Welcome to the Kennett Underground Railroad Center’s Walk Around the Block!
We hope to acquaint you with some of the history of Kennett Square and clue you in to some exciting events that took place in this area during the time before the Civil War.
Shortly after William Penn and English Quakers began arriving in America in 1682, Penn gave his daughter a 15,000-acre tract named “Letitia’s Manor”. It was divided into smaller tracts and one of those was Kennett Township, named after a village in Wiltshire, England.
By 1821, Kennett had only seven or eight houses. But only nine years later, in 1830, Kennett had grown to thirty houses within the borough and was definitely a growing concern.
The early 1800’s also sees the beginning of what will become the Underground Railroad. The Constitution included a Fugitive Slave Clause which states that “no person held to service or labor” would be released from bondage in the event they escaped to a free state. Even though the clause existed, most Northern States ignored it and petitioned Congress to stop the practice of slavery all together.
By 1793 the Southern States pushed through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. This was similar to the Fugitive Slave Clause but was more detailed in the description of how the act was to work. It stated that owners of enslaved people, along with their “agents” had the right to search for anyone who had escaped within the borders of free states. If they caught an escapee, they needed to bring them before a judge and provide proof that they were actually an escaped slave. If the judge agreed, they would then take the escapee back to slavery. It also imposed a $500.00 penalty on any one who took in, helped or hid an escaped slave.
Northerners disliked the idea of allowing bounty hunters to roam through their state. They thought it was legalized kidnapping. Helping escaped slaves find freedom was not new. But now more people wanted to help. Please don’t assume that everyone in the North agreed with this idea of helping escaped slaves. Remember, it was against the law and if you did help you would be fined. Most people did not help, but at the same time, they didn’t do anything to alert authorities of escaped slaves and just went about their business. It took a special person to take up the call to actively help the escaping slave. These were abolitionists. They risked a great deal. They worked in secret, day and night. They helped feed, clothe and provide shelter to any escaping slave, who will now be referred to as a freedom seeker, and they were Quaker, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, anyone, and they were black and white.
Now that we have given you some background, let’s proceed with our stories!
Please head down the steps at the front of the Kennett Heritage Center to the sidewalk. Turn right and set off to the first marker. You will find it between here and the corner of State and Union Streets.
We hope you will enjoy your walk!