The role of the Negro is frequently overlooked in local
histories and yet in the State of Pennsylvania and in our own New Garden
Township the Negro was one of the earliest settlers, too. Negro slavery was
introduced in Pennsylvania by the Dutch long before the arrival of William
Penn. The Dutch and English in nearby Delaware actively engaged in African
slave trade. These unfortunate human beings were taken to the West Indies from
Africa to "acclimatize" them before shipping them North, hopefully to
avoid some of the cold-weather diseases that attacked them.
Slavery was not big in Pennsylvania when compared to New
Jersey, New York and other nearby states, but it did exist. William Penn was a
slave owner who became increasingly concerned that slaves receive proper
treatment. Generally, they are believed to have been well treated. They often
lived in the master's home and worked side-by-side with him, and were decently
fed and clothed. However, they could not buy liquor; were denied the right of
jury trial; forbidden to go more than ten miles from home without permission;
and were not allowed to meet in groups of more than four people. No doubt some
were treated cruelly and subjected to poor living conditions and care.
In 1700, Penn urged the Yearly Meeting of Friends to free
slaves. He provided that his own be freed one month after his death. By 1711,
the time of New Garden's settlement, Chester Quarterly Meeting expressed
dissatisfaction with Friends buying and encouraging the importing of Negroes as
slaves. Twenty years later, Friends were cautioned once more against purchasing
them, for the practice still persisted. Early efforts to halt slave-trading
were made in the State of Pennsylvania but the law was repealed by the Crown
since England was profiting heavily from this lucrative business. Human
consideration was secondary to commercial consideration.
The "Fugitive Slave Law" passed in 1739 permitted
any slaveholder to reclaim a runaway slave no matter where he was found. Not
only were escaped slaves liable to be informed upon and returned to bondage,
but freed Negroes were in danger of being kidnapped and returned to slavery.
Certificates were issued by Justices of the Peace, often based only on
statements of the kidnappers. When a Negro was arrested, he was brought before
the Justice, heard the evidence against himself, and had to present any such
proof to the contrary as he could which was pretty difficult, either for a
slave or a freed man to do.
Finally, through the efforts of Isaac Jackson of New Garden
Friends, a ruling was made in 1777 that holding of slaves was considered
sufficient cause for disownment by the Meeting. Jackson, along with Jacob
Lindley and Joshua Lamborn, was a prominent figure in the anti-slavery
Chiefly because of activities by the Society of Friends, an
act of Assembly was passed in 1780 providing for gradual abolition of slavery.
It provided for registration of all persons held as slaves for life or until
the age of 31 years, and declared that they would continue to be slaves. All
persons born after that date would be free except children of registered
slaves. They would be servants until age 28. A later law provided that only
children registered within six months after birth would be servants. One slave
was reported in New Garden Township, owned by Andrew McIntire.
In 1779, New Garden Monthly Meeting recorded the case of a
Negro slave named Caesar who had been given his freedom some years before
"on consideration that he would behave himself industrially and
honestly," and if he would pay to his owner or some other safe person the
sum of three pounds yearly. A committee investigating at the request of a son
of Caesar's former owner learned that Caesar had paid 42 pounds by 1779, and
that he had been kept a slave more than ten years after he should have been
declared free. He was awarded the 42 pounds, plus five pounds for each
additional year he had been enslaved.
In early records slaves were recorded with but one name. It
wasn't until 1780 that, in this whole County which then included Delaware
County, eleven were honored with surnames. The early 1800s found a sharp
increase in the number of blacks in the Township. It is believed that some from
adjoining states gained freedom by agreeing to work for Pennsylvania farmers as
People in the town of Columbia, Pennsylvania decided to
protect Negroes, and even to help them escape slavery by 1804 because of the
kidnapping and shooting of fugitives. This was the beginning of the organized
system that was to become known as the "Underground Railroad."
Eventually, slave owners posted men at Columbia to arrest every escapee or to
furnish information that would lead to their arrest and return. It then became
necessary to establish other places along a line to the Eastern States and
Canada to aid those who were fleeing. The search for freedom found slaves
leaving in great numbers from counties bordering southern Pennsylvania, and
even further south.
A southern route that began in Wilmington was most used, but
a middle route that began in Lancaster County assisted many, too. Escaping
slaves were unfamiliar with the territory and used the North Star as their
guide for they usually travelled at night. Friends of abolition fed and hid
them by day and either took them at night to the next "station" or
gave them directions for reaching it.
