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During its annual gala last year, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania honored historian Eric Foner with the 2016 Founder’s Award. In his most recent book, Gateway to Freedom, Foner explores the hidden history of the Underground Railroad. Excerpts are included below with entries from Journal C of Station No.
Tillman Valentine was twenty-seven years old when he enlisted with the Third US Colored Infantry on June 30, 1863. Standing ﬁve feet four inches tall, with black hair, gray eyes, and a yellow complexion, the mulatto laborer from Chester County, Pennsylvania, bade farewell to his wife of seven years, Annie, and his children, Elijah (born February 13, 1858), Clara (born February 4, 1860), and Ida (born August 11, 1861).
President Trump's recent moratorium on the entry of individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries belongs to a dubious tradition of restrictive immigration practices stretching through America's past. For some historical perspective, consider the story of the 1917 Immigration Act, which went into effect a century ago today.
As we celebrate Black History Month, consider one of the nation's first cases involving the violation of its incipient slave-trade laws: the "Ganges Incident."
The USS Ganges, originally built for trade in the West Indies, was purchased in 1798 by the federal government to deter French privateers from ransacking U.S. shipping. It left Philadelphia's port that year, the first warship to sail under the American flag since the Continental Navy's last ship, the Alliance, was decommissioned in 1785.
Numerous organizations and individuals supported the Underground Railroad. The daring escape of Henry "Box" Brown relied on the help of an unlikely ally: the mail.
Born in the early 1800s at a plantation near Yanceyville, Va., Brown was sent to Richmond at age 15 to work on a tobacco farm. He married Nancy, a slave owned by a different master. The couple had three children and were expecting their fourth when Nancy was sent to work in North Carolina. Brown stood powerless as his pregnant wife and children shuffled past in a coffle gang. He never saw them again.
President Trump is not the first politician to enthusiastically embrace new communication technologies. Lincoln (telegraphy), FDR (radio), and JFK (television) precede the 45th president on that list.
In the 18th century, however, it was another medium that allowed partisans to (relatively) quickly and cheaply reach their supporters: the pamphlet. A grisly example of this is the 1763 Conestoga Massacre and ensuing "Paxton Pamphlet War."
As thousands gathered for the Women's March on Washington, they were treading in the footsteps of women who, more than a century ago, fought through violent crowds to demand the vote during the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession.
That year, the suffragists' struggle was in its sixth decade, and the worse for wear. Since 1869, supporters had hand-delivered signed petitions to the Capitol each year, to little effect.
In a recent entry of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, historian Daniel Thomas Fleming argues that "Philadelphia has had a greater influence on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday traditions than any city other than King's birthplace, Atlanta."
As Philadelphians prepare to celebrate this year's holiday Monday, consider the region's influence upon King himself through Delaware County's Crozer Theological Seminary.
Perhaps best known today as Broadway's answer to "How can history be made relevant," to contemporaries Alexander Hamilton was notorious for his support of central banking. In the 19th century, however, it was another banker that stole the spotlight: Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle.