There were slaves in Pennsylvania even before the colony was organized. The Pennsylvania Assembly, in its 1725 - 6 session passed "An Act for the better Regulation of Negroes." The number of slaves in Pennsylvania was always relatively small, and slave holding was concentrated in the lower counties (Delaware). The Mennonites always had concerns about slave holding but it was the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1758, making the buying or selling a slave a bar to leadership, which gave the first real momentum to the abolition cause. In 1774 it became a cause for disowning a member by a Meeting.
The law for the gradual emancipation of slaves was passed in February 1780. It was a very conservative law. It did not free existing slaves. Children of slaves were not given their freedom until the age of 28. The law did make blacks equal under the state laws and had more immediate impact on free blacks.
There is not a lot of information about slave holding in Tredyffrin, the records mainly relating to numbers, and we have no idea under what conditions they were held. The main source of information is the tax records, the holding of slaves being taxed from 1760. In 1780 a register of slaves was created for Chester County and slaves were noted in the 1790 census. There are some relevant and informative advertisements from the Pennsylvania Gazette and a few other miscellaneous records.
The slaves were held by the more prosperous land owners in Tredyffrin. The variability in the reporting numbers for individual slave holders hints at significant under-reporting. The summary numbers for slaves are as follows:
A good overview of slave holding and laws in Pennsylvania can be found at Slavery in PennsylvaniaTop
The following information found about slaves in Tredyffrin listed alphabetically by the slave holder's name. The holder's names are as follows: Richard Britain, James Brown, John Brown, Sarah Christie, John Cloyd, William Currie, Benjamin Davis, Elizabeth David, Isaac David, James David senior, Captain John Davis, Dr. John Davis, William Dewees, William Godfrey, Isaac Griffith, John Gronow, Lewis Gronow, Havard family, Ann Havard, David Havard, John Havard, Sarah Havard, Samuel Havard, John Jarvis, Samuel John, David Jones, Levi Jones, Joseph Mitchell, Edward Physick, Richard Robinson, Rev. John Simonton, Samuel Smith, Abijah Stephens, Thomas Waters, Benjamin Weatherby, John Williams, David Wilson, John Wilson
The location of the property of many of the slave holders can be found on the 1777 and 1798 maps of Tredyffrin. Commentary in orange is by Mike Bertram.Back to List
Tax Returns and Register (1780)
Richard Britain paid taxes on 125 acres but there is no record of him buying or selling land. There is the possibility that he was leasing land.Back to List
James Brown, a blacksmith, owned 8 acres of land.Back to List
John Brown, owned 200+ acres of land. He lived in the house known as General Knox's Quarters.Back to List
Sarah Christie was the widow of John Christie who died in 1762 or 63. She appears sporadically in the tax records after that date paying tax on 200 acres of land. The property was inherited after her death by her sons John and David Christie as shown on the 1798 Map of Tredyffrin.Back to List
Tax Returns & Slave Register
John Cloyd owned 125 acres in the northeast of Tredyffrin Township. He died around 1782 and the property was sold by his executors. The property was owned by John Monday in 1798.Back to List
Rev. William Currie
Advertisements from the Pennsylvania Gazette
June 13, 1754
To be SOLD, A likely strong, healthy, Negro Wench, about 25 Years of age, this Country born, has had the Smallpox, and is fit for Town or Country Business. Enquire at the New Printing Office. William Currie
July 18, 1754
To be sold by WILLIAM CURRIE, In the Great Valley, TWO likely Negro Men, both compleat Farmers, named Glascow and Quaco; Glascow is about 21 Years of Age, and Quaco about 36: LIkewise two Negro Wenches, named Deb and Moll; Deb is about 24 Years of Age, and has a fine Child, about 8 months old; Moll is about 40, and has a fine boy, past 4 years old, both to be sold with the Mothers: As also a Dutch Servant Lad, who has been 7 Years in the Country, and has 5 Years and 4 Months to serve; all which are sold for no Fault, but because their Master intends to quit Farming. The Purchaser may have a Year Credit, giving Security, and paying interest.
Tax Returns & Slave Register
William Currie was pastor of the parish that included St.David's Church in Radnor, St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley and in St. James' in Perkiomen. He sold the farm, Stirling's Quarters, to his grandson-in-law Thomas Walker in 1791 but continued to live on the farm for the rest of his life. For a biography of William Currie see Reverend William Currie, 1710 - 1803: Aspects of His Life.Back to List
Tax Return & Slave Register
Benjamin Davis purchased 135 acres of land from his father, Isaac Davis, in 1774. The property had a western boundary of Mill Lane and is now part of Chesterbrook. Benjamin Davis died in November 1784.Back to List
Will of Elizabeth Davis (1781) - to my daughter Elizabeth Davis a Negro woman called Dinah.
This is probably Elizabeth Batholomew who married Isaac Davis. Dinah was probably listed in the Isaac Davis tax returns (see below).Back to List
Isaac Davis died in 1778.Back to List
James Davis senior
This is probably James Davis (1718 - 1802). He owned St.Peter's Mill for a number of years but is listed as having an occupation of tailor in a number of the tax returns.Back to List
Captain John Davis
Captain John Davis served in the 1st and 9th Pennsylvania Battalions during the Revolutionary War. He was present at the battles of Brandywine, Monmouth, Stony Point and Yorktown. Captain Davis was the son of Isaac and Elizabeth Davis.Back to List
Dr. John Davis
Tax Returns, Register (1780) & Census (1790)
Dr. John Davis (1744 - 1816) was the son of James and Mary Davis. Where he learned his medical skills is not known, but in the Revolutionary War he served as surgeon of a Pennsylvania musketry battalion, was captured at the battle of Long Island, and was held for a time on the British prison-ships at New York.Back to List
Tax Returns, Register (1780), & Census (1790)
William Dewees was the iron master and part owner of the Valley Forges at the time of the Revolution. He died in 1809.Back to List
Text from deed K-327:
Deed of Gift. On 9 Oct 1756 Jane Godfrey of Tredyffrin, spinster, widow & relict of the late Thomas Godfrey to her son William Godfrey of Tredyffrin. Jane Godfrey for the natural love she bears to her son granted to William Godfrey all her moveable estate, goods, chattels, effects & personal estate, whatever, in whose hands custody or possession soever they be within the province for the proper use of William Godfrey from the day of her death, forever, excepting only the whole legacy to the personal estate of her late husband (as bequeathed to her in his will) being 2 beds, 3 pewter dishes, 6 pewter plates, negro's Dick & Fillis & other premises to him William Godfrey from the day of her death & have farm let to William Godfrey for all her natural life & in order that nothing be wanting to render this deed of Gift valid & sufficient from her decease, have put her son William Godfrey in full possession of said premises by delivering him one brass kettle. Signed Jane Godfrey. Delivered in the presence of Joseph Walker & Jonathan Johnston. Recorded 31 Dec 1756.
Text from deed N-240:
Release. On 20 Sep 1757 William Godfrey of Tredyffrin to Jane Godfrey of Tredyffrin. Whereas Thomas Godfrey, late of Tredyffrin, by his will dated 15 Dec 1755 bequeathed to his wife, Jane Godfrey all his personal estate after paying other legacies together with one half of profits from his plantation. Whereas Jane Godfrey by lease dated 8 Oct 1756 did let said farm to William Godfrey. Whereas Jane Godfrey by deed of gift dated 9 Oct 1757 granted to her son, William Godfrey all her estate from the day of her death as recorded in Book K, Vol. 10, Page 327. Now William Godfrey release & confirm to his mother, Jane Godfrey & to each of her heirs, all manner of property which I have had in a certain negro wench named Phillis, all the household furniture which now remains in a room of the easterly end of the new stone house. Whereas my mother has thought it proper to retract so much of her said gift from me and in order to relieve my much esteemed & dearly beloved mother from any uneasiness which she might have on account of her deed of gift to me & for further account of her paying my 10 shillings, I, William Godfrey, have cancelled & made void. Signed William Godfrey. Delivered in the presence of Joseph Walker & John Johnston. Recorded 27 Jan 1764
William Godfrey no longer appears in the Tredyffrin tax record after 1767. The Godfrey property was in the Berwyn area.Back to List
Isaac Griffith was landlord of Howell’s Tavern in the 1780s. He later paid tax on land owned by the estate of Thomas Waters. There are no deeds showing he owned land in Tredyffrin.Back to List
John Gronow owned a 155 acre tract with St. Peter’s Road as its western boundary and Valley Creek as its southern boundary. He died around 1776 and his property was inherited by his son, Lewis Gronow.Back to List
Tax Returns and Slave Register (1780)
Lewis Gronow died around 1782.Back to List
Advertisement from the Pennsylvania Gazette, December 9, 1736
WHEREAS William Haverd of the Township of Merion, in the County of Philadelphia, has clandestinely made a Bill of Sale to his Brother John Haverd, of the Township of Haverford in the Chester County, of a young Negroe Man named Tom, belonging to Capt. George Roche of the Island of Antigua; which said Negroe Man he left with me his Daughter, until further Orders, I having no Power to Dispose of the said Negroe Man: This is to give Notice to all Persons that they may not be imposed on by purchasing the said Negroe. Elizabeth Haverd.