New Garden Township does not appear on record to have played
an important part in the scheme, but considering that it was so active in areas
around us and that New Garden Friends Meeting produced some very active
abolitionists, our participation may have been greater than is known. The
descendents of those first Irish Quakers had the courage and cool heads needed
to operate such a system, but only three places are known to have been actual
stops. Jacob Lindley's residence, the house built by William Miller near
Avondale, was used for many years as a station, even before the Underground
Railroad as such was established. The residence of Isaac Jackson which was
later owned by Enoch Lewis, and now by the Bonafacino family, was used for many
years. Evan Lewis, younger brother of Enoch, lived in Wilmington and was an
active abolitionist who sent fugitives from his home to New Garden via his
brother. Enoch Lewis did not believe in encouraging slaves to leave their
masters, yet never denied asylum to those who reached him. Many were said to
have been secreted in the homes of his neighbors. Joshua Lamborn near
Toughkenamon provided refuge when called upon.
The Underground Railroad was operated with such secrecy that
few facts were revealed until many years after its activities had ceased. By
then they had become distorted. The Withers home on Buttonwood Road had a
peculiar underground room located near the house which was believed to have
been a hiding place. It has been claimed that some runaways hid in the Lyceum
House. Another reputed stop was a house once located on the corner of Penn
Green and Laurel Woods Roads whose cellar opened into a cave at the Creek's
edge. Escapees hid there until nightfall then followed the Creek to the next
There are many other reports of "slave tunnels"
and "slave closets" existing within the large old homes throughout
our Township, but only those first three listed were confirmed stations of the
Underground Railroad system.
After obtaining freedom it is likely that many Negroes
remained in the area, either working for former masters or for other farmers.
Few had been taught trades even though State law and Quakers tradition required
this. The Census in 1791 for New
listed no slaves. Eight persons were listed as free and not white, one each and
not named, with the families of John Shortlidge, Thomas Allen, Thomas Lamborn,
Alen C. Monegall, Dr. John Ross, William Richard, John Tumbleson (Tomlinson),
and Joseph Temple. The following were listed with no family connection:
Black Purnia (or something similar;
writing is illegible) - 1
Robert Simpter - 1
Joseph Nicholson - 2
Joseph Robinson - 3
Township tax records for the 1800s list payers as Negro or
Colored. By 1865 there were eighteen such listings. The dates beside the names
indicate the earliest ones that appeared on tax records or in other recorded
Levi Hood - 1824
Denard Brian - 1851
Bond Coneway - 1851
John Durnall - 1852
James Williams - 1855
Nelson Wiggins - 1851
Colored inmates (renters of property) listed were Joseph
Barber, Michael Boyer, Charles Lockwood and Charles Ledmon.
When the 1870 township census was completed, the following
names were added:
Reuben Ricks, Jr.
We know nothing of those first people listed in 1791 - not
even all of their names. We do know that many were ill-equipped to cope with
freedom. Unless they were retained by the family they first served, their
search for jobs was often fruitless. Thus, they moved from place to place, or
cleared a patch of ground at the edge of a village and just settled there,
barely able to exist. Frustrated by lack of money and responsibilities with
which they couldn't cope, some resorted to crime in order to survive. One such
report from the Justice of Peace records for 1812 reads:
"Herman Parker, a black man, had home broken into
while away and when he returned was attacked by Reuben Pamsley and wife,
Priscilla; Solomon Cosse; Robert Cosse; old Nero Pamsley and wife, Hannah; Bill
Wiggins and his wife, Sarah; and Harry Boardley, all black persons."
The case was amicably settled, but in many cases fines and
imprisonment as the result of such incidents led to a loss of reputation and it
then became even more difficult to find work. In most cases, Quaker farmers in
the area did everything reasonably possible to provide employment and to assist
the Negro families. When such help was not forthcoming, for whatever reason,
families were often divided and children indentured as a way to meet daily
needs. Elderly blacks often spent their last years at the County Almshouse
or Poor House. In general, the early Negro lived in extreme poverty but made
every attempt to maintain his dignity and provide sustenance for his family.
After a few generations passed, conditions improved as skills were mastered and
better emp1oyment became available. Certain names in the very few little bits
of available information have seemed to carry a great respect, but for reasons
not stated. One was that of David Augustus, or "Davey Gustus" 'as he
was frequently called. He may be the same "Davy" who sold fish and
produce in Wilmington
and Kennett Square
and who lived at Pemberton. Walter Grayson, Kennett Square historian, writes that an
old Negro known as "Davy" was a very important link between Wilmington and Kennett on
the Underground Railroad.
