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.


Twenty years have passed since the research that makes up this site began. Times and I have changed. This site is perhaps more used and referenced now, in 2020, than it was before.

Slavenorth grew out of a debate on a long-defunct AOL message board devoted to the American Civil War. The debate was over the Southern battle flag, and whether it had a place in modern America as a relic of the national history.

I thought there was a good argument that it did, though I had no passion about it. I thought those who were arguing for it were arguing poorly, because they did not have facts at hand. Those facts, in many cases, had not migrated to the then-young World-Wide Web.

So to present them in argument, I had to dig them out of books. You had to get the books then. No digital archives. I bought the books, mostly second-hand, and this website is a compilation of what I gleaned from them. (I seem to still have most of them: see photo below.)

Slavenorth was born in debate, but it is meant to be a clear well of information, not a vat of Kool-Aid for one side or another. It is meant to tell unvarnished realities of Black slavery in the Northern states and colonies of the United States, so it does not devote much time to the minority of abolitionists in the early republic. That topic already was fully broadcast online in 2000 or so. It does tell a little, in the Pennsylvania chapters, of how the mass of public opinion in the North shifted from a passive to an active hostility to slavery in the decades before the war.

In shaping up the material for a web site, I tried to weed out any taint of polemic from my writing, along with any computer coding from 2000 that no longer displayed correctly. No doubt some of both persists.

When I put it online, I was done with it; the debate had passed and I had moved on to other projects. I have dipped back into the text a few times over the years to add new data, clarify the writing, and correct errors. But it has not otherwise changed.

The argument about the flag having a legitimate place in the history is no longer tenable today. Though I still think it's true, I wouldn't bother to make it. That ship has sailed.

That the history on this site has had some value is suggested by its continued use. Like Spangler's Spring at Gettysburg, it has slaked the thirst of all soldiers. It has been cited by White and Black Nationalists alike. It has been referenced by journalists and people trying to sort out the truth through the noise.

The long-ago debate that led to this site seemed raucous and sharp at the time. But when I compare it to the internet in 2020, I miss it a great deal.

The men and women who carried it were passionate amateurs who had studied the realities of the Civil War deeply without ever chasing degrees in it. A truck driver, an EMT, and a jazz saxophonists were prominent. I would rather get a battlefield tour from any of them than from an academic historian. Nobody agreed about everything, though sides were taken. We enjoyed each other's company and the shared passion for the broad topic, whether in agreement or not.

There were moderators, and you could appeal to them if anyone crossed the line, and there were consequences if you did. There were hotheads and snakes, as ever, but they were generally kept decent by the ground rules.

2003 - Slavery in the North