You are now standing at the main crossroads of Kennett Square. This spot has been marked by the X in front of you for over 300 years. Present day Union Street had been laid out in 1720 and had been called the “Road to Lewis’ Mill.” State Street was called the “Great Road from Chester to Nottingham” and was laid out in 1742. It wasn’t until the 1800s that this crossroads changed from a village to a town. Behind you was the Unicorn Tavern. It is now the Maura Grace Boutique. It was here that the British Army, stayed before the Battle of Brandywine. If you can imagine, the encampment stretched all the way from the railroad tracks farther down Union Street, past where you are standing now, then all the way past the Route 1 by-pass. It must have been an impressive sight!
About one hundred years after the Battle of Brandywine, in 1875, the Unicorn Tavern burned down. What you see now was built in 1877. Unfortunately, another fire damaged the building’s third floor but the building was repaired and as you see, is still being used today.
Please look diagonally across the street. Do you see the shop called The Green Eyed Lady? This was the site of a stone house where Bayard Taylor was born in 1825. Taylor was one of Kennett’s most famous residents. He was an author, poet, artist, world traveler, and diplomat. In 1855, he gave two lectures at the newly constructed Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse to help raise funds to pay for its construction. Until 1860, Taylor had been too busy traveling and writing to take an active part in politics. It was during the period of extreme tensions leading up to the Civil War that his anti-slavery sentiments moved him to ardently support President Lincoln. During the war, Taylor served as a correspondent for a newspaper called The Tribune in Washington, D.C. Taylor is buried in Longwood Cemetery, near the entrance to Longwood Gardens.
John and Hannah Cox, founding members of the Progressive Meeting of Friends, sold two small parcels from a corner of their “Longwood Farm” for the meetinghouse and cemetery.
The Cox house is still standing and is of huge importance to the Underground Railroad. The story that follows describes an event at the house. Again, we have taken our story from an article by Chris Densmore.
A Kidnapping at the Cox House, 1851
A news item from the Pennsylvania Freeman of March 13, 1851 reported: “A friend from Kennett informs us of a bold attempt to kidnap a free colored man in the employ of John Cox… Early in the morning four men in a carriage drove by, and seeing a young colored man on a haystack near the road, feeding cattle, they called to him to enquire whether his employer had hay for sale, and its price, etc., and then requested him to come down to call his employer, but no sooner had the young man descended, than the men attempted to seize him. He defended himself with the pitchfork, and dealt his blows so rapidly and dangerously that they left him, and before any alarm could be given and pursuit made, they were far on their way to Wilmington. Who the robbers were that attempted thus boldly to kidnap a free man from the heart of an anti-slavery neighborhood was not ascertained.”
In the long war between slavery and freedom, Chester County was the front lines.
While the Kennett area has a wealth of documented Underground Railroad, there is much that we don’t know. Through local researchers, like the late Mary Dugan, we have frequently uncovered new stories. We know about John and Hannah Cox and their anti-slavery activities, but we know far less about the “freedom seekers” who sheltered under their roof. How many people did they help? Fifty, a hundred, a thousand? In the story just related, we don’t know the name of the young man with the pitchfork, the exact date of the incident or the names and intentions of the kidnappers. Freedom- seekers traveling on the Underground Railroad usually kept their names and details of their escapes secret, even from those who assisted them. Was the “colored man” working for John Cox indeed free? Maybe the person was free as the article states, or perhaps he was keeping his origins to himself and letting people believe he was free.
The John and Hannah Cox house still stands on the north side of Baltimore Pike (Route 1), just west of the Longwood Fire Department. The building is under the care of Longwood Gardens. As you drive by, remember the brave young man defending his freedom with a pitchfork, and thank Longwood for their continued preservation of the Cox House.
Your next stop is Clean Slate Goods, located at 103 W. State Street. You do not need to cross any busy streets or change direction, just head down the sidewalk. We will see you there!