Edwin Lewis James, a Negro, appears as a recruit during the
Civil War, along with Gabriel Boyer who is not listed as black or white. Both
draft lists are undated, and are only two of many such lists of recruits that
were prepared, but are not available. There may very well have been other Negro
When immigrant whites began arriving in this country, and in
our locality in large numbers, they often displaced blacks on the employment
scene. Frequent disputes arose. Bucktoe
Church history reports
the death of a white man and injury to others that resulted from a clash
between Negroes and Irish of the area.
A map of 1873 shows that Isaiah Ricks lived near Landenberg
at the edge of the section known as Laurel.
Pierce Brown, Annie Hamilton, and Joseph Hazzard, believed to be Negroes, lived
nearby. Nelson and Reuben Wiggins lived in Pemberton together with J. Maxfield
and David Augustus. Nelson Wiggins was the only Negro listed among the
prosperous New Garden farmers on that map. Pemberton is
at the edge of both New
Garden and Kennett and
was known as the "Big Woods" by many. It was named after Israel Pemberton,
a prominent Philadelphia Quaker landowner of the 1700s. The family of Quilla
McGraw lived at the edge of both townships behind Bucktoe Church,
and Levi Hood lived on the section of Bucktoe
Road just off Newark Road. Denard Brian lived near
Kaolin; Joseph Gasby at the corner of Saw
Mill Road in Landenberg. By the late 1800s
taxpayers were not identified as black or white and since many of each bore the
same names, the Negro families cannot be identified as such after that time.
The church has always been a spiritual and social center for many families and
to some their only real comfort. Early slave owners were urged to provide
proper religious training for slaves, and Quakers were urged to take them to
Some time prior to 1824, a group of Negro citizens were
meeting for worship under the title of "African Union Church of
Newgarden." How many years prior is not known. The first church fully
owned and controlled by blacks was organized in 1813 in Wilmington, Delaware,
and called the "Union Church of Africans." The New Garden
church was established from that. Other than the few early names recorded, be
we have no idea who comprised the congregation, but a piece of property was
deeded to Richard Bivens, Levi Hood, Daniel Cook, Ceaser Bush, and John Bush,
in Trust for the Congregation of the African Union Church of New Garden on
September 4, 1824. About one acre of ground was purchased for $50.00 from
Joseph Roman and his wife, Rebecca, and was part of a section that they had
purchased from Ezekiel and Ann Reed of Mill Creek Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware.
It had been purchased by them from Jesse Sharp, Esq., High Sheriff of Chester
County, who lived nearby.
Roman retained all timber rights for five years and reserved
"the right and free use of a passage road or cartway from the new road in
through the lot crossing the Red
at the most easy and fordable part to other lands of his." This particular
property was actually located in Kennett
Township, just over the New Garden
Township line. The Roman
family lived in New Garden and the congregation believed then, and for
many years thereafter, that their church was in New Garden Township.
The Rev. Jacob Wiggins led this first congregation for ten
years as they met for worship in a log building. He was succeeded by his
brother, Nelson. The last minister of this little log church was the Rev. Levi
Hood. During his term the congregation grew so large that it was resolved to
build a new one. The resolution was forced to fact when a fire destroyed the
old log church, and another building of stone was quickly built with the help
of many local farmers. Many years later, one who helped build this church
c1aimed that it was the largest in Kennett
considerably larger than Old Kennett Meeting House." It was used until
1908 and was said to have stood where the dead cedar trees now stand in the
cemetery. Behind the church stood another small building which was used by
women of the congregation as a cookhouse at the time of Quarterly Meetings.
Nearby residents believe a parsonage was there, too, but it may be that little
cookhouse of which they are thinking.
Early references to church activities in the newspapers
refer to it as being at "Timbuctoo," and at time call it Buc-Too Church. The name Bucktoe was probably
derived from that early title although various other sources have been
presented for the name. None seem as logical as the first one proffered. The
site is listed today as "Bucktoe Meeting and Cemetery."