Elizabeth Haverd or Havard was a member of St David’s. I believe this is John Havard of Haverford and then Tredyffrin. His daughter, Elizabeth, married John Jacobs at Valley Friends meeting on Jan 3rd, 1753. The date of the notice of 1736 looks rather early for Elizabeth or she married late in life. I do not have Elizabeth's birth date. The eldest child of John Havard that I have found so far has a birth date of 1714. - Mike Bertram
For background to the Havard family see Three Pre-Revolutionary War houses with a Family Connection.Back to List
Tax Returns & Slave Register (1780)
Ann together with her brother, Samuel, with whom she lived, were disowned by the Friends for refusing to give up their slaves.Back to List
David Havard owned 300 acres in what is now Chesterbrook.Back to List
John Havard junior
John Havard lived in Duportail’s Quarters. He died in 1797.Back to List
Sarah owned land jointly with her sister Ann. The land, in Chesterbrook, had a southern boundary of Swedesford Road and an eastern boundary of Valley Forge Road (route 252).In the 1770s there was the remains of a house on their land which was the site of a picket post, known as the Stone Chimney Picket, during the Valley Forge encampment.Back to List
Tax Returns & Slave Register
Samuel Havard’s reparation claim for damages incurred during the British Army encampment in Tredyffrin on the 18th to 20th September 1777 includes the loss of 1 Negro slave worth £100.
Samuel Havard lived with his unmarried sisters Ann and Sarah in Lafayette’s Quarters. He and his sister Ann were disowned by the Friends for refusing to give up their slaves.Back to List
John Jervis or Jarvis
John Jarvis owned a tract in Strafford between 1778 and 1786.Back to List
Samuel John was deacon of the Great Valley Baptist Church. He died in 1787.Back to List
This may be the Rev. David Jones of Great Valley Baptist Church.Back to List
Levi Jones owned land with a northern boundary of Swedesford Road and a western boundary of West Valley Road.Back to List
Advertisement from the Pennsylvania Gazette, August 25, 1778 and September 1, 1778
THIRTY DOLLARS REWARD. WENT with the British army, when they left the Valley in September last, a Negro man named CATO. I found him in the possession of Lieutenant Nesbit of the 17th regiment, took him to Philadelphia, where not being able to get a master, he ran away in the evening and went to the British army again; it is said he left Philadelphia before the army did. He is about 23 years of age, was bought of Mr. McCall about three months before, is a handy fellow about a house, and a good waiter, but sometimes saucy, and is knock-kneed: he can play on the violin and fife. Whoever takes up and secures said Negro so that his master may have him again, shall have Twenty Dollars, but if brought to the Work house of Philadelphia, shall have the above reward and all reasonable charges, paid by the subscriber, living in the Great Valley in Chester county, who has a Plantation and Ferry to let, whereon Henry Lott now lives, three miles above Coryell, to be entered on the fifth of April next. None need apply but such who are able and willing to keep a good house and take proper care of the whole.JOSEPH MITCHELL.
Joseph Mitchell was the first owner (and probably builder) of Chesterbrook Mill. No slaves are listed in his tax returns.Back to List
Edward Physick, owned a property on the North Valley Hills from 1767 to 1792. He was only taxed in Tredyffrin between 1778 and 1780 and probably lived in Philadelphia at other times. He was a legal representative of the Penn family.Back to List
Richard Robinson was the landlord of the Paoli Inn.Back to List
Rev. John Simonton
John Simonton was pastor of the Great Valley Presbyterian Church from 1761 until his death in 1791.Back to List
Samuel Smith was taxed on 100 acres of land in 1781 and 1783. He does not seem to have owned land in the township.Back to List
Abijah Stephens owned property in the northeast corner of Tredyffrin, part of which is now in Valley Forge National Historical Park.Back to List
Tax Returns & Slave Register (1780)
Thomas Waters owned a number of plantations in Tredyffrin and Upper Merion as can be seen from his 1794 will. Their size is unclear as two were inherited and he rented them out. Waters was the father-in-law of William Dewees.Back to List
Benjamin Weatherby was an Inn Keeper in Tredyffrin in 1765. He died in 1766.Back to List
This entry is somewhat of a mystery as there was no John Williams taxed in Tredyffrin in 1780.Back to List
For details of the Wilson property see: The "Original" Wilson Home. David Wilson was one of the incorporators of the Great Valley Presbyterian Church in 1788.Back to List
Tax Returns and Slave Register
John Wilson sold 112 acres of his tract to his son, David Wilson, in 1779, and the remainder to Frederick Hausman in 1785.
Leslie Potter helped with the collection of data concerning slaves.