Rock Ford historians continually conduct research on the subject of slavery as it relates to Edward Hand, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and the greater Atlantic World of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

Study of this topic is particularly challenging since enslaved people were almost never taught to read or write, had no legal standing, no property, and, since family members were often separated, continuity between its members or generations that might allow for oral histories were not passed down.

The text that follows is an excerpt from a lecture presented as part of a living history program called Completing the Picture: Slavery and Servitude in Early Lancaster County,” in 2011The information was originally shared in the form of a power point presentation to the public so its language has been edited for the purpose of making it more readable. Rock Ford consulted with Dr. Leroy Hopkins, current President of African American Historical Society of South-Central Pennsylvania, on the project. It should be noted, that the archaic language which may be offensive to some readers, is quoted from period historical documents which uses the language of the time.

Since this document was written, more information has been discovered and we will add to and update this page periodically in our ongoing effort to share what we have learned.

-June 2020

Completing the Picture: Slavery and Servitude in Early Lancaster County

August 21, 2011 [excerpt]

Records indicate that Historic Rock Ford was used as a tenant farm, which most likely means that the farm was being worked by farmers who were allowed to live on Hand’s land in exchange for labor. However, we also know from extant primary documents, that General Hand was an enslaver as well. He also purchased and sold indentured servants of European descent, known as “bound labor,” even before building Rock Ford. The lives of these people are, obviously, not nearly as well documented as the life of General Hand, and it was our curiosity about them which led to the research we will present today. Who were these people and what do we know of their lives? What types of services were they providing the General, his family or his farm? Where did they come from and what can we learn about them from existing documentary references?    

Most people are largely unaware, for example, that during the 18th and early 19th centuries Lancaster was much more than the urban city surrounded by Amish farmland that we see today. Lancaster was once an important extension of eighteenth-century Philadelphia politics and business, and a city which produced important figures in our local, state and national history. At Historic Rock Ford, we are constantly striving to create and present interesting and educational programs to enhance visitors’ knowledge of Lancaster in the 18th century. Traditionally, our educational programs focused on the builder and first owner of Historic Rock Ford, General Edward Hand and his role in Lancaster’s history and our nation’s history. The story of domestic labor and its role in the rise of a complex, integrated economy was rarely presented to the public, and this research project was intended to explore the question of domestic labor in the context of potentially adding a more complex, nuanced layer of interpretation of history at Rock Ford. 

Hand colored. Relief shown by hachures. “Entered according to act of Congress August 27th 1821 by W. Wagner of the State of Penna.” Shows mills, forges, and churches.      Source:

By the time Edward Hand arrived in Lancaster in 1774, Lancaster Borough was firmly established. He entered into a society that was well ordered and had a defined class structure.  In 1751, the wealthiest 35 Lancastrians owned two thirds of the town’s taxable assets. In 1788, the bottom third of the population owned only 2.5 percent while the top ten percent held almost one-half (Wood, 1979: 167). Significant differences in wealth and class were, therefore, established and evident during Hand’s time in the county. He quickly rose to the top of the social and economic strata within the county.

Slavery existed in the region that would become Lancaster County long before the city itself was awarded its charter by the British crown. Susannah Wright recorded the existence of Peter and Sal, both enslaved persons who belonged to Samuel Blumston, one of the earliest settlers of Shawanah Town, presently Columbia (Lancaster New Era, April 6, 1988).

In Lancaster County, enslaved persons were used commonly as iron workers by the County’s many iron masters, household servants or farmhands. Iron masters who owned African Americans might lease local enslaved for charcoal manufacture and surface mining of limestone and iron ore. (Walker, 1969: 466-486) In the Borough proper, there were at least seven enslaved African Americans in 1750, thirteen in 1756, and 28 in 1764. It was during the Revolutionary War that their numbers jumped to 54 in 1779 and 63 in 1782 (Wood, 1979: 162). It should be noted that each these numbers represent less than 1% of the total population of Lancaster Borough. More enslaved African Americans were held by owners who lived outside the Borough limits.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “Negroes just landed from a Slave Ship.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1810.

Although there are records of ships docking in Philadelphia from the West Indies and Africa carrying human cargo, records indicate that most of Lancaster County’s enslaved persons were born in America or what was referred to as “country born” in the 18th century. There are accounts of auctions of enslaved people in Philadelphia and on at least one occasion in Lancaster (PA Gazette, July 13, 1769). Most such transactions, however, were done privately and thus documentary references to these transactions are rare. 

