Slavery happened in York County, too

The situation

Ten years ago, York County historian June Burk Lloyd wrote about advertisements seeking buyers for enslaved people or the return of enslaved people that regularly appeared in newspapers from the late 1700s and early 1800s.

She wrote in her Universal York blog on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 2013:

“Can you imagine your home town newspaper with ads selling human beings? A 15-year-old being sold because her master/mistress didn’t have enough work for her (seller offering financing) …families split apart … children as young as four being sold away from their mothers?

“Well, it did happen here. The ad above is from a January 1789 issue of the Pennsylvania Herald and York General Advertiser, published in York by Edie and Willcocks. Every issue seems to have ads about slaves for sale or runaway slaves being sought, usually from adjacent Maryland. This is not a proud part of our history.”

She further explored slavery in York County in a York Sunday News column headlined: “Slavery happened in York County, too.”

Indeed, 499 Black people were enslaved in 1790 – the highest of any county in the state. Freedmen living here totaled 837, second in the state to Philadelphia, an indication that many were enslaved before gaining their freedom.

That connection with the stain of slavery and its accompanying discriminatory mindset has a long tail in York County – opposition to Abraham Lincoln 160 years ago, the building of two segregated elementary schools less than a century ago, support to a racist mayor that fostered deadly race riots 50 years ago and more.

Why was York County home to so many enslaved people?

First, a long border with the South was a factor. York County covered 65 miles of the Mason-Dixon Line before 1800, about 30 percent of the original line. After Adams County divided in 1800, York County shared a 40-mile border with Maryland, a lengthy boundary with a Southern slave state. While enslaved people were gradually emancipated after 1780 in Pennsylvania, bondsmen labored in fields just across the border in Maryland until the Civil War. The 1860 census shows 9.1% of the bordering Maryland county of Harford were enslaved.

Enslaved people also accompanied settlers here, as the following story indicates:

In the late 1750s, Col. James Crouch, from Virginia, arrived in York County with 40 enslaved workers. He married a local woman, Hannah Brown, and improved the land with his enslaved workers.

After about a decade, he prepared to move to Lancaster and hired two auctioneers to sell his enslaved people, livestock, farm utensils and stored tobacco and grain. The goal was for the sale to go on until everything was sold.

Crouch was not alone in enslaving people. Tax records between 1765 and 1787 shows that 30% or those operating local industries used enslaved people for labor and about one-third leased this labor when the need arose.

Enslaved people worked in iron furnaces, mills, tanneries and distilleries. Farmers used enslaved workers to tend to crops, cut wood and serve as teamsters.

This series of maps and graphics help tell the story of enslavement in York County:

Penn State York professor David Latzko provided this graphic, and the two below, showing enslavers by nationality in 1783 in York County. It shows those with Scots-Irish and German backgrounds as the largest holders of those held in bondage.

This shows the townships with the largest numbers of enslaved people in 1783. As an example, southwestern York County, left, and the southeastern part of York County were among the townships with the highest number of enslaved people.
This map, compared to the one above, shows that Scots-Irish are counted in high numbers in both southwestern York County, left, and its southeastern counterpart, right. In summary, if you want to know where slavery was most prevalent in the 1700s, follow the places where Scots-Irish lived marked by the Presbyterian churches where they congregated. In southeastern York County, some German settlers added to the Scots-Irish numbers, both nationalities holders of enslaved people.
The 1790 U.S. Census shows that more freedmen lived in York County than any other Pennsylvania county – 837 African-Americans lived here, top left. The county ranked first in number of enslaved people with 499.

The Witness

The Rev. J. Thomas Shelley is an astute observer of his native York County. That might come from his years of community service – pastor, police chaplain and head of the Casper Glattfelter Association, among other deep engagements.

He submitted a 272-word piece to the York Daily Record/Sunday News on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, part of a collection of essays of the same length as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He references June Burk Lloyd’s piece about slavery in York County:

Recently June Lloyd revealed an ugly truth of our history in a column entitled “Slavery happened in York County too”.  It was a truth which I had long known, for, like thousands of other York Countians I am descended from George Charles “Carl” Emig (1760-1824), who was a slave holder.

I discovered that truth on page 4 of a paper authored by the late Dr. Charles Glatfelter entitled “Honoring the family of Felix Glatfelder (1747-1815)”. He wrote: “The Emigs were among the large landholders of early Codorus township … . The tax list for 1799 indicated something quite unusual for a York County German: Charles Emig owned one slave.”

My Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather, John Philip Glatfelter, married Carl Emig’s daughter Anna Mary. Two of his brothers, Daniel and Casper, married Emig sisters, Margaret and Mary Magdalena, respectively. Among the noteworthy descendants of John and Anna Mary are P.H. Glatfelter, founder of the Spring Grove paper mill, and the recently deceased Governor George Leader.

Descendants of Daniel and Margaret Emig Glatfelter include one sixth of the baptized members of the Lutheran congregation which I have been privileged to serve – as well as recently deceased historian Dr. Charles Glatfelter.

Through the research of Pat Smith, 78 descendants of Casper Glattfelder have been identified as having served in the Union army. Five of them gave their last full measure of devotion in battle or in prison camps.

There has been heated discussion in recent years concerning reparations owed by the descendants of slaveowners to the descendants of slaves. Glattfelder-Emig descendants can and should assert that their alleged debt was paid in full at Andersonville, Bull Run, Missionary Ridge, Cedar Creek, and Gaines Mills.

The questions

In the guest column in the York Daily Record/Sunday News, the idea is presented that reparations to the descendants of enslaved people aren’t warranted. There are some who disagree. They argue that the echoes of slavery still reverberate in families who survived to today. The years of systemic oppression and racism mean those with ancestors who were enslaved still feel the pain and victimization of this terrible practice. What are your thoughts? Do you think reparations would help, or maybe even solve, the long-term baggage still in place from slavery?

Related links and sources: David A. Latzko’s “Ethnic and Economic Diversity in York County at the end of the Revolutionary War.” Scott Mingus’ “The Ground Swallowed Them Up.” June Burk Lloyd’s ‘Slavery in York County.‘ Top photo by Jim McClure. Bottom graphics, York County History Center’s Journal of York County Heritage.

In the Civil War era, Hanover operated against the grain versus elsewhere in York County. Hanoverians voted Republican in a sea of Democratic, anti-Lincoln townships. When the Confederates came calling the first time, in late June 1863, leaders bravely faced off with words against the enemy in the town square – passively or aggressively or maybe a little of both. When Confederate Jeb Stuart sent in the cavalry, the town was at its peaceful best, feeding hungry mounted men dressed in blue. When the ensuing battle left 300 casualties, untrained townspeople treated the most painful and severe saber and point-blank pistol wounds.

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