Journey To Freedom, The Underground Railroad In Pennsylvania

By Wendy Royalspring 2009

The quest for freedom has been a constant struggle since the beginning of recorded history. Although anti-slavery activists in this country did not organize their efforts until after the American Revolution, resistance to slavery began in the early 1500s, after the first African slaves were brought to the New World. Religious groups, such as the Quakers, led early abolitionist activity.
It was in 1775 that Philadelphia Quaker Anthony Benezet founded the first abolitionist society.

Though it was not equipped with trains and tracks, the Underground Railroad was the mode of transportation for approximately 100,000 runaway slaves during the 1800s. Many of the clandestine routes started in the deep South and stretched as far north as Canada. Even though slavery was abolished in many states, escape to one of the “free states” did not ensure freedom. Since slave-owners were legally permitted to recapture their slaves in these states, many fugitive slaves moved on to Canada.

Several stops on the Underground Railroad were located in Pennsylvania and stand today as a reminder of the struggle to achieve an equal society for all.

Philadelphia And The Surrounding Countryside

Once the city where slave auctions were held in what is now Washington Square, Philadelphia also became the hub of anti-slavery activity.

Arch Street Friends Meeting House
4th & Arch Streets

In 1779, the friends decided to expel all members who held slaves. Anti-slavery sentiments among the Quaker community were instrumental in moving the abolitionist movement forward.

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
419 Richard Allen Ave. (South 6th Street at Lombard)

The church where Richard Allen preached abolition as early as 1795 now includes a museum that houses his original pulpit and personal belongings as well as other artifacts. Allen and his wife, Sarah, gave safe haven to runaways and newly freed slaves.

Washington Square
6th & Walnut Streets

Congo Square as it was called in the early years of the city was a gathering place for Africans. Today, interpretive signs located throughout the park reveal its history.

Belmont Mansion
2000 Belmont Mansion Drive

Once the home of Judge Richard Peters, where dignitaries such as George Washington, Ben Franklin and John Adams were entertained, Belmont Mansion was also a vital part of the Underground Railroad. Peters hid fugitive slaves in the third floor attic.

Johnson House Historic Site
6306 Germantown Avenue

The Johnson House was home to a Quaker family with strong anti-slavery beliefs who hid runaways throughout the 1800s. Today, visitors can see the hiding places tucked away throughout the house, including a trap door in the attic leading to the roof.

  Related Destinations:

African American Museum of Philadelphia •
Independence Hall, Philadelphia •
Quest for Freedom Walking Tour, Philadelphia •
Chester County Historical Society, West Chester •
Kennett Square Underground Railroad Center, Kennett Square •
Abolition Hall Venue at Valley Forge National Military Park •

Lancaster County

In the early 1700s Amish and Mennonites seeking religious freedom chose the fertile Lancaster County landscape to begin their new lives. At the same time, slaves from Africa were beginning their new life in bondage. Lancaster County played an important role in the Underground Railroad system. The violent clash between northern abolitionists and southern slave-owners in Christiana is considered, by many historians to be the first battle of the Civil War.

Bethel AME Church
450-512 E. Strawberry Street

The church sheltered runaways and provided spiritual guidance to Africans living in Lancaster. Visitors can journey back in time and experience the struggle of fugitive slaves while attending the living history production of “Living the Experience.” The performance is held every Saturday from February through December at 1 p.m.

Christiana Underground Railroad Center at Historic Zercher Hotel
Slokom and Green Streets

The self-guided museum includes evidence of the famous resistance and the locations of 20 Underground Railroad Stations throughout the surrounding area.

Old Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge
Between Columbia and Wrightsville

The bridge was set ablaze on June 28, 1863, by Columbia residents and Union soldiers to prevent the Confederate Army from advancing to Philadelphia. The origin of the Underground Railroad is said to have begun in Columbia. When Samuel Wright laid out the town in 1787, he set aside the northeastern section of town for African Americans.

