Central Pennsylvania African American History for Everyone
              An online resource since 1997.


Banner headline Former Slave Dies



the 20th Century

Lydia Harkness, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Resident


Significant numbers of formerly enslaved African Americans made their homes in central Pennsylvania in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some escaped enslavement and traveled north via the Underground Railroad before 1865. Many more found themselves no longer enslaved by war's end and looked north for job opportunites or to escape the harsh poverty and crushing racism of southern Reconstruction. The first few decades of the 20th century saw large numbers of southern Blacks moving north to take advantage of the plentiful jobs in northern industries.

Their presence in northern cities enriched each African American community. Their shared first-hand stories of lives enslaved broadened the historical perspective and served to counter the "Lost Cause" myths. Knowing which citizens were formerly enslaved is invaluable for modern historians and persons researching their family histories. Small connections can often add up to bigger stories. The news items below represent snippets in the lives of these persons.

Feature Article, November 2, 1916

Feature article about former slave Lydia Harkness, age 106.

Text of news article:

  Mrs. Lydia Harkness, Born on Virginia Plantation, Is Now at Cumberland County Home

  Carlisle, Pa., Nov. 2. --With a memory filled with recollections of "before the war" and Civil War times which she never tires of relating, Mrs. Lydia Harkness is one of the most interesting residents of the Cumberland county home here. She is over 106 years old, records in her possession show, and was a slave for many years.

  Mrs. Harkness came here about fifteen years ago from Winchester, Va., where she made her home after being freed. She was born on the plantation of Frank Ash, later a captain in the Confederate service, and lived there until the late sixties. She has been at the home but a short time, going there after the death of relatives. Her son was a body servant to Captain Ash during the greater part of the war. She retains possession of her faculties to a remarkable degree for one of her advanced years.

Telegraph (Harrisburg, PA), 02 November 1916, p. 3.

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