The Perry Historians

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A Self-Guided Driving Tour of Black History Sites

Before we begin our tour, a brief disclaimer needs to be made as relates to the properties listed herein. Tourists should not assume that private homes or property listed are historic monuments available to the public. Permission should be secured before entry is made onto private property or photographs are taken. Some of the roads listed may not be suitable for travel at all times of the year due to weather or road maintenance issues. Travel at your own risk..
1) We begin our tour at the New Bloomfield square. The Perry County Courthouse was the scene of the 1847 trial of the kidnappers from Cumberland County: Henry Reistine, Michael Winter, Lemuel Dooley and George Taylor, who kidnapped and sold Thomas Henry, a free black man, into slavery. At the Eastern edge of town, was the home of the Barnett family, known to be agents of the Underground Railroad (UGRR).

2) Follow Rte. 34 North to the Newport Square. The Green, Jones and Carter families lived in Newport for many years. A very colorful character, John S Green was known as "Doc Green" for his healing ability and excellent moonshine. Aunt Betsy Miller and Aunt Rachael Carter were fondly remembered in Newport as well as Jerry Jones, who died in about 1900. Born a slave in Amelia County, Virginia, Jones joined the U.S. Army after freeing himself in 1863. After the war, he settled in Newport. He was a veteran of the USCT and is buried in the Newport cemetery.

3) Continue on Rte. 34 North over the bridge toward Rte. 322. Turn left onto Church Road, just past the PPL building. In Howe Twp. the Red Hill Church cemetery is the resting place of Richard Green. He came from Lancaster County with the David Long family in 1815. 

4) From the Red Hill Church, head west to Shortcut Rd. and turn left. At the stop sign, turn right and follow old Rte. 22 (Juniata Parkway) toward Millerstown. Across the river from the Village of Old Ferry (aka Rope Ferry), three fugitive slaves, Ben, Aleck and Tom came to grief in 1841 when they were trapped on a piece of land between the canal and the Juniata river. One was drowned attempting to swim to freedom and the other two were captured by pursuing slave hunters. They managed to escape again and were not recaptured.


          (Sketch by Philip J. Hoffman, used with permission of the Pennsylvania Canal Society)
                      Artist's rendering of the Rope Ferry along the Main Line Canal

5) In 1804, James Lewis, an ironmaster of Mifflin County, built the Mt. Vernon Furnace on Cocolamus Creek, just east of the Millerstown park and swimming pool. He brought with him a group of African American and mulatto laborers who lived in a small settlement called Forge Hill, near the iron works. They were the first free African Americans to live in Perry County for whom there are definite records. 5) In 1804, James Lewis, an ironmaster of Mifflin County, built the Mt. Vernon Furnace on Cocolamus Creek, just east of the Millerstown park and swimming pool. He brought with him a group of African American and mulatto laborers who lived in a small settlement called Forge Hill, near the iron works. They were the first free African Americans to live in Perry County for whom there are definite records.


Continue following the Juniata River westward into Millerstown. Turn right onto Poplar Street, just before the square, then turn right at the first alley and proceed to the Old Millerstown Cemetery.

6) There are three U.S. Colored Troops veterans and their families buried in the Old Millerstown Cemetery: Jerry Green, James Mayhue and Joesph Brown.

7) The United Methodist Church is northwest of the square at the intersection of High and Greenwood Streets. A portrait of Rev. Joshua Thomas (see image below) hung in the entryway of this church for many years. Early Methodist congregations were known to have had African American members. The McCook, Green, Lane, Brown, Woodburn, Bradford and Washington families all lived in Millerstown and the surrounding area.


                                                      Brother Joshua Thomas

                                                       Photo by Janet Taylor


8) Go back to the Millerstown square and follow Market Street West past the fire station and post office. Slightly west of Millerstown, just before entering the highway turn off Market Street and onto Iron Mountain Road. Up the hollow to the right is where Little Washington was located. This area was settled after 1840. Joshua Thomas, a freed slave, was the spiritual leader of the community which had its own church and cemetery. It is also believed to have been an important center for the Underground Railroad.

A number of African American families were associated with the iron industry. The Woodburn and Sclafford families worked in the iron mines in the areas to the north and west of town. The dry stone walls found on Iron Mountain are thought to have been built by African American stone masons. Notice the walls while following Mountain Road over Michael’s Ridge into Pfoutz Valley. Caution--this is an unpaved road and is not maintained over the winter months.


9) Turn left onto Pfoutz Valley Road and continue to connect with Rte 322 East to Duncannon. Now take Rtes 11/15 south to Marysville and turn right onto Rte. 850 west at Perry County's first traffic light. Off of Rte. 850, west of Marysville (at the Perry/Cumberland County Line) in the area of Millers Gap Road at the top of the mountain was the “negro cabin” --possibly an UGRR site. Just west of the Appalachian Trail parking area you will see Stony Ridge, a continuation of Ironstone Ridge in Cumberland County, a natural trail thought to have been used as a UGRR route Northward. After 1820, Millers Gap Road connected to a road coming over the ridge from Cumberland County.


                                               (Picture used with permission of the Perry Historians)

10) Now follow Rte 850 west through Shermans Dale and on to Landisburg, Perry County's first county seat. South of Landisburg is Mount Dempsey, where USCT veteran Jesse Davis lived. He was a barber in Landisburg for many years. The property he owned was described as the “original Dempsey spring and cabin.” Davis and his family are buried in the Union Cemetery in Carlisle.

Landisburg is also the site of the murder of the slave, Caesar, by his owner William McAllister of Juniata County. McAllister and his brother, John, were indicted for the brutal slaying which occasioned comment throughout the state. The murder of Caesar gave rise to the folk legend of “Black Caesar” in this area.

11) From Landisburg, continue on Rte. 850 west toward Loysville. Just before entering Loysville was the Perry County Poor House and Cemetery. The Poor House has recently been reduced to a pile of bricks and rubble. In the adjoining cemetery, Blind Jake (Jacob Patton) former slave of the West family was buried along with many other African Americans including several U.S. Colored Troops veterans and Black Mattie who was born in Africa and died at 112 years of age.

12) Continue on Rte 850 west to the Centre Presbyterian Church. Rev. John Linn, the first resident pastor here was a slave owner. Several slaves of the Linn and other local families are thought to be buried in the nearby cemetery. In the vestry of the church is a communion pitcher presented to Rev. Linn by Amy Diel, a family slave. On Rev. Linn’s death in 1822, his heirs attempted to sell a young mulatto slave, Pad or Paddy (aka James Divens). At this late date, slavery was declining rapidly in Perry County and there were no buyers. Due to be freed in five years anyway, Paddy ran away, and his fate is unknown. His mother was a young black woman, owned by the Linn family, and his father may have been one of the sons-in-law or some other relative.


                                                     (Picture used with permission of the Perry Historians)

Other notable sites of interest to the study of Black History in Perry County:

Outside of Newport: The Boswell family ran a small dairy farm in Oliver Twp. Boswell Dairy bottles are now highly collectible. Carroll Boswell, inspired and mentored by minister T.V. Miller, became a well know Methodist minister. Boswell enjoyed returning to Perry County and preaching in the local churches. On the Newport square John Bosserman and John Hartzell freed captured fugitive slaves.

In Tuscarora Township at Donnally Mills was the home of the Bull family who freed their slave, Judge, in 1795. The Scott family, neighbors of the Bull family, were also slave owners. Jerry Green, a USCT veteran, worked in quarries near here. He was reported to still have been going strong at 74 when he was kicked by a mule in the right thigh.

The former town of Petersburg (now Duncannon) was the home of several early Methodist congregations which welcomed African American members. Later the iron works in the south end of town attracted African American laborers. Among them were the Lanes, who had lived in Tuscarora and Greenwood Townships. At the turn of the twentieth century, Stadius Lane a blacksmith and mechanic had a shop on Cumberland Street. John Gaiter was a well known barber in Duncannon. He and his wife, Virginia, had three children.

The Duncannon and Marysville areas had successful iron furnaces and forges and both had black labor from an early date. A black man of the area, Benjamin Barton accumulated enough property that had he been white, he would have been listed as a “Gentleman” in the 1850 census. In 1895, descendants of the Barton and Carney families married in Harrisburg, cementing the long relationship of these families. The men of the Carney family of Duncannon were described as “boatmen”. In 1902, Elias Rideout died in the county home. Born in Franklin County, he was an iron worker employed by the Duncannon Iron Works and Montebello Furnace a few miles West of Duncannon. He was known as “Black Elias” and was a USCT veteran.

Marysville was the home of farmer, land owner and entrepreneur David Cowan. Born in Rye Twp. in 1814 of mixed heritage, Mr. Cowan eventually owned the Glendale Roller Mill, and later a large piece of land that would become the center of Marysville. The Cowan home was above town, near where the VFW stands. The Cowans and several descendants are buried in the Chestnut Grove Cemetery, in Marysville, along Rte. 850.

David Kistler, a well known abolitionist, lived just north of the hamlet of Kistler. Dr. S.M. Tudor, another ardent abolitionist, also lived here. H.H. Hain describes him as doing everything he could to make life hard for slave owners, this may have meant he was a UGRR operative and it is likely there was a UGRR site in the area.

The former hotel at the cross roads in Ickesburg is thought to have been a UGRR stop. The road leading north over the Tuscarora Mountain to Juniata County leads to a UGRR site at the Nourse farm near the village of Path in Juniata County.

Southwest of the borough of Blain in Tuscarora State forest is the route from Cowpens into Henry Valley--thought to be another UGRR trail. Fugitive slaves were fed and hidden by David Taylor at Roxbury then sent along the mountain crest into Perry County. This was much shorter than traveling through Harrisburg and far less dangerous.

Pioneer Cemetery in Henry Valley. In August of 1800 a young, female fugitive slave was shot and killed by John Henry, Sr. or his son John Henry, Jr. Her name remains unknown and it was assumed she was a fugitive running away from the south. The Henrys were indicted for Homicide by Misadventure.

One of the last slave owning families in Perry County, the Andersons, lived near New Germantown. One of their slaves, Robert Rainey, may not have been freed until about 1842.


                                             Preserve America – The National Park Service This project is supported by a Preserve America grant from the National Park Service and administered under the Preserving African American Heritage in Pennsylvania program of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The activity that is the subject of this book, PowerPoint and Driving Tour has been financed entirely with Federal funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior, nor does the mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Department of Interior. This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to: Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240.

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