What Was the Underground Railroad?
From the earliest European settlement of what is now the United States to the close of the American Civil War in 1865, enslaved people, unwillingly transported from Africa, provided much of the labor to build this country. These people could be bought and sold like any other form of property. As long as there was slavery, there were enslaved people who sought to free themselves from bondage.
After the American Revolution, many northern states, including Pennsylvania, ended slavery within their own borders. Other states, including nearby Maryland, became even more dependent on slave labor. By the 1780s, enslaved people were attempting escapes to a place were they could be free. Some stayed in the Kennett area, whereas others ventured further north to Philadelphia, New York, or New Bedford. By the 1830s, many freedom seekers headed for the safety in Canada.
Chester County, Pennsylvania, shares its southern boundary with Delaware and is close to the Maryland. Both Delaware and Maryland were slave states, so self-liberators from those states, or from the lower South, needed to keep moving north to reach freedom. This combination of factors—proximity, the presence of a large Quaker population opposed to slavery, organized abolitionist societies, and a relatively large number of free African American communities—made Chester County an important stop on the way north.