History and Research

Peggy, Cuffy, Susanna, and York

Pratt History

Slavery in Chester County, Pennsylvania

By the time of the American Revolution, the institution of slavery was firmly established in every British colony in North America. The unique iteration of slavery that existed in British North America has come to be known as American Chattel Slavery. Under this system, enslaved individuals became the legal property of enslavers. Enslaved individuals were enslaved for life, as were their children.

Southern farmers had, on average, a longer growing season than northern farmers. This meant that they could grow crops like tobacco which takes a long time to grow, while also being very labor intensive. Given that tobacco, and later cotton, was also a very labor intensive crop, farmers began to turn to forced labor to reap the proceeds.

Chester County, Pennsylvania, however, is one of the many exceptions to this rule. Much of the county had a growing season more comparable to Maryland or Virginia. Tobacco could - and still does - grow here. Chester County farmers never grew tobacco on the same scale as their southern neighbors, but they still had a long growing season. Chester County’s wealth, though, came not from tobacco but from wheat. While Chester County farmers made enough money to afford the purchase of several enslaved individuals, it appears that the amount of work required to produce wheat did not invite the same investment, especially when farmers had access to other sources of labor that they could hire on an as-needed basis.

Nevertheless, Chester County counted several hundred enslaved individuals amongst its residents. Some worked on farms clearing fields, plowing, splitting wood, and other such tasks. Others worked in trades - a tradesman could augment his income by training an enslaved individual and renting the individuals skills out to neighbors. Still others likely helped with domestic chores around the house. Rather than being the sole source of labor, as was often the case in the South, enslaved people made up one component of the labor force on Pennsylvania Colonial farms.

In 1725, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed “An Act For The Better Regulating of Negroes In This Province.” This act set forth what we would now call a Black Code or laws that governed the conduct of people of African descent. Amongst other things, the law required that any enslaved person who was manumitted had to put up a bond of £30 as an assurance that the manumitted person would not become a burden on the community. The law further stipulated that anyone who was freed but did not work, could be reenslaved by the Pennsylvania courts

Quakers and Slavery

The Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, is a religious denomination that began in the seventeenth century. Its early founders, including George Fox, sought to worship according to the principles of the teachings of Jesus. They believe that anyone can be divinely inspired by God and that each human has the light of God within them. As such, Quakers eschew all violence.

Many people believe that Quakers always stood in opposition to the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, Quakers - like colonial Americans of all denominations - owned and sold enslaved humans. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and a prominent Quaker in his own right, owned several dozen enslaved people. Likewise, Isaac Norris, a well known political figure and Quaker, actively engaged in the slave trade, buying enslaved individuals from the Caribbean for sale in Philadelphia.

The incongruity of Quaker beliefs and human bondage was something that concerned some Quakers from the beginning. George Fox argued that all men were created in the likeness of God, and that enslaved people, too, had the Inner Light within them. He urged Quakers to treat enslaved people with kindness and suggested that Quakers should educate the enslaved in the principles of Quakerism. It is possible that some Quaker enslavers heeded his words, but many did not.

In 1688, four Quakers from the Germantown Meeting attended the Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia and spoke against the practice of slavery. Despite their arguments, the Meeting refused to take action. Similarly, in 1696, William Southeby and Cadwalader Morgan submitted papers arguing that the slave trade - that is the importation of enslaved individuals from Africa or the Caribbean - should be prohibited. They pointed out that enslaving a person necessarily required force and violated Quaker principles of nonviolence. Some other Quakers agreed, hoping that slavery might die out on its own without the importation of new enslaved people from Africa. At the same time, many Quakers were worried about directly working against the interests of wealthy powerful Quakers like Issac Norris, and hoped that such incremental steps might not invite his interference to the same degree as calls for outright abolition might. Either way, the 1696 Yearly Meeting advised Friends against engaging in the slave trade, which seems to have had only a marginal effect.

