with the rudiments of a common education and connection with moral principles especially if in such establishments complexional distinction are not countenanced and having determined to organize an institution so as to carry out their views as above” (From the AMAPNJ Constitution -see reference below and transcription here)


Members were called ‘subscribers’.


They purchased shares of the association for $10 (about $330 in today’s dollars), and would be paid back 25 cents a week until the $10 was repaid, (about 40 weeks).



Stock Share Certificates from the AMAPNJ, Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania


The AAMPNJ constitution becomes more clear in Article Fifth, Section Seven where the treasurer is given to permission to do the following:


“They shall cause the amount received from shares subscribed for together with fifty percent of all monies received from other sources to be applied to purchases of land and improving the same, stock purchasing, materials, foals, and fixtures, paying of agents, teachers, instructors and supporting and maintaining those persons admitted to and under the charge of the institution and all incidental expenses”



Excerpt from the AMAPNJ Constitution. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Here we can see to what uses the monies may be intended:


  • Purchasing and improving of land

  • Purchasing of materials

  • Payment and support for educators and instructors

  • Purchasing of stock and payment of agents



This means that Black leaders in the Vigilance Committee were also leaders in an economic association that pulled together monies from free Black people for the purposes of buying and improving land and also potentially setting up schooling. As the VC focused on helping Freedom Seekers arrive in Philadelphia and AMAPNJ leaders were in the VC, we can assume a similarity of awareness of the needs of Freedom Seekers in the leadership of the AMAPNJ.


It's in the realm of possibilities that the AMAPNJ was buying land for the purposes of helping Freedom Seekers not only arrive, but settle.


AMAPNJ Leadership Activities Included Buying Land, Supplying a Mortgage and Purchasing Supplies for Housing


In the Jacob C. White Sr. papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, we find a number of receipts and letters. They are not specifically called out or labeled with reference to AMAPNJ. However, we know that Jacob C. White Sr. and Ralph Smith, both of who are mentioned in the receipts and letters, were founders and officers of AMAPNJ and we believe that the receipts may be connected to AMAPNJ work.


As a founding member of the AMAPNJ, Jacob C. White, Sr. may also have been its treasurer as he held the AAMPNJ archives - stock book and stock accounting documentation - in his personal collection.


Jacob C. White, Sr. was one of the early purchasers of tracts of land in Free Haven, New Jersey. Here is a letter from 1846 concerning a deed for his purchase of land. The letter is from lawyer William Watson, who lived in Haddonfield, a town immediately next to Free Haven, NJ. See the full transcription of this letter here.



William Watson Letter in the Jacob C White Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Note that one of the functions of AMAPNJ was the 'purchase of land'.


In this screen shot from our map you can see the Peter Mott house in Free Haven in the bottom right of the map.


Map showing Free Black Sanctuary Towns in Relationship to The Black Metropolis

Free Haven, New Jersey is mentioned three times in the Jacob C. White collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, indicating a close connection between White and contacts in Free Haven.


Two of the mentions are with reference to the work on Margaret Williams’ house. Margaret Williams was a free Black women in Philadelphia.


There is an 'M. Williams' who is a widow in the 1838 Census. She lived on Rodman between 6th and 7th and was a washer who attended Hosanna church. Rodman, formally known as 'St. Mary's' was the scene of incredibly violent white mob attacks on the Black community in 1834 and 1842. In 1834, many people lost their homes in these attacks. (This is completely conjecture - but it would be cool if the AMAPNJ's mortgage was a restorative action for her.)



M. Williams from Volume 4, Page 38 of the 1838 PAS Census. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


In March 1840 a mortgage was provided for Margaret Williams for a house in Free Haven. Here is an excerpt from the mortgage. Read the full transcript here. In the mortgage, Jacob C White Sr. is the assumed lender (payments noted on the back of the mortgage are made to Jacob C. White Sr.) and Ralph Smith is the builder.






There is a receipt from building supplier Parry Randolph for building materials acquired from August 1840 through October 1840. Notably the receipt mentions that the supplies are for ‘Noble Village’.



Receipt from the Jacob C. White Collection, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Here is the timeline of receipts that could be in reference the building Margaret Williams' house. They fall in the same time period. You'll see that the mortgage comes first in 1840, then there is the acquisition of building supplies and contractors.


