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Central Pennsylvania's journey
from enslavement to freedom

Link to Enslavement in Pennsylvania section. Link to the Anti-Slavery and Abolition Section.

Link to the Free Persons of Color -- 19th Century History Section.

Link to the Underground Railroad Section.
link to The Violent Decade Section Link to the US Colored Troops Section
Link to Harrisburg's Civil War Section Link to Century of Change -- the 20th Century Section
Link to the Letters Archive Link to Read The Year of Jubilee

Local Interest

Read Joe McClure's PennLive biography of William Howard Day, a prominent African American abolitionist associated with Harrisburg.

Read Joyce M. Davis' PennLive article about Hodges Heights, a historic African American development in Lower Paxton Township.

Site News

Baseball season is here. Harrisburg has a wonderful legacy of Negro Leagues baseball teams. Read "Blackball," the detailed article by Ted Knorr and Calobe Jackson, Jr. here: Blackball in Harrisburg.

Just uploaded--"1700 and 1726 Acts for the Regulation of Negroes." Full text of the harsh "Black Codes" passed in colonial Pennsylvania to regulate free Blacks and enslaved persons. Check it all out here: 1700 and 1726 Acts for the Regulation of Negroes.

New Section--"Former Slaves." News items about formerly enslaved African American residents. Check it out here:
News headline of death of formerly enslaved person.

Newly restored: Photos and video from Harrisburg's 2010 "Grand Review of Colored Troops." Check it out here:
African American Civil War re-enactors parade on Front Street.  USCT Re-enactor at the Harris-Cameron mansion.

 

On This Date

June events important to local African American history (see the whole year)
 

June 2, 1847: A violent protest by local African American citizens in Carlisle over the seizure of three African Americans as fugitive slaves becomes known as the McClintock Slave Riot due to the involvement of Dickinson College professor John McClintock. McClintock was subsequently acquitted of charges that he incited the riot. (Read a detailed account of the event here.)

June 8, 1861: Tennessee secedes, becoming the eleventh and final state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy.

June 12, 1854: Three men from Maryland, accompanied by a Philadelphia marshal, arrived in Harrisburg in search of a fugitive who was working in a brickyard in town. With US Slave Commissioner McAllister now forced from office through the efforts of local activists and the newspaper coverage by editor Theophilus Fenn, the slaveholders had been forced to go first to Commissioner Edward D. Ingraham in Philadelphia, to swear out a warrant. The delay gave Harrisburg activists the time they needed to spirit the man out of town before he could be located by the slave catchers.

June 14, 1811: Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is born in Litchfield, Connecticut.

June 14, 1866: The Creek Tribe ratifies a treaty with the United States and with the treaty abolishes slavery in its territory, marking the final end of slavery in the continental United States. See also June 19, 1862 "Juneteenth," below.

June 15, 1863: With invading Confederate troops reported in Chambersburg, Department of the Susquehanna commander Major General Darius Couch appeals to Harrisburg's citizens to dig entrenchments on a bluff across the Susquehanna River, in present day Lemoyne. Although his appeal was not explicit regarding race, it was addressed to the citys' white citizenry. By five p.m., hundreds of Harrisburg's white citizens assembled at the Camel Back Bridge, shovels in hand, ready to cross to the West Shore to begin digging. (Click here for a lithograph of Harrisburg's white citizenry working to construct fortifications.)

June 15, 1864: Congress authorizes equal pay and equipment for African American troops.

June 16, 1863: Harrisburg finally realizes it needs to involve its African American residents in its defense. Facing flagging support and effort from his white citizen-laborers, Fortifications Superintendant William T. Hildrup places the following advertisement in the morning edition of the Patriot and Union: "TO THE COLORED MEN OF HARRISBURG. We want men of muscle, and men who are ready and willing to work on our entrenchments.—We have such white men already. But colored men can help in this common cause also, and colored men are needed at this crisis.—Liberal inducements are offered to such of those as assist us, and their pay will $1.25 per day as long as they work. The night laborers will receive the same compensation.—Turn out then men of all classes and colors, if for nothing more, to the assistance of your country, and the capital of the old Keystone State." (More about the building of fortifications above Harrisburg is here.)

June 17, 1863: The triennial convention of the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania began in the Capitol's House of Representatives chamber, for the purpose of nominating a candidate for Governor, and one for Judge of the Supreme Court. Dr. George W. Nebinger, a representative delegate from Philadelphia, was elected to preside over the convention. After some organizing work, the assembled delegates began to work on resolutions pledging fidelity to the Constitution and the Union. Some historians surmise that General Darius Couch's refusal to enlist a company of African American men the day before was to avoid agitating the assembled Democrats.

June 17, 1863: At 9 pm, a company of African American men under the command of Captain William Babe arrived at the Pennsylvania Railroad depot on Market Street in Harrisburg. These were young men from Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth, recruited and drilled by Octavius Valentine Catto, a mathematics teacher and administrator at the Institute, to defend the state capital from Confederate attack. Captain Babe reported to Department of the Susquehanna commander General Darius Couch, who refused to muster in the ninety black men and their three white officers, saying he had "no authority" to accept African American troops. The young men returned, demoralized and angry, to the train station, to board the 2 am train back to Philadelphia. (Read a full accounting of this incident here.)

June 18, 1863: Stung by the rejection by Harrisburg military authorities of Philadelphia African American volunteers to defend Harrisburg from attack, fiery abolitionist George Luther Stearns went directly to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stearns telegraphed "A special dispatch to the Philadelphia North American states that General Couch declined to receive colored troops, alleging that he has no authority to receive such troops for less than three years. Two companies here are ready to go for the emergency. Shall I forward them? Companies from other points can be forwarded. Shall they be sent?" Before noon, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent two telegraphic replies: one to Couch in Harrisburg and one to Stearns in Philadelphia. To Couch he wired a simple directive: “You are authorized to receive into the service any volunteer troops that may be offered, without regard to color.” To the angry Stearns, Stanton sent a more ambiguous message, telling him that color would no longer be an issue in Harrisburg, but “if there is likely to be any dispute about the matter, it will be better to send no more. It is well to avoid all controversy in the present juncture, as the troops can be well used elsewhere.”

June 19, 1862: Juneteenth, African American Emancipation Day. President Abraham Lincoln signs into law a measure prohibiting slavery in the territories of the United States. This law did not pertain to what were known as the "Indian Territories," in the west as President Lincoln did not recognize United States jurisdiction over those lands under treaty with what were known as the "Civilized Tribes," some of whom had separate treaties with the Confederate States government. It was not until after the Civil War, on June 14, 1866, that the last vestige of slavery was abolished in the continental United States with ratification of a treaty by the Creek Tribe.

June 22, 1863: Harrisburg commander General Darius Couch sends a dispatch to his advance forces in Chambersburg, under Brigadier General Joseph F. Knipe, alerting the commander that “fifty rebel cavalry were stealing horses near Maria Furnace, Caledonia Springs, and Millerstown.” Most of the residents of the nearby settlement of Little Africa, African American workers at Thaddus Stevens' Caledonia Forge, had probably already fled toward Harrisburg.

June 22, 1937: Joe Louis knocks out Jim J. Braddock in the eighth round to win the Heavyweight Champion of the World boxing title.

June 22, 1938: Exactly one year after defeating Braddock, Louis defeats Max Schmeling, the only boxer who had ever bested him, knocking out the poster boy of Nazi Aryan supremacy.

June 23, 1969: Harrisburg experienced its worst modern race riot triggered by an incident during a boycott by local African Americans of a pharmacy at 13th and Market Streets. Police used tear gas to disperse large groups of protesters and made seven arrests.

June 24, 1969: A second day of racial unrest in Harrisburg results in the death by police gunfire of Charles A. Scott. Violence continued with protesters setting fires, and police made three arrests.

June 25, 1863: After a week of relative calm, Harrisburg is again flooded with African American refugees fleeing advancing Confederate forces. In Harrisburg, a jaded correspondent for the New York Herald wrote “Vast numbers of ebony colored children are daily arriving in the city—some destitute, others again more fortunate. Their rendezvous is in a section of the city denominated ‘Smoky Hollow.’ I have not visited it, and therefore can give you no idea of the scenes being enacted there.” Many of the refugees took shelter in Judy's Town, near Third and Mulberry streets, or crossed over the Market Street canal bridge and camped in the open meadows of Allison's Hollow, east of the city.

June 25, 1863 (evening): At a hastily arranged "War Meeting" in the Tanners' Alley Masonic Hall, Harrisburg's African American residents organized a small company of men to volunteer for the defense of Harrisburg and the Commonwealth. It consisted of fifty-four men, captained by local barber and anti-slavery activist Henry Bradley. In contrast to the events of a week earlier, when General Couch refused to enlist the African American troops from Philadlephia, this time there was no such rejection. The first African American troops to be enlisted in the defense of the Pennsylvania state capital were from Harrisburg. (Read more about Henry Bradley's Company of Volunteers here.)

June 26, 1863: A second Harrisburg company of African American men is mustered in, this one captained by Thomas Morris Chester. Although they were issued uniforms and equipment, the state refused to supply muskets or other armaments to the new black troops. Chester's men joined Bradley's men in drill practice in the streets of Harrisburg. Meanwhile, Confederate troops had now reached Gettysburg.

June 27, 1863: Expecting an imminent attack, General Darius Couch orders all school buildings in Harrisburg to be cleared out so that they could be utilized as makeshift military hospitals. African American schoolteacher John Wolf saw his Cherry Street schoolhouse, along with all the other city schoolhouses, taken over by military authorities and outfitted for the expected treatment of wounded and dying soldiers. Couch also ordered that all city churches be prepared for the same fate if the numbers of wounded should require it. With the potential military occupation of Wesley Union and Bethel A.M.E, the city suddenly had no more protected areas for African American refugees.

June 28, 1863: The town of Mechanicsburg surrenders to invading Confederate troops. Town burgess George Hummel is made a prisoner and taken to General Albert G. Jenkins for questioning. Residents are forced to supply the occupying enemy cavalrymen with 1500 rations and ample forage for their horses. About mid-day, an artillery duel develops between Jenkins' artillerists stationed at Peace Church, and the Philadelphia Home Guard Artillery, sitting at Oyster Point. The cannon-fire is easily heard in Harrisburg, where residents believed the battle for Harrisburg was beginning. African American refugees camped along the riverfront moved to safer grounds further inside the city. Military authorities finally relent, and issue weapons to the two companies of African American troops in Harrisburg.

June 28, 1863: A company of African American militia is used in the defense of Wrightsville, York County, against Confederate soldiers advancing to the river intending to cross the bridge into Columbia. Although the meager defense was futile against the seasoned Southern veterans, Union commanders praised the delaying efforts of the African American troops who "stood up to their work bravely," after working all day to dig the defensive trenches. One of the African American soldiers was killed by a Southern artillery round. (Read a detailed account of the defense of the Wrightsville Bridge here.)

June 29, 1863: Confederate General Albert G. Jenkins reconnoiters through Shiremanstown to Slate Hill and eastward, to a vantage point on Lisburn Road, from where he is able to see and study the defenses of Harrisburg. He sends his report to General Ewell, in Carlisle, who reviews it early that afternoon and subsequently orders General Robert E. Rodes to attack and capture Harrisburg with his division on Tuesday the thirtieth. Just hours later, however, with news of a rapidly advancing Union army, Robert E. Lee would pull his troops back from the gates of Harrisburg, to concentrate in Gettysburg.

June 30, 1863: At 10 am, Union troops push forward from their fortified positions on Hummel Hill and encounter rear-guard troops of Jenkins' Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry near Sporting Hill. A skirmish develops into a full-scale battle, eventually involving support fire from Union and Confederate artillery. The Confederates withdrew toward Carlisle, leaving sixteen dead to be buried in the fields around Sporting Hill.

 

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