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “Slave auction” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1849.

One such reference comes from a document dated July 24, 1779, in which James Crawford of Lampeter writes that on this date, he “granted, bargained and sold 1 Negro Wench” to Thomas Dewers and “no one else may lay claim to her” (Lancaster Historical Society [now LancasterHistory], African American Records Collection). Additionally, many examples of advertisements exist in the Lancaster newspapers offering African Americans for sale. Interested parties were asked to direct inquiries to the publisher who would presumably make the connection with the seller. 

Records indicate that most Borough enslavers were craftsmen or wealthy professionals who owned one or two persons and primarily employed them as domestic servants. This indicates an important aspect of slavery in Lancaster County, suggesting that, unlike many other areas of the American Colonies where the enslaved were relied upon to create an economic surplus through production of goods or agricultural products, in Lancaster County the nature of slavery seems to primarily have been one of domestic, household help.

Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, A Young Girl with an Enslaved Servant and a Dog, Bartholomew Dandridge,  ca. 1725

It may be that for wealthy Lancastrians, having a domestic enslaved person in one’s household was a display of status. One Lancaster Borough enslaver who owned more than the typical one or two persons was Matthias Slough, owner of the White Swan Inn, but this seems to have been the exception rather than the rule.

While it is outside the scope of this research to address a topic as complex as the origin and history of slavery as an institution, in the 18th century, the changing laws regarding slavery were reflected in the records found during this research. On March 1, 1780, The Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery was passed, and while it did not free the enslaved in Pennsylvania, it prohibited their legal importation into the state. The law established that the children born to an enslaved person would thenceforth be considered free after their 28th birthday. The law also required enslavers to register their property annually and punishment for non-compliance may have included loss of ownership, and manumission for the enslaved. However, because the law did not seek to totally deprive owners of their property, African Americans purchased before 1780 would remain enslaved for life. In 1788, the assembly of Pennsylvania amended the Act of Gradual Abolition of Slavery to prevent the abuses that arose from defects in the 1780 act.

Lancaster Intelligencer, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 13 Dec 1817, Sat.         Source:

It is difficult to establish the number of “human property” in the county since its inception in 1729, but tax evidence shows there were probably a proportionate number of enslaved African Americans in the townships surrounding the Borough. In the Lancaster Historical Society’s February 3, 1911 minutes, Miss Martha B. Clark reported on “Lancaster County’s Relation to Slavery,” and referenced a “docket” which had at some unknown date been transcribed into blank notebooks, then in the keeping of a Mr. Hensel.  The “docket” was titled, The Register of Negro and Mulatto Slaves for Lancaster County, 1780.  Ms. Clark states,

“In it we find there were in the county at that time 807 slaves for life, of whom 394 were males and 412 were females. The slaves in age ran from two and one-half years to sixty years and the average was from twenty to twenty-five years. They were owned by the Scotch-Irish and the Germans in the following proportions, viz:  Scotch-Irish, two-thirds; English, Germans, Huguenots, Welsh, etc., one-third.” The document referred to by Ms. Martha Clark is now in the Lancaster Historical Society’s Manuscript collection.  (Lancaster Historical Society [now LancasterHistory]). According to this record, the thickest centers of the county seemed to be in and about Donegal and Salisbury townships and Lancaster borough, possibly indicating some degree of correlation to predominantly Scotch-Irish populations. 

As indicated by the Lancaster County Septennial Census of 1800, (an enumeration of taxable inhabitants taken every seven years), 115 enslaved persons were enumerated and 78 enslavers were named. (PA State Archives) While the drop in numbers from 807 in 1780, to 115 in 1800 parallels the passing of the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, it is important to keep in mind, that some scholars argue that after 1780, some enslavers re-named them to “servants” in order to avoid taxation, and therefore census numbers after 1780 may not be entirely accurate. (

Edward Hand enslaved people throughout his married life as evidenced by his letters written during the war to his wife, Katherine (or “Kitty”) and to his close friend and mentor, Jasper Yeates as well as tax assessment records, slave returns and census records.  In a letter dated December 5, 1775, he makes a reference to “Robert”, a well-trusted enslaved man who carried cash and valuables between Hand’s locations during the war to Kitty in Lancaster. In 1776, Hand wrote about “the purchase of Negroes” for Kitty and also refers again to Robert and a servant named William who was in need of a pass for traveling. In 1778 he wrote that he was in the market for a “strong healthy new Negro man from 18-25 [years of age].” There is a reference to “Sue” in 1780 and another mention of Robert in 1781. (Rock Ford Manuscript Collection)

Lancaster Borough tax assessment records show that Hand owned one enslaved man valued at 40 dollars in 1785 and one “negro girl” valued at 25 dollars in 1786.  Lampeter tax records for 1801 indicate that Hand owned one enslaved man valued at 200 dollars. 