Timeline:


3/7/1840

  • Margaret Williams Mortgage in Free Haven

  • Lender - Jacob C White

  • Builder - Ralph Smith

  • Borrower - Margaret Williams


8/1840 through 10/1840

  • JC White Receipt for Building Materials for House in “Noble Village’

  • Buyer - Jacob C. White

  • Supplier - Parry Randoph


9/28/1840

  • JC White Receipt for Building Materials - doors, shutters and glass

  • Buyer - Jacob C. White

  • Supplier - JC. Wilkins

3/12/1841

  • Richard Gauff Additional Work on Margaret Williams House in Free Haven

  • Builder - Richard Gauff

  • Client - Ralph Smith


5/15/1841

  • JC White Receipt for building materials - lime, gravel, chimney capping, sand

  • Buyer - Jacob C. White

  • Supplier - Thos B. Longstreth and Co


8/30 - YEAR Unknown

  • HADDONFIELD receipt

  • JC White purchase of building materials - shingles

  • Buyer Jacob C. White

  • Supplier - A Robins


3/7/1842

  • Letter to JC White from Samuel H.G. Sharp Junior requesting tobacco seeds

  • Sharp was in Free Haven

  • Mentions Free Haven



The 1842 letter from free Black man Samuel Sharp indicates that he is receiving agricultural aid from Jacob C. White. This could be the 'improving the land' aspect of the mission of the AMAPNJ in action.



Letter from the Jacob C. White collection, courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Because of the founding purpose of the AMAPNJ and Jacob C. White’s role as treasurer where he was authorized to make contracts on behalf of AMAPNJ, and the proximity of its founding to the date of the mortgage in Free Haven, it's possible that the mortgage, contract and materials purchases were AMAPNJ activities.


The Free Haven to Philadelphia Network


Peter Mott, a free Black man, was an Underground Railroad Conductor in Free Haven, New Jersey. He and his wife Eliza helped hundreds of Freedom Seekers, many of whom arrived at his home in Free Haven and decided to make Free Haven their home.


Free Haven has now become Lawnside, New Jersey, the first Black municipality in the State of New Jersey. Many of the decendents of Freedom Seekers still live in Lawnside. Additionally, decendents of Philadelphia based Black community leaders, like Dolly Marshall - a Forten decendent - also live in Lawnside.


You can and should go visit the Peter Mott House, an Underground Railroad safehouse run by a Black family in a free Black sanctuary town. There's enough goodness in that sentence alone. But there are more good reasons to visit Lawnside.




Lawnside is home to important Black cemeteries where 19th Century Black leaders are buried, including Jerima Lee who traveled back and forth from New Jersey to Philadelphia as an AME leader. Dolly Marshall leads preservation efforts for the cemeteries.






Summary


We assume that the economic activities of the AMAPNJ were to support freedom seekers.


We know that Jacob C. White, Ralph Smith and David Colley were all actively involved in both the VC and the AMAPNJ which indicates that the AMAPNJ activity was likely geared towards Freedom Seekers.


We see the use of sophisticated financial instruments - stocks and mortgages - towards supporting Margaret Williams' house in Free Haven.


We assume a UGRR Communication Network Between Free Haven and Philadelphia


As Free Haven still exists as the historic Black town of Lawnside, NJ today, we know that the sanctuary status of Free Haven held true and Freedom Seekers, and others, did plant roots there.


The connection between Lawnside and The Black Metropolis in Philadelphia seemed to be firmly established as early as 1840, where we see the Black community use Free Haven (Lawnside) as a location for investment in settlement for free Black people outside of Philadelphia. We know that Peter Mott was actively conducting people through Free Haven on the UGRR and that Jerima Lee was moving from Free Haven to Philadelphia and back. .


The Black led efforts for self-determination, emancipation, and economic empowerment in the 19th century are often overlooked. And the use of economic instruments for Freedom Seeker assistance is hard to find in the existing literature.


We are therefore proud and excited about the AMAPNJ and what it represents and hope that scholars will use this information as a launching point to think more creatively about Black actions for emancipation.





References:


The Vigilant Committee of Philadelphia Records (Am .3375), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Constitution of the Agricultural and Mechanic Association of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, (AMS 302), Leon Gardiner Collection, Page 1, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Jacob C White Papers. Box 2g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


March 1840 Mortgage for Margaret Williams. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


August 1840 Receipt from Perry Randolph. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


September 1840 Receipt from J.C. Wilkins. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


October 1840 Receipt from Perry Randolph. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


March 1841 Contract between Richard Gauff and Ralph Smith. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


May 1841 Receipt from Thomas B. Lonstreth. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


August 30 (no year) Receipt from A. Robins. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


March 1842 Letter from Samuel Sharp to Jacob C. White Sr.. Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


April 1846 Letter from William Watson to Jacob C. White Sr. . Box 12g, Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania


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