300 YEARS OF QUAKERS IN QUAKERTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
RICHLAND FRIENDS MEETING
Stepping Outside the Bubbleby Jack H. Schick
February is Black History Month. Though there have been African-Americans in Upper Bucks County since colonial times, there has never been a large number of them. The rural, agrarian economy and the religiosity of early residents forfended the use of slaves, indentured laborers or house servants (roles that colonial Blacks usually filled). Even so, as much as any community in America, we should participate in this month's celebration of a major aspect of our national and cultural heritage. "E Pluribus Unum," after all.
The Quakers, who established the first government in Pennsylvania are also the first recorded settlers in this region, once called the Great Swamp. They believed in equality among all men (and women). Consequently, there is little early documentation of African-American residents. Freemen were seldom singled out and qualified as, "Black."
In the early 1700's, when the Pennsylvania Assembly repeatedly tried to outlaw the importation of slaves (of any color or creed), but was overruled by the English Crown, this region was only sparsely settled. Documents archived by the Friends of Richland Meeting, have no mention of slaves at 'Ye Swamp'. When Richland and Milford were established in 1734, record show there were no slaves in either township. It does not prove there were no free black men living in Upper Bucks.
There is no record of slaves in this region until 1787. That year, Richland Friends Meeting disowned a dozen of its members for providing too much support for the Revolutionary War effort (a violation of the Quaker Peace Testimony). Renowned civic leaders Samuel Foulke and James Chapman were among them. The Meeting also disowned Elizabeth Potts who refused to give up her slaves. There is little information on Ms Potts, and there is no indication that her slaves were black, but it can be assumed they were. These Quaker records are the first documentation of African-Americans living in this area
The Federal House Tax, enacted in 1798 to raise money for an anticipated war against Napoleon, required an assessment of all privately owned buildings. The amount of the levy was determined by the number of windows in a house (hence, the nickname, The Window Tax), and by the number of slaves owned by the property holder. The Law provoked a local uprising now called the Fries Rebellion, which resulted in Milford Township, Quakertown and parts of Lehigh and Berks Counties being brutally occupied by Federal troops. At the time of the assessments, records show that there were no slaves in Upper Bucks. However, it does not consider free black men, of which there were many thousands in Pennsylvania.
Well known Underground Railroad stationmaster, Richard Moore, came to Quakertown in 1813. By the 1830's, after Moore had assumed ownership of the Penrose Pottery on South Main Street, escaped slaves sought refuge and assistance here from the benevolent local population. By the Civil War, over 600 escaped slaves had passed through the Quakertown Station on their way to freedom. Some of them stayed here.
Local historians and readers of the "Upper Bucks Free Press" are familiar with the story of Henry Franklin. A more detailed bio-sketch of Franklin can be found in "A Sketch of Henry
Franklin and Family', Collins Printing House, Phila, 1887", Quakertown's own, Dr. Robert L. Leight's book "Richard Moore and the Underground Railroad at Quakertown" or in the "UBFP" archives. Henry Franklin (slave name Bill Budd), is the first local African-American of whom we have substantial documentation.
Henry Franklin was born in Maryland in 1803. His father, Jared Budd, was an enslaved carriage driver for Francis Scott Key, of Maryland. When freed by Key, Jared moved, first to Ohio, then to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Franklin's mother, who belonged to a different 'master,' soon joined her husband. On a visit to his parents in 1837, Bill Budd 'escaped' and followed the established Underground Railroad routes to Quakertown, where he decided to stay.
The U.S. Constitution permitted bounty hunters to cross into Free States to recapture lost 'property'. Richard Moore believed Budd would be safe in Quakertown and gave him a job and a place to stay. Budd changed his name to Henry Franklin and drove pottery wagons for Moore for over seven years, frequently transporting other escaped slaves. Franklin's fiancée, Anne Brooks--also of Maryland--soon joined him and they were married in Quakertown. Franklin eventually built a house, which still stands on Main Street. Jared Budd and his wife also relocated to Richland, changed their names to Franklin, too, and opened a broom making business.
According to Richard Moore, Henry Franklin "faithfully performed his various duties. [He] was always the right man at the right place. His integrity, intelligence and courteous bearing won the confidence and regard of all with whom he mingled and did more to break down prejudice against color in the adjoining country than any other influence." It is unusual to hear of a black man living prior to the Civil War who was 'judged for the content of his character, rather than by the color of his skin.'
Kathy J--- was the only African-American in my QCSH graduating class of 1970. Quakertown has never had a dramatically diverse demography. Consequently, we sometimes fail to appreciate the amalgamation produced in the American Melting Pot. We tend to focus on our own ethnic and genealogical histories. During Black History Month, we should force ourselves to step outside of our 'bubble' and contemplate aspects of our national culture with which we might have little experience.
I am too young to appreciate Jackie Robinson, but I recognize his significance. I watched Martin Luther King speak on black and white television and was impressed. Each week, I watched "I Spy", and enjoyed the film "Lilies of the Field," which introduced me to African-American entertainers. I saw Captain Kirk kiss Lieutenant Uhura. I listened to the wisdom and appreciated the character of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. I saw Barak Obama ascend to the presidency of the United States.
In my lifetime I have witnessed important "Black History." But, if I step outside of my bubble I see that it is actually the history of the United States. Today, my nation has come closer than any time in history to achieving a principle belief , that "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights."
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The first claim to land in The Swamp of Richland was filed by Griffith Jones, a Quaker, a member of the Free Society of Traders, a provincial assemblyman, and later, the 4th mayor of Philadelphia. In 1701 he had several thousand acres surveyed in the area that is now Richland. In 1703, the Proprietor’s Manor of Richland was established, what is now Milford Township. On a property deed transferred between government officials in 1705 the entire region was first called “the Township of Richland.” Quaker settlement of The Swamp then began. The first documented permanent settlers arrived in 1708. By 1710 Meetings for Worship were being held in Friends’ homes. Quaker farmers were attracted by the fertile soil and relocated from Byberry, Abington and Gwynedd Monthly Meetings. By 1715 there were enough Friends in the area that ‘official permission’ to hold Meetings for Worship “at Ye Swamp” was granted by Gwynedd. A Meetinghouse, the first church in the region, was built on station road at Old Bethlehem Pike in 1723. By 1730 it had been relocated to its current site; near the center of The Swamp and the Quaker community that had sprung up there. That same year, Swamp Road (Rte 313) was completed to the county seat at Newtown. In 1732, Richland and Milford became ‘official’ townships in Bucks County. Richland became an independent Monthly Meeting in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1742. At about the same time the first school in Upper Bucks County was established by the Friends. The region experience a large influx of German immigrants and other communities grew in the area, but the Quaker influence continued to dominate. Richland Meeting was active in the anti-alcohol and tobacco and the Quaker Reform movements of the mid-1700’s. The Friends offered benevolent support to the Revolutionary effort, and were significantly active in the anti-slavery movement, operating an important ‘station’ in the Underground Railroad network. The “Quakers’ Town” post office was ‘officially’ named in 1803. When the borough was incorporated in 1854, there was no question that it would be called Quakertown. From this community’s origins and across the ensuing centuries, Richland Friends Meeting has remained a relevant and active religious institution and an important part of the community in Upper Bucks County.