This man seems to be “Frank” who we know escaped on March 28th, 1802 because Hand placed the following advertisement in the newspaper:

“Thirty Dollars Reward. RAN away from the subscriber, living in Lampeter township, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, on the night of Sunday the twenty-eighth inst. Frank, a negro man, a native of Lancaster county, (Penn.) about thirty years of age, and about five feet eight inches high, stout made but not corpulent, perfectly black, has a pleasing countenance, his speech is mild and his voice rather effeminate when sober, but he is very noisy & impertinent when in liquor; he was bred to the farming business, and drives a waggon or carriage well–he had on or carried away with him a green broad-cloth coat, a dark brown coat patched on the sleeves, a pair of buckskin breeches almost new a pair ditto dirty and much worn, a double-breasted striped swans-down vest, two fine and two coarse shirts, some pairs sheeps-gray yarn stockings, a silk neck handkerchief, coarse leather shoes tied with strings, a round beaver hat somewhat worn, and other articles not recollected–It is supposed that he carried with him the bottom part of a twilled tow-yarn sack to use as a wallet or knapsack. Whoever apprehends the said negro man and lodges him in any goal in the United States, so that his master may get him again, shall receive the above reward and reasonable charges if brought home. EDWARD HAND.
March 31, 1802.
N.B. I am well informed that Frank is possessed of a sealed certificate which belongs to a free negro man called Prince, or Prince Wheel, now dead, and that he intends passing by that name–I also learn that he has changed most if not all his cloathing, and that he had on a light coloured pair of pantaloons when he went off.”  April 3, 1802

(Lancaster Intelligencer, 8 May 1802)

After Edward Hand’s death, Kitty was assessed taxes in 1805 in Lampeter on one unidentified person valued at 60 dollars. 

More information on some of Hand’s enslaved can be found in the Slave Return dated October 25, 1780, The Register of Negro and Mulatto Slaves for Lancaster County, 1780. Prior to his residence at Rock Ford, in compliance with the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, Hand certified that he owned Sue aged 30 years who was enslaved for life, Bob, 14 years old and enslaved for life, and Bet, a mulatto girl, aged 12 years also enslaved for life. (PHMC, Record Group 47)

Research was conducted to investigate specific information about the servants and enslaved persons of Edward Hand and his contemporaries. Unfortunately, little detailed information exists about the lives of the individuals who served the wealthier class of Lancaster Borough and Lampeter Township beyond bits and pieces, however, there are sources that give us a relatively good indication of who they were.

First, there are the Federal Census records of 1790 and 1800. They provide some details about the years just before Hand’s purchase of Rock Ford in 1785 and during his residency there but do not give us any insight into the servant and enslaved populations from the period of his arrival in Lancaster in 1775 to 1789. For that, the “Borough Returns” or tax assessment records, which have been analyzed by Wood in Conestoga Crossroads, were helpful. Lancaster Borough tax records, as well as Lampeter township tax records are also useful in supplementing the census data from 1790 forward. There are gaps in these records as some years are missing.  Slave Returns provide the names and ages of enslaved persons beginning in 1780 but are an incomplete record. In addition, church records from St. James Episcopal and personal correspondence between members of Hand’s social and business network help add some specific information. Finally, the “Runaway” ads in the newspapers of the day are perhaps the most informative of all sources, giving not only the names of enslaved African Americans and indentured servants, but also their physical characteristics and other personal attributes.

