Slavery in the North

Northern Emancipation

Denying the Past



Massachusetts Slavery

Massachusetts Emancipation

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York Slavery

New York Emancipation

Pennsylvania Slavery

Pennsylvania Emancipation

Race Relations in Pennsylvania

Rhode Island


A Missed Chance

Northern Profits from Slavery

Fugitive Slaves





Back to Africa

Keeping the North White



Douglas Harper is a historian, author, journalist and lecturer based in Lancaster, Pa. He is the author of "If Thee Must Fight:" A Civil War History of Chester County, Pa." (Chester County Historical Society, 1990); "An Index of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors from Chester County, Pa." (Chester County Historical Society, 1995); "The Whitman Incident: Revolutionary Revisions to an Ephrata Tale" (Lancaster County Historical Society Journal, 1995); "West Chester to 1865: That Elegant & Notorious Place" (Chester County Historical Society, 1999).

Harper is a graduate of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., with a degree in history and English. He has been featured in a BBC production on the Welsh settlements in America, and has been interviewed as a source for historical articles by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post and many magazines.


I began researching Northern slavery about the year 2000 during the course of general Civil War research, and I noticed there was a dearth of information about it online. There was a dearth of it in print, too. I remembered reading Leon Litwack's excellent book "North of Slavery" in college. Technically, it is not about Northern slavery but rather about race relations in the North between the end of slavery there and the Civil War. But on that topic, too, little is readily available in print or online that treats it to any depth.

Historical research, like scientific research, tends to concentrate on a few "problems" in any generation, and in doing so it tends to overlook other areas. So, in the 1990s, the Confederacy was intensely interesting to historians, while the inner workings of the North were less appealing, and thus less visible in scholarship.

So, too, the lives and realities of slaves were important to historians, but only if those slaves made their world in the plantation culture of the old South.

I went back to Litwack's book (which is almost as old as I am), and to others that dealt with the topic of slavery in the North. Edgar McManus wrote on this subject in the 1960s and '70s. More recently, Gary Nash had written insightfully about slavery in the North. Before that, the best work was done from about 1890 to 1911. McManus lamented that no one has written an extensive history of Northern slavery.

At the same time, I kept running into people, most of them born and raised in "free" states, who had no idea there ever were slaves in the North. And search engines on the Internet turned up nothing to indicate that blacks had been held in bondage in all 13 of the original states. A Google search of, say, "Northern slavery" or "slavery in the North" would send you to pages about slavery in North Carolina in the 1850s, or northern Sudan today, or Northern attitudes about Southern slavery.

So I put up several pages describing the history of slavery in the North, originally as part of an overall clump of Civil War pages. The information was principally a list of facts and dates, interspersed with commentary from McManus, Nash, and others.

Since then, I am pleased to note, there has been a minor revival of scholarly interest in Northern slavery and the lives of blacks, free and slave, in the North and old Northwest. The amount of information available online also has grown since then. I haven't had a chance yet to expand these pages to reflect the new matter, but I trust the basic accuracy of the material here has not changed. And I hope these pages will continue to be of use to students and general readers, as they have been heretofore, to judge by the correspondence I've received from users.

2003 - Slavery in the North - About the Author