Working together: african american migration and settlement

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A Thesis
Submitted to the Graduate School

in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts

Sonya Stewart

Indiana University of Pennsylvania
May 1996

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The Graduate School

Department of History

We hereby approve the thesis of

Sonya Stewart

Candidate for the degree of Master of Arts of History

____________________ ______________________________

Irwin Marcus, Ph.D.

Professor of History, Advisor

____________________ ______________________________

Gary Bailey, Ph.D.

Professor of History

____________________ ______________________________

Miriam S. Chaiken, Ph.D.

Professor of Anthropology

____________________ ____________________________

Theresa McDevitt, M.A.

Librarian, Government Documents

____________________ _________________________________

Virginia L. Brown, Ph.D.

Associate Dean for Research

The Graduate School and Research

Title: Working Together: African American Migration and Settlement in Indiana County, Pennsylvania

Author: Sonya Stewart
Thesis Chairman: Dr. Irwin Marcus
Thesis Committee Members: Dr. Gary Bailey

Dr. Miriam S. Chaiken

Ms. Theresa McDevitt
This historical study of African American migration and settlement in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, begins with an overview of the larger patterns of African American migration and then narrows its focus to explore settlement in Indiana County. On the national level, there will be an exploration of the early roots of African American migration during the slave era, the major migratory movements and some of the institutions that subsequently formed.

The local story begins with an overview of African American settlement, first in Pennsylvania and then in Indiana County. Keeping in mind that family is a significant component in both the national and local stories, the next task is to track the settlement of local families through the communities, churches and other organizations that they established. The individual and family stories which are included in the appendix contain personal recollections from the living as well as facts pieced together from a variety of historical documents.

These stories illustrate the adaptations and changes within the local African American family, but also reflect the experiences of other migrants as they assimilated into a new environment. The circumstances that influenced individual and family migration were different and, in the end, these factors may have had the greatest impact on the success and permanency of relocation.


I am grateful to many people for their part in this work, particularly to Lynne Napoleon, Mohammad Rizwan Ismail and Pui-Ling Cheng, who encouraged me to complete this project long after I had given up. I am also thankful for the early foundations of an appreciation of history, hard work and the desire to know more about the living past laid by my parents and grandparents, Charles and Violet Stewart and Avery and Hazel Jewart. I am particularly grateful to the members of Beulah Baptist Church, the NAACP and the Chevy Chase community who took the time to teach me the things I needed to know for this project and for myself. Those of special assistance were Charles Stokes, Alphonso and Marlene Embry, Lucille Gipson, Mary Harris, Alicia Woody, Sandra Williams and Ruth Newhill. Special acknowledgement and thanks must also go to Irwin Marcus, whose intellect and enthusiasm challenged and stimulated my interest in working class history, to Miriam Chaiken, who has long been a mentor and friend, to Theresa McDevitt, whose energy and encouragement pushed me on and to Gary Bailey, who generously assisted with the final editing details.


Chapter Page

AND INDTITUTIONS .............................. 76

V AFTERMATH AND CONCLUSIONS ..................... 97
BIBLIOGRAPHY............................................ 107
APPENDICES.............................................. 117
Appendix A - Historical Family Sketches ...... 117

Appendix B - Life Accounts ................... 154



Any history involving the United States must be in at least some way the story of migration, for the bulk of the present day population are migrants or the sons and daughters of previous generations of migrants. Although they are sometimes overlooked, migrants to America do include African Americans1 who, for the most part, initially migrated unwillingly in large numbers to North American shores. Later, they left the Southern fields where their ancestors toiled by the thousands for the factories, mines and mills of the North. While the massive international migration that brought a wide variety of ethnic groups to America took place in the early years of the twentieth century, even as we near its close, migration is still as American as Levis or the Statue of Liberty. As Lady Liberty herself is a migrant of an earlier generation, there is little wonder that migration or relocation within the United States has become as natural as breathing. In recent years particularly, it is the rare American who grows up, spends his2 days and dies on the "family homestead".

African American migration and settlement in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, is in many ways common to other groups throughout history who traveled to new homes, but there are other elements which are unique to the local area. Gunnar Myrdal suggests:

When only a single community can be studied it should not be assumed to be typical nor should the question of its uniqueness or typicality be ignored. Rather, the investigator must attempt to place it in the Southern scene, or in the American scene, or even in the whole Western Civilization scene, by comparing it with the average and range in many significant respects.3

By this Myrdal reinforces the need to first gain a comprehension of migration patterns in general in order to understand them on a specific level. In turn, it is also important to determine how migration to Indiana County fits into the larger historical framework of African American migration and settlement.

Therefore, following an overview of the larger patterns of African American migration, the focus of this thesis narrows to settlement in Indiana County. On the national level, there will be an exploration of the early roots of African American migration during the slave era, the major migratory movements and some of the institutions that subsequently formed. The local story begins with an overview of African American settlement first in Pennsylvania and then in Indiana County. Keeping in mind that family is a significant component in both the national and local stories, the next task is to track the settlement of local families through the communities, churches and other organizations that they established. Individual and family stories are included in the appendix and contain personal recollections from the living as well as facts pieced together from a variety of historical documents. These stories illustrate the adaptations and changes within the local African American family, but also reflect the experiences of other migrants as they assimilated into a new environment. The circumstances that influenced migration were different and, in the end, these factors may have had the greatest impact on the success and permanency of relocation.

William Petersen, whose major work Population4 is a classic text in demography, classifies migration patterns in terms of primitive, forced, impelled, free and mass migration. Primitive migration, he explains, takes place as the result of ecological factors. This type of migration is more than just the wandering of primitive peoples; rather, it is movement because of the deterioration of the physical environment. Irish immigration to the United States in the years following the Great Famine is one illustration of this type of migration. In other circumstances, however, primitive migration may be embedded in the culture itself or within the values of a group of people. For some people, home is temporary and portable. Some Australian peoples, for example, have no word for "home" in their language, and in desert Arab culture it is traditional to feel contempt for the more comfortable Arab living in the city.5

The next two categories, which Petersen labels forced and impelled migration, have common elements but they are distinctive in terms of individual choice. In impelled migration, the individual retains at least a small degree of decision-making capacity, but in forced migration persons have no power to decide whether or not to move. We can see the differences between these types of migration in the examination of Jewish migratory movement during the years of the Holocaust. Between the years of 1933-1938, the use of anti-Semitic laws and actions encouraged or impelled Jewish migration from Nazi territory. In 1938-1945, however, people of Jewish heritage no longer maintained any choice in leaving their homes. The Nazis herded those who remained into cattle trains and forcibly took them to concentration camps en masse.6

Another example of forced migration took place just a few years later in 1948. In 1947, Pakistan gained its independence from British rule and by 1951, an estimated sixteen million people had moved between India and Pakistan. Between 1951 and 1961, an additional 800,000 people migrated from India to Pakistan; however, this was not a casual movement. During the separation of Pakistan from India and the subsequent migratory movement, Hindus and Muslims alike slaughtered those of opposite religious backgrounds, often as individuals or groups fled from the homelands where they and their ancestors had dwelled peaceably for centuries.7

Petersen's final categories of free and mass migration are more interrelated. In free migration, the individual's choice is central. Free migrants are the adventurers or pioneers. Once settled into new areas, these migrants communicate their experiences to those at home and often help finance the journey for their family and friends. Free migration tends to be limited, but in the appropriate social and economic climate, this type of migration can be the precursor to a larger group movement. When this movement reaches the proportions in which a large segment of the population relocates, it becomes known as mass migration.8

African American migration patterns fall into several of the above-defined categories at one time or another. Initially, migration from Africa was forced as landowners, particularly those in the South, found slave labor to be necessary for agricultural production and for maintaining a wealthy lifestyle standard for themselves. In subsequent years, forced migration continued as the domestic slave trade functioned to meet localized labor demands. At this that, most free migration took place via the Underground Railroad to Northern free states and Canada. Following Emancipation, however, factors such as the establishment of the sharecropping system, Jim Crow laws and violent acts toward individuals or families tended to force or impel movement once more.

As mentioned earlier, there was a trickle of free migrants from the South since slavery's earliest days, but when wartime economies and northern factories finally provided tangible opportunities, Southern African Americans responded eagerly and a mass migration erupted. This is not to say that the migrants easily or happily left their homes, nor that they never intended to return. Even the most successful migrants kept some emotional, social and cultural ties to the places they left behind while they established their family and built a community in their new homes.

Their African ancestors, who were among the earliest arrivals in the United States, may have had more difficulty in maintaining these ties. While some initially came as indentured servants like their White counterparts, others came as slaves. It was perhaps Lucan Vasquez de Ayllon who brought the first Africans to the colonies in 1526. Numbering approximately one hundred, they arrived at a colony which may well have been the later site of Jamestown, Virginia. The transatlantic slave trade had officially begun, however, in 1517 when Spain sought to encourage migration to its New World possessions by granting the right to loyal settlers to own up to twelve Black slaves. As a result, there were slaves in the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, Florida, from its initial days in 1565. The slave trade gained its greatest foothold in 1619 when a Dutch man-of-war brought twenty Africans captured from a Latin American slave ship to Jamestown, Virginia.9

These early captive arrivals and those that followed initially received the same indentured status and a seven year labor contract as their White counterparts. Upon completion of the contract, they acquired the liberties and privileges of the "free laboring class", including the right to own property. Under this system, some of these unwilling migrants obtained property and prospered to the point of owning servants themselves. As the plantation system evolved and labor needs increased, however, it was not long before it became obvious that using indentured servants or enslaving Native Americans simply would not meet labor needs fully. The availability of indentured servants depended largely upon economic conditions elsewhere and Native Americans too easily returned to their tribes when the opportunity arose.10

As a result, in the mid-1600's, Africans ceased to arrive as indentured servants and became "chattel property". They no longer received a seven-year contract; slavery was perpetual and passed on through the mother. This practice further entrenched the institution by continuing to enslave the children of slave women even when the father was a White man or a free Black man. This insured that children sired by the master would remain his possessions, although this practice ran counter to English tradition, where the child's status followed that of the father.11

Enslaving Africans in this way soon proved to be a logical and efficient solution to the labor problem in the United States and the New World as a whole. Although there were the logistical problems of transportation and some moral issues to contend with, slavery was largely a practical decision as the supply of indentured servants had dried up. The fact that Black runaways could be detected more easily than others was only an added incentive for using Africans. The slave trade also proved to be a lucrative business for some, so lucrative in fact that the cargo aboard slave ships soon came to be known as "black gold".12

There is no way to determine with any reasonable accuracy how many Africans came to the New World as the result of this forced migration. There is even less data to determine how many lost their lives on each leg of the journey, but most sources report that approximately ten to fifteen million found their way to the New World as a whole. The real center of the slave trade was in tropical America, particularly Brazil, the Caribbean coast and islands, while the United States was only a marginal recipient of five or six percent. This amounted to the United States importing only 475,000-570,000 Africans, as North American slave owners tended to focus more on encouraging the slave family toward reproduction rather than importation to fulfill their own labor needs. This practice also provided additional chattel for the domestic trade.13

Although African migrants did not always come to North America in exactly the same way, there were common characteristics among their experiences. Their migration often began with tribal wars and capture and included a march to the coast, the slave ship experience and a "seasoning process" in the West Indies. Tragically, many died throughout all stages of this process. Although mortality rates varied with the route and length of the voyage, the care and treatment slaves received and the outbreak of epidemics, experts estimate that fifteen percent died of disease during the Middle Passage and another thirty percent died during the three month seasoning period in the West Indies. Many Africans who began the trip did not finish it and those who did complete the journey still had many adjustments to make.14

Once in the United States, the life of the slave was still tenuous as slaves had few if any rights because of slave codes. Many crimes or code violations drew capital punishment while lesser offenses could bring whipping, maiming or branding. A White man could not necessarily kill a slave with impunity, but the consequences were much less severe. Each slave's experience was different, but generally speaking, domestic and urban slaves received more humane treatment than field slaves. Those from border states and the North also tended to experience greater freedom and opportunities than those in the Deep South. No slave, however, was safe from economic conditions or personal whim that could bring about sale or trade to a less fortunate condition.15

For some slaves born abroad, importation from Africa was only the beginning of their forced migration experience. The Northern colonies did not have the same labor needs as the Southern colonies did, so slavery in the North never played the same role that it did in the South. This was largely because Southern colonies cultivated tobacco and rice and developed the plantation system which required a large labor force. In the late 1700's, there were a series of inventions which mechanized the textile industry located primarily in the North, but in the South cotton became king with Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin. This only served to tighten the bands of slavery. In 1803 alone, not more than ten years after the invention of the cotton gin, landowners brought 20,000 slaves to Georgia and South Carolina to work in the fields.16