The Pennsylvania Packet, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 01 Aug 1778, Sat.         Source:

Commonly, African Americans who were married were not owned by the same person and were rarely together. One exception was the example of Hannah, a woman belonging to Edward Shippen, Prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas and Recorder of the Court of Quarter Sessions for Lancaster County. In a letter dated 9 January, 1769 from Edward Shippen to Rev. George Craig, Shippen notes that Hannah had a husband who was the property of a resident of Chester, Pennsylvania, about seventy miles away. The servant was allowed to visit his wife periodically, and on one such occasion Shippen, observing Hannah’s joy on her husband’s arrival and her grief in parting with him, not knowing whether she would ever see him again, was moved to reflect that ”Blacks have natural affections as well as we have.”  (Wood, 1979: 16) In 1776, Hannah’s husband Thomas was allowed to leave Chester and move to Lancaster where Shippen assisted him in setting up a cooper’s shop.  He was not freed but fell under the supervision of Shippen’s law clerk (Wood, 1979: 164-165).

Most people in the 18th century held Blacks in the lowest regard and acts of prejudice against them were common. When in 1778, Christopher Marshall’s enslaved Dinah died, he invited the “Negroes in Lancaster” to attend the funeral offering them an unusual opportunity to be together as a group. Unfortunately, Marshall had a very difficult time finding anyone who would attend to the body or even “put the Negro woman in her coffin.” He writes, “O what a wretched place is here, full of Relligious [sic] Professions but not a grain of love or charity…” (Wood, 1979: 166, from Christopher Marshall, Remembrancer, May 2, 3, 1778, HSP).  

Nevertheless, some Lancaster owners allowed, encouraged or insisted that their enslaved attend church and clergymen performed the rites of baptism and marriage. Reverend Thomas Barton of St. James Episcopal Church and Edward Hand’s clergyman, married “Othello and Mary (Negroes)” on June 18, 1772, “Tom and Catherine (Negroes)” on August 11, 1773 and “London and Judy (Negroes)” on September 2nd of the same year. In February 1785, Reverend Joseph Hutchins baptized “Priscilla, a Negro child.” Listed as Priscilla’s mother was “Mary, slave of Robert Lockhart” (St. James Register Volume I, 1759-1777, LancasterHistory). Baptisms and marriages of both African American and Mulatto persons, as well as free people of color were regular occurrences and were not exclusive to St. James. Some enslaved attended a school run by Joseph Rathell, the Anglican curate. He endeavored “to instruct them in their Catochism [sic] and some of the plainest Duties of Religion and Morality, by which I hope these poor creatures will be much benefitted” (Wood, 1979: 164).

Bibliographical Sources:

Clark, Martha B. “Lancaster County’s Relation to Slavery,” Lancaster Historical Society [now LancasterHistory], Volume XV, No. 2, 1911.  MG-240, “The Slave Records of Lancaster County Collection” Box 1, Folder 2.

General Assembly of Pennsylvania, An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.  Philadelphia: Paine, 1780.

General Assembly of Pennsylvania, An Act to explain and amend an act, entitled “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.” Philadelphia: T. Bradford, 1788

Lancaster County Septennial Census of 1800, Pennsylvania State Archives, Reel 0244.

Lancaster Historical Society [now LancasterHistory], MG-240, Folder 5,Bill of sale of Negro woman, Nann (Ann). To Thomas Dewers by James Crawford, 1779. Then to David Potts by Thomas Dewers, 1780 (on reverse).

Lancaster Intelligencer, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May 8, 1802.

Lancaster New Era, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, April 6, 1988

Kase, Trevor, Indentured Servitude in Lancaster County: A Community in Transition.  Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010.

Pennsylvania Gazette, July 13, 1769

St. James Register Volume I, 1759-1777, Lancaster County Historical Society [now LancasterHistory]

The Register of Negro and Mulatto Slaves for Lancaster County, 1780, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Record Group 47.

Walker, Joseph, E.  “Negro Labor in the Charcoal Iron Industry of Southeastern Pennsylvania.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography; Vol. 93, No. 4.  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.

Wood, Jerome H., Jr. Conestoga Crossroads: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1790.  Harrisburg, PA: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1979.

Internet sources:

Image sources:

  1. Historical map of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Hand colored. Relief shown by hachures. “Entered according to act of Congress August 27th 1821 by W. Wagner of the State of Penna.” Shows mills, forges, and churches.      Source:
  • Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, A Young Girl with an Enslaved Servant and a Dog, Bartholomew Dandridge,  ca. 1725 


  • Advertisement,   Lancaster Intelligencer, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 13 Dec 1817, Sat.         Source: