Hidden Histories

Black History Month: Inter-Racial Marriages and Relationships in Colonial Pennsylvania

Friday, 2/4/11
Here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in the near future, Dr. William Pickens III, will be presenting an account relative to his descent, from an early inter-racial couple of Colonial Philadelphia. Though located in what is now near-by Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County, a community known as 'Guineatown,' (later Edge Hill), included a resident named 'Richard Morrey, Gentleman,' son of Humphrey Morrey, Philadelphia's first Mayor under the city charter of 1691. Richard would later have a long time relationship with a Black mistress, originally one of his family's former slaves, a freed Black woman named Cremona, also known as Mooney, emancipated in 1746, who was the mother of five of his children.

Though the Quakers and early German pacifist settlers would indeed seek freedom for the enslaved Africans within the Colonial period, even William Penn himself was a slave holder. In fact, as early as December of 1684, a mercantile firm out of Bristol, England, had transported 150 African slaves on the ship, the Isabella to Philadelphia, individuals later utilized as laborers, carpenters, etc; men, women and children, bought by members of the 'Society of Friends' residing within the city whom they enslaved.

Even though the above Richard Morrey would live as husband and wife with a slave woman, the Pennsylvania colony and surrounding area, were by no means, 'bastions of benevolence' when it came to the inter-racial relationships of its citizens. As early as 1677 a white servant was indicted, "for that hee...contrary to the Lawes of the Government and Contrary to his Masters Consent hath...got with child a certaine molato wooman Called Swart anna," while in 1698 the Chester County, Pennsylvania Court forbade the "mingling of the races." Plus, the 'Minutes of the Abington Monthly Meeting,' for 1693, records the course of action taken against a "Negro Man...And a white woman for having a Baster Childe...she being examined, Confest the same:..the Court ordered that she shall Received Twenty one laishes on her beare Backe...and the Court ordered the negroe never more to meddle with any white woman more uppon paine of his life."

The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania, Section VIII, for 1725-26, emphatically declared, "...Be it further enacted...That if any white man or woman shall cohabit or dwell with any negro under pretense of being married, such white man or woman shall forfeit and pay the sum of thirty pounds or be sold for a servant...and the child or children of such white man or woman shall be put out to service as above directed until they come to the age of thirty-one years...and if any free negro man or woman shall intermarry with a white woman or man, such negro shall become a slave during life...and if any free negro man or woman shall commit fornication or adultery with any white man or woman, such negro or negroes shall be sold servant for seven years...and the white man or woman shall be punished as the law directs in cases of adultery or fornication."

The 'Statute' above, also provided that "any Minister, Pastor or Magistrate or other, whatever, joining in marriage any negro and white person" would be fined a penalty of one hundred pounds!

Restrictions placed between the two races were not simply confined to the subject of marriage or cohabitation within the 'City of Brotherly Love' or within the surrounding area. The 'Middletown Meeting' records for Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on the '6th of the Third Month, 1703,' also stated how, "Friends are not satisfied with having negroes buried in Friends' burying-ground," and again in 1738, the same meeting declared that, "deceased Negroes {are} forbidden to be buried within the grounds of the graveyard belonging to this Meeting."

However, at times, as in all places, North and South, such laws were not rigidly enforced, or individuals refused to abide by the laws as enacted by Colonial legisatures, though they often had to suffer the consequences of their actions. In Maryland alone, during the 17th-century, over two hundred and fifty white women, most being indentured servants, were prosecuted for having had intimate relations with Black slaves, resulting in the birth of illegitimate children, thus adding at times years to their 'indenture,' as well as fines, lashes, and their children resultingly being taken from them and placed into slavery.

The Pennsylvania Votes of Assembly, for January in 1766, record the Petition of one, John Goggin, a Mariner, who had married a Catherine O'Brien ten years previously, who having a "extravagant Fondness for strong Liquors, run the Petitioner in debt...The Petitioner gave her a good Sum of Money, and went to Sea...he continued abroad...about Fourteen Months, in which Space of Time...he found the said Catherine was become a Prostitute to Negroes, and in the Month of January, 1765, was delivered of a Bastard Mulattoe Child, as will appear from a Transcript of the Record of her Conviction, and Affidavits hereunto annexed..."

A somewhat different 'twist' on the above subject, may be found in the account of William Johnson, a former slave from Virginia, who as late as the 19th-century, and only a decade prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, fled to Philadelphia, purchased his freedom from the city's Mayor, Charles Gilpin, and later "married Catherine Flynn a white woman from Scotland, with whom he lived until a few days of his death, and had three children by her." Johnson became a wealthy man, possessed of a considerable amount of property at the time of his death in December of 1852, an incident which would create quite a stir, as revealed in the newspapers of the time and various court documents, since both his White and Black wives would seek out their portion of his fortune.

The account of inter-racial relationships in early America is an interesting topic in and of itself, much of which may be found in the manuscript and published collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

For a brief overview of material concerning Richard Morrey, 'Cremona,' and 'Guineatown,' see the following articles by Reginald H. Pitts:

"Richard Morrey, Gent.", of Cheltenham Township and His "Negro Woman Mooney," The Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Vol.XXX, No.4 (Spring 1999): 261-299.

"The Montier Family of Guineatown," Old York Road Historical Society Bulletin, Vol.LIII,  (1993): 23-35.

"Robert Lewis of Guineatown, and "The Colored Cemetary in Glenside," Old York Road Historical Society Bulletin, Vol.LI (1991): 43-56.

See also:

Elaine W. Rothschild, A History of Cheltenham Township (Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, Montgomery County, PA: 1976): 15-17.

Philadelphia Deed Book 'G,' No.7, (Sept. 1747): 'Richard Morrey to His Negro Woman Cremona Morrey," pp's. 539-540.