The British abolished the Atlantic slave trade in 1808, so it was the domestic slave trade which then bore the burden of providing a labor force for agricultural development in the South. By 1815, the internal slave trade had become one of the country's major economic activities. At the slave block there was no regard for any familial or personal needs of the slave. Traders separated parents, children, brothers, sisters and sexual partners by the score; as slaves could not legitimately marry, there was no importance attached to these familial ties. There was no one "slave block", but rather a variety of ways to engage in the trade of human goods. Some farm-supply businesses took on a "line" of slaves; auctioneers sold them among other personal property; organizations disposed of them by lottery or an individual planter cutting back on operations would advertise his slaves for sale.17

As the need for slave labor decreased with economic shifts, some owners advertised and sold their slaves to eager recipients in the deeper South. The shift in demand for slave labor occurred not only as the result of the increasing demands of slave labor in other regions, but also because of the progressive soil exhaustion in tobacco and older cotton regions like Virginia. Between 1830 and 1860, Virginia led in the internal slave trade with the exportation of nearly 300,000 slaves. In fact, the domestic trade was so profitable in Virginia that the state's delegates to the Constitutional Convention opposed foreign slave trade, most likely because they wanted to increase the market value of their own slaves.18

These agricultural shifts created large scale internal migration between states in addition to the smaller scale movement in cases where owners sold slaves to settle debts or estates. In some cases, plantation owners reared slaves expressly for the purpose of domestic trade. In other cases, the sale of a rebellious slave into the Deep South was for punishment or discipline. Rather than submit to this type of forced migration, some chose to migrate on their own; they ran away. A few runaways, such as Harriet Jacobs,19 hid close by to be near family or friends; others ventured to safer, freer places. Another smaller number of slaves built "free" or "maroon" communities in the swamps and mountains of the South or took up residence with Native Americans such as the Seminoles in Florida.20

It was perhaps the most adventurous of these slave migrants who chose to travel on the Underground Railroad and follow the North Star to the free states or Canada. Like many other free migrants, most runaways were young men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. Even so, the most famous traveler and conductor on the Underground Railroad was a woman. Her name was Harriet Tubman, but some called her "Moses" in memory of another leader who guided his people out of slavery to freedom thousands of years earlier. Tubman escaped from slavery when she was about twenty-five, but often ventured back to the South to take others to the North. In the end, she led over three hundred slaves to freedom, including her own aging parents.21

The Underground Railroad network itself consisted of secret railway stations from Wilmington, Delaware, all the way to the Great Lakes. The stations provided shelter in barns, cellars, churches, woodsheds and caves as well as food and warmer clothing. The actual means of transportation varied, but it was not uncommon for slaves to walk or be transported from one station to another in wagons with false bottoms. The runaways and conductors alike had to be cautious, for unfortunately there were spies and opportunists within the system and bigotry existed even among the conductors.22

Just as traitors plagued the larger organization, there was apparently a traitor on the local level as well. Sadly enough, the local traitor was not just a traitor to the organization, but also to his race as he was a Black man who had never been a slave. In 1899, without calling the man by name, A.T. Moorhead, Jr. wrote that the local organization had been suspicious of this man for quite some time and after spending time and money to verify his betrayal, the organization summarily dismissed him.23

Other forms of prejudice and discrimination were also problems even among those who aided the fugitives. Sometimes a runaway slave was barred from entering a house or was relegated to eating in a certain area. Businessmen and white churches as a whole also failed to look favorably upon such efforts and gangs often terrorized abolitionists. Nevertheless, the proverbial train rolled on.24

Anti-slavery activities in Pennsylvania had long been of major importance, so there is little wonder that Pennsylvanians played a key role in the Underground Railroad network. The network was loosely organized but provided a system of escape nonetheless for runaway slaves. Many homes throughout Pennsylvania, including several in Indiana County, acted as "stations" where slaves could receive refuge before moving to the next place. This system was born of necessity and received much of its impetus from the Black population, but in many cases, both Black and White Pennsylvania residents worked together to assure safe passage to the fugitive.25

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