The church was incorporated in April 1851, when "a
group of citizens under the style or title of 'The Union Church of African
Members at Kennett township, in the County
of Chester, and State of Pennsylvania' "
applied. There was soon dissension and the "Village CJ Record"
"A large portion of our court house was occupied last
week by a large company of very genteely dressed colored people - more than we
have seen together on any recent occasion. Upon inquiry, we found that they
were the worshippers at a colored people's Church in Kennett
Township who had come to West Chester upon cross actions for Assault and Battery
Committed while the parties were assembled for the purpose, of worshipping a
It appears that the brethren had formerly acted very
harmoniously together, and had preached and prayed and read the Gospel like
children of one family. But the wolves got in among them, and the flock has
been recently rent in twain. New lights have sprung up, who, it was contended,
had gone astray from the flock. The new lights finally determined to dispossess
the old shepherd who for thirty years had watched over the flock, and get a new
The meeting continued to be attended by both parties,
however, but finally the new lights resolved, and actually executed their
resolution to CARRY OUT the old preacher and those who followed him - a conduct
considered by the latter as very unworthy of a church congregation.
Upon a certain occasion, the old grey headed father of the
Church, and some of his faithful followers, found themselves carried out of the
Church, and deposited, in the most quiet, genteel and peacable manner
consistent with the nature of the case, in the middle of the adjoining high
road! Like good be citizens, they made no resistance, but having faith in the
justice of their cause, they appealed to the laws of the land for the
protection of their rights.
The Grand Jury, upon hearing a statement of the case,
found a true bill for assault and battery against the offenders. A cross action
was instituted by the offenders but IGNORED."
Apparently, the argument between the Trustees remained
unsettled, for in 1854, the day after Christmas, the case was heard of James H.
Walker, and others vs. Reuben Wiggins, and others. The Plaintiffs, Walker and
others, claimed to be trustees of the African Union Church of Kennett. It was
stated that a convention had been held at Chester
in 1851 to revise the Discipline, which was done, and that it had been adopted
by the majority of the church as their Discipline during the early part of
1852. Walker and others, being in the majority, refused to be governed by the
new Discipline. They were tried by the church and disowned. They then organized
into a separate church; held an election in the church yard since the house was
closed to them; turned out the old trustees and elected themselves in their
places. They then brought the action of ejectment against the old trustees on
the ground that under the original deed, the property had been transferred for
a specific object; and in adopting the new discipline, Wiggins and others had
forfeited all right to the property under this original transfer and act of
incorporation. They claimed that they, Walker and others, were the true church
and entitled to retain possession which they had always held. The case went to
jury under the charge of the Court.
The Court charged that Walker and others could not try their
right to the church property under this form of action and directed a verdict
for Wiggins and others which was accordingly rendered. One result of the new
Discipline was a change of name to "The Union American Methodist Episcopal
Church." The argument continued into 1865 with no record of further
correspondence after that time. We must assume that it was either dropped, or
The congregation was large and faithful in its attendance
and came from Yorklyn, Hockessin, Kennett
Square, Avondale, and from all parts of the
Township. At one time Harman Hurbinson and John Scarlet (t) put an ad in the
newspaper warning members not to cross their property on their way from "Kennett Square to
Timbuctoo" or they would suffer the penalties of law for trespassing.
Quarterly Meetings at Bucktoe
Church seem to have been
joyous times. One newspaper report reads:
"There was quite a commotion among the colored
population of the southern part of Chester
County on Sunday last. It
was the Quarterly Meeting at New Garden M. E. Church, or BucToo as it is
called. The occasion drew together a large crowd with people coming from every
direction - in vehicles and on foot, some starting on the previous evening. The
livery stables at West Chester were cleaned
It was also reported that a "great many pale faces
assembled with them at the same sanctuary."
The last report found of the old church or its activities
was one written in 1900. On March fifth of that year the children of the Union
American Methodist Episcopal Sunday School of New Garden gave an entertainment
for the benefit of Nelson Wiggins, "a venerable colored man who recently
met with an accident."
In 1904 another property was purchased in Kennett Square
Borough and plans made to build a new church more centrally located for the
members. Services were held in the house on the property until the new building
was completed. Old "Bucktoe Church" was torn down; its stone used in
the new foundation; and its cornerstone dated 1813 placed there. The old name
was retained, "New Garden U. A. M. E. Church," and the building that
was dedicated there on February 28, 1911 has been in continual use at its
location on Linden Street.
Only God knows how many people were buried in the Bucktoe
Cemetery, for few written records of burials exist. Of the seven stones
remaining there, that of Simeon Maxfield dated 1864 is the oldest. Two are
military stones: Corporal William Jackson, Co. D. - 29 Ct. Inf., with no date
or age; and Corp'l Wilson Brown, Co. D. - 127 - USCI (?), with no date or age.
The records of undertaker Alexander Guthrie show about one hundred people
buried there between 1888 and 1920. Most were babies and children.
These seven toppling stones and the periwinkle patch in the
cemetery are all that's left of old Bucktoe Church.