In the following decades, men like Norris continued to stand in the way of abolitionist-minded Quakers. Friends who wanted to publish books, papers, or treatises had to have their work approved by the Friends Overseers of the Press Committee - a group of influential Quakers, including Norris. Friends who published without committee approval risked being read out of Meeting - in other words, they would no longer be considered a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Indeed, many Quakers met this fate over the course of the early eighteenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, events began to shift in favor of abolitionists. The old leaders of the Quaker community who themselves owned slaves - men like Norris - were gone, and more open minded men began to fill the inner circle of the community. Men like John Woolman and Antony Benezet rose to prominence and actively opposed the institution of slavery. In 1755, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting called on local meeting to discipline any Friend who actively engaged in the slave trade and in 1761, the Meeting created a committee of antislavery Friends to try to convince Quaker enslavers to free the individuals they held. Over the coming years, some meetings took more drastic steps. The Goshen Meeting - the Meeting attended by Joseph Pratt II - appointed Friends to visit slaveholding Friends to encourage them to manumit the enslaved people they held. If they did not, they might be read out of meeting - and several were.

Anti Slavery Quakers continued their work urging Friends to manumit those they held in bonadage. Through the 1760’s, 70’s, and 80’s, their efforts paid off within the community. Quakers did indeed free hundreds of enslaved individuals in the second half of the eighteenth century. While slavery continued to persist outside the Quaker community, Quakers emerged amongst the leaders of the nascent abolitionist movement that eventually helped to end slavery in Pennsylvania and the United States as a whole.

How did Slavery Come to an End in Pennsylvania?

The process of bringing about the end of slavery in Pennsylvania was a long and laborious process. By the time of the American Revolution, slavery in Pennsylvania was already in a state of decline. In 1761, Pennsylvania increased the import duty on enslaved people, the effect of which was a drastic decrease in the number of individuals imported to the colony. The population of enslaved individuals in Pennsylvania could no longer be replenished as it had been in the past. Just as important, enslaved people continued to do what they had always done and resisted their enslavers. Some engaged in subtle acts of defiance like slowing their work, or deliberately breaking their tools and equipment. Others took opportunities to run from their enslavers and live lives as free men and women. Meanwhile, some Pennsyvanians began to free the enslaved people they held - especially those in the Quaker community.

The other great blow to slavery in Pennsylvania was the 1780 Gradual Abolition Act. The act made the slave trade illegal in the Pennysvlania. Additionally, it declared that anyone born in Pennsylvania was free, regardless of their race. The act did not, however, free those who were already enslaved. While the law was clearly flawed, it represented the first time a legislative body had passed a law abolishing slavery. By 1800, a combination of the abovementioned factors, as well as economic factors meant that slavery had been all but abolished in Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1847, the Assembly passed an act which declared slavery to be illegal outright.

Enslavement and the Pratt Family

Like many of their fellow Quakers, we know that the Pratt family did enslave at least four individuals. Remarkably, we have their names preserved in the wills of Joseph Pratt I and Joseph Pratt II. They were Peggy, Cuffy, Susanna, and York. Besides this, though, little is known about them.

Peggy and Cuffy were both listed in the will of Joseph Pratt I. Pratt ordered that Cuffy would be manumitted when he paid or secured £35 to Pratt’s son, Joseph Pratt II. Similarly, Pratt required Peggy to pay £25. At this point, it is impossible to give Pratt’s motives for manumitting Peggy and Cuffy. Pratt died in 1754, just as opinions were changing in the Quaker community, so it is possible that he was affected by these changes, but his motivations are unclear. As mentioned above, enslavers who manumitted enslaved individuals had to put up a bond to the government. Enslavers often put the responsibility for obtaining the bond on the enslaved by requiring them to pay the enslaver - just as Pratt did. Unfortunately, we have no idea whether Peggy or Cuffy were able to obtain their freedom.

Whether Peggy and Cuffy were able to free themselves from the Pratt’s enslavement or not, we know that Joseph Pratt II bought at least two more enslaved individuals by the time he died in 1775. Susanna and York. Susanna, or Susanna Cuff, was manumitted by Joseph Pratt II in 1775, just a few months before he died. In the manumission document, Pratt attests that Susanna was at the time twenty-two years old. Further, he states that he had enslaved her for twenty-one years, meaning that in or around 1754, Pratt had acquired a one year old Susanna. This has given rise to the theory that Susanna was the child of Peggy and Cuffy - the similarity of Cuffy’s name and Susanna’s last name suggests some connection and Susanna would have been born the same year that Joseph Pratt I died. If this is not the case, though, it is unclear why Pratt enslaved Susanna. Most enslavers of the period would not have purchased a one-year-old person since, of course, they could not care for themselves. Where exactly Susanna came from, and what happened to her after she was freed remains a mystery.

Just a few months later, Joseph Pratt II died. In his will, he mentioned an enslaved man named York. Pratt’s will requires his sons to care for York when he can no longer work. Such requests were not unheard of. Why Pratt did not free York outright is uncertain. We know that only two years after Pratt’s death, his sons did manumit York. In the tax records, we also see a “freeman” listed. At the time, freeman referred not to free people of African descent, but to individuals who lived in a municipality but did not own or rent land in their own right. Perhaps this indicates that York continued to live on the Pratt’s farm under their care, but we cannot be sure.

Manumission Record of Susanna Cuff

Pratt Early History

In 1682, Abraham and Jane Pratt made the momentous decision to indenture themselves and their two sons to secure their passage across the Atlantic and a place in William Penn's new colony: Pennsylvania. Abraham was born in the Yorkshire town in Guiseley in 1647. At the age of twenty-five, Abraham married Jane Cave in Leeds, in 1672. Ten years later, they learned of Penn's effort to populate his colony. Penn declared that anyone who indentured themselves to a resident of the colony would receive fifty acres of land at the end of their indenture - as would the holder of their indenture. Indentured servants agreed to what was essentially a contract that bound them to the person who held their indenture. Intentures were always time limited - usually three, five, or seven years. For people like the Pratts, who were likely not very wealthy, the offer of land to start a new life was quite enticing. We do not know to whom the Pratts were indentured, but we know that they eventually settled in Lower Dublin Township once their indenture was complete.

Pratt Family Tree

Joeseph Pratt

Joseph Pratt's birth year is uncertain, but he was born after Abraham and Jane moved to Lower Dublin Township. As a teenager, Joseph Pratt was apprenticed to become a cordwainer - or leather worker: a skill which he appears to have practiced all his life. On May 9 1717, Joseph married Sarah Edwards. One year later, Joseph Pratt was listed on the tax rolls of Middletown Township as owning a property valued at £4 - not a massiver property. FInally, in 1720, Joseph Pratt purchased the land on which CPF is now situated for £91. At the time, the property was three-hundred and eighty acres - a large amount of land then, as now. Joseph and Sarah lived in the farmhouse that now stands on the property for another seven years, before Sarah's early death in 1727. It seems that Sarah died from complications in childbirth. Her child, Joseph Pratt II, however, survived. Joseph and Sarah had six children: Thomas, Alice, Ann, Sarah, Rose, and, finally, Joseph. Two years after the death of Sarah, Joseph Pratt I again got married, this time to Mary Jones. Little is known about Mary, however, their wedding took place in Christ Church in Philadelphia, suggesting that she may have lived in Philadelphia. Joseph Pratt I died in 1754. In his will, he passed the farm to his son, Joseph Pratt II. Mary Pratt was allowed to keep a room in the house. In addition to his possessions, Pratt passed on two enslaved individuals, Cuffy and Peggy. For more information, please see thetab.

Will of Joeseph Pratt
Estate Inventory

II

Joseph Pratt II was born in 1727 to Joseph Pratt I and Sarah Pratt. Unlike his father, he does not seem to have learned a trade. In 1745, at the age of eighteen, Joseph Pratt II married Jane Davis. We know they lived in a separate household from Joseph Pratt I, because they are listed separately on the tax records. They seem not to have bought a property outright, but were either given land by a family member, or they rented land from another party. During the years between their marriage and Joseph Pratt I's death in 1754, they had five children: Abraham, Sarah, Jane, Joseph, and David. When his father died, Joseph Pratt II inherited the farm. Over the next two decades, Pratt bought farms in Goshen, Marple, and Middletown, which he rented out. Joseph and Jane had four more children: Mary, Priscilla, Thomas, and Sarah (Sarah was named after her sister Sarah, who died at only six months old - a common practice at the time). Jane Pratt died in 1772 and Joseph Pratt II followed three years later in 1775.

Will of Joeseph Pratt II
Estate Inventory

III

Joseph Pratt III was born on September 12, 1753. At the time of his father's death, Pratt was twenty-two years old and unmarried. Like all farmers in this period, Pratt would have relied upon the help of his brothers, sisters, and neighbors to keep the farm running. In 1779, Joseph Pratt III had a child out of wedlock with a woman named Esther Green. Esther's father Abel was a friend of Joseph Pratt II, so presumably the two knew each other for some time. Esther gave birth to the child in July, 1779. She named the child Joseph Pratt. This Joseph Pratt eventually apprenticed to become a carpenter and moved to New London. Inexplicably, the following year, Joseph Pratt III married his first cousin Sarah Davis. Over the next eight years, they had three children: Joseph Pratt IV, Lewis, and Davis. Joseph Pratt III does not appear to have been deeply involved in the events of the American Revolution. He seems to have spent the war on his farm, like most other Americans. In 1779, Pratt was read out of the Goshen Meeting for taking an oath to the United States. In June, 1777, the Pennsylvania Legislature ordered that residents of the Commonwealth swear an oath of allegiance to the new government. Pratt evidently swore the oath, but his name does not appear on the list of those who swore the oath in Chester County. This suggests that Pratt may have left the county to swear the oath. Pratt also appeared on the rolls of the Chester County Militia in 1780, though the unit did not see service that year. Five years after the end of the war, in 1788, Joseph Pratt III died at the age of thirty-five. What exactly caused his demise is unclear - though his will suggests he became ill. Upon his death, Pratt divided the farm between his three sons, Joseph, Lewis, and Davis (Davis, though, appears to have died shortly after his father). Joseph also gave Sarah permission to inhabit the eastern portion of the farmhouse with her three children. Of course, Joseph and Lewis could not officially inherit their portions of the farm until they came of age. It is not clear what became of Sarah after this census.

Will of Joeseph Pratt III
Estate Inventory

IV

Joseph Pratt IV was born on January 9, 1781. As may be expected, the death of his father when he was only seven years old must have been a formidable challenge. Joseph and his brother lived with their mother, Sarah, in the eastern section of our farmhouse until Joseph Pratt came of age. Their father wanted them to be apprenticed out to learn a trade, but it appears that neither of them pursued this option. In 1802, Joseph Pratt IV came of age and inherited the farm. It's unclear if he continued to live on the farm or if he moved to another property. That same year he married Sarah Hoopes. Pratt seems to have lived intermittently on the farm, as he was taxed for the property for several years thereafter (at that time, those renting a property paid the tax, not the owners). Around 1819, Pratt decided to sell the farm. Advertisements appeared in the newspaper and the farm was eventually sold to George Bishop - a cousin of Joseph - in 1820. Joseph Pratt eventually moved to East Bradford, where Joseph died in 1861 and Sarah in 1871.

Colonial Pennsylvania Farmstead

PO Box 158
Gradyville, PA, 19039, US

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