Zion Hill Cemetery
5th & Linden Streets

The cemetery is the final resting place for many soldiers who fought with the black company from Columbia during the Civil War.

  Related Destinations:

  Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster •
  Amish Country Tours/UGRR Experience, Bird-In-Hand •
  First National Bank Museum, Columbia •

Gettysburg / York Area

The Battle of Gettysburg is the most studied battle of the Civil War. The entire battlefield stands as a reminder of the sacrifice made by those on both sides of the slavery issue. The new state-of-the-art museum and visitors center tells the story like never before, but it is the hallowed ground of the battlefield that has attracted people from all over the world for over 100 years.

Abraham Brien Farm House, Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike

The home of Abraham Brien, a free black man who stood in the middle of Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Dobbin House Tavern
89 Steinwehr Ave.

The Dobbin House was an Underground Railroad site where slaves were provided refuge from their pursuers. Today it is a Colonia-style restaurant and tavern.

Historic Fairfield Inn 1757
15 West Main St., Route 116

This Underground Railroad site offered refuge to fleeing slaves in a small hidden room on the third floor. Today, the Fairfield is a tavern and bed and breakfast.

Lincoln Cemetery
Long Lane and Washington St.

Approximately 30 U.S. Colored Troop soldiers are laid to rest in this cemetery.

William C. Goodridge Freedom House & Underground Railroad Museum
123 East Philadelphia St.
717-848-3610, ext. 280

Goodridge was a prominent African-American businessman who was one of the area’s most active Underground Railroad stationmasters. One of his business ventures was the Goodridge Reliance Line, which comprised 13 railroad cars with service to 20 communities. He used his railroad cars to transport escaping slaves. Goodridge also hid fugitive slaves in a hidden room in his house.

  Related Destinations:

  Gettysburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg •
  Adams County Historical Society, Gettysburg •
  St. Paul’s AME Zion Church, Gettysburg • 717-334-9851
  Yellow Hill Cemetery, Butler Township • 717-334-6296


It was in Harrisburg where legislative action was taken to abolish slavery. The State Archives and State Library hold a wealth of African-American history.

National Civil War Museum
1 Lincoln Center at Reservoir Park

The museum portrays an unbiased look at the Civil War. Hear the words of those who supported and opposed slavery, see a dramatic re-enactment of a slave auction, and view artifacts from the lives of those who lived in captivity.

Pittsburgh and the Surrounding Countryside
The Underground Railroad in western Pennsylvania began in Uniontown, Fayette County, traveled through Blairsville along Route 119, then north through Indiana and on to Mercer, Venango and Erie counties.

John Brown Farm & Museum
17620 John Brown Lane
Route 77
Guys Mills, PA 16327

This was the home of John Brown. The museum houses unique memorabilia that tell the story of the famous abolitionist. Each May, the John Brown Spirit of Freedom Weekend is held on the grounds.

The LeMoyne House
49 East Maiden St.

The LeMoyne House was the home of Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne who made his home and other properties available to escaped slaves on their way to freedom. The house is Pennsylvania’s first National Historic Landmark of the Underground Railroad.

Mercer Borough Underground Railroad Walking Tour
Mercer County Historical Society
119 South Pitt St.

Discover Mercer County’s rich abolitionist history on the ten-site tour, which begins in Mercer and winds up in Jamestown, approximately 20 miles to the north.

Blairsville Area Underground Railroad Experience
116 E. Campbell St.

When slave catchers Robert Stump and Peter Heck came to Blairsville in 1858 looking for a slave named “Newton,” they got more than they bargained for. Their attempted capture caused a riot as townspeople defended Newton by beating up the two men.  Today, visitors can take a walking tour of significant Underground Railroad sites in Blairsville or a driving tour of 23 sites throughout Indiana County.

  Related Destinations:

  Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh •
  Mercer County Historical Society, Mercer •

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Where & When Article: Journey To Freedom, The Underground Railroad In Pennsylvania
Where & When Article: Journey To Freedom, The Underground Railroad In